Dragons and Diving in Komodo


24th Oct - 28th Oct 2014

For the first time since leaving home I had a moment to truly wonder if I was missing work. I was seated on an ATR72 aircraft, (a newer version of) the same aircraft I spent most of working days aboard. I got a little giddy when I seen the cabin crew do their demo, and got annoyed when I seen passengers walking under the aircraft wing (common sense guys). But hmm I dunno if I'm missing it or not, maybe a teensy bit. Anyway once we were settled in our seats and on our way we had amazing views down below us, Bali drifted off and tiny deserted islands floated past, then amazingly we were flying right on top of a volcano and we looked pretty close in height to it, as I craned my neck over the top of Shannon's baldy head we could see right in the crater and seen a lake in the middle.

Coming in to land in Flores was also fun, the runway is short and cut right through mountains which sat jaggy on either side of the plane. The airport looks like it's just been built, in fact there was still work going on. As well as the short runway, the apron where the planes park looked like it only had enough room for two or three aircraft at one time. Our bags came quick enough and we enquired about a taxi. We were told the 15 minute drive to the harbour would cost 60,000 about £3. Even although £3 won't get you to the end of your road in Guernsey, we knew it should be less, but when that's a lot to someone and not a lot to you it's sometimes acceptable to be ripped off.

The journey was in fact very short, we asked to go to the harbour as we knew that's the 'happening' place. For the first time this trip we hadn't booked anywhere to stay. When we got out the taxi and on to the rough sandy roadside we knew we should have booked, but not to panic, a one minute walk ahead we found a hotel sign called 'Gardena Hotel and Bungalows' so we climbed the stairs (being followed by an old guy trying to point us in right direction- we knew he wanted a tip for his services, so we shooed him away).

The prices for a fan only wooden hut bungalow were cheap, but we were hot and knew we (Shannon) would always be hot, so we paid £25 for the normal looking room with air con. It was up a further mass of steps (129 steps in total I later counted), but being now so high up we had amazing views above street level. We had a big balcony which looked over lots of islands, the sun was starting to go down and it looked blissful.

We headed out to look for a tour, as the reason we came here was to visit Komodo and the national park to see the famous Komodo Dragon. We (Shannon) also wanted to go diving as there is meant to be some amazing sites. We looked around a few shops before realising that tours don't offer both these things together as Komodo is a fair way away by boat. So we booked a liveaboard boat trip for tomorrow, where we snorkel, visit Komodo and stay the night on board. Then for Monday we booked a day trip which includes two dives and a BBQ on the beach. More on that after it happens.

For dinner in the 'up and coming' Labauanbajo (still got a lot of upping and coming to do, but I am excited for this little town for what it will transform in to in the future) we headed to 'Mediterraneano', a restaurant recommended in the lonely planet book. It is famous for its pasta and pizza, so that's what we had, and it was really tasty, we will be back!!

Back to our clean but basic room and watched a movie on the laptop before getting an earlyish night, as we don't expect much on the boat tomorrow night. Now I might sound over dramatic but I (Shannon did) did not have a Bintang today. I was all Bintang'd out!

So after a decent nights sleep, considering as we were under scratching woollen blankets and we were woken at 4am with the loud noise of Muslim prayer call being blasted out. We packed up once more and headed to the shop, we were to be joined on the boat trip with a Swedish man with a name that sounded like Hogan (we called him Hulk when we spoke of him), an Indonesian couple and his brother (we assume). We had to walk from the shop to the boat, with all our bags- and flippers and snorkel. After a five minute walk sweaty walk we reached our home for the night. We had to pass our bags down then climb down some ladders which were being held up. We were in for a (pleasant/unpleasant) surprise, we wouldn't be sleeping outside, we had a cabin- or more like a wooden shelf above the engine room which stank of fuel, on the wooden shelf was a mattress. At night it would be hot and there was scratching noises coming from the bugs that were crawling from the boats toilet around our wood, it was freaking me out.

So anyway back to during the day. We set sail for Rinca Island, where in the midday sun we visited the island to see Komodo Dragons, however I think this is an unfair name, so I shall call them Rinca Dragons. (Rinca sounds like Rin-cha) As we hopped off the boat and onto another boat and onto a smaller boat, with a helping hand- as its not fun for me to be jumping around bobbing boats to get to the pier. We headed in to the national park, paid our ticket (around £10), got a Ranger (who was born on Rinca) and went on an hours trek. As it was midday the lazy animals like to rest in the shade, so we spotted a few relaxing in the shadows of trees. We climbed hills and got amazing views over the island, the harbour and neighbouring islands. We seen more 'Rinca' Dragons resting under a house, which had people sitting on the porch. We never felt scared by these animals as we had our Ranger who was equipped with a wooden stick as a weapon, not scared even though they have over 60 types of bacteria found in their saliva, that can kill you (and a buffalo) if it bites you.

Then we came across a rare site- a 3-6 month old Dragon high in a tree trying to catch a lizard. So the Dragons are small, fast and agile until they are 3-5 years old, although they are not fully grown until around 30 years old and live until they are 50 years old. We also seen where the mothers dug underground holes to hide her eggs in (up to 30 eggs although only 20% would survive), she also made fake holes to confuse predators. However once the babies were born the mother also became their predator.

After clambering on board we set sail for our first snorkel site, but sailing along we past many currents and whirlpools, which I had heard this part is known for, but I felt uneasy. We dropped our anchor and it was time to jump in, I of course being a sissy, panicked and just could not jump- just couldn't. I don't know why. But Shannon, who has patience of a saint with other people, doesn't have that same patience for me. I told him to go alone. He did. He came back. I spent 4-6 minutes hesitating then jumped in. Easy. What was I worried about? Well the current was quite strong and we had to swim fast against it, until we reached near the beach. We enjoyed a sit down on the sand before making our way back- the current had calmed down by then thankfully and we got to appreciate the pretty coral and fishes.

Had a banana fritter, whilst sailing and getting sun burnt and also getting super excited to see many pods of dolphins swimming along! We dropped anchor next to a bat/flying fox island and heard the bats making a racket, had dinner (which looked like ribs but was actually mackerel, yuk) and spent the night there. We enjoyed a beer on the sundeck whilst watching the sunset then the stars come out. Then it was lights out- its was 2030!!! But we were shattered after all the walking and swimming. As I said, there was bugs. But we slept okay considering. (Considering I woke up with a startle in the middle of the night- around 10pm as something was crawling on my foot. And considering Shannon woke me in the middle of the night with a massive twitch, he was soundo, but I guess something tickled him too).

We were awake by 0700. We had breakfast then docked on Komodo Island to trek and visit the Komodo Dragons. Before we even met our Ranger we were approached by a slow walking Komodo Dragon, we all felt safe enough but were glad when we got our Ranger. It was early and we were expecting to see the Dragons wandering about but as it was hot- and also I later asked- seeing as the island is huge and the trek is small, did they think the Dragons stayed away as there is so many tourists, the Rangers seemed to say yes. But before we seen any (more) Komodo Dragons we came across an abundance of deer, a boar, lots of birds and chickens. We would not however get to see the water buffalo or rattle snakes who only come out at night. We were nearly finished the tour when we seen two Komodo's sitting in the shade, we stopped to get photos and videos, after a few minutes though we realised we had been standing so close to a third Komodo we hadn't even seen!, he seemed to be camouflaged.

After a clamber to get back on the boat we set sail, the itinerary wasn't too clear, but soon we were floating past two beautiful sand dessert islands, and then the crew (who all 5 of them looked like young Somali pirates by the way) started pointing out manta rays swimming on the surface. It was awesome to see these huge monsters swim past, then the crew said we could snorkel. Shannon wasn't going to wait about for me when he might miss this amazing opportunity to swim with manta rays, after I spotted lots more from the boat, and also heard there was dolphins (there wasn't) I got ready and jumped right in, we swam about and spotted lots of manta's. Shannon is annoyed (and says mum would have loved this photo forever as she wouldn't believe it), I was swimming around absolutely oblivious to the fact one of these huge manta's swam right underneath me, Shannon is annoyed as he would so loved to have taken a photo but I had the camera. But I'm glad he got to witness it and can remember in his head.

Back on board and had lunch whilst sailing to our next and last site of the trip. Another snorkelling site next to a dessert island. I jumped in fine but I soon had another paddy- I developed an irrational fear, I was scared I would hit the sea bed and get jagged on the coral, or I think that's what I was scared off. We got to the beach, I calmed down, no hyperventilating like yesterday. We then had a lovely snorkel back to the boat and then time to head back to dry land.

We checked back in to the Gardena, next door to the previous room, witnessed another stunning sunset and headed back to the Mediterraneo. Both having really yummy pizzas, lots of Bintang and dessert, I had chocolate carpacio (I didn't know what that was, it's thinly sliced chocolate).

In the morning he had a nice long lie and then with a quick stop at the bakers for filled rolls and the best muffin I've ever had, banana and chocolate warmed up! We then headed to 'Manta Rhei' where we met the others on our 'lazy day diving tour', (too many to say but there was a few backpackers including Ben from Germany who was in our diving group). We booked with Manta Rhei then looked it up on Trip Advisor and it's the best dive group in Labauan Bajo, it also said all the equipment was brand new and the crew were lovely. The crew were lovely and our dive master whose birthday it was, was excellent, very friendly and extremely helpful. The equipment was brand new as we found out Manta Rhei only opened it's doors in June this year.

So we had our briefing as we set sail, it was about an hour to the north of Labauan Bajo. We got our gear ready- but could either of us remember everything you had to do when setting up your tank and BC after two years of not diving? Nope. Thankfully all the dive masters were on hand to help and guide us. Then we were in the water, we dived down to 19 metres and seen so much beautiful coloured coral, some soft and swaying in the water, some hard and sharp. We seen many species of fish, and seen squid- I didn't think squid looked that way so was unsure at the time what the long pointed nose was and its frilly dress it was wearing. Then we seen it- a white tipped reef shark, it swam blissfully underneath us.

Back onboard we got debriefed before moving to our next dive site. The crew got off on the beach and started preparing our BBQ lunch, whilst we dived down again to around 19 metres. Again we seen an abundance of fish like clown fish (nemo), butterfly fish and the best of all a huge turtle. Once our tanks were empty we came back to the surface and got out of our wetsuits and then went to the beach for our lunch. We had pasta and sausages plus more. Our group were the only people on this little island and it was pretty cool.

So if you are wondering how I can manage to dive when I can't even snorkel, then I can't really explain it. The first time I was hesitant to jump in but when grown ups are there and saying you have to, you do it. Then I was swimming behind our instructor so that helped too. I did have issues with my buoyancy though, or to be more exact, I was facing head up so I kept rising in depth.

We had a really amazing time today and so glad we got to do this. Manta Rhei were awesome and we are pleased we got our wetsuits back on to experience the great diving sites of Komodo.

For dinner we headed to the restaurant at the hotel (although I don't think they are joined). I had a lovely arribiata pasta, and Shan ordered lasagne but it came out like a big squidgy piece of pasta, with no filling. He complained. The little waiter understood. He got a cheeseburger instead. We weren't charged for either of Shan's meals! We sat and used the free wifi and I updated this massive blog and all those photos.

We had a nice lazy morning before heading to Bajo Bakery again, and having made to order rolls and again my muffin. We packed up, checked out, relaxed in the restaurant, met Ben from diving yesterday who was also staying at Gardena and was on same flight, so with his friend we shared a taxi to the airport.

The airport was very small, we checked in nice and easy, paid our 11,000 airport departure tax (sure they just make up their prices). Then through a tiny security screening, then sat in the small departures hall. Boarded our Garuda Indonesia flight back to Bali. We had amazing views of Flores and Komodo as we flew over. Had another good service with free soft drinks and a roll. I wouldn't expect less- as Garuda Indonesia has the worlds best cabin crew. They done well enough.

We had a really nice time in Labauan Bajo, and as I said before it will be interesting to see how this places grows in the future. We feel really lucky to have been able to see the Komodo Dragons, and I can't wait for our children in years to come ask if dragons really exist... because we can say yes, we seen them!!

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