‘Stand behind me and you’ll be safe’ he said. Armed with only a small stick, our Komodo National Park guide was trying to be reassuring as we walked between lounging killer Komodo Dragons.
The archipelago of Indonesia has 17,500 islands making it a great place for a cruise. Komodo Island is one of those islands, famous for its population of Komodo Dragons. We took a 3-day 2-night ‘cruise’ from the island of Flores to Komodo to see these killers in person.
Flores is a large island in the Flores Sea. With a population of over 2 million it still has a local charm. The coastal city of Labuan Bajo is where we began our journey. It has a beautiful setting on the edge of turquoise waters with views of the many small, green islands in the bay. Its small harbour is filled with local fishing boats and tourist boats. Calling our trip a cruise is a little generous as our boat was small and tired. The boat had one small bedroom, the crew slept on the deck, and there was no AC. But we had a personalized tour of the Flores Sea, our own guide, captain and an excellent chef who prepared amazing, authentic Indonesian food.
During the days we passed many islands and islets; some uninhabited, others housing luxury resorts and a few were populated with small towns. The islands have gorgeous hilly landscapes with either small sandy beaches or aggressive rocky shores. We stopped at a few to snorkel, lie on the beach and hike to the top of the small hills. It’s not a busy area, but we did see a few local fishing boats, some drying fish on the hull. There were a few large sail boats and other tourist boats, but mostly, we had the sea to ourselves. It’s the perfect setting for idle days in the tropics.
Komodo Island is one of three islands that make up Komodo National Park. To enter the park you are required to hire a National Park Ranger as a guide. The thought of walking around the park with komodos roaming free is a little unnerving, but knowing we had a guide was reassuring. That was until we saw what he would use as protection; a stick. Guides are armed with a 3 foot long stick that has a 2-pronged fork at one end. It’s hard to imagine that a small stick is enough to stop a raging, deadly dragon. Thankfully, we didn’t have an opportunity to test their effectiveness.
Komodos are the largest lizard in the world at up to 3 m in length and weigh over 100 kg. The dragons slowly lumber along, looking from side to side, constantly sticking out their dragon-looking forked tongue. The use their tongues to smell their prey.
Dragons are actually in the monitor lizard family and are known for taking down wild pigs, deer and even water buffalo. They’re very large, but compared to a buffalo, dragons are still quite small. So how do they kill such large beasts? Dragons can run very fast, up to 20 km/hr, but only in short bursts. Once they catch their prey, they bite it, injecting toxic proteins that are secreted from two glands in the lower jaw. The proteins are anticoagulants so the bitten animal bleeds to death. In addition the proteins cause muscle paralysis and hypothermia, leading to shock and loss of consciousness. If their prey doesn’t die from the bite, they slowly die over the next few hours. Komodos eat by tearing large chunks of meat and swallowing whole. They may even eat an entire goat or pig in one meal. Because of their slow metabolism, large dragons can survive on as few as 12 meals a year. After they’ve eaten they laze around while their meal digests. We saw many lounging near the Park Ranger’s cabins. This is why our guide said we were safe to be so close to these beasts. Somehow the guide knew that these ones had already eaten this month.
After seeing many dragons, we went for a small hike on Komodo Island. It was very hot and dry, but the views we had from the top of a small hill were incredible. The beautiful surrounding, hilly islands and the blue Flores Sea made the hot hike worth while.
On the last night of our cruise, we moored near a mangrove forest. At sundown, we watched as millions of fruit bats emerge from behind the mangroves, flying high in the sky. It was a spectacular display, but unfortunately we were so excited by the show that we didn’t take any pictures.
Our final day ended up being a little stressful. Our poor old boat had a few problems on the entire cruise. Every time we stopped, one of the staff had to jump in the water to re-connect the rudder. On our last day, as we were heading back to Labuan Bajo harbour to catch a flight, the problem intensified. The rudder was completely broken so the boat could only turn left. The staff worked and worked, trying to repair the broken rudder, but each time they thought it was fixed, the boat would only go around in circles. As time passed and our flight was getting closer, we started to get anxious. The guide finally called a water taxi to pick us up, but since we were still far away, it would take a couple of hours to reach us and return to shore. The solution was for a local fishing boat to give us a ride and meet the water taxi half way. The fishing boat was very basic and the funniest part was their steering. The were two ropes, one on the right and one on the left side of the boat, connected to a home made rudder. They pulled one rope or the other to steer the boat. It was very basic, but effective and this simple rustic, fishing boat got us to the water taxi so we could make it to shore in time for our flight.
Cruise options – There are many options for a cruise in the Flores Sea. They range in comfort and price from our private, but rustic cruise, to luxurious live-aboard sailboats. It’s a great was to experience the islands in Indonesia. Cruises can be booked from any of the many travel agents in Bali.
Getting to Flores – There are daily, direct one-hour flights from Despensar, Bali to Labuan Bajo, Flores
Entrance Fee – Rumour is that the park may be closed to visitors in 2020. As of 2019 Foreign entrance fee is INR 150,000 between Monday and Saturday, and INR 220,000 on Sundays and national holidays. In addition add the required ranger fee of INR 80,000.
Coming up Next: My Seven Summits – Carstenz Pyramid Climb
For more stories from our other adventures, go to Destinations.
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