A recent list on the Lonely Planet website with the most highly recommended natural sites in the world brought back memories as I saw Komodo up there.
It was some years ago (so please forgive the quality of the photos) and we were travelling overland and by boat/ferry across eastern Indonesia setting off from the island of Bali, over to Lombok and a couple of days idling on the as yet untouristy island of Gili Trawangan. A few days later found us bussing it through the lush vegetation of Sumbawa on the overnight bus with breathtakingly beautiful glimpses of the jungle under a starry sky which kept me awake for most of that bumpy ride.
We arrived at the harbour in Sape to find that we had missed the once daily ferry eastwards and so got together a group of about twelve of us tourists who had traveled on that bus and chartered a small boat to take us across the Flores Sea to Komodo and then onwards to the island of Flores. The journey to Komodo would take no more than three hours, the crew assured us. As we were traveling with children we made sure to not only take their word for it, but actually check that there were life-jackets on board and then we set off after some minor preparations and stocking up on supplies by the crew. We were due to stay the night on board and to eat lunch there too.
Thence started what some might describe as a journey through hell.
It started calmly and smoothly, beautiful weather, a placid sea and we enjoyed chilling out as we sailed past some volcanic islands and chatted with our fellow passengers.
After a couple of hours, a simple but tasty lunch was served and most of the tourists went below deck for a siesta. I stayed on deck, sitting under the roof and enjoying the gentle swaying motions of the boat as we made our way forth.
Mirek and Tomek (my husband and eleven year old son) went below deck to rest as did my friend with her young daughter. Apart from all the passengers‘ backpacks and me, there was a young Englishman and a middle aged Frenchman sitting on deck.
After awhile and almost imperceptibly the sea changed its mood as we reached some open straits and I remember having to hold on to the bench I was sitting on as the sea churned increasinly and we toiled along.
I next watched as our 20 kilo backpacks were being tossed from one side of the deck to the other like puffed up pillows and my English companion, sitting on the bench opposite me, looked at me with an increasingly aghast expression on his face and slowly mouthed the four letter word.
I smiled nervously and we sat there, rigid, not knowing what to do as the boat seemed to have stopped moving forward and just struggled to keep on a straight course.
Meanwhile, we were plowing on past the headland of Komodo some fifty metres from the craggy coast. This went on forever. Or what seemed like forever. Mirek and Tomek were below deck, and I sat looking at the life jackets suspended close by pondering over how I could get them to my family under these conditions.
A crew member entreated me to sit still.
By now the sea had become too choppy for me to risk taking photos and having my camera whisked away into the waters.
It was around this time that the Frenchman displayed increasing signs of edginess and after some minutes of being stuck in one position, having been instructed by the crew not to move and to hold onto the side of the boat, he actually cursed out loud exclaiming that we would probably do better to jump into the sea than stay where we were and risk getting thrown against the foaming rocks. Thankfully he didn’t follow his own counsel but sat where he was, looking resigned and glum.
The Englishman kept looking at me and mouthing the same four letter word- I think we gave each other courage by simply staying put and not revealing too many outward signs of panic- both of us smiling reassuringly at each other belying our increasing sense of discomfiture.
Then, as if a curtain lifted, the sea calmed down and the boat drifted smoothly again. My husband, who had blissfully slept through this rough patch, then emerged with Tomek and gazed, puzzled, at my slightly vacant, slightly trembling but smiling demeanour.
The journey had lasted less than five hours, but felt like a day had galloped by.
That evening, as we anchored close to the shores of Komodo island and before going on land to have some supper, Mirek and I dove into the surrounding waters for a relaxing dip. Never mind that we had been warned there were sharks in those waters; after my little ordeal, nothing could stop me.
The following morning, after a very smooth night of deep sleep and following another refreshing dip in the sea, we went on land to look for the island’s most famous inhabitants, the Komodo dragons. These are in fact monitor lizards and can measure up to 3 metres and have massive bodies, four powerful legs with five clawed toes and a very strong long and thick tail which they often use as a potent weapon.
The little reading we had done on these dragons in the Lonely Planet guidebook left us somewhat ignorant and unaware of just how formidable these creatures can be. By good fortune, we didn’t find out until some time after our return to Europe when we saw videos of these seemingly slow and indolent looking lizards in action.
As it is, we hired a local guide who took our small group on a trek around the island in a search of the dragons, armed with a staff which my friend’s young daughter can be seen holding here more as a fashion accessory than as a protective weapon.
We came across a few dragons lying restfully under some bushes and then later saw them as they ambled along near the outdoor restaurant. Being such large reptiles these animals only move when they feel warmed by the sun, or when they are hungry.
Fortunately for us, they weren’t hungry. They had obviously eaten before we made our entrance into their habitat.
After some hours spent on Komodo, we then sailed on through calm seas to the beautiful island of Flores.
We knew then that a few days later we would have to make the return journey to Bali for our flight back to Europe and were counting on being able to fly back from Flores to Bali.
In the event, the plane wasn’t able to land at the airport in Flores so we had to return the way we had come, by sea, but that is another story…