During our first week in Bali, we had dinner with Harry at Trattoria. He was talking about some of the islands near Bali and the subject of Komodo came up. I mentioned that I’d like to go (thinking it would be a day trip) and Harry gave me the name of a travel agent (Floressa Tours) that arranged trips to the island.
I emailed them the next day and found out that it would be a 2-day trip, possibly 3 days. It involved taking a flight to Flores island and then sailing for 2 to 3 hours to Komodo. I thought about dates, thinking I would go after my brother and sister had left as I would still have 10 days left in Bali. Emails went back and forth – I was very clear that I was just one person travelling and found the price expensive (approximately $550 not including the flight which would be $300+) but I didn’t think I’d get another chance to do this.
I happened to be going to the market in Denpasar one day and told Yuli at Floressa Tours that I’d come and pay the deposit. While I was at the market she emailed me to find out the names of all the travellers. I replied saying I’d already told her it would be just me travelling. She wrote back saying that I was one person only she could give me the ‘special price’ of $825 plus $305 for the flight. I told her that it was way over my budget and that I would have to skip it. I was annoyed.
The next day I decided to try a few other companies that did tours to Komodo. I emailed four of them saying I was a single traveller and would be happy to join any tours they had leaving between the 24th and 29th of August. Siska at Komodo The Edge replied in 4 minutes, saying she had a tour leaving on the 29th, returning on the 31st, and that the price would be $566 including the flight. Half the price! It included accommodation, all meals, mineral water, entrance to Komodo National Park, airport transfers to/from Ngurah Rai Airport in Bali. It didn’t include soft drinks/alcohol, tips, airport tax and the camera fee at Komodo National Park ($5). I was in. Siska collected the deposit from our villa (I could pay the balance on the day of departure) and gave me the itinerary. It consisted of:
- Day 1: Denpasar – Rinca Island – Flying Fox Island
- Day 2: Flying Fox Island – Komodo – Pink Beach – Labuan Bajo
- Day 3: Labuan Bajo – Mirror Stone Cave – Denpasar
I was collected at 6.30am on Wednesday morning and taken to the airport. I had packed lightly – gym bottoms, shorts, t-shirts, sunglasses, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, Wet Ones, Immodium (just in case), seasick tablets (just in case). I met a Japanese couple who were doing a one-day trip to Komodo and the Peruvian couple (whose tour I’d joined). Our TransNusa flight was supposed to leave at 8.30am but at 8.45am we were still waiting for our flight to be announced. Just before 9am we boarded a bus to take us to the plane. As we drove towards a plane I was quite relieved to see it wasn’t a propeller plane. Unfortunately my relief was short-lived as we drove past the big white plane to the tiny plane waiting out of sight behind it.
The passengers were mostly tourists, mostly European. There was also the tallest man I’d ever seen – he was easily 7 foot tall.
We landed in Labuan Bajo at about 10.30. It’s a tiny airport with two halls – arrivals and departures. There’s no baggage carousel – the bags are brought up to a window, you point at yours and they hand it over.
Our guide met us outside the airport and we got into the car (the Japanese couple had their own quick tour and had already left). Our guide told us that we were going to Batu Cermin (Mirror Stone Cave) first instead of on the last day.
I’m not really a ‘cave’ person. OK, I’m not a ‘cave’ person at all. So when our cave guide told me I’d have to crawl through a hole to get to the other side I told him I couldn’t. I would be happy to just wait by the car until the others were done. He handed me a torch and told me to climb through and mind my head. As I crawled through this hole I suddenly realised I was doing the bear crawl I so dreaded in my sessions with Rama!
We eventually came out into a clearing. Our cave guide showed us the fossils of a sea turtle and some fish by torch light. I could see bats on the roof of the cave. Our cave guide then took us to another area which would have shown us why the cave is called Mirror Stone Cave had we been there between 9 and 10am. At this time, the sun shines into the canyon and is reflected on the limestone walls.
Our cave guide then told us that to get out of the cave we’d have to go back the way we came. I could not wait to get out of there. On my way back I whacked my knee on one of the stones – it’s hard to hold a flashlight and crawl through a small space at the same time!
I was glad to be out in the open again. We got into the car and drove to the harbour where our boat was waiting for us.
It was better than I expected it to be. The Peruvians and I had the upper level as our personal space (where we also slept that night), the dining table and chairs were on the lower level. The toilet was also on the lower level. I have to admit the state of the loo had concerned me for a while and I’d even taken toilet paper with me (as had the Peruvians) but the loo wasn’t as bad as some of the ones I’d seen on various diving trips across Bali. There was just nowhere to wash your hands – so the hand sanitiser I brought along came in very useful!
Our crew members were the captain, the cook and another guy (co-captain, I guess). As we set sail we were given mango milkshakes while lunch was being prepared.
We passed several islands on the way to Rinca island.
We eventually got to Rinca island.
It was about 1pm, the sun was beating down and it was hot. Our guide Samuel gave us the option of a short, medium or long trek.
My travelling companions wanted to do the long trek and I didn’t mind as I’d prepared myself (mentally) for a 5k trek. What I hadn’t prepared myself for was the steep climb for the first 25 minutes in the intense afternoon heat. I didn’t think I’d make it to the top and was far behind the other three on the climb up. The hill was so steep I couldn’t even see the top of it when I looked up. My eyes started burning as my sunscreen was mingling with my sweat and dripping into my eyes! I eventually caught up with them…
See that blue water in the photo above? In the middle on the right? That’s where our boat was. Yes, we climbed all the way up. And yes, I was done by the end of it. But the views were spectacular. And there was complete silence – all you could hear was the breeze blowing through the long grass.
‘Don’t worry,’ Samuel said to me as I joined them. ‘The other two are young.’
Gee, thanks. B*****d. He wasn’t wrong though – I later found out they were in their mid-20s. What’s scary is that I’m probably fitter now at 39 than I was in my mid-20s. But still, there is such a thing as tact.
I asked Samuel if the descent was as steep, because if it was he might have to hold my hand and help me down! I’ve mentioned my issues with walking downhill with nothing to hold on to before. He assured me that the descent would be easy and we’d be mostly in the shade. Thank goodness!
Up to this point the only wildlife we’d seen were some monkeys right at the beginning of the trek. After my experience in the monkey forest in Ubud, I avoided them. As we walked along, we spotted our first Komodo dragon (or ora) lurking in the grass under a tree.
We almost missed it! We walked further and came across some water buffalo.
As we carried on we saw a few more ora.
I was hoping to see one moving around or feeding on water buffalo or something, but they were being lazy and didn’t really move apart from blinking and sometimes turning their heads.
It’s hard to believe that they can run up to 20km per hour and that they can smell blood from a distance of 5k. Samuel told us that if one were to attack us we wouldn’t be able to outrun it and would have to climb the nearest tree. Well, I was screwed then. Tree-climbing is not one of my strengths. He explained that if a Komodo dragon were to bite you, it wouldn’t be the blood loss that would kill you. The saliva of Komodo dragons contains 60 bacteria in their mouths, some of them lethal. As there are no medical facilities on the island (why the hell not??) the survival rate is low – by the time the victim were to reach Labuan Bajo, over 2 hours away, it would be too late. As we walked Samuel also pointed out the excrement of the Komodo dragon – it was white and powdery as their stomachs aren’t capable of digesting the calcium found in the bones of their prey.
Our trek took about 2.5 hours – and it was only towards the end that we encountered other visitors to the island. I think sensible people stayed out of the early afternoon sun and probably did the short and medium treks! As we got back to the rangers’ station we saw seven ora lazing around.
Look at the claws on this one!
‘Why don’t you take a baby dragon home for your grandchildren?’ Samuel asked me.
My what? F***ing b*****d. How old did he think I was??
We headed back to our boat and set sail. As our trek had taken so long, our guide informed us that we didn’t have time to swim as we had to leave for the Flying Fox Island. It was a shame as I could really have done with a plunge into some cool water!
Our guide told us it would take about 2 hours to get to Flying Fox Island – and we’d need to be there before sunset to see the flying foxes (or fruit bats) leaving their nests. I’d seen photos of the sunset in Komodo National Park and couldn’t wait to see it for myself. It was going to be stunning.
However, at about 5pm the wind picked up and the water started to get rough. Waves were crashing over the bow and the crew suggested we go to our upper deck so we wouldn’t get drenched. We had to hold on to the sides of the boat to get to the ladder as the boat was rocking so much. When we made it to our upper deck we were laughing so much because we were literally rolling around on the floor! It eventually calmed down a little, and the cook brought us some banana fritters to tide us over until dinner. A little while later, while the Peruvians napped I took some photos from the porthole upstairs.
It wasn’t ideal, but it was still gorgeous.
It was getting darker in the cabin and the female Peruvian had woken up and we talked for a while. The lights all over the boat suddenly flickered on and we were no longer in darkness. The first thing I saw when the lights went on was a cockroach (a small one) scurrying from one end of the boat to the other, along the wall. As it climbed into its hiding place I saw another one creeping out of another hole in the wall. The female Peruvian saw me staring at them and said ‘Don’t look at them – you won’t be able to sleep tonight!’ There was nothing I could do about them anyway…
I don’t know whether it was because I’d seen the cockroaches but at this point my head was starting to pound and I was starting to feel a little queasy, similar to how I felt during my second day of diving. Dinner was served (stir-fried fish, rice, some very green vegetables, fruit) and I went downstairs but could only manage a little rice. I took one of the seasick tablets I’d brought with me and went back upstairs. While we were downstairs the crew had made up our beds for us – mattresses with sheets, pillows and blankets. I changed into my pajamas and got into bed. It was 9pm. I passed out, praying that no cockroaches would crawl over me in the night!
Read about Day 2 here.