Komodo dragons and diving in the national park

Trip Start Jan 10, 2013
Trip End Jan 23, 2014

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Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Thursday, July 25, 2013

Although seeing Komodo dragons in the wild was something we'd both wanted to do for a while, visiting Flores was a bit of a last minute decision. We had spent so long in Bali that we suddenly realised that if we wanted to see more of Indonesia we'd better start making it happen, otherwise we'd wake up on day in March and realise we were still in Bali and had forgotten to return to work! (Yep, sounds awful doesn't it?!)

We caught a flight from Lombok to Flores in the eastern reaches of Indonesia's Nusa Tenggara, via Bali (despite Lombok having a lovely shiny new international airport, you still need to backtrack and transit in Denpasar). Since we only had a week to spare for Flores we decided to base ourselves in Labuan Bajo, the jumping off point for the Komodo National Marine Park, the dragons and the world class diving.

We found a lovely couple of guest houses, both with striking views over the sea and Komodo islands. The town itself was a dusty little place with a small handful of surprisingly good restaurants. But beyond that it's certainly not a place to visit in itself. The main draw here is diving on these very beautiful boats that look like pirate ships! You can do liveaboards or day trips, and you can sometimes combine with a trip to see the dragons.

I had come down with a cold and cough, so unfortunately diving wasn't really an option for me. I tried one dive and had trouble equalising my ears (not really that surprising when breathing above land is already a challenge!) and couldn't get below about 9m. What I did see down there was stunning though, it's meant to be one of the best places in the world to dive and I think it certainly is. The coral was healthy and happy, full of colour and movement and life. The marine life was spectacular, vivid colour, turtles, and masses of fish. The only drawback is that the diving can be challenging, with strong currents and testing conditions. The dive I did was on the whole OK, but there was quite a current which sped up to super fast towards the end. The nice thing about drift diving is that it's a bit like being on a conveyor belt, as the current takes you past the views and you just need to look, a bit like watching TV! But you've got to be able to handle the current.

I settled for a snorkel instead of my 2nd dive, and it was pretty good (I could breathe - hurrah!)! The colour of the sea was like you see in holiday brochures. 

There are two places you can see the dragons - Rinca and Komodo itself. We went for a trip to Rinca, which was two hours away by pirate ship, as opposed to four for Komodo. Chris did a couple more dives on this trip, whereas I snorkelled and took full advantage of the top deck of the pirate ship and the beautiful views.

Arriving on Rinca, it was dry and dusty. There is not a lot there apart from a couple of small, simple villages, with most (if not all) of the island protected as National Park. We were to do a one hour dragon spotting hike of the island. We'd been warned by other travellers that the dragons were pretty sedate. They were not wrong! We saw about 6 or 8 lazing outside one of the park ranger huts (apparently they could smell food being cooked inside. Our guide said that they don't feed the dragons on the island, I hope that is the case). It seemed pretty funny to me, they hang around by this hut (which is built on stilts) making it look as though the people who lived in that hut (including a little girl - I'd heard they eat little children!) prisoners in their own home! I mean, how do you get out when you have a dragon lying at the foot of the steps leading up to your front door?!

It was definitely one of those pinch me moments. There I was standing just a few feet away from wild Komodo dragons on Rinca. I had a moment of awe quickly followed by a moment of 'I can't believe we've made this happen'. I still get those moments, where I just can't quite believe we are here, doing this amazing stuff, seeing things we've dreamt of.

So the dragons were pretty lazy, just lying there under the trees, with tubby tummies and fork tongues that would come out every so often to smell the air. The highlight was when one of them moved. (Yeah seriously, they were that unexciting!) He seemed to be trying his luck with the other male dragons, seeing if anyone was interested, but I guess they all realised he was a boy and he got nowhere, not even a fight - which we were hoping for!

We didn't see many more dragons on the hike, but we did see a wild buffalo and a baby dragon up a tree - our guide reckoned he was a couple of months old. So we were pretty chuffed to have seen the wild baby. (Does that sound like the buffalo was also up the tree with the baby dragon? Because if you are in any doubt, he wasn't... He was securely on terra firma) :)
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