I hate those slimy, slinky bastards lurking in shady corners ready to shoot at you when all you want is to have a wee in peace.
I find them everywhere, sometimes in the most ridiculous places. I had one right next to me on a traffic-addled road in India. I had one dart at me, only me, in a room full of other unsuspecting people. I had once spent almost an hour locked inside the toilet bawling my eyes out cause I had spotted a tiny one glued to the bathroom door. I was all of 25 and something HAD to be done about my irrational phobia of lizards. It had come to ‘do it now or forever hold your peace’. So I decided that the only way to conquer my fear of these tiny terrors was to go straight for the big daddy. The Komodo Dragon.
It was all set. I would be flying to the Komodo Islands, facing my fears, returning triumphant, and hopefully be able to ‘be’ in the same room as a gecko without having severe panic attacks.
From Bali, I flew into Labuan Bajo, a quaint, quiet town. There were a couple of dorms available but I had spent the last two weeks of my trip sleeping in cramped, derelict bunk beds (I had also managed to fall off one of them), so I decided to splurge a little and take up a hazard-free room at CF Komodo Hotel for about 20 USD a night.
This, ladies and gentlemen, was the view from my room!
I rented a bike for 3 USD and ventured out to explore the place. My absolute favourite spot turned out to be on the way to Waecicu Beach. The calm, blue sea girdled by little green hillocks…
After an afternoon of riding around, I came back into the town to grab some dinner at the local market. I love night markets, especially in Indonesia. The food is cheap, the fish is fresh and at the end of it all, the tummy is oh so happy!! For just 5 USD I had a huge barbecued red snapper with rice, veggies and a cold drink.
My tour began early the next morning. I was paired with a lovely French couple. The cute and cozy boat was perfect for the three of us. The ‘toilet’ was a small hole at one end of the boat with a rickety wooden panel as a makeshift door. Peeing right into the ocean was strange but also quite cool. This boat, with spongebob squarepants sheets (how apt!) was to be our home for the next two days.
Thanks to the komodo dragon and manta ray graffitis all over the boat, I kinda knew about all the creatures we will be spotting on the tour, but what I didn’t guess was how incredibly unreal the waters were going to be. The ocean was a blue I had never seen, the water so clear that I actually spotted a massive turtle way down at the bed of the ocean.
It took us a while to get to our first stop. So I took a delightful little nap. I had a screen made of sacks that blocked the sunlight, my backpack for a pillow and the whirring of the motor boat for a lullaby.
The gorgeous sights all around made me forget momentarily about the potentially gruesome adventure ahead. The guide announced that we had reached our first place for dragon spotting- Rinca Island. We got off the boat (me pretty unwillingly), bought our tickets for the Komodo National Park (15 USD) and met our guide. He was this extremely enthusiastic, toothless 60 year old who explained the rules to us- “1. You stay away from dragon”, “2. No taking selfie, I take your picture” and “3. Don’t leave trail”. We started our trek and I expected it to be a while before we would spot the dragons, so I was quite relaxed, chattering away, telling the couple all about my phobia of lizards. They suddenly seemed a little distracted. I turned my head to see what they were staring at, and I saw FIVE Komodo Dragons right there! Barely a few feet from us.
The noise that came out of me was definitely ultra sonic.
The guide laughed and beckoned me to go take a picture with the dragons. I was like that is not happening. These guys are massive and I am not going anywhere near them. “They come here to see pretty Indian girl”, he said flashing his gums at me. “Don’t make them sad!”
I needed to have some proof that I had actually been in the presence of these creatures, if only for my own moral support later, when I was faced with mortifying lizards. So here it is!
Notice me trying to mask my horror with that big guffaw? Pretty convincing yeah?
They were really fascinating to watch (from a distance of course). The guide told us stories about an adventurous journalist who had strayed away from the trail and ended up getting mauled to death by a pack of dragons. Apparently the dragons ate everything – his hair, teeth, nails, all that was left of him was his camera. He also mentioned how insanely venomous the dragon spit is. And that if the anti-venom is not administered immediately, death is certain. After these cheerful stories, we got back into the boat and headed to Pink Beach – our first snorkelling spot. The ride gave me some time to collect myself and sort of think about what I had just experienced. It felt pretty damn good to have seen creatures that looked so pre-historic and existed only in that part of the world. It was almost as though evolution never hit them.
Pink beach was a lovely, serene place with wonderful corals and marine life. After a quick swim there, we headed to the Komodo Village where we were to spend the night. The entire village was made of vibrant, colourful houses on stilts. This one owned by a very sweet family was our accommodation for the night.
We went for a small walk around the village. Met these little monkeys prancing around in the graveyard. They loved the camera! As soon as they spotted us with one, they came rushing, confidently striking macho poses for us!
We saw the locals play volleyball. The women were so much smoother than the men, if you ask me! The village elders sat below the stilt houses on cots to watch them.
It was such a small, well knit community- very fascinating and very new to me. They were all just so happy. I mean how can you be sad if you live in this! 😀
After the walk I went in for a quick shower. They had a community bathroom which was basically a tank full of water and a small half broken bucket to scoop water out. The door didn’t shut, there was no light inside, and no space to hang clothes. I had to pull off quite the balancing act for a successful, much needed bath! But well, where’s the fun if it all comes easy. We had some fried fish, ramen and rice for dinner. Again the fish was absolutely fresh and with a dash of lemon on it, it was heaven!
Next morning we left for the Komodo National Park. There were a couple of treks available. We decided to skip the treks since we had already seen the dragons and wanted to reach the Manta Point in time to spot the manta rays. But if you do want to do the treks you don’t have to pay extra. The entry tickets from Rinca work here.
We reached there at about 8am, the best time to spot them. Soon as we hit the water we saw two. My first tryst with Manta Rays had been just the week before in Lembongan Island, Indonesia. You can read here about my enchanting experience. I was pretty comfortable with them this time around. I followed one, of course always maintaining a respectable distance so as to not alarm/ disturb it. We swum for about an hour before leaving for the next spot.
So, I had seen Komodo dragons, manta rays, turtles- the Komodo tour was already a big success in my head. But Kanawa Island just took it to another level! The entire island is private resort property so they charge an entry fee of about 4 USD. The visibility was mad! There were star fish strewn across the shallow waters, till my eyes could see.
At a point I was the only one snorkelling and it was like I was the master of my own underwater universe- shoals of colourful fish, massive vibrant corals – aaaaah!
Time was not a function. It stood by watching, while I swum around in a happy daze.
If you have the time, and a little budget, do try and stay on this island. The cottages cost 1.62 million IDR (about 122USD). A little expensive but totally worth it!
So in all I spent about 109 USD for a 2 days + 1 night of absolute epic-ness!!
PS: Update on the lizard-phobia front- I can now be in the same room as one, without completely losing it. “Baby steps, monkey,” I tell myself, “baby steps…”
PS: Even though Indonesia is mostly safe for travelers, you should always keep some practical safety tips handy. Check this awesome article by Bookmundi for some kickass safety tips.