Imagine [Komodo] Dragons

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January 13th 2016
Published: February 1st 2016
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As a self-proclaimed nomad, I have had the pleasure of trying many different forms of transportation throughout my years of travel. It is so hard to select a "favorite" anything, but my recent trip to Indonesia will forever stick out in my mind as one of the best adventures.

My girlfriend Rochelle and I decided that Bali (aka "Australian Cancun") was the perfect place to start our backpacking excursion around Southeast Asia. After a week of fighting the mindless mobs of Bintang-singlet-clad tourists that flock to Bali each year for the winter holidays, we decided to escape to the less frequented neighboring island of Lombok. While this equally large and beautiful island has a variety of activities to offer, this was not our final destination; Lombok was our starting point an activity-packed the four day/three night slow boat ride to Flores Island via Komodo National Park.

On a Monday morning, we joined eleven other passengers from various corners of the globe on a small, wooden boat with five local crew members. The boat boys wasted little time getting us off the pier as we had a great expanse of ocean to cover and many islands to
Boat dormBoat dormBoat dorm

These floor mats were actually quite comfortable!
explore. Time between stops was spent making small talk, playing cards, reading, or sun bathing on the bow. The boat anchored every few hours for snorkel breaks, during which the crew rested and we searched the coral gardens below for stingrays, clownfish, and seahorses. As our wooden vessel chugged along into that first pink sunset, the group gathered on the floor around a buffet of fried noodles, veggies with peanut sauce, and rice. The sun finally sank behind the low, blue-gray islands, and the idle chatter began to dull with the light. Although the night sky was overcast, heavy with the weight of impending showers, the wake of the boat churned out tiny constellations as the bioluminescent plankton sparked blue in their disturbance. In our travel pairs we climbed the ladder up to our sleeping quarters and curled up on our floor mats as the storm rocked us to sleep.

Day 2 greeted us with the typical banana pancake breakfast to fuel up for a full day of activities. Our first stop was Moyo Island for a short jungle trek to a waterfall. We scaled the vine-covered rock face to enjoy the view of the falls from the top. The more daring members of the group climbed the rubber tree to swing off the rope into the deep crevasse of the pools, and we all relished in a fresh water soak, the closest thing to a shower we would have over the span of the next three days. The trip continued east to Satunda Island to visit the salt lake that covers more than half the surface area of this little piece of land. After one last snorkel session along the shore, the boat set off on the longest haul yet, a whopping twelve hour stint. Our group resorted to a hilarious round of Charades to pass the time followed by another buffet dinner, another beautiful sunset, and another sparkling evening of bioluminescent wonder. Even the stars made an appearance that night as we put distance between ourselves and the rain clouds over Lombok.

Having covered nearly 200 nautical miles, the boat rolled into the bay at Laba Island early Wednesday morning. Our sleepy group was roused by the crew for a quick breakfast before a trek to the lookout point on the hill. Although it wasn't a very high climb, the path was steep and the sun wasted no time in heating us up. We staggered back down the dusty track and took a refreshing, salty dip in the bay before the boat boys ushered us onward. Our next destination was Manta point, arguably the most awaited stop of the trip. It must be noted that the name of a place can never guarantee the presence of animals; nevertheless, our excitement was palpable. We crowded on the bow of the boat, snorkels in hand and shaking with anticipation, as we chugged into the strait that is a prime feeding location for the world's largest species of rays. From the distance the surface of the sea appeared choppy, and it wasn't until the boat reached the edge of the turbulent water that it became clear the splashing was actually the massive, black wings of a school of manta rays. As soon as our tour guide gave us the signal, all thirteen of us leapt over the side of the boat. Instantly I was surrounded by the biggest creatures I have ever encountered in the wild, circling and dipping to scoop mouthfuls of plankton from the nutrient-rich waters. Timid for animals with wingspans at least twice mine, these dark giants retreated further down the strait to escape the ungraceful doggy-paddling of our frantic group. When there were no mantas left to admire we clambered back aboard our floating hostel, still awestruck at the wondrous beauty we had witnessed. In the afternoon we had one final snorkel at Red Beach, aptly named for the salmon-toned sand that borders its pristine reef. At dusk we moored in the mangroves and enjoyed a traditional tempe curry dinner as thousands of bats took to the sky, hunting for insects in the night.

On the fourth and final day of the trip the boat finally arrived at Komodo National Park! We were briefed by the park tour guide on how to remain safe in the park. Komodo dragons are the world's largest species of lizard and can only be found in the wild on the two Indonesian islands that are preserved by the National Park. These ancient reptiles can reach up to 2.5 m in length and weigh up to 90 kg. As if their size weren't intimidating enough, Komodo dragons also have bacteria-ridden saliva that can kill its prey after just one bite. Luckily for us these huge lizards tend to spend most of the day off in the depths of the jungle or sleeping in the shade of the ranger huts. With two-pronged sticks for protection, our guides took us on an hour long trek to the view point and past one of the Komodo nests. We all posed for photos with the slumbering dragons and marveled, yet again, at the sheer enormity of these wild beasts.

When the boat reached port in Labuanbajo, Flores, our group reluctantly dragged all the luggage onto the cement pier. Those action-packed four days had proven incomparable to any other experience and I know these memories will linger for a lifetime. Exhaustion from four days of snorkeling, trekking, and searching for the planet's craziest creatures finally kicked in and we retreated to our various guesthouses. As Rochelle and I sat on our departure plane to Malaysia several days later, we admired the Indonesian islands from above and reminisced of waterfalls, reefs, rays, and dragons.


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