Komodo National Park

Trip Start Dec 15, 2008
Trip End Dec 19, 2008

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Flag of Indonesia  , West Nusa Tenggara,
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tuesday 16th

Up early and get packed for my flight to Komodo. I'm leaving my hiking pack and computer with Chris and just taking the daypack. The maid fixes me breakfast - juicy ripe mango, so much better than any we ever get on the island, and toast & coffee, and then get taken to the airport by their driver. Pay for my ticket to Labuan Bajo. Incessant Balinese chime music is being piped through the airport departure lounge. I'm not sure I appreciate it as much as I'm supposed to. Aside from the music, the airport is eerily quiet. Though there are about 9 flights ahead of mine, there's not enough passengers in the airport to fill even one of them. I don't know how they warrant so many fights. Of the three to Labuan Bajo (all at 10:00), I get to be on the one that is delayed an hour and a half. Yay, more music.

The plane is a little twin prop Fokker 50. It's about 2 hours to LB and flying over the Indonesian archipelago is marvellous. But it becomes even more marvellous as we begin the descent over Komodo and Rinca. Big islands, small islands, little rock pillar islands, everywhere. Rising up out of the aquamarine reefs, they look a little like the volcanoes of Hawaii, but are actually more reminiscent of the Kimberly ranges. Dry spinifex yellow in colour and texture. Palms - maybe some sort of Livistonia? - are peppered over these curious savannah hills. I can't wait to get down there and explore them.
As the plane gets closer to Flores, the islands get greener and greener. Labuan Bajo is iridescent green, backed by the turquoise waters of the Sundas Sea. As the little Fokker lands on the minute Floresian hilltop runway, it comes closed to clipping the palm trees growing on the slope below. It's magnificent. It's unreal. It's even better than the pictures. This is what I have come to see!

At the airport I meet Michael, a friendly tout who works for the "ship company" or "boat company" or something. He arranges my trip to the islands for me; 1.9 million Rupiah, overnight on a "medium" boat, all food and drink included, I just need to pay the Park fees when I get there [spoiler: I could have probably got it for a LOT cheaper - for the same price I could have done THREE days of diving with Reef Seekers!]. In the car, Michael tells me that he's Christian. There are also some Muslims here, he tells me, and then hastens to add "but they're not terrorists". Well, that's good to know. [I may have found his comment amusing at the time, but much later, after months of mulling it over in my head, I've decided that I actually find it quite insulting, both to my intelligence and to his home country that he obviously doesn't have much pride for].

At the harbour Michael and the two other men in the car show me the boat. I agree to the deal and they get the ball rolling. I'm placed under the watch of Philip, one of the men from the car, while Michael and the other guy start getting the boat equipped. Philip is a government-appointed tour guide - a reputable, official guide as part of Indonesia's attempt to improve the tourism industry. He takes me to Reef Seekers, where I book two dives for the day after I get back from the islands. Then it's across the road to the Gardena Hotel to make a reservation for when I get back to LB. Decide to have lunch on the terrace, surrounded by a garden in full bloom, with commanding views of the harbour. The whole town is so tranquil and relaxed, green and natural. The harbour is surrounded by a maze of islands looming up out of the ocean. The view is stunning. I order a tamarind juice and fried noodles, while Philip makes trouble with the waitress. We're joined for lunch by Mike, an American who was on the flight with me.

After lunch it's back to the harbour, via a shop to buy some mozzie repellent. Since I neglected to read the list of stuff I'd need to transfer into my daypack back in Bali this morning, I don't have any sunscreen. I can't buy any from the local shops, so it looks like I'll probably become a lobster by the end of the trip [spoiler: I did].
There's just myself and the two crew members on the boat. Michael and Philip stay in LB to arrange tours for tomorrow's tourists. Not that there will be many, because it's the off season and the place is dead.
As we head out to sea, the mighty peaks of Flores begin to emerge from behind the foothills, but are quickly obscured by afternoon storm clouds before I can see their true height. We putt lazily through the labyrinth of islands. At one stage we are joined by a dolphin.

The closer we get to Komodo, the drier and more barren the islands become, until eventually they are the colour of scoria (which they probably are), peppered with spinifex-looking grass, sometimes with mangroves on the leeward side, and if lucky, one or two ancient, gnarled trees on the summit. We pass through a rough channel and I can now see why they don't let the small boats go all the way to Komodo.
At sunset the world turns into a soft mass of pink. We are now among many islands and the water is flat as a mirror. Except for the whirlpools. Ali deftly dodges those, which seem so out of place in this calm, benign, pink evening-world.
I talk with Ali and Baro as far as my broken Malay and their broken English will allow. They're brothers from Macassar (Sulawesi) and have been in Labuan Bajo for four years.

About an hour after dusk we arrive at Komodo, trailing a phosphorescent wake behind us. We anchor with another boat for the night. I spot two dugout canoes paddle up silently. Some locals have come to sell handicrafts. They have the most beautiful polished wooden komodo dragons for sale, but alas, I cannot buy them. Stupid Australia and it's stupid quarantine laws. Actually, maybe if I declare them and get them treated I can keep them? I hope I see those guys again!
Baro is trying to cook tea. The generator keeps cutting out. Bukan salah saya. I lend him my headlamp. A little while later, seven large plates are placed on the deck before me. Fried noodles, steamed rice, pickled vegies, whole fish, omelette, pineapple and cucumber salad, and fresh pineapple and bananas. Ali & Baro then retire to the cabin to eat their own, different food. Nothing I can say will make them help me with this mountain of food, enough for four people, and I feel terrible that so much goes to waste.

With great ceremony, mattresses are piled onto the deck until a bed is made. The tarps on the sides of the deck are rolled down and secured tightly so that no rain can get in. Or breeze, for that matter. Ali makes sure the tarps are shut real tight and I joke that it's to keep the dragons out. Half an hour later, I'm laying awake in the silence, my ears pricking at every swish of water and every crackle of the tarp. Good one, Braydon.
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