Living on a deserted island and Komodo dragons

Trip Start Sep 24, 2009
Trip End Apr 30, 2010

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Where I stayed
Kanawa Island Bungalows

Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stranded on a deserted island

One night in the port town of Labuanbajo was more than enough. Now that we knew we would need to fill in 4 days before our flight back to Bali, we figured we would base ourselves on a small island, Kanawa Island, about 45 mins by boat out of Labuanbajo. 

OK – picture this.  A small little island surrounded by beautiful blue tropical waters teaming with colourful coral and fish.  Lush grassy grounds with cute little bungalows dotted along the beach.  An open-air restaurant serving divine Indonesian food and pina coladas next to the infinity pool.  And a handful of fellow travellers to share it with – just enough to make it interesting, but not so many that it feels crowded. 

OK – that's NOT where we were!  The boat dropped us off on a long, rickety old wharf that had a fairly precarious wobble as we walked along.   Half the planks weren’t nailed down properly or had partially rotted. We learned later as we snorkelled underneath why the wharf wobbled so much - half the supporting posts were just dangling in the water.  They weren’t secured to anything!

We were taken to the open-air restaurant and pretty much just left there.  (No singing guitar-playing welcome party with shell lei necklaces to be found here!).  Someone, without actually speaking to us, eventually showed us to our bungalow.

The island is extremely dry, arid and dusty.  We walked past several bungalows until we reached our one (the farthest one away) and I swear it felt like a ghost town here.  The place just has an abandoned feel to it.  Doors were swinging in the breeze; some had broken windows with curtains flapping outside.  A broken chair was lying outside another. We were waiting for the tumbleweed to blow down the walkway.  Our 'guide’ opened our door and walked away.  No welcome, no introduction or explanation.

We were the only guests here – for the entire 4 days that we spent here!   A few showed up for an hour or two as a stop on their snorkel trip, but otherwise we had the island to ourselves.  The electricity is turned on from 6pm-11pm only.  Water is limited as they have to bring it in from the mainland.  We had to ask for the water to be turned on each time we wanted to have a ‘shower’ or wash clothes, or ‘flush’ the toilet. 

We didn’t actually have a shower or toilet; this was an old-style outdoor Indonesian bathroom with a squat ‘hole in the ground’ toilet and a ‘mandi’.  The mandi is a large container of water and you use a small handheld bucket to scoop up the water to pour over yourself to bathe, or to flush the toilet.  

All of this was manageable – but service of any form was non-existent!  There were maybe 4 ‘staff’ working here – and I use that term very loosely!  No one took the slightest bit of notice of us. Mostly they just spend time on texting on their cell phones, or sitting around their table.  We walked into the restaurant – and after 10 mins or so, would get the menus ourselves.  We then walked back up to tell them what we wanted.  And then we waited.  And waited – for an hour (no kidding) for our meal to come!  Honestly, how long does it take to cook up fried rice and fried noodles?  And the food was so bad that by Day 2 I decided I just wanted scrambled eggs on toast.  Well, that was a problem as they had run out of bread.  I settled for fruit salad – but they only had 2 fruits left.  They ran out of Sprite.  We stuck to vegetarian dishes as anything else just seemed to dodgy.  The fish could have been OK as we saw them catch it in the morning – but it was left to dry out in the sun during the day.  No thanks!  I could have ordered chicken, but there was only one chicken running around and I didn’t want to be the cause of it’s demise.

Having said all of that, we DID at least have beautiful tropical waters teaming with colourful fish!   We did lots of snorkelling right off the beach and saw a good range of marine life, including eels, small rays, sunfish, starfish, an octopus and my favourite – dozens of little Nemo’s!

The island was so quiet.  No cars and motorbikes, mosque calls to prayer, and only one rooster to announce that it was (almost) time to wake up.  Mosquitoes were non-existent.  There was a lovely breeze blowing most of the time which meant the temperature was really pleasant.  At night we could sleep with the door open and enjoy the fresh sea breeze.  And the snorkelling really was quite good.

Aside from reading and snorkelling there really isn’t anything else to do here.  Alan walked around the island early one morning – that took him an hour, including photo stops.  And we watch the fish swimming around the wharf, dead fish drying in the sun, and ants carrying away grains of sugar off the table.  Hmmmmm.. it really IS a stress free place to be.

Alan tends to have one beer a day, usually with dinner.  After the 3rd day, I told Alan that I knew we had been here for 3 days as there were 3 empty bottles lined up on the floor.  Having nothing better to do one night while waiting for dinner, I rewrote this little ditty:

   3 bottles of beer on the floor; 3 bottles of beer.
   Another night, Alan has one more,
   4 bottles of beer on the floor.

Yep – things are pretty quiet on this island…..!

At the end of our 4th day, we got our bags organized for the boat trip back to Labuanbajo and for the flight back to Bali.  We went to the restaurant to try and rustle someone up for our final ‘feast’ – and one of the guys handed me his cell phone.  It was the travel agent guy who had booked our ticket to Bali.  Apparently the flight had been cancelled, and we would now have to go a day later.  Argh!!!  We had already waited 4 days until we could get a seat in the first place.  I tried to find out why the flight was cancelled – and got the usual vague type of answer that didn’t really answer my question:  "Today all the Muslims are travelling to Mecca so maybe they cancel the flight tomorrow".  Huh?  We just gave up and rolled with it; it’s about all that you can do here.  As we ate dinner, the generator died, so that’s the end of the electricity.  

We decided that we would head back to Labuanbajo the next day anyhow as it would get us just that much closer to the airport.   Knowing our luck, if we stayed another day a cyclone would move in and prevent us from leaving the island!

Up close and personal with Komodo dragons

Before we left Labuanbajo, we had arranged to do a day trip to Rinca Island to see the Komodo dragons, one of the key reasons for coming to Flores in the first place.  The dragons can be seen on both Komodo and Rinca islands, but apparently they are more abundant on Rinca.

Komodo dragons are large monitor lizards that can grow up to 3m long.  One dragon can bring down a buffalo with a single, poisonous bite.  They can run up to 18km an hour I think so would have no problem catching one of us!.  They are not something you want to mess around with.

We enjoyed a 2 hour boat ride to Rinca past lots of islands – it was lovely to just get off our own little island for the day and see something different.  On Rinca, we had a guide to take us for a 2 hour walk to see the dragons along with buffalo and monkeys.  The guide carries a large stick to keep the dragons at bay.

As we wander along the track, we spotted a few nesting dragons.  They just stare as we walk by, within 15-20 feet.  Lucky for us (?!), a dragon had taken down a buffalo that morning further up stream, so we were taken there to check it out.  It was pretty ghastly.  Most of the skin had been ripped off the buffalo, and there were 3-4 dragons chowing down as we watched.  Alan was busy photographing, and I was doing my best to not watch the feast.  I preferred to keep an eye on the dragon that was crawling up behind Alan, who was sitting between the dragon and the buffalo.  It’s amazing to think that we were so close to such dangerous animals:  no fences to keep them separated from us!  And of course, I’m not sure what good the guide and his stick would have been if one decided to eat one of us for dessert!

It was a fascinating day!  Afterwards, the boat dropped us off for some more snorkelling – which was a nice respite from the heat of Rinca.

Waiting, waiting

So now, we are back in Labuanbajo, killing time, drinking yummy mixed fruit juices at the only decent restaurant in Labuanbajo and making use of their internet, connection.  With a bit of luck, we’ll catch our flight tomorrow.  Fingers crossed!
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Rach on

You look sunburned and suitably unimpressed in 14!
Oh the wonderful highs and lows of travel all in one blog ;O)

Lisa on

'unimpressed' only because I hate having my photo taken! That's why there are more pics of Alan than me!

Sarah on

Hi great pics. Was just wondering what time of year did you go? Thanks

lisa_nz on

This was in Nov 2009.

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