Here Be Dragons

Trip Start Dec 26, 2013
Trip End Aug 05, 2014

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What I did
Komodo National Park

Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Our Tour des Animaux Sauvages has continued strongly in Labuan Bajo, a town on the west coast of Flores that is the jumping-off point for Komodo National Park and what many say is the best scuba diving in the world. Dennis and I saw octopus, sea turtles, moray eels, scorpionfish, lion fish, crocodile fish, crayfish, gigantic triggerfish and parrotfish, and thousands of other fish during our dives here. On land, the highlight (and my reason for wanting to come to this outpost that is a bit off the beaten tourist track) was seeing Komodo dragons in the wild, just a couple of meters away from where we stood.

Dennis and I flew from Denpasar to Labuan Bajo on the afternoon of January 15 (Day 21). We checked in at our charming and spacious (and cheap!) bungalow up in the hilltops above the town. We then wandered down to town to explore a bit and get fitted for our scuba equipment for the next day. There isn't much to the town, so we headed back to our place for a swim in the pool (yes, another pool!) and then got barbecue fish and squid for dinner at a bar/restaurant also up in the hills with great views of the harbor.

We left before 7 a.m. on January 16 for our day of scuba diving. I know I'm no expert, having only scuba dived at one other location prior to these dives, but I can't imagine better diving. The visibility was phenomenal, the diversity of marine life impressive, and the abundance of flashy animals like octopus and sea turtles caused me to overexcite and use oxygen more quickly than I should. We did two dives in the morning, then the dive operators provided a delicious buffet lunch of Indonesian food while we made our way to Rinca Island, part of Komodo National Park.

We saw a dragon almost as soon as we entered the park, ambling slowly through a field--and we were glad it was ambling, because the world's largest lizards (about 8 feet long and 150 pounds) can run faster than a human over short distances. Our group's two guides took up the front and the rear, and each carried a long two-pronged stick to fend off any possible attacks. The guides said that they have used the sticks many times, and that a guide got bitten a couple of years ago and had to be rushed to Bali for treatment. The bacteria (not venom) in a Komodo dragon's mouth is extremely deadly, and his bite is pretty fierce, too. (The guide required 55 stitches.) Happily, no dragons attacked us. We made sure to keep a healthy distance, except in one instance when we almost stumbled over one that no one had seen before we were right next to it--the lizards blend into the surroundings very well. The island was also extremely beautiful, and the guides led us on an hour-long trek around part of it.

We saw 10 dragons total, in a variety of sizes. The second-to-last dragon we saw was a full-grown male, and he was enormous. He was right next to the trail, so we got pretty close to him, and I was completely awe-struck by his size and appearance. They are just such cool and utterly imposing creatures. To see Komodo dragons on one of the four islands in the world that they inhabit (there are fewer than 6,000 left in the wild) was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is what I was most excited about in Indonesia, and it did not disappoint. The last Komodo dragon that we saw started running (at a distance), and he could definitely book it. Time to leave the island!

On the nearly two-hour boat ride home, it started to pour. Like crazy. It's the rainy season in Indonesia, and January is supposed to be the worst month to visit. This is when the country fit in with the rest of our planned travels, though, so we figured we would just make the most of it. The weather had held for most of our first two days in Indonesia, although we would hear downpours at night. This time, though, we were stuck on a small diving boat as the rain came down violently and the sea turned choppy. It never felt dangerous, and our boat had tarp to cover the sides so we stayed somewhat dry, but it still wasn't very fun. It continued to pour on and off for the rest of the afternoon and evening, so we didn't leave our hotel after coming back from our day of diving and dragons.

Unfortunately, perhaps because of the rain in the afternoon and evening of January 16, the harbor master barred all boats from leaving Labuan Bajo on January 17. Dennis and I had booked another day of scuba diving, and we were going to Manta Point to see manta rays, which would have been another remarkable experience. Our diving guides took us to one of the places to see mantas on our first dive on January 16, but we struck out. Manta Point is supposed to be the best place to see them, though, and the people on our boat who had been to Manta Point the day before had seen five mantas. We left our hotel before 7 a.m. again to get to the dive shop on the morning of January 17, very excited about going out to see manta rays, and received the bad news that no boats could leave.

We trudged back up the hill to our hotel, where other guests gradually came back from town, as well, all with the same bad news that their trips had been canceled. Though very disappointed, we mainly are so relieved that we saw Komodo dragons on our first day. We wouldn't have gotten to see them if we had planned to visit Komodo National Park on January 17. We probably would have tried to change our return flights to Bali if that had been the case.

Of course, it didn't rain at all on January 17, which was incredibly frustrating. In fact, we saw more sun than we have yet in our time in Indonesia. There really isn't anything to do in this town that isn't by boat, so it was a long and lazy day at the hotel lobby (the only place with internet) and pool. We walked the 20 minutes back to town in the afternoon as our big activity for the day, explored a couple of side streets and bought some 15-cent snacks. I love Indonesian prices. We tried to get $10 massages, but they were booked up when we got there, probably because everyone is stuck on land today. The town itself is very poor, and a lot of infrastructure--most notably reliable trash collection--seems to be lacking. The people are very friendly, though, and many of them shout greetings as we pass.

As much as I would have loved to see manta rays, we accomplished all that we set out to do in Labuan Bajo: enjoy some world-class scuba diving and visit the Komodo dragons. A day of total rest, even if unintended, is good for us to have every now and then on this trip. We tend to go-go-go and aren't great at scheduling down time for ourselves, so maybe the canceled scuba trip was actually blessing in disguise.

Cat Tally: 11--and I got to hold two of them in my lap!
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Corie on

Hey Whit (and Dennis) - Loving all your entries! It's amazing how much you've already seen/done on your trip - don't worry about missing the mantas (we struck out in Hawaii too, so we'll all have to find them some day). BTW, love the Sounders jersey, Dennis ;). Miss you and keep writing!

bakkepackers on

You'll be seeing a lot of that Sounders jersey, Corie! It's one of a only a handful of shirts Dennis brought, and he plans to proudly rep it all over the world. Glad you appreciate the Seattle shout-out =)

bakkepackers on

And yes, let's all go swim with manta rays together someday!

Brian Bakke on

Sorry no Mantas. Extremely jealous of your dives overall. Your dragon safari demands a question: Have you seen the movie, "The Freshman" starring Matthew Broderick, Marlon Brando and the younger brother of The Big Guy?

It's seems to me that the trifecta of this trip is to attend a wedding reception where the wait staff are cats serving nachos. The added bonus would be the cats riding komodo dragons. But cat-sized dragon saddles are very expensive.

bakkepackers on

Definitely adding cat-sized dragon saddle to my birthday wish list, thanks for the suggestion, Brian!

Eileen on

Dad and I are loving keeping up with your adventures! I'm so glad you had a great day of scuba despite the rainy season. Whitney, you are a phenomenal travel writer! We miss you both!!

Peter on

Awesome pictures and descriptions of the DRAGONS!

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