"'Let's hunt for dragons" I said to Pooh...

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May 2nd 2008
Published: May 3rd 2008
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Poisonous droolPoisonous droolPoisonous drool

A 2.2 metre (7 fooot) long Komodo Dragon

Yet more bus trauma

So the bus didn't actually crash, but it did break down after travelling at 20 kmph for about an hour through the jungle. So we decided to do something that was clearly very un-Indonesian, and hitch. Due to the lack of anyone else taking the initiative we got a ride very quickly and, oh lucky us, the driver not only spoke good English but was in fact going exactly where we were, so we stayed with him all the way to the ferry, across to Bali and down to the capital Denpasar. From there we just about made it to Ubud before collapsing into bed. Ubud is an arty area of Bali, well known for painters, wood sculptors and the like. We awoke to find many tourists swarming around the town and filling up the lovely little cafes that have sprung up everywhere.

Monkeying around

Our main reason for going was to try and see a traditional dance and we were not disappointed by the one we chose. The Kecak Dance is known as the monkey dance. For us it took place at night in the grounds of a spectacular temple. There is no orchestra for this show, not even the usually omnipresent Indonesian Gamelan musicians. Instead the sound for the entire performance came from around 100 bare-chested men who made a kind of “tik-tak” sound at various speeds and rhythms, interspersed with hoots and booms, for the best part of two hours. While “tik-a-tik-a-tak-ing” their way through the evening they were variously standing, kneeling or sitting but always jiggling around and quite often raising their hands and/or waving their arms at the same time. This on its own was enough to impress us, but was merely the chorus to the show from the Rama and Rahwana series. This story is everywhere you go in Indonesia but especially popular in Java and Bali. It is the same story we saw at the puppet show in Java but this time it was much easier to follow with human dancers acting it out for us. It goes something like this. Hindus believe that at one time the god Vishnu came to earth as Rama to get rid of the evil devil who’d come to earth in the form of Rahwana. There are several stories about the battles between the two. The one we saw involved an entire monkey army (the afore mentioned tik-a-tak-ers) being attacked by Rahwana and his assortment of evil beasties including a hideous giant. Of course Rana has his own arsenal of goodies including Garuda the eagle and two monkey generals and in the end, you guessed it, good triumphs over evil. The costumes were amazing and the control from the dancers, who take tiny steps and express much of what is happening with beautiful hand movements, was wonderful. The whole thing was performed in the dark with a huge paraffin burning medusa-esque candelabra in the middle of the stage. Afterwards a bare foot man in a trance - yeah right, we thought- rode a hobby horse through a burning pile of coconut husks and kicked them in all directions. He did this about 5 times before all the husks were burnt, then collapsed into the arms of a steward before snapping out of his trance when splashed with holy water. By this time we were totally convinced he had in fact been in a trance as he suddenly seemed to feel the pain on his blackened feet and looked totally dazed.

David dons a skirt and this time it's NOT for

Has Anyone Seen A White Hat?Has Anyone Seen A White Hat?Has Anyone Seen A White Hat?

Waiting to pray at the festival
fancy dress!

To top things off in Ubud we happened to be there at just the right time to see an Odalan festival. This is a celebration held every 210 days to mark the completion of a temple. Every fifth year the festival is bigger and more important and every 100th even more so. We happened to catch a 5th year celebration. To enter the Samuan Tiga Temple and watch proceedings we both had to wear the correct clothing, sarong, waist sash and shoulder covering top for Tracey and sarong and shirt for David. The men also wear a head sash though Dave did not wear this. Inside were huge offerings to the evil spirts that the festival aims to keep at bay. They sacrifice a very vegetarian unfriendly number of animals and present them along with the local palm spirit, Arak, to the evil spirits with a kind of "Enjoy yourself on all these offerings then go back under the earth and don’t trouble us, our families, our crops or the World for another 210 days please" message. We sat and watched as group after group of local people paraded down the steps of the temple, serenaded by
Pretty Sexy In A SkirtPretty Sexy In A SkirtPretty Sexy In A Skirt

Dressing respectfully to visit Hindu temples in Ubud
a gamelan orchestra, carrying pots and bottles, folded cloth and huge wooden chests painted with red and gold, each with their own ‘beast’ to help scare the evil spirit away. It was an incredible event to watch.

Dragon hunting

That over, we headed off to see Komodo Dragons. Not as easy as it sounds. You have two choices, book a massively overpriced tour from somewhere in Bali or get there yourself. Option two selected, we caught a bus (2 hrs), then a 5 hour ferry to reach the Island of Lombok. We then crossed Lombok on a bus (2 hrs) and caught a 2 hour ferry to reach Sumbawa. Then we crossed Sumbawa on a bus (11 hrs) to reach the town of Sape. We won’t bore you with how the bus men all tried to rip us off by doubling the ticket prices, or how slow the ferries were to cross relatively small strips of sea, but by the time we arrived in Sape we were knackered! Sape is a tiny town as far from Kimodo as the town of Lubaunbajo on the next island of Flores, but as we found out, it has virtually no tourist
Britannia Rules The WavesBritannia Rules The WavesBritannia Rules The Waves

Our chartered cruise to Rinca
facilities and no reasonable way of reaching Komodo unless you charter an expensive boat from a fisherman who sees tourists and thinks money! So as sick as we were of buses and ferries we took another ferry ride (6hrs) to the island of Flores, the official "Gateway to Komodo".

Komodo Dragons only exist on the islands of Komodo and Rinca and in tiny pockets on Flores itself. Running short on time we quickly arranged a trip for the following day, handed over a whack of money to a complete stranger we’d only just met and went to bed. The next morning saw us waiting, hopefully, for a man named Álba. Alba turned out to be not only our captain, but the name of his boat and so we set off with Alba (the boat not the man) chugging at not many knots an hour towards Rinca. Alba (the man not the boat) couldn’t speak much English but was able to point out a few islands to us on the way. Alba (boat not man) was about 2m wide and 10/12m long with a bit of tarp for shade over a couple of bench seats and a slightly built up
Dragon HuntingDragon HuntingDragon Hunting

Note the stick for so called "protection"
platform with the motor underneath. She was steered using a wheel that looked like it had come straight off a submarine hatch, fixed into the floor of the raised platform, so when Alba (the man) was steering, it looked like he was on one of those tea cup rides you get at fun fairs.

As we got near to the island we started to worry we wouldn’t see any of the famed dragons but we shouldn’t have fretted. No sooner had we stepped off the boat and on to the rickety boardwalk leading to dry land when two locals started shouting at us to quickly join them on a raised platform. Confused, and still only one-shoe-on-apiece we hobbled to the platform just as a huge beast of a Komodo dragon came ambling down the very path we were supposed to be taking. Legs thwomping into the ground, head swaying, long yellow forked tongue flicking, hungrily. The locals both had forked sticks to ward it off if it got too close, but it wasn’t interested in us..... it smelled goat.... frightened-tied-up-on-a-boat goat that we later discovered was going to be used by a Japanese film crew to film a (totally natural of course) documentary about the dragons' eating habits. For now the sacrificial goat stood tied up on a boat a few metres from shore, unaware of its pending role in a nature show! Deciding not to swim to the boat, though it could have done, the 2m long dragon contented itself with slumping down in the shade of a tree with his tail in the water. With our beast safely passed us we headed off to the conservation office grinning like children on Christmas morning and hardly believing our luck. We then paid, were assigned a guide and set off to find more dragons. It turned out the "Guide" was in fact a bloke on work-experience while studying conservation at Uni, which explains what happened later. We saw about 8 or 9 other huge dragons hovering around the camp kitchen for scraps before setting off on a 2 hour hike. Komodos can live for 50 years and reach weights up to 50kgs. They have no predators and can kill and eat an entire deer single handedly. They also have an amazing ability to heal from injuries, and their saliva contains so many hideous bacteria that they even kill buffalo
Dead MeatDead MeatDead Meat

"Running with the bulls" - Rinca style
by biting them and then stalking them for a week or so while the wound goes septic and the buffalo dies from infection. They are very much top of the chain on these islands, though the males do have it tough at mating season when they outnumber the females 3 to 1.

Then we got chased by a buffalo

On our walk we saw another dragon sleeping off what was clearly a very large lunch as its stomach bulged out all swollen and distended on both sides of its otherwise muscular and slender body. So far so good on this little adventure.. …and then it all went wrong! We mentioned our work-experience guide? Well he decided to show us how big the buffalo are that the Kimodo kill. He took us down to the river where a buffalo was drinking and then rather casually said "Oh look, it is warning us” as it dipped its head down to the bank and began rubbing its horns in the mud. “Cool, lets go then”says Tracey as we both start to retreat. “Don’t worry” laughs w/e boy not looking at all worried, so Tracey slows down. David, wisely as it
Coronation StreetCoronation StreetCoronation Street

A traditional village in Bena
turns out, kept going. The next thing we know another buffalo has appeared in the distance and grunted some kind of 'get rid of these idiots’ code to its mate. Buffalo 1 ran towards us, horns first and work experience boy laughed. David was up the bank in a shot, but Tracey was still quite close and torn between running (will this panic the animal more?) and staying still (will this result in Tracey kebab?) Also if she ran she could not follow David up the path as Buffalo 1 had cut that off. Echoing in her ears are also work-experience boy’s boasts of finding vipers, cobras and rattle snakes on the island. Will these be hiding on any new route she takes? Deciding work-experience boy’s laughs and 'it will be okays' are misplaced she walked, quickly but calmly up the side of the river bank, through a tree and long grass just as w/e boy discovered Mr Buffalo was not “OK” and in fact charged forward again! All safe and regrouped at the top of the hill w/e boy THEN decided to tell us he thought the buffalo may have been a protective mum because "Oh how hilarious” he
One Hell of a Door KnockerOne Hell of a Door KnockerOne Hell of a Door Knocker

A decorative house in Bena
remembers now that they saw a baby buffalo a few days ago.
Hearts back to a regular number of beats per minute we walked back to the camp for another look at the greedy dragons near the kitchen. We asked what their skin feels like and to make up for our buffalo experience w/e boy managed to get a few scales for us to feel. Each one is small, solid and smooth, like a flattened grain of uncooked rice. They lose them one at a time rather than shedding a whole skin like snakes.
We had a great snorkel on the way back to Flores and made it to shore just as the heavens opened and it proceeded to rain for several hours. Enough to turn the roads into rivers and the drains into very smelly, rotting streams!

Grass skirts for the men

More bus journeys later we arrived in Bajawa to see some traditional villages of the Ngada people. They have a very distinctive way of setting out their villages on terraces of different levels. They create megalithic stone graves for the dead and build totems representing the male and female form on every terrace. The male
Does my bum look big in this?Does my bum look big in this?Does my bum look big in this?

The 'Male' totem in Bena
is a forked trunk of wood with a grass ‘skirt’ on top while the female is represented as a womb in the form of a miniature house. We walked over 10km to get to a village called Bena because there is no public transport and we were too tight to pay the exorbitant ojek (motorbike taxi) price that the drivers were demanding. It was all down hill and very worth it when we got there. On the way back we did hire the services of two ojeks, although we suspect the drivers were in fact just two local kids with bikes because the price was less than half that quoted by the men in Bajawa. We also made a trip out to another village at Wogo where there were supposed to be 'some impressive megalithic structures’ to quote the guide book. It is not worth going any more. Sadly the field of stones has become very overgrown and it is impossible to see how potentially impressive they may have looked at one time. The village is less impressive than Bena too, so if anyone is thinking of visiting the villages but is short of time and or money you are
Easy RiderEasy RiderEasy Rider

On the back of an ojek
not missing much by skipping Wogo. (Tracey also got nailed by mosquitos trying to take a picture of David in the middle of a giant bamboo forest on the way, but that is another story!)

Bikini gets girl, 29, into trouble

Bajawa also has some hot springs nearby and after ignoring the hopeful ojek drivers’ insistances that there were no minibuses to the nearest village, we caught a minibus to the nearest village and arrived at “Mengeruda”ready for a dip. We were expecting tourists galore and goodness knows what else at the springs after reading the guidebook. Instead we found a beautiful river flowing into another stream created by a fast and gushing hot spring erupting from the ground. We also found about 20 local boys and a handful of girls enjoying the water…and no tourists! It was amazing except for the slight oversight on bikini clad Tracey’s behalf, that women stay covered up in Indonesia. The girls were in the water in trousers or long shorts and t-shirts. So, respectfully covered in David’s top and her own shorts in she went. David meanwhile had become the focus of all 20 boys in the river. “Mister, mister...come
Oh my god... A GIRL!Oh my god... A GIRL!Oh my god... A GIRL!

Tracey makes many friends at the hot springs
in here” they all yelled then collapsed in to fits of giggles when David emerged from the changing rooms pretending to do a strip tease. David remained the centre of attention for a few minutes until he foolishly swam up stream, leaving Tracey at the mercy of the group. “Perhaps the girls don’t normally mix with the boys?” she thought to herself as they stared and inched a bit closer with every broken English question they could muster. It was a great afternoon and once we’d taken enough photos to satisfy all their demands to appear in a picture they finally left us alone to relax and enjoy the beautifully hot water. As we left, a few local families arrived with soap and shampoo for a weekly/monthly hot water wash so we were rather happy we had not put our heads underwater!

Spirits, minerals or just a lot of food colouring?

We had just enough time left on our visas for a trip to Kelimutu National Park, home to three lakes which change colour from time to time. This is a natural phenomenon that scientists can’t really explain. When we arrived the lakes were black, pale milky
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Sunrise over Kelimutu
green and dark chocolate brown but in the past they have been red and blue as well. Local legend dictates that the lakes (volcanic craters) are the homes of the departed. One for the evil, one for the young and one for the old and wise. They say the lakes change colour when something is about to happen to them or another part of the world. Scientists think it is due to changes in mineral levels in the lake but can’t explain why those levels change.
Blanching at the thought of making the same bus and ferry combo journey all they way back to Bali and effectively wasting three days of our trip we flew back from Flores and have been enjoying a few days back in Kuta, where despite our original “there are so many tourists here” reaction we are having a great time and making the most of the competing bars' various happy hours!

We’re off to Malaysia tomorrow. To Sarawak in Borneo to be precise…ttfn.

PS - We found out recently that if you click on a photo in the blog it opens that photo and all the rest of them in a MUCH
Lakes for the deadLakes for the deadLakes for the dead

At the summit of Kelimutu
larger window. If, like us, you had not realised this, you might like to go back and look at some earlier photos at a size large enough to see! Byeeeeeeeee!


5th May 2008

Dragon hunting
Well you certainly found your dragons! And buffalo! Scary stuff. Once again a fabulous blog. Thank you for the tip about clicking on the photos to make them bigger, when your eyesight is like mine it is great to see so much more detail! Dave you look good in a skirt! The time you are taking with your blogs and photos is brilliant, thank you for enabling us to be part of your amazing journey. Lots of love to you both.
27th May 2008

Oh my god, how jealous am I of your travels?!?!?!?! So many beautiful places and amazing memories. Stunning, missing you in England, but I bet youre not missing it... Ash

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