Komodo Island: The People and the Dragons of Flores, Indonesia (Part II)

*This post is a part of a series. Click on the link to read more of the story. – Komodo Island: The People and the Dragons of Flores, Indonesia (Part I)

After about an hour or so in the boat, we arrived at the gorgeous Pink Beach. We donned our snorkel gear and were excited to be able to jump in the cool refreshing waters. Pink Beach is a hidden coral reef that was known to have some amazing soft coral that would shed off small pieces that created a subtle ‘pink’ hue on the shore. We jumped over the side of the boat, and were surprised to discover how cold the water was!

Cold enough in fact, that we didn’t think that we could stay in the water very long before turning blue. We did eventually brave the cold waters and dived in head first, surrounded by sea-life. This area was by far one of the most diverse and beautiful snorkeling areas I had ever had the pleasure to swim in. It was a kaleidoscope of colors and sea-life of all kinds.

After swimming back to our boat, we were helped back onboard and headed to our next destination, Komodo Island. After a few hours we sailed between many of the surrounding islands, and ended up west of Komodo village, before stopping briefly to witness a large colony of bats hanging in the trees. The bats were giant fruit-bats that our 12 year old ‘skipper’ had decided to sway into making substantial noise for us by disturbing them in the trees.

We didn’t actually approve of this, and were enticing our boat captain that we wanted to just go ahead to shore. After coaxing them for a few minutes, we eventually ended up at the docks of the village, surrounded by the local children of all ages.

Where we parked the boat to hear and see the fruit bats. This is our boat captain, and the skipper is in the background.
Where we parked the boat to visit the colony of fruit bats in the distance, with our boat captain in the foreground.

We clambered along the dock, and were led to a shack on the east side of the village, about 200 feet away from shore. The owner of the boat or officially ‘the captain’ was there to greet us, along with his wife and 2 children. Speaking some broken English, he invited us in for lunch. The boy that was on our boat that I refer to as the ‘skipper’, is his eldest son. He had a younger daughter and a small boy in which he seemed to favor the most.

His wife seemed ‘overwhelmed’ to some degree and yet was very hospitable to us. We were served a wonderful lunch consisting of tea and refried bananas, along with veggie noodles and rice. I had wanted to stroll around the island and capture some of the local flair, so we headed out to take photos while the captain’s wife prepared dinner.

Standing on the dock as we came into Komodo Village.
Standing on the dock as we came into Komodo Village.

The village had a plethora of photographic opportunities, and I was as giddy as a schoolboy upon walking through town. The children, goats, chickens, fisherman, and the muslim men and women were all very photogenic, being bathed in beautiful late afternoon light. One of the most amazing aspects of the village (or any other remote village) is the wonderful communities that it creates.

You immediately recognize it upon entering the town, and it almost made me feel a bit jealous knowing that even though they lived in a meager way, they were still happy people. As the sun was beginning to set, we decided to head back to the shack to have dinner. Along the way back, we noticed a crowd of people gathering, along with the father (the captain) and a few other villagers.

He was picking out a fish that was being sold by a fisherman that had just caught them moments earlier, fresh out of the sea. He bought it for me as a gift for dinner. I hadn’t been eating any fish on this trip, but on this occasion, gladly accepted out of respect.

One of the many pictures I took with my Rollei TLR in the village.
One of the many pictures I took with my Rollei TLR in the village.
Also shot with my Rollei TLR.
Also shot with my Rollei TLR.

It was an incredible meal, consisting of the fresh fish, fried noodles, fried tofu, white rice, fried bananas, and fried vegetables. After we had our fill, (which in Indonesia it’s custom for the host to wait for you to eat first before they start to eat, so be sure to save some for them!) we decided to head for bed since we needed to awake early the next morning. The family, along with their children, stayed awake much later burning a bonfire (that we were annoyingly downwind from) and chatted it up with their neighbors. After a few hours of restless sleep, morning eventually came for us.

One of many amazing meals at the guesthouse.
One of many amazing meals at the guesthouse.

In the morning, we were served coffee and tea and a small egg, tofu, and vegetable breakfast. The smell of burning wood was overwhelming, combined with the sounds of crowing roosters from all over the village. We were told that we had some time to go wander again through the village before heading over to the boat for the remainder of our trip. We came across our boat captain and his little boy and his pet chicken.

We took a few shots of them and the other villagers before heading over for breakfast at the shack. We then disembarked and joined our ‘skipper’ and boat captain back on our rickety little boat for our next leg of adventure.

Our basic accommodations at the guesthouse.
Our basic accommodations at the guesthouse.

After about an hour and a half of sailing, we ended up on the docks of Komodo Island, (the side where the dragons mostly lived) and walked onshore. We arrived a little before noon, and were greeted by a group of rangers. The guide that we were hooked up with was very kind and began to lead us around the island. Once again, it was a matter of being there at a certain time of day to really see the ‘hotspots’ of where the dragons would be located.

We had assumed that we would see more dragons on the actual Komodo Island, but were told to not expect this due to the size of the island. They would be more spread out, and not huddled together like on Rinca. The trails throughout the island were more dense with trees and brush compared to the ones on Rinca, and we had to be more on our guard so that we wouldn’t be ‘ambushed’ as we walked through them.

We managed to come across a few wild deer as we walked through the forest. To our amazement, they were not afraid of our presence whatsoever.

The sign upon arriving on Komodo Island.
The sign upon arriving on Komodo Island.

Our first encounter with a Komodo dragon on the island was actually where we had originally started from! We were told that they tend to not feed the Komodo dragons on a regular basis, but since there had been a diplomat visiting the day before, that the dragons were there feeding on a dead goat and they were still attracted to it’s ‘leftovers’. It was a way to have a ‘show’ for the politician, and one in which we also profited from since they were coaxed out of hiding.

The Komodo dragons that were there feeding were huge! In fact, much larger than the ones on Rinca as we were told they would be. We saw a total of 7 dragons on Komodo Island and 7 of them on Rinca Island. We felt very lucky to see so many (and lucky to not get attacked as well!), as many of the guides said some people may only see a few per visit.

One of the huge Komodo dragons on the island.
One of the huge Komodo dragons on the island.

We left the park, and hopped back on the boat to head to our next destination called Manta Point. But not before going back to the village one last time to gather our things, have an amazing lunch, and saying goodbye to the captain and his family. I managed to get a good shot of him and his son before thanking them for their troubles and then back out to sea.

On our way to Manta Point, you could see how the ocean currents were very strong, and would sometimes push our little boat around as we hit certain areas of the waterways. Even the strongest of swimmers would have had a hard time swimming there if they were in the water. The giant Manta Rays are attracted to these currents and were condensed in this particular section of ocean that we were headed to. They tend to feed on plankton that prefer strong currents and filter them into their gaping mouths to feed.

Once we set anchor and drifted for a few minutes, we spotted a few fins breaching the water, and the captain said we should jump in with our snorkel gear. Being afraid of strange creatures and deep water (it had to of been at least 40-50 feet deep there) I was extremely hesitant to just jump in.

Arianna didn’t want to go in at first either, but mostly due to the colder water, not so much the depth or the Manta rays. Being a big baby, I didn’t want to go in alone. So, I asked the skipper if he wanted to borrow my girlfriend’s mask and snorkel and go in with me. He said sure, and so we both jumped in.

Upon entering the water, it was noticeably ‘cloudy’ and within minutes of being in, a giant Manta Ray came out right towards us!

One of many archipelagos that you pass along the way  to Komodo and Rinca Islands.
One of many archipelagos that you pass along the way to Komodo and Rinca Islands.

My first reaction was sheer amazement at it’s size and it’s gracefulness in the water. It had appeared seemingly out of nowhere, due to the effect that the murkiness the water had created. This gave it an even more mysterious feel and atmosphere. It was incredible. After it slowly glided within inches below us, another emerged out of the depths and glided by, with it’s huge wingspan and grace.

A few more minutes went by and I surfaced and told Arianna that she had to come in the water and see this. The water actually wasn’t as cold as it was at Pink Beach, and that she should come in. After I and the skipper climbed back onboard, I eventually coaxed my girlfriend to join me after we spotted some more of the amazing creatures in the distance.

We managed to stay in a few more minutes, and long enough for Arianna to get a good glimpse of the Mantas. It was definitely a rewarding moment for me, especially since I had to overcome some old fears to see them in their environment. One in which I am glad I got over, for if I had not, I would have surely missed out on the opportunity to see such amazing creatures.

The skipper in 3D, shot with my Sputnik 3D camera.
The skipper in 3D, shot with my Sputnik 3D camera. Shot before the crazy ride back to Labuanbajo.

After the excitement had subdued, we started to head back to Labuanbajo before nightfall. We were both sad to have to end our adventures, but as we were soon to find out, our adventures weren’t over yet! Off in the distance, just beyond the town, we could see a storm was brewing. I had said that if we didn’t hurry, that the storm would reach us before we made it back to Labuanbajo. The waves had begun to grow larger and larger, and the boat was starting to list from side to side.

The skipper had taken over driving the boat due to the captain (who was napping on the boat deck), not feeling well. As the waves got rougher, we all decided to wake the captain before things got worse. He awoke quickly and immediately was aware of the dangers that lied ahead.

As the waves were starting to come over the sides of the boat, Arianna and I grabbed whatever we could and probably had a look of terror in our eyes. Our captain and skipper were cracking up laughing, and in fact seemed to be having a great time! I thought for sure that the boat would capsize at any moment, and was hanging on for dear life.

Soon after that thought, a huge wave hit the right side of the boat and launched everything sideways. I remember thinking that were all going to be swimming soon, but luckily the boat corrected itself and we managed to avoid paddling. The skipper then climbed out onto the bow of the boat and stood up holding a rope, screaming at the top of his lungs, just like in the movies.

This had somehow made me feel better, knowing that a 12 year old had no fear, so why should I. We made it to the shore, and I would have kissed it, if it had not been covered in fish remains. We thanked our crew for such an amazing adventure, and grabbed our stuff and ran to town. Rain was starting to come down once we made it to the main road, and I managed to return the snorkel gear on time, before running back to the hostel without getting completely soaked.

The owner of the hostel asked us how our trip was, and I replied that it was one of the most amazing trips I had ever been on. He smiled and said, ‘told you so’! He ended up being friends with ‘the captain’ who was living on Komodo Island and this was a business that they both had set up.  A great business indeed and one I would recommend all to visit if you ever make it to Labuanbajo.

All in all, it was an amazing trip and one that I am soon never to forget!

The 'captain' and his youngest son, shot with my Rolleiflex TLR.
The ‘captain’ and his youngest son, shot with my Rolleiflex TLR.