Komodo and Rinca Island

Komodo and Rinca Island

Tuesday, March 26th:
We were able sleep in a bit today. We were picked up by our driver from the Intercontinental Hotel in Bali at 11am for our 1pm flight to Labuan Bajo. We had booked this trip through a local company, called Wisata Alam, which we found on the internet. (I was slightly concerned about whether they would turn up, since they had several different web sites and some of them stopped working a few weeks before we went on our trip. But it all turned out OK and Wisata Alam turned out to be very reliable.)
The flight was delayed by an hour when we got to the airport. We were again on a Merpati flight, but this time Jen was even less happy about it, when she saw that it was a prop plane. Although it was quite a big prop plane (54 seater), she was even less happy to read that the plane was manufactured by the Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corporation. (Fortunately we only read after the holiday, that there are only 26 of these planes in service so far, and Merpati had already crashed one of these in 2011 with no survivors.)

Labuan Bajo is the largest city on the Island of Flores. It's a very small airport, but they are building a much bigger one right next to it. Flores Island is by many considered as the up and coming tourist destination in Indonesia, and what we saw of it definitely justifies that expectation. It's a beautiful island with great beaches, beautiful mountains and amazing wildlife and marine life.

We were picked up by our new guide Kannis, who would be with us for the next two days. We drove to the harbour to get on the boat. The initial plan was to go to Rinca Island first and stay overnight near there, but because we were a bit delayed, Kannis suggested we go straight to Komodo and spend the night there so we can get to see the dragons first thing in the morning. 

The Boat was quite bit smaller and more basic than we both had expected (although our expectations were based on no evidence whatsoever). There was no cabin or bed, just some mattresses on top under a canvas roof. The boat ride out to Komodo Island took about 3 hours and it was beautiful, taking us past lots of very green and mountainous Islands. There were no big waves, since we were between islands, but we could see vicious turbulences and currents. This is one of the reasons that the marine life is so abundant here. Komodo and Rinca Island together with the maritime life between them became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.

We got to Komodo Island just after dark and set anchor in a bay. They served very good food for dinner and lots of it. We went to bed quite early, since we had to get up early, and since there wasn't really anything else to do. Fortunately they turned the noisy engine for the generator off after we went to bed, and we slept really well.

Wednesday, March 27th:
We got up at sunrise just before 6am, had some toasted cheese sandwiches and coffee (they stir the coffee powder straight into the cup with hot water, as if it was instant coffee).

It was a short boat trip to the ranger station on the island. We already saw the first dragon lying on the beach in the distance. We chose to do the long walk, which took about two hours and took us deeper into the forest than most people go. Only about 20 min into the walk, Kannis suddenly shouted out "Oh, we are very lucky" as there was a very large male lying on the ground right in front of us. From far away he just looked like one of the logs. It was a really big beast, at least two and a half meters long. He briefly lifted his head to look at us, but then closed his eyes again. He looked magnificent and very strong with long sharp claws.

We could get to within 5 meters of him, anything closer would have been dangerous, because they can be very fast, and even the big sticks that the ranger and Kannis carried would not be able to hold them off. Only a few weeks earlier, a ranger on Rinca Island was attacked and quite badly injured. So we decided to listen to our guides and not get closer. The large ones eat deer, wild boar and even buffalo. They mainly kill their prey with the bacteria in their mouth. They bite a deer or buffalo, and then just wait for a couple of days or weeks until the infection kills it. They only have to eat every three weeks, and the guide thought this one looked like it had eaten quite recently, which was somewhat reassuring.

We kept hiking further into the forest to get to the place where they used to feed goats to dragons just for the tourists, but they don't do that anymore. Not feeding the dragons was one of the conditions of the Unesco World Heritage designation.
On the way back on top of a hill we saw a female sunbathing herself. She was only a little smaller than the male. Dragons usually live alone and only meet up during mating season. There were also a lot of very noisy Cockatoos up here in the trees. Further down we suddenly saw a much smaller (less than 1 meter) baby dragon run out onto the hiking path. He was scared of us and ran surprisingly fast.
Back at the ranger station we saw a lot more. They just hang around here and underneath the wooden huts. A couple of them walked around a bit, made a strange hissing noise, while their very thin and long tongue kept darting out (very similar to a snake). We also saw a few deer and a small wild boar. On the way back to the boat, we had to wait for a big female dragon who decided to cross the bridge instead of walking through the little river underneath.
Dragon Food
And here is a short video I took of some of these magnificent animals:

Back on the boat, we went around the next corner to the so called pink beach. The beach isn't really pink, but very beautiful nevertheless. We went snorkeling for while and lots of beautiful fish among the corals.

We then decided that we had enough time to go to Rinca Island as well. The boat trip took about 1.5 hours. When we crossed the channel between Komodo and Rinca, we suddenly saw a huge Manta Ray jumping high out of the water twice right in front of us. I had never seen anything like that. It was amazing. Unfortunately it happen way too quickly to take photos.

At Rinca Island we saw some dragons near the ranger station. We also went on another short walk, but didn't see any more dragons, since it was very hot by now, and they are not active in the heat. We did see a wild boar and a centipede, which are apparently very poisonous here.

Back at the ranger station there was some excitement around a big tree, because one of the rangers had spotted a very small baby dragon high up in the tree. He was maybe a foot long, and our guide thought probably only a week old. Dragons hatch for about 8 to 9 month. They spend the most part of their first 2 to 3 years in trees in order to escape their two main predators, eagles and adult dragons, who seem to have no quarrels eating their own babies when they catch them.

The boat ride back to Labuan Bajo took another 2 hours and was fairly uneventful until we tried to berth in the Harbour in Labuan Bajo, which was when the real excitement began. We are not quite sure what happened, but the captain seemed to decide to try to squeeze into a very tight spot between two other boats, but somehow the waves and wind pushed our boat around, hard into another boat with a loud sound of crashing wood, which nearly seemed to take our roof off. We were then pushed around by the strong current while they tried to lay the anchor, there was lots of excitement and shouting, and at some stage the captain jumped into the water to apparently untangle the rope from the anchor. They gave up trying to get between the other boats and decided to drop us off onto a much higher concrete pier, but we had to be very quick jumping off, before the wind pushed the whole boat sideways into the pier. They got us off just in time, but then we had to climb around an iron fence to get off this pier, which was closed and locked.

We spend the night in the Golo Hill Top Hotel in Labuan Bajo, which was very nice. The rooms were fairly basic, but it had a beautiful pool overlooking the bay, and the food was very good, although I was not enjoying it too much, because now it was my turn to feel a little sick.



Labuan Bajo, Flores Island

Thursday, March 28th
We could sleep in, as Kannis picked us up at 10:30 this morning. After a nice breakfast by the pool, we drove up the hill to the nearby Mirror Caves. It's a small but interesting limestone cave, with some beautiful rock formations. Getting into the caves required a bit of crawling, as parts of the passage are very low. Inside we saw some bats hanging off the ceiling and flying around, we also saw a large black spider on the wall.

Afterwards Kannis dropped us off at the airport for our Merpati flight back to Bali. And our day ended with another very nice and relaxing evening at the Intercontinental Jimbaran Bay, a couple of cocktails by the beach and an early night for us, since the alarm was set for 5:15 the next morning.

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