It sure took me a while (they do say that you are what you eat and I eat snails so…) but I can say that I have finally fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine: I hiked on Rinca Island among the Komodo dragons! Spielberg would have been proud of me, I thought while taking zillions of pictures of those majestic creatures! I couldn’t tell you when I first virtually met those dangerous-looking carnivores but I knew right away that I had to meet them, not in a zoo, not in a “sanctuary”. No, I had to meet them on their territory in Indonesia. While planing this 6-month backpacking trip, M and I realized that we shared the same dream. It was therefore time to meet and greet the largest living lizards in the world.
After a short layover in Ubud, we found a cheap(ish) plane to Labuan Bajo (thereafter as LB), known hub to the Komodo National Park, where we were hoping to find an affordable day trip. When we reached LB airport, M had to make me walk to the center (what else?)… Spending 1$ on a cab is apparently not as fun as having your girlfriend moan in the scorching sun. Walking distance and flat / downhill he said… Three kilometers later and a steep hill to go (up) over, we reached the center, dying to sit down with a cold beer and feet up but life had other plans for us. LB was one street with a lot (and I mean a lot) of agencies, keen to sell us pricey trips. Our first impression of LB was quite negative as we were tired, unable to find a place to stay overnight (either fully booked or too expensive) and were given unrealistic quotes to fulfill our dream… until we met Heyman.
He was funny, smart and quickly understood that we couldn’t afford a private chauffeur (most of the tourists on Flores seem to hire a private chauffeur to explore the island), 2 to 3-day cruises to the Komodo island (you apparently need to “hitchhike” a ride from the ferry from Lombok to Gilli) nor a hotel on the hill with view over the bay (as tempting as the infinity pool sounded, Ubud did enough damage to our daily budget). Heyman took us to a hostel next door (we must have clearly overlooked it) and even tho we were skeptical, we followed him. What didn’t we have to lose anyway? To our surprise, we found a comfortable, clean and cheap hostel (Bajo Nature) with a big dorm in LB! He also booked us on a day trip to the Rinca island (one of the few islands inhabited by Komodo dragons) to go on a 2-hour hike, trying to spot dragons (the ones hanging out by the kitchen mentioned on many reviews on Google obviously didn’t count). The day trip also included some snorkeling. What began as an exhausting and challenging day ended as a very happy one with some Bakso shared with some locals on a curb, talking Bahasa… From disliking to loving LB, who would have thought?
We were excited (understatement of the year) to board our boat the next day. After all, it is not everyday that you wake up and can tell yourself: today I’m crossing an item off my bucket list! When we arrived on Rinca island, we were given clear safety instructions by the Rangers who welcomed us at the pier. We were taken to the office where we paid our (unnecessary expensive) entrance fee and followed our ranger guide to the kitchen for our first glance at the “mastodons”. I probably cannot describe how I felt when we were looking for them, thrilled and scared, happy and intrigued. Some facts about my new friends: fact #1 Komodo dragons are venemous and dangerous. They can use their sharp teeth to shred you into pieces and if for some reason, you would survive this attack, you would most probably be dead within 24 hours of blood poisoning. This sounded quite bad but luckily for us fact #2: dragons cannot be bothered to hunt or move during the day as it is too hot; they prefer to lie in the shade. Fact #2 definitely made our hike more enjoyable as we had to watch our steps not to come too close to one but we knew that no predator was actively hunting us. This was a relief as there was no way we could have outrun a dragon because fact #3 they can run up to 20km/h. Aggressive and quick: the perfect deadly combination!
The hike itself was beautiful, the long trail took us through a forest and up a hill with a breathtaking view over the island and the bay. Before starting our hike, the guide repeated to us that we were not in a zoo and there was therefore no guarantee to see dragons. He asked us however to watch our steps as 30 to 40 Komodo dragons were living in the area. Their camouflage skin could make it difficult for us to spot them in the woods but they would be around. Imagine our surprise when we bumped into 3 of them! The guide was quite surprised, he didn’t expect to see that many and the group was over the moon! After a few mandatory pictures safely taken, we kept hiking to go back to the camp where our captain was waiting for us.
Before heading back to LB, our captain stopped at Pempe and Kelor and even though we were not planing on snorkeling, our French tripmates convinced us to put our masks and snorkel on and swim to the reef. We are no snorkeling expert but over the past 6 months we have tried ourselves to snorkeling in different oceans and seas and this was probably the best snorkeling we have ever had. So many colorful fish were surrounding us, swimming around, above, under and with us. It was absolutely surreal. The peaceful feeling the underwater world gave us was priceless. We were grateful to the French couple as we would have otherwise missed wonderful encounters with the underwater world. The corral was very colorful (some part was dead but we could somehow see some yellow corral found its way back to life) and sheltered so many creatures: sea stars, nemo, mantas and anemones. We couldn’t have asked for a better day to fulfill our dream.
Time now to see what Flores has to offer. Next stop: Riung and its 17- island marine park!