On the Batu Bolong in Flores, Komodo & Rinca

Trip Start Jun 23, 2012
Trip End Jun 30, 2014

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Where I stayed
on the Batu Bolong
What I did
Komodo National Park
Komodo & Rinca + surrounding islands

Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Friday, June 28, 2013

Flying out from the Bali airport in a little plane to Labuan Bajo, Flores was pretty uneventful aside from the amazing view of the countless islands and their amazing beaches. From the view in the plane, it almost looked like you could swim from island to island and go from deep blue water to a teal and then aquamarine before landing on the white beaches. The flight was easy and I still enjoy getting off the plane down a set of stairs and standing on the tarmac with the propellers slowing down and eventually stopping right beside you. It's such a novelty compared to going through those accordion hallways at larger airports.

The airport at Labuan Bajo was pretty simple. It was a building with one room and the guys unload the luggage right there. Technically I was supposed to show them each boarding pass with the luggage stickers on them but it was taking too long - so in typical bule fashion I just bossed the guy around and told him which bags I wanted. While I was retrieving the bags, Kyle had gotten the attention of the guy from the boat that would be picking us up from the airport and driving us to the port where the docks were, where the ship was waiting for us.

Flores was hot - really hot. It was dry and arid, and trying to coax luggage along the rocky dirt path was a bit tricky and extremely exhausting. Thankfully the guys from the boat helped us get the luggage in the car and then we were on our way with A/C and a young Swedish couple (Jesper & Hanna) in the back seat.

I've ceased being amazed by the amazing situational awareness, reverse skills and general manoeuvering of Indonesian drivers, but I have to say that reversing on a pier to the boat was pretty impressive - and at a pretty good speed as well. Getting on the boat was nice and then we were briefed.

Most of the names I can't remember - I do remember however, the captain was Hassan, there was Danny and Cornelius who did speedboat driving, Adrienne who was the manager of the boat, Martin the other master diver on board....and then everyone else I can't remember their names but they were all really nice, always smiling and ready to laugh.

The boat itself was spacious and clean. Our beds were on the top deck, in boxed wooden frames that were set up similar to bunks. It was pretty cool sleeping with just a roof and the open air. There was a galley type space for the dining room with the lower cabins through there, and then lounge areas at the bow of the boat and on the top deck in front of the captain's room (the place where captain's steer). The back of the boat was the kitchen and space for refilling the diving tanks with air.

As our group (Me, Kyle, Alice, Erin & Thomas) were just lowly snorkellers, the divers (Adrienne Martin, Jesper & Hanna) were prioritized because they were putting more money into it. It didn't really end up mattering though, because once they were off we could pretty much do what we wanted. There are literally thousands of islands, islets and random rocks that have endless coral reefs that are accessible by snorkelling. It can be really shallow as the corals will take up huge sections of the beaches, so there's so much to see. The only thing we would have to be careful with was the currents, as they were fast and strong. Thankfully there were absolutely no undertoes or riptides.

Now, for those who know m,e they know that I really don't have an afinity for water and it's been like that since I was really little. I have a really bad fear of open water, especially if I can't see the bottom. It's often hard enough to get me into a pool, and Kyle experienced my inability to go more than up to my knees at the beach in Kuta. It's just something I'm not comfortable with. Now, here I was in the ocean with just flippers, a mask and a snorkel, and just plopped in the water.

Needless to say it was pretty hard for me to do this on a boat for 4 days. However, I kept reminding myself that this was a once in a lifetime experience, and that I just needed to stay calm. Well for the entire trip it would literally take me 5 minutes to just calm down with my face in the water. I was all sunscreened up, wearing swim shorts and a shirt, with my flippers and mask and would just stick my face in the water and spread eagle my arms and legs to stay afloat. It took me awhile to calm my breathing, to focus on looking at details and not the terrifying blue abyss that was beyond the corals.

In the end, I am still really proud of what I was able to accomplish. Any time there was an opportunity to snorkel, I went. I didn't care if it was early in the morning or if I was tired and wanted to relax. I was more afraid of missing out on something than the actual water. I don't think I conquered my fear, but I definitely think that I got myself in the right frame of mind that I could deal with it and enjoy myself.

The only other time I had used a snorkel was in 2006 when my family went to Disney World in Florida, at Typhoon Lagoon where you could go into the tank with stingrays and nurse sharks - that was a terrible experience, yet hilarious when I tell it to friends.

Getting used to the flippers and the snorkel took some practice, but I just reminded myself to stay calm and to appreciate the experience. I often had to rinse out my mask because it would get foggy, but by the second day I managed to learn how to push the water leaking into my mask out with my nose and spew the water out from my snorkel.

One of the really great things was that I never felt alone in the water, because Captain Hassan was with us at every snorkel. He is an amazing guy and so friendly, and he would often grab my hand and pull me over to look at different things or take my camera and go deeper to take a picture of something cool I was too afraid of to see because it was deep. Another great thing about Captain Hassan was that for such a little guy, he was so strong! Quite a few times the currents were so strong I would have trouble moving forward, but he would just grab me by the wrist and just cut through the water like it was nothing.

[by the way, Canon Waterproof Camera was the best investment EVER]

Thomas was the only one in our group that was in for the scuba diving. I can honestly say that I have absolutely no interest in that. I thoroughly enjoy snorkelling and just being at the surface of the water.

We went to some pretty great places, one of them was called the Cauldron. This was an area between two fairly big islets where two currents converged in opposing directions so that the surface of the water was literally churning. The current was so strong here that we were basically crawling on the rocks and pulling ourselves along just to get to certain places. It was insane how quickly we would get pulled away when we let go. This was definitely the most exhausting dive, but in exchange we saw cool coral and fish, and a couple sea turtles.

Something to remember aside from the currents around Flores, Komodo and Rinca is that because of the strong currents it brings in a lot of plankton and jellyfish and its for this reason that the area is teeming with fish, mantas and sharks. Without the plankton and jellyfish there would be no mantas or fish, and the sharks wouldn't come for the cleaning stations. The only problem with this is that the water can be cloudy (especially in pictures) and it's mostly stinging plankton and really small jellyfish. It hurt a lot to get in the water often, and Captain Hassan would just pour vinegar all over me to rid of the stings - this hurt doubly so, because I had scratches from the rocks and coral. At one point I was in so much pain I just took 2 Benedryls and passed out for a few hours.

When we went to Manta Bay we had to go out by speedboat pretty far because the current was so strong and so fast that we could just let it carry us back to the boat and we could float along for at least 20 minutes before getting back to the boat. The reason why it's called Manta Bay is obvious, it's teeming with mantas all the time and that's solely because of the volume of plankton that are in the area. The stinging was the absolute worst in Manta Bay, but I had to keep myself in the right frame of mind. In the end we saw four massive mantas that were about 3-4 metres wide and 2 sea turtles. Totally worth it. Being in the open water was really scary, and the only way to get out was in the speedboat. I wasn't sure how capable I would be pulling myself into the inflated speedboat, so instead Kyle and I decided to ride the current back to the boat. Kyle and I thought we had overshot the boat just enough for the current to place us at the landing ramp of the boat, but we missed. Kyle didn't miss by much, but I missed by a lot. I hadn't anticipated the current beside the boat to be so strong. It was absolutely terrifying trying to swim towards the boat and making absolutely no progress. I was just getting further and further from the boat and Kyle - needless to say I was panicking. Thankfully the speedboat came along and Hassan pulled me in, but Kyle couldn't make it in so the poor guy had to be towed by the speedboat with him hanging on the side against the current. That was the day I absolutely crashed because I was so tired and the stinging had hurt so much.

In total, the coral reefs were pretty amazing. I saw the same kind of blue starfish about a hundred times, but they were big like 12" in diameter. I couldn't help poking one because it was so bright and blue - it was squishy like a slug. Some of the coral were so shallow that it was scratching at my stomach or brushing my shirt. My ankles and knees were banged up by the end of the adventure. My feet were so bruised from the flippers - but it's all worth it in the end.

Some of the things I got to see were sea turtles (probably 5 or 6 in total), coasting around in bubbles and eating plankton. A blue and black striped water snake that is one of the most poisonous, but because it's mouth is so small and it's fangs are at the back of the mouth it's virtually negligible for danger. Needlefish about a foot long that skimmed the surface of the water quickly in front of your face eating the little plankton at the surface of the water. A blowfish that was pretty big, very colourful. Schools of parrotfish which are beautifully coloured. Huge anemones and clownfish poking in and out and wriggling in the fingers. Blue Tangs (Dory from Finding Nemo) were all over the place. Trevalley are massive fish and taste delicious. A stingray under one of the coral shelves. And of course the mantas at Manta Bay.

One of the best places I snorkelled was when it was just me, Thomas and Hassan because everyone else wanted to stay in bed and relax. Thomas is a really strong swimmer, so he did his own thing and Hassan stayed with me. We dropped off the divers first and then we snorkelled around the rocks. I could even see the divers below us at 30m and their bubbles floated up. A sea turtle came up swimming in and out of the bubbles towards the surface where he hung out for a bit. Unfortunately, the speedboat did a zip around to get back in position and the turtle bee lined straight to the bottom again. This is also where I saw the blowfish and the sea snake. One of the coolest things I saw though was the landscape was full of different corals because the rocks had broken into pieces. There was this one corridor where the water was fairly calm and I could just float in between the rocks and look at all the life that had grown from top to bottom. This was amazing, and I am still so glad that I got ready quickly so I could head out. It was so colourful and alive.

I'd learned by the second day that if I kept my breathing even and slow, then used my feet to swim slowly instead of my arms that the fish just saw me as a very strange but harmless fish and would continue swimming around me. It was hard to resist the urge to try and touch the fish around me, but it was amazing how close they would come. They would swim around my stomach and face, coming in and out and moving in schools.

Aside from the mindblowingly amazing snorkelling, one of our last days was spent on Rinca where we went to see the Komodo dragons. The port was small, just a dock set up with a little hut. The main building caused a bit of a fuss because they were saying it was one price and our manager said she was charged differently and some of us had Kitas etc etc etc and in the end we just paid because the guy was getting all pissy. Whatever, we went to the island and got to see the Komodo dragons.

Most of the dragons we saw were lazing in the sun around the kitchen building. One of the males had a broken leg and just laid out because it couldn't do anything else. We only saw one Komodo in the grass on our way out to the trek and it just turned her head at us in curiosity but lazily went back to sun bathing.

The guy doing our tour was nice and had good English. It was funny though because the moment he said that he showed us the nest and explained that once Komodo dragons hatched they jetted straight to the trees to avoid being eaten by their mother, and then proceeded to live in the trees for two years - everyone looked up in the trees and immediately anticipated ninja attacks from baby dragons.

We did see a young dragon on the way back maybe two or three years old walking along. It was easily scared off with a stick though.Part of me was happy that it was an easy adventure to see the dragons because I probably didn't need a traumatizing experience. But at the same time, we had heard so many warnings and even Adrienne had said one time there was a dragon that wouldn't get off the path and was snarling. Thankfully we didn't have that, but I was hoping to see more than just Timor deer and Buffalo poop all over the place. I think Kyle was glad I'd made him wear his runners instead of flipflops.

Living on a boat was amazing, and although I didn't shower the whole time I was in the water all the time. I had sunscreen in my hair, aloe on my skin at all times and I wore my bikini every day with a dress on top. It was relaxing and absolutely surreal.

At the end of it all, we went to a shitty little hotel that Martin had booked a room since our flight was early the next morning. The poor Swedish couple were stuck in Flores until the end of the week (it was a Tuesday) and there were no more rooms in the hotel we were at. So we put Kyle and Thomas in one room, Jesper and Martin in another, and then me, Alice, Erin and Hanna slept sideways on the bed. The girls' room was definitely better than the boys', and the shower (although cold) was very nice.

That night we went to a bar of Martin's suggestion and hung out a bit and got some food. It was a nice end to the trip. The next morning we took angkots to the airport and then finally made it back to Bali, where we caught the next flight back to Jakarta.
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