53) Struggling through to the Komodo Dragons

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July 23rd 2005
Published: August 22nd 2005
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The famous Komodo DragonsThe famous Komodo DragonsThe famous Komodo Dragons

It was mating season, so we could see the two sexes rather close together...
Our first stop eastwards was to the island of Lombok where we had planned a stay at one of the Gilis, three tropical islands off Lombok's northwest coast, for swimming and snorkelling. This sounds all very good, but we had to scrap these plans due to lack of time. Leaving Bali turned out to be easier than expected, we caught one bemo after the other until the port of Padangbai. A bemo is a small van where the seating benches are placed lengthwise, and represents the main form of public transport. For foreign tourists this kind of transport has some challenges, the haggling for example. After such along stay in India we had got used to it (at least we thought so) but found the Indonesian levels more extreme than the Indian ones. Indonesians can be very tough on prices but we owed it to our self-respect as individual travellers to overcome these obstacles. It actually took us three hours from Kuta to Padangbai, changing bemos twice and the dense traffic in Denpasar, which we considered quite good. The ferry to Lombok left shortly after we boarded, and we had several hours to relax and read. Shortly before arriving at the
Enchanting seaEnchanting seaEnchanting sea

While waiting for the ferry in Sape, we made a short excursion to a small island
harbour of destination the ferry moored for at least one hour for obscure reasons. However, a multitude of tiny boats approached the ferry, their passengers boarded and tried to sell all kind of food and drink to the travellers waiting to get off board. Finally arrived in Lombok, we warded off indecent offers for a trip to Mataram, the island's capital. We eventually found a bemo at acceptable prices (still overpriced, but less than before) by walking a couple of metres away from the pier on the main road. It would theoretically have been possible to go on to Lombok's east coast but the prospect of driving in the dark deterred us. Arriving at Mataram's bus station, we decided to check in at a hotel nearby since we wanted to get away next day as early as possible. We walked around only a bit - there was absolutely nothing to see - had a small dinner and went to bed rather early. However, we did not get much sleep, as the street was very busy and in a courtyard beneath our window several stalls were set up selling food, drink and other items a traveller which might need, and these
Wonderful beachWonderful beachWonderful beach

We enjoyed ourselves on the sand before snorkelling
had no closing hours. Next morning we tried to catch the 8 o'clock direct bus to Sumbawa (next island to the east), which we managed to, and the bus left on time (Indonesian time, that is to say, i.e. around 8:45). The small bus was very uncomfortable with extremely narrow seats, we sat down on a bench for three and that was just acceptable for us (although we had lost quite many kilos already). They wanted us to pay for the third seat but we refused energetically, saying that a third person could sit beside us at any time, hoping that this would never happen, which fortunately it did not. Anyway, we would be in the bus only for two hours crossing Lombok, then spend another two hours on the ferry and maybe two more hours in the bus on Sumbawa until Sumbawa Besar. We got on rather slowly because it was market day on Lombok, which meant a lot of activity in every little town we were driving through, the roads were clogged with horse carts, which seemed to be the traditional means of transport for short distances.

The bus drove onto the ferry which would bring us
Klaudia and the starfishKlaudia and the starfishKlaudia and the starfish

Isn't this an impressive red specimen?
to Sumbawa. We hoped to get some fresh air again, but unfortunately there was no upper deck this time. We found a ladder leading upwards, though, and when somebody motioned us to climb it, we did not refuse. We found three seats practically outside the bridge close to the captain and really enjoyed the ride there with the wind blowing around our noses. We are not sure whether it was allowed but since the captain did not care we did not either. Once again the ferry could not enter the harbour on arrival but had to wait some time until the preceding ship had made way. Well, that is Indonesia, we did not get exited, that would not change anything anyway. We had to spend another two hours or so from Porto Tano to Sumbawa's capital Sumbawa Besar, where we arrived in the early afternoon. We had chosen a hotel opposite the Sumer Payung Bus Terminal for practical reasons (it is usually good to stay as close as possible to the bus terminal) but also for its attractive location on the beach. The Tirtasari Hotel must once have been a fabulous place set inside a beautiful tropical garden with
Unloading the bananasUnloading the bananasUnloading the bananas

Our ferry from Sape to the island of Flores had to be unloaded first, which took several hours
a nice pool. But the better times are gone, it was practically empty, they tried hard to keep the garden alive, but the pool had not been used for several years as grass was already growing out of it. We ate a late lunch in the hotel restaurant, choice was limited but at least the mae goreng was fresh and tasty. Then we went swimming, it was fine but the beach was not very attractive and so we did not stay long. As we had to withdraw money and do some internet, we took the first bemo that came our way, hoping that it would take us to the centre. After a while we spotted an ATM machine and got off there, although we had no clue where we actually were. We asked for an internet café but as people prefer saying anything to admitting that they did not know, we were not sure whether we would find one (in case there was one at all). We had almost given up hope when two tourists passed us and Stephan ran after them, maybe they would know. They turned out to be Austrians, what a coincidence in the middle of an
Indonesian boatIndonesian boatIndonesian boat

Finally our ferry was moving, with six hours delay, and we could spot many other boats crossing between the islands
Indonesian island! They told us the location of an internet café and after exchanging some travel experiences we headed there, it seemed not far away. We really found it and spent some time working on our electronic diary, then we ate dinner there, which was quite tasty by the way, and around 9:30 p.m. we tried to find some public transport back to our hotel. We were unlucky, there were no more bemos around, then some guys offered to take us by motorbike, but they definitely wanted too much money and we refused. Only that it was still very far to the hotel and we were still without transport! After walking for some minutes, Stephan suddenly stopped a private car and the driver agreed to take us to the hotel without hesitation. He was very happy about the small sum that we gave him, we suppose he would have made it for free, at least he had not asked for anything. Next morning we wanted to take another bus to the eastern side of Sumbawa to a city called Sape, from there we would take another ferry to the western side of Flores, from where we would go to discover
Fishing boat without keelFishing boat without keelFishing boat without keel

This special kind of boat needed the lateral parts in order not to lose its balance
the Komodo Dragons. It was relatively easy to find a bus but we permanently had the feeling of getting tricked and ripped off, they just said any price and Stephan had to negotiate hard
to bring it down to an acceptable level. Stephan was outside trying to buy some provisions for the day, when he came back to tell Klaudia that Melly and Harald, the two Austrians, were also taking this bus. They originally wanted to catch a night bus from Jakarta but all of them had been full, so they had to wait till next morning. We were not unhappy about this development, so we had somebody nice to talk to. The bus drove only to Bima, 45 km west of Sape, and for the last part we were forced to drive by bemo, which was rather unpleasant, you get travel sick rather easily due to the unusual position of the sitting benches. But we arrived safely in Sape, at its port Labuhan Sape to be precise, and tried to find some decent accommodation in this dull place. We stayed right by the dock as the ferry was scheduled for 8 a.m., in a guesthouse which our guidebook describes
Barren hillBarren hillBarren hill

Fascinating combination of a hill lacking vegetation and lush mangroves at sea level
as 'reasonably clean amongst the best of this very poor bunch'. Well, for one night it would be all right (it was actually not too bad), so we thought. We were really shocked when we learned that there was no ferry next day! Getting stuck in such an unattractive place was really unfortunate. Next morning we were joined by three young Frenchmen, Marc and his younger brother Jeremy and his girlfriend Marie, who had just arrived from the surfers' paradise Hu'u. All seven of us were pondering about how to spend the day without boring ourselves to death, when somebody offered to take us to a small island nearby, where we could go swimming and snorkelling. This sounded really good and we immediately accepted. The place where the boat dropped us was really picturesque, nice beaches interrupted by ragged cliffs and we were happy that we could spend most of the day there and not in Sape. We swam and snorkelled around for hours, accompanied by beautiful small fish and apart from the fish we saw some corals, sea urchins with frighteningly long spikes and beautiful red starfish. Between the swimming we lay on the beach reading or chatted

Mangrove forests abound here, we even saw several mangrove islands
our time away with the others. We spent some pleasant hours on this island but were still looking forward to leaving Sape and seeing the Komodo Dragons soon. We had planned to get up at 7 a.m. in order not to miss the ferry but were woken up earlier by Jeremy who shouted out that the boat had actually arrived and was lying in the harbour. What a relief! Of course we were all ready to board the ferry at 8 o'clock but in our exuberance had forgotten that we were in Indonesia and they had a different notion of time here. The ferry had to be unloaded before anybody could alight and as it was filled to the rim with bananas, we suspected it would take some time. At the beginning only one lorry could enter at a time although in theory there was space for three, because there were so many bananas lying on the ground. Then everything was done by hand, the bunches of bananas were very heavy, so the men worked slowly, anyway two or three were working and twenty were watching or sleeping. In the end, we could board only at 11 o'clock and when
Welcome to Komodo National Park!Welcome to Komodo National Park!Welcome to Komodo National Park!

The photographer's biggest delight was to get a picture of a dragon's tongue, quite a challenge
the ferry finally left, it was already 2 p.m., six hours delay! At that time we were already exhausted from waiting and only wished for this trip to end as soon as possible although it had hardly begun. When asked around for the arrival time in Labuanbajo and several times heard 'seven', but whether this evening or possibly next morning we could not find out. In the end we arrived at 9 p.m., which made seven hours of travelling. We spent the hours sleeping, reading or playing games, it was bearable.

We entered Flores in Labuanbajo, an overgrown fishing village, which theoretically offered enough accommodation, but we had a lot of trouble finding any because the huge Pelni boat (the most important means of transport between the Indonesian islands which are far from each other) would leave next morning and there were probably 1,000 people waiting for it. We did find a guesthouse, which might have been better in earlier days, but now there was water standing in our room. But we wanted to spend only one night in it and then go for the Komodo Dragons and stay on the island for one night. We know, this is
Lazy Komodo DragonsLazy Komodo DragonsLazy Komodo Dragons

Basking in the sun they were waiting for cooler times
the entry about the world famous huge Indonesian lizards, but we felt obliged to report our difficult way there, it was really a hassle and later on we came to the conclusion that we had done better to book an organised trip on a Perama boat (biggest travel agency around), it would have saved us some time and a lot of trouble.

A friend of ours had recommended us to visit the island of Rinca instead of Komodo, it seems that Rinca accommodated more giant lizards than the namesake island these days. We were happy about this hint which included the advice to spend a night on the island, because the Komodo Dragons as reptiles were more active in the cooler morning hours. Next morning we tried to organise this but could not find anyone willing to join us, our travel companions from the other day had made other arrangements. The owner of the guesthouse offered us a boat, the agreed price was not too high (Rs 400.000 for two days), and we spent part of the morning buying provisions for two days and renting snorkelling equipment. We took a bemo to the market, where we bought fruits and
Hey, you are my favourite dragon!Hey, you are my favourite dragon!Hey, you are my favourite dragon!

They only get that close during mating season
vegetables, but were on the whole very disappointed, the offer was very limited, no tropical fruits apart from pineapples and bananas, and the hygienic conditions deterred us from getting some meat there. On our way back to the hotel we found cooked pieces of chicken and packages of instant noodles, we would not starve on the boat. Most of the luggage stayed behind in the guesthouse and we were on our way on nothing more than a fishing boat, where we would spend the night under the stars. Our captain was very nice though he spoke hardly any English and our knowledge of Bahasi Indonesia was also very limited, which did not really improve our conversation. During the day we sat in the front part of the boat on mattresses covered with plastic, on which we would sleep in the night, hot water, tea and coffee were constantly provided, the ‘toilet’ was in the rear corner, two planks had been left open and a low wooden structure protected against curious looks and the captain’s cabin, that was all. But we enjoyed this adventure, admiring the blue sea, white beaches, barren hills and wonderful mangrove forests, which we passed on our
Stephan on his guardStephan on his guardStephan on his guard

Although they don't look like it, they are dangerous, their saliva contains 40 poisonous bacteria

Finally we arrived at Rinca and had only set one foot on the island, when we were immediately greeted by a smaller specimen of the famous lizards, lying on the ground without moving (was it real after all?) A nice welcome indeed. Klaudia jokingly remarked that it had been put there by the tourist authorities in order to cheer tourists up, but in reality she was overwhelmed and so was Stephan. After admiring the impressive dragon and the extensive mangrove forest, we came to the National Park Office, always accompanied by the captain who had picked up a long stick with a forked end in order to ward off potential aggressive Komodo Dragons. In the office we paid the entrance fee and registered in order to have a guide assigned for the island hike tomorrow morning. We were allowed to look around the camp, which apart from the office consists of a cafeteria and two separate buildings of lodgings. We had heard several times that the dragons hung around the camp, mainly in expectation of food, but had had some problems believing this until we actually saw them. Five of these gigantic lizards were basking in the hot
Klaudia in a safe placeKlaudia in a safe placeKlaudia in a safe place

The lizards below are waiting for food, hopefully not for human flesh!
afternoon sun, three big male and two smaller female ones. Stephan could now no longer be held back and took one picture after the other, his camera had been idle for too long for his taste. As it was mating season, the sexes were not shy against each other, on the contrary, one female specimen had lain her head on her favourite male’s back and both of them seemed to enjoy this closeness. When another male Komodo Dragon approached, the second female broke into frenzied activity (she started moving), walked towards him and they sniffed at each other with their long thin forked tongues. Very much to the photographer’s pleasure, who outdid himself in order to get pictures of the lizards’ tongues, which constituted quite a challenge, as the tongue only stayed out for a couple of seconds at a time. We also hung around for at least one hour and could not get enough of observing these unbelievable mini dinosaurs, which seem to have come from times long gone. While Stephan was shooting one picture after the other, he was bravely protected by Klaudia with a long stick. The rangers told us again and again how dangerous these creatures
How about banana split for dessert?How about banana split for dessert?How about banana split for dessert?

Oddly these scavengers crave for fruits and vegetables as well
were, that once bitten the victim is to die because there is no medicine against the lizards’ saliva containing over 40 different bacteria! As they are scavengers, they bite a buffalo for example (of course they have to get the chance to), then wait around three weeks until it dies, following it all around until they can have their feast. When you see the huge creatures lying motionless in the sun, this is really hard to believe, as well as the fact that they are actually fast runners. We saw them moving that afternoon and strongly hoped to see more of them (maybe even running) on our trek next morning. The Komodo Dragons mainly stayed around and beneath (houses are built on stilts) the last building of the camp, and for a good reason! Although they are not being fed in the strict sense of the word, the house contains the kitchen and the cooking leftovers, like banana peels or other rests of fruits and vegetables, were simply discarded from the window. We were a bit astonished about scavengers eating vegetables, but obviously they adored the supplementary vitamins. We really left reluctantly, but we had some plans for the last
Haha, that was a good joke, man!Haha, that was a good joke, man!Haha, that was a good joke, man!

What the male dragon was actually doing to make the female look this way we cannot reveal
bit of the day.

At a forlorn island in Rinca’s proximity we stopped for snorkelling and were happily splashing in the water full of fish, corals, sponges and star fish. After the snorkelling the captain informed us that there was more to see, he motioned it by imitating a bird’s flight, we had no clue what exactly awaited us, but were ready for everything, so we of course went for it. We were taken close to a huge island made of mangroves, really beautiful and there we were waiting for the birds (so we thought) to come our way. Our patience was stretched for almost half an hour, we thought that the birds had already left before, when all of a sudden the first black shadow came gliding from the island, flying towards another island. It took us several minutes and quite many gliding shadows to find out that we were watching flying foxes on their way to feeding places offering enough fruits! Unfortunately it was already too dark to take pictures, Stephan was really sad about it. We were standing on the boat, staring with open mouths, watching flocks of flying foxes leaving the mangroves and could hardly
French kiss a la Komodo DragonFrench kiss a la Komodo DragonFrench kiss a la Komodo Dragon

No further comment...
believe our luck to be part of a natural event like this. In the end, thousands of them had flown away, they more or less stuck to a certain route, several made small detours and came flying directly above our heads. We began to understand how the image of Dracula in the book and early films had been formed, we had thousands of them right before our wondering eyes. When it was too dark to see anything, we had to take our leave from the flying foxes, which were still leaving incessantly. The captain then took us into Rinca’s small harbour, where we were supposed to spend the night. But we did not like it there, there were quite many big boats moored, their lights on and their engines running in order to keep the air condition and the fridge running. It was almost like in a big city although we were in the middle of the ocean so close to wildlife. We begged the captain to take us to the place where we had been snorkelling, which was not very far away. He accepted immediately and without grumbling, we had the impression that he was pleased by our suggestion.
Cute baby dragonCute baby dragonCute baby dragon

This one was really cute although as dangerous as its adult counterparts
Finally we were in the middle of the ocean on a tiny boat, the breeze was blowing and the air was cool and salty. As soon as we were snugly lying on our mattresses, we heard a sequence of loud splashes very close to us. Were these dolphins playing around in the dark? We had seen some of them during the day. We got up again and tried to see something, but it was a pitch black night and our headlamp did not really help us. Up to now, we have no idea which animals were splashing around us, but we nevertheless enjoyed the spooky atmosphere.

Next morning our day started pretty early, the hike was scheduled for 7 a.m., but we woke up with the daylight anyway. On entering Rinca we were again greeted by the same small Komodo Dragon as yesterday, it almost seemed as if it had not moved . We again crossed a barren sandy strip of land which could be a dried lake, passed the office and other buildings and walked until the kitchen building, anxious to find out if the lizards were again waiting for food. And they were! Stephan took some more
Portrait of a Komodo DragonPortrait of a Komodo DragonPortrait of a Komodo Dragon

As if it had known that this picture would be published...
pictures, trying to catch the flicking tongue again. Then a ranger joined us and our dragon adventure could begin. Soon it would turn out whether our Viennese friend Andi merited a mug of beer or not, as he had given us the hint about staying on Rinca over night. The trek was not too physically demanding although it included some amount of climbing. But we were rewarded with wonderful views on Rinca and neighbouring islands, the blue sea and white beaches. We walked through high dry grass and past impressive palm trees with a lot of dried leaves, every time there was the slightest breeze, a rustling sound was to be heard and we were always on the lookout for Komodo Dragons or other wild animals, not knowing whether the sound had not probably come from the grass. The first wild animals we spotted was a group of wild boars, later we saw some deer as well, most of them were running away at our approach. But still no Komodo Dragons! On the way down from the highest peak we came across a pair of buffaloes and Stephan got much closer to them with his camera than our guide appreciated.
About to run awayAbout to run awayAbout to run away

This one was slowly setting its body into motion
But this way he got really nice pictures, and he is willing to stand many dangerous situations for top pictures! Soon afterwards we saw the first lizard out of the camp, it was also fleeing from us and it was really running fast. Stephan had some problems following it uphill. We were really excited about this encounter! A bit later we saw more buffaloes after their mud bath, another Komodo Dragon which was too fats to be taken pictures of and a snake hiding beneath a rock. Wonderful wildlife, not to forget monkeys, wild fowl, other birds and many beautiful butterflies. Around 9:30 we encountered the first tourists who had come from Labuanbajo, among them our two Austrian friends. Shortly after we met them, it was not more than a minute, another dragon crossed our way and disappeared in the high grass. Spotting wild animals is very much a matter of luck, we had seen this lizard, the other tourists had not. But we hope that they will have seen other Komodo Dragons, as their trek had hardly started. When we were already close to the camp, we saw a baby dragon, so cute despite being dangerous, still much slimmer
Need a pedicure?Need a pedicure?Need a pedicure?

Impressive claws...
than the adult specimens. The trek was very nice, not too challenging and it was a wonderful experience to see the wild animals in their natural habitat, especially the Komodo Dragons which are nowhere else to be found on our planet. In the camp we had a quick drink and chatted a little bit with to fellow travellers when we lived to see a Komodo Dragon in a special place. We would have loved to go to the toilet, but it was occupied by - a KOMODO DRAGON!!! It was sneaking around in the room for quite a while, we were told that they come there regularly to drink. Very well educated! We had a hearty laugh about these special creatures. Next time we are in Vienna, We'll have to go out with Andi and thank him for all the precious hints he gave us.

Now our captain took us to a famous snorkelling ground off the coast of Flores. We again swam with colourful fish, above many kinds of corals, sponges, special clams in blue and turquoise and bright blue star fish. After a refreshing and exciting time in the ocean we headed back to Labuanbajo, said goodbye
Island at sunsetIsland at sunsetIsland at sunset

We loved this time of the day when all the colours slowly changed and got warmer
to the nice captain and then changed into a better hotel. Our plan was to go eastwards tomorrow morning, in the end we had to reach the town of Maumere from where we had a flight back to Bali in four days on August 3rd. It was hardly possible to get from Labuanbajo to Maumere by bus in one day, we would see how far we could get tomorrow.

Additional photos below
Photos: 46, Displayed: 39


Indonesian sunsetIndonesian sunset
Indonesian sunset

Quite lovely in spite of the clouds
Start of the trekStart of the trek
Start of the trek

In the morning the air was still very fresh

Now you maybe understand why this part of Indonesia is considered close to Australia in flora
View from the peakView from the peak
View from the peak

Lovely view of small islands and the sea, very rewarding after the climb
Far-away beachFar-away beach
Far-away beach

It was getting hotter and hotter, and we would have loved to jump into the blue water from this beach
Klaudia before the palm treeKlaudia before the palm tree
Klaudia before the palm tree

She was particularly fascinated by these wonderful palms with many dried leaves
The first deer of the dayThe first deer of the day
The first deer of the day

One of the first wild animals we saw during our trek

We got quite close to them, Stephan even closer than our guide appreciated
On its way to the topOn its way to the top
On its way to the top

It was running so fast (yes, indeed!) that we could hardly follow it
Hideaway placeHideaway place
Hideaway place

The high grass serves the Komodo Dragon well as camouflage
Buffalo looking for mudBuffalo looking for mud
Buffalo looking for mud

Once it gets hot the buffalo looks for a cool place, if posible with some mud, to rest until the evening
Buffalo skullBuffalo skull
Buffalo skull

This is what remains after the Komodo dragons had their favourite lunch: buffalo burger
Dried river bedDried river bed
Dried river bed

This dry river bed was on the last part of our walk through the island
What a happy faceWhat a happy face
What a happy face

Klaudia really enjoyed this 3 hours walk on Rinca island

As on most Indonesian islands the macaque is also present on Rinca
Tropical treeTropical tree
Tropical tree

Despite being very dry the island still has some spectacular trees
Looking for foodLooking for food
Looking for food

Maybe it will find some Komodo Dragon eggs within the nest
Running awayRunning away
Running away

This little dragon was running away at respectable speed
What a comfortable placeWhat a comfortable place
What a comfortable place

Once heated up after their morning walk, there is nothing more important than to find a comfortable place to rest for the day
That was just so goodThat was just so good
That was just so good

This dragon was really thirsty, so he just used the next best place to quench its thirst
Crazy about civilisationCrazy about civilisation
Crazy about civilisation

This is just the best place to wait for the next fresh meal
Isolated beachesIsolated beaches
Isolated beaches

Many of them can be found between the Komodo National Park and Labuanbajo, some of them are a good place for snorkelling
Sea anemoneSea anemone
Sea anemone

Host of many litle coloured fishes
Blue ClamBlue Clam
Blue Clam

Nested within a closed brain coral this blue clam was only 50 cm below the surface

22nd August 2005

wonderful pictures
Hi Klaudia and Stephan, thanks for all your reports and wonderful pictures!!!! You are having a marvellous and unique experiences ,right? I have been to Japan and Corea ( concerts , summer camps) now I am leaving to Sardegna for some holidays! All the best luck for the continuation of you trips! Luigi
28th June 2007

So perfect I felt as I had returned
Greeting Klaudia and Stephan , your story and pic's were terrific. WHAT A JOY. I know you enjoyed all of it. I have your pages for my collection as "I so love Indonesia.and THOSE FANTASTIC Komodo Dragons i was there in 05-06 and am returing soon. I am so PLEASED. The best to you. sincerely yours Donald Stay
15th February 2009

Thanks for the detailed blog.
Hi guys, Thanks for the really detailed blog entry... we are in Bali trying to avoid paying $300 round trip to see the Dragons - we think there must be a better way... this is almost 4 months wages in Bali.... however we can see the sort of journey we would need to undertake!! Thanks again.

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