Stalking Komodo Dragons With My Parents!
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Martinos from the beginning of the trip. Because my flight connections had been well behind schedule, I missed him. We would try to connect at the end of the trip. I got home at 1 AM.
The next morning about 7AM I was off to the Bali airport, very excited as I had arranged to
meet my parents and travel with them for two weeks. If you have read previous stories, you know I missed the chance to do that in India a few years earlier when my father had broken his leg.
about 3 months a year. This time they were on Indonesia. We had arranged to meet; they had been in Bali for a few days already. What a wonderful opportunity, I was so excited to see them my heart was thumping. I walked into the airport with my big pack, there were Mom and Dad.
It was all smiles and hugs, together on the other side of the world. We grabbed our bags and headed for the flight. After a couple connections, we landed on our destination island, a large place called Pulau Flores, Flores Island. This island is about 75 miles high by about 500 miles
long, lots of adventure to be had. We landed in the town of Maumere, on the eastern part.
After an exhilarating scooter ride into town, we managed to find one decent room with a bed and mattress and the floor. We were home, it was hot here but we didn't care. We wandered out to the port, this town was spoken poorly about in the guide book but we REALLY liked it. We had great dish and beers, wandered over to a local festival with lots of traditional girls dancing in costumes like in Berastagi
The next morning, after a delightful breakfast in the courtyard and good coffee of course, we hopped on a bus and headed for Moni, probably 50 miles west and up into the hills. I must talk a bit about the amazing island of Flores. The highlands are primarily Catholic and Christian, the coasts a mix of Muslim and Catholic. This is certainly the most Catholic island in Indonesia. It is for sure off the beaten path, far enough away from Bali that not many go here. The people we met on this island who were traveling were for sure on some good journeys. The island was said to be dryer, rather arid. I found that in places, but saw lush volcanic lands, gushing rivers, hot springs, beaches, authentic culture; great people. If this were near Bali it would be swamped.
After a 2 hour ride, we pulled into this little charming village of Moni, set high in the hills with a couple churches in town
As you know, I have learned about 200 words of Bahasa Indonesia and developed a little cheat sheet to access them. I think Dad thought at first it was silly that had done that, soon realized that it actually was helpful in numerous situations.It is amazing what people do when they realize you are trying to speak their language. The words were pretty easy to pronounce.
So, I had one of the worst nights of sleep this night. The friggen roosters started crowing about 2AM, there was a pig snorting outside our room too
We were up at 8 or so for a hearty breakfast and connected with the Spaniards from the night before. We shared a bus ride up to the top of the mountain, took about 45 minutes. Our goal was Kelimutu, one of the most amazing sights in all of Indonesia. We got off the bus, hiked another 15 minutes or so and there it was, a volcanic crater with 3 strangely colored lakes.
The terrain around the lakes is stark, almost moonscape. The lakes, because of some kind of mineral, are colored bright, bright blue. It is quite something to look at them on a sunny day, yellow streaks of sulfur in their midst. The local tribes of this area hold these lakes very sacred; they believe that souls come here when they die. We stayed for an hour or so and started down.
We decided to hike back, the fantastic trail led through tiny little villages with coffee beans and cloves drying on above ground gravestones. Friendly villagers came out when we passed by, the kids were all smiles. We passed through some fairly lush landscape, got a good workout in and then refreshed under a 20 meter waterfall as we reached the outskirts of Moni again
It was still early afternoon, we strolled about the little town of Moni, had some food, went to a little market. Dad remarked that I was pretty easy going to travel with; we seemed to be doing pretty well. We packed our goodies, hopped in a minibus headed for the southern port town of Ende, another place the guide book didn’t seem particularly fond of. After 30 minutes or so, our driver and the passengers stopped on the side of the road, I thought it was just a normal bathroom break. I saw the people gathered in one place looking over a 400 foot drop from a cliff.Apparently one of our driver’s good friends had lost control of a vehicle and plunged over the cliff to his death with seven people in his minibus just last week, There were candles and flowers placed all along the cliff, we stayed for about 20 minutes and reflected, very sad.
Soon after we left this sadness, the driver had the techno music pumped up loud again, seemingly separating what we had just seen from his life. These Indonesian people are jolly. We came down from the mountains; I saw lots of fruit trees. We were passing through some very traditional parts of Flores Islands, ancient custom held strong in many of these places.
I saw many spots that looked like they would be great to visit. These areas are home to some of the best known ikat cloth production. The little villages often have traditional roofs with male and female totems and idols on top, related to fertility and harvest I believe. It is traditional in these villages to have the graves of the ancestors in the middle of the village and big gravestones marking them
We rolled into the southern town of Ende, the place that the former president Sukarno was held in exile years ago. The town didn’t look like much at first; we got a great room for about $12 for the three of us. The little hotel was called the Dwi Putra, the people inside seemed thrilled to see outsiders. The few travelers who come across Flores usually bee line past this town of
about 150,000. That is too bad because we found some hidden gems. It was late; we had a short walk around the harbor and then turned in for the night. The room was cozy.
The next day we explored this town after being woken up by a loud "call to prayer". We walked through a fish market with quite large tuna, clearly some big fishing boats leave here. There were ferries leaving for remote islands of Sumba and Savu, if Mom and Dad weren’t there I might have hopped on one. We strolled the beach, volcanic black sand and volcanic rocks
We walked down to the east end of the beach; some young teenagers were getting kind of
aggressive, for some reason throwing firecrackers at us. I asked them to stop, and then yelled at them with some Indonesian. They backed down and left us alone. This was actually a pretty random occurrence; everyone else we met here was delightful. I got a haircut; we sorted our
bus ride for the next day. After just a great day of wandering, we went back to the room.
That night Mom and Dad and I went to a sweet little restaurant that actually had air conditioning. I remember having large fish pulled out of the freezer and cooked for us with rice, tempeh, crisp salad and delicious sambal dipping sauce. Anyone who knows me knows a perfect ends with dessert; I slipped out to a store and brought back a box of mini ice cream sandwiches. In the warm humid air, we hopped on scooters at about 8pm and zipped over to a little craft market, shops shutting down for the day but still a fun place to wander off the big meal. We got home at 9PM, Mom and Dad out of gas but young Vinnie ready for more. I had to find some fun.
This town seemed quiet but it was the weekend, there must be some life somewhere. I hopped on a motorcycle, buzzed back into the middle of town; people were out in cafes, having food and beers. I asked around and was taken back behind this one café and escorted into a little door
that I never would have known existed. It was dark, nicely air conditioned inside, cigarette smoke wafting like the scene from the movie Casablanca with Bogie and Bacall.
The owner of the place was sitting with a few buddies inside and called me over to sit with them, I felt like a Mafioso finding a private club. There were about 20 people in the place, all lounging around on comfortable sofas, drinking whiskey and singing karaoke. I never claimed to have the best voice on the planet but after a few whiskeys I belted out a few American karaoke songs. The guys seemed to appreciate the effort; a couple of the dudes in here were government officials here from East Timor for some kind of regional conference. I stumbled out 3 hours later; one of my new buddies spun me back to my hotel. What an unexpected, fantastic night!
Dad was sleeping soundly when I got back, Mom chuckled at my late arrival, asked me if I had fun
About ten the next morning, we headed downstairs and got in a little truck to head out to our bus 5 km north of Ende. Quickly, the little truck filled up with people, the driver was BLASTING music and had colorful decorations all over his ride. This is the way people in this business distinguish themselves in other countries “I’m the dude with the coolest ride, ride with me”.
We curled up the southern coast and were dropped at the bus station. It was very hot when we
waited. I shared some of my little trinkets and toys with local kids; I forgot to tell you that I had brought a soccer ball to Indonesia and kicked it around in many places. I got it out here and kicked with the kids. Mom and Dad and I killed time, got some more huge chunks of tuna. The bus came; we loaded up and got on. It was filled with people, chickens, bags of rice, supplies. We were off for a four hour ride to the amazing, unique, northern Flores coastal town of Riung.
The bus once again was jam packed. I jockeyed for a seat on the window side and got it, Mom and Dad next to me. I looked at the door next to me, the one that was to be opened and closed to let people off. It was held on by a rudimentary metal clamp that I had to hold for much of the ride. If the clamp came off, the door swung open. Also, I was jammed against this door and was being cut into by the metal door frame that was jagged and sharp. Ah, the joys of remote travel
We reached the outskirts of this little fishing town of Riung, probably with 8000 residents. It was dusk when we got there; the place didn’t look like much. We looked around; found one place that had a room and 2 mattresses. It was great to stretch our bodies, we ate some energy bars, dried fruit and crackers and cheese my parents had brought. We had arrived after a long day.
Mom and Dad relaxed in the room, I was excited to look about so took off on foot. For such a small place, Riung is pretty spread out. I walked down to the little harbor, surrounded by houses built on stilts in the midst of a mangrove covered landscape. I had heard there was quite a bit of
beauty here, I hadn’t seen it yet and it had been a long day
I walked back into town to another place where I was told I might find some fellow travelers, although they were scarce in this town. Find them I did, and had a great time doing it. I got to the little open air restaurant attached to this other inn. I heard loud, emotional voices coming from a table in the corner, a couple from Madrid, Spain traveling with a guy and his cousin from Naples, Italy. They were arguing as only Mediterranean people can, they had arrived this day and the Italian guy was all pissed off at the others and was going to leave to go back to Ende.
I sat down, ordered big Bintang beers for the table and suddenly was in the middle of the battle. I tried to provide a voice of reason and calm the Italian guy down. I spoke mostly in Spanish although they knew some English. I suggested that if these offshore islands were as special as promised, he would be making a big mistake to leave. He didn’t listen, was pretty drunk and stormed off promising to leave in the morning. I made plans with the other three to share a boat in the morning
In the morning, I was up and excited to get going. Mom and Dad again laughed at my stories from the night before, they said they wanted to take a mellow day and I’d see them at the end. At a little breakfast place, I met a very cool guy named Frank from Paris, here working through layers of government regulation and trying to open an eco lodge on the islands I was to see
later today. He said they were beautiful. I got some cokes to mix with the palm liquor, figured I’d need them sometime during the day. I took some bread, fruit and energy bars, hoped we could talk our boatman into cooking some fish for us. I walked down to the dock, running a little late.
The night before, I couldn’t see because it was dark. I paid a small fee to the commissioner of the port, ran down to the end of the dock and looked for my friends. Being from Spain and Italy, of course they were even later than I was; they showed up about 20 minutes later. Sure enough, the Italian guy had taken off. We negotiated with a boatman, got the boat for all of us all day, use of snorkeling equipment, the promise of fresh grilled fish and fruit and our boatman,
guide for the grand total of about $30
We pulled out of harbor in our small boat, the water was glassy smooth. The captain took us by a huge shoreline of mangroves, showed us thousands of fruit bats hanging upside down. He explained that they blanket the sky of the town at sundown. They seemed very large for bats. We motored on another 5 miles or so into open water. The boat long and skinny, there was room for about three people to sit abreast. The captain was toward the back of the boat manning the motor, there was a canopy over the middle of the boat. All in all, it was a comfortable and quite seaworthy ride. The Spaniards and Italian seemed very happy.
We rounded a bend on the coast,headed straight out to Pulau Tujuh Blas, the mythical seventeen islands. When I first saw them, they took my breath away. Little pearls of beauty, surrounded by azure water brimming with fish, eels, sea creatures. Each island had a hill in the middle; they were surrounded with stunning beaches and rock and shell beaches. There were caves, great places to hike, warm water, little palm frond shelters set up for lunch. This place, so far off the tourist path, was absolutely beautiful. It would have been mobbed if near Bali.
We jumped in the water for a cool off swim, hiked, collected shells and kicked a soccer ball
After a most amazing day in paradise with great people that was much needed after bumpy bus rides across Flores, we came back slowly toward shore. We saw the bats starting to fly into town, disembarked and made plans to have dinner all together a short time later. I stopped by a little café to get palm liquor for the next day and the most amazing thing happened. I was talking with the owner outside and we were surrounded by a gigantic swarm of bees. The circled us almost like a twister, trapping us inside of their swarm for about 5 minutes. We stayed calm and they flew off. The owner had opened this café herself 3 months earlier. She said that in her culture beers are known as good luck and connection to ancestors. She flashed a huge grin and told me that she was now assured of the success of her café. Why I was part of it I don't know.
I ran into Mom and Dad walking back to our room,I was all smiles about the day I just had and convinced them to do it the next day
until late. It turned out that the Spanish woman was an actor, the Spanish guy a music mixer of some renown, the Italian guy a naturalist in Naples and the Italian woman a teacher. It was a great crowd.
Mom and Dad had a great time with the group. Young travelers seem really fond of them, admiring my parents for their sense of adventure. We heard more about Frank's island paradise hostel plans; Vanessa's acting career and shared lots of laughter. By the end of the evening, the whole group had merged and it was fantastic. I love that about travel. Fate or adventure puts people together at one place and time and the connections are often memorable. The people who had gone to the islands, me included, were full of great stories and convinced the others that we would go back the next day. We agreed and made plans to meet early.
In a nutshell, the next day was fantastic
It was time to head back to the hills, certainly hard to leave this special little paradise. We were up early at 7am to catch the bus, found some decent seats and pulled off. As is pretty common when traveling, the bus traveled all over the little town picking up people who needed rides, I think we finally pulled out of town about 2 hours later. We headed up into the hills south and a bit east toward our destination of Bajawa. As we reached the mid island spine, the temperature again was a bit cooler and the vegetation more lush. We were coming back into areas that grew coffee, cloves and had for sure some of the most traditional culture on these islands.
After three or four hours of chugging through lovely volcano country, we pulled into the town of Bajawa; I'm guessing it was about 50,000 in population. As much as I had had fun sharing a room with Mom and Dad, it was time to get my own. We found a great little place with almost a Swiss Alpine look to the construction and got rooms next to each other for about $10 night. This was a great town to explore; we wandered the markets and enjoyed the food and cooler air
I heard some loud music down the street; it was Saturday night after all. I walked with a British traveler and we poked our head inside where the noise came from. We were beckoned inside; it turned out to be an excellent party for a local politician who had just been elected. The people were thrilled to have visitors, stuffed us full of their food, drink and then showed us many of their dances and insisted that we join them. I had no idea what I was doing but tried my best.
The next morning Mom and Dad and I had made plans to hop on the back of motorbikes and go to visit the traditional villages maybe 10km away. We woke up, Mom was feeling like crap and decided to stay at the room and recoup her energy. I got her some ginger tea. Dad and I negotiated a deal to have guys ride us on the back of their scooters; we hopped on & were off.
The ride was really pretty. We wrapped around a volcano, out to farmland, heading through big bamboo forests down toward the southern part of Flores. In fact, toward the end of our day, we could actually see way down to the ocean below. We visited two very traditional villages, one in particular we had to hike to. It was really nice, we were the only outsiders there when we visited and I got a feeling from the villagers' reaction that not many travelers came here. I had brought along some prescription eyeglasses and given them out to older folks a few times during this voyage. I met an older lady in the village who really seemed to be appreciative of them. She was very shy; as soon as she tried them on she squealed with happiness and ran off.
We walked though coffee growing areas; saw kids hand picking cloves from a tree high above. We were pretty tired from the hiking and tropical climate, the guys we were with took us over to this river that they said we would like. On this whole island, we had seen very few travelers, as we went down to the river; we met a group of about 12 French people with their guide. If I remember right, they were on a boat trip and had been brought up on Flores on a tour. My dad speaks French very well so enjoyed the visit. I do remember something very funny. These people were all given little box lunches
The little river was just gorgeous, again like in Sumatra hot water coming from one side of it, cold on the other. We achieved just the perfect balance and relaxed for an hour or so. How cool, here with my Dad on scooters in the middle of remote Indonesia drinking fresh coconut milk and sitting in a jungle river and hot spring. We dried off, hopped on motorcycles and happily home, the sun setting behind the volcano as we pulled back into town after a long day.
Mom seemed to be feeling better. We dropped our stuff, walked out in town with her. The markets, even though late in the day, seemed to still be bustling. We met some of the other people I had met the night before out for dinner, a little place that served yummy Chinese Indonesian food. I remember the meals being about $2, really tasty and big portions. We had planned on leaving the next day if Mom continued to feel well. I had gotten to sleep early so was up at the crack of dawn. I caught a ride out to where the buses originated each morning; I had been told that was the best way to get a good seat. I waited for about 30 minutes in the early morning light and cool air, clutching my coffee and local doughnuts
The bus driver passed slowly past the hotel we were staying at. I had him stop so I could run in and tell them I had seats. They quickly pulled their bags together, hopped on the bus with me and we were off. I was so excited to have good seats for us, up front near the driver. My enthusiasm was quickly dampened when a man with a bandage on his head and a hacking cough got on next to me as we passed a town called Ruteng. Where could I go? I covered my mouth, turned my head and endured this for the next couple hours until he got off. Mom and Dad were looking at me helplessly, I think they had been in the same situation before.
They say that Flores Island and surroundings are the home of strange sized things. Included of course are the komodo dragons, the biggest lizards on earth. Add to this list massive bats and as we headed toward the Western tip of Flores past Ruteng, we learned that years ago, a few human skeletal remains were found in cave. "Ruteng Man" was a major scientific find. The ancient skeletal remains were very small, hobbit-like. It is theorized by many scientists that this was a unique line of human development; doubters said the remains were deformed human ancestors
Coming into town was hilly; we were dropped down onto a road that hugged the harbor. Unlike anywhere else we had seen this trip; there was sure evidence of travelers here. We learned later that there were direct flights to Bali to come see the famous Komodo Dragons near here. Also, there were a number of scuba dive shops. I guess the waters around Komodo Island are quite famous in the diving world. The main strip had a number of cute internet cafes, pubs, restaurants, shops and more activity than the rest of the island. It seemed like a great place.
I found a little place down by the harbor. Mom and Dad got some room closer to town. We were tired after the long day; I know I've said that before
Ouch, the "call to prayer" just happened at 4am to wake me. We hadn't experienced that for a week or so being in the highlands. Along the coastline in Flores, there are more Muslim people, a mixture with Catholicism seemingly living in harmony with each other. The noise actually did sound pretty though; for once the loud speaker was of decent quality. Lying in my room alone listening to the haunting sounds of the mosque in the dim morning light was surreal.
I woke early and headed out on the street alone. The people in this town seemed not quite as friendly, perhaps a little more tuned into the tourist dollar. I walked all over town, up in the hills surrounding. There was for sure more prosperity here, bigger homes; cars in the driveways. I found a little hostel for $16, about what I payed for the first night. It was pretty cool, my own bungalow on a hill nestled behind a cool little café. There were a number of bungalows near me, the breezes wafted up from the harbor; from my front porch I could see the ocean and harbor
So, for the next few days, we didn’t really do a lot. After being on the road for week that was just perfect for me. The food in this town was exceptional, revolving around fresh fish, rice and fruit. I found a very cool little place called the "Lounge Lizard", run by an Indonesian guy married to a European woman. It sat up above the main street and had very comfortable stuffed chairs as it name would suggest. The menu was good, the music a mix of reggae and ambient groove. I showed my parents this place. Although the coffee had been good everywhere we traveled, this place actually had an espresso machine. They were in heaven. Oh, they also made delicious avocado milkshakes, quite popular in Indonesia. It sounds weird but not is you realize that avocados are a fruit. Mix a bunch up with ice, milk, sugar and a drip of chocolate, delicious!
This Lounge Lizard place turned out to be a cool place to meet fellow travelers. A number of them rolled into town on a cool old schooner a day or so after we did. They had sailed from Lombok, the island east of Bali. It seemed to be a low key party/dining adventure tour. Most of the people on board were young, I liked them a lot. There were Samantha and her brother Casey from Toronto, George from Texas who was living in Indonesia working in the family business, Christian and his friend from Austria and a few others.
Everybody gravitated toward the pub in town to play cards, have drinks and relax with the breeze off the bay. The food and company were good. My parents seemed to really enjoy all these people also
This island is a National Park. We got to the dock, our captain told us to walk a half mile or so down a trail and we would be at the ranger station. The problem with this is that we saw Komodo Dragons pretty soon after we got off the boat and encountered a couple of them before we got to the station. They are certainly masters of their own domain; they swagger around as if they are scared of nothing. These creatures have poisonous bacteria in their mouth, razor sharp teeth, big claws, can grow over ten feet long and are VERY fast. We were frightened and walked tenderly and quickly until we got to the ranger station. It was exhilarating and scary.
The young ranger we got matched up with was a recent graduate and probably 19 years old. He was of slight build, carried a long forked stick as our only protection and spoke English well. He took us on a 4 mile circular walk of part of this island. It was quite hot but very pretty; we walked up into the highlands across grasslands, through woods and along streams. We saw a number of animals; all of them prey of the Komodo Dragons.
There were monkeys, water buffalo, deer. How very scary it would be to live on that island as an animal. Komodo Dragons, who eat each other at times, often hunt in a pack, attacking and dragging down animals
It was fantastic but I felt a little uneasy all day, knowing that something that big and fearless was so close by. The Komodo Dragons are scared of humans, humans are their biggest threat. Over the years, Komodos have killed a few humans, mostly ones that have been surprised in the bush. At the end of our walk, we got some cool shirts in the ranger station and strolled back to our boat, again without the ranger. We saw one more somewhat aggressive Komodo Dragon near our boat, I think it was very hungry and hunting a monkey. I tried to take a video of it, it moved in my direction, I freaked out and tan with my camera. We hopped in the boat, great day!
We came back in port, headed out for a celebratory last night together, grabbed a yummy meal end enjoyed music into the late hours again. We talked about all the good fun we had had. What a special chance to travel together. We headed for our rooms, I needed to pack up and catch up on my journaling. Morning came and Mom and Dad headed to the airport with me, waved goodbye and sent me on my way to Bali