SYNOPSIS:  About a boat adventure with new friends, dragons, a snorkeling experience, and a hefty rain storm.

These four had done their research!  Independently, Kyle and Stephanie from Illinois and Luke and Barbara from Italy had spend a good amount of time following the protocol.  They had compared prices, ruled out shady boat providers, found a reputable company and had ended up on a really nice boat equipped for up to 10 passengers.  I was only #5 and they happily took me aboard. 

A professional and experienced crew, a clean and sturdy boat and a good itinerary had just fallen into my lap thanks to them.  And on top of that, they stretched their food supplies which had been calculated for four passengers to not let me go hungry.

Thank you guys!  I much appreciate this.

We were off to Rinca, a slightly smaller and much closer island from Labuan Bajo which is part of the Komodo National Park system that is in place to protect the Komodo Dragons.  Clicking on this link will give you their entire history much better than I can provide.  If there are any prehistoric species still around (and I think our sandhill cranes are one of them), these “dragons” truly feel like a thing from the primordial past.

After a 2.5 hour ride across the blue waters with several dolphin sightings (!) passing scenery of gently hilled islands, we reached Rica.  As expected and as almost every guidebook tells you, you do not exactly see the dragons in the wild.  On this 20,000 hectare island live almost 2000 dragons and 1000 people.  We did not see a single one in the wild.  All of our sightings were right within 100 meters of the ranger’s station where these beasts know that they will be thrown food bits by the rangers — visitors are not allowed to feed them.

These animals can grow up to 3 meters in height — a size comparison is possible at the entrance gate to the park which is flanked by two carved replicas of that size.  We saw a few that were at best half that size and one small baby.  Still, to think that these animals exist and to actually have put eyes on some of them is amazing.  They seem to eat everything from corn (which the rangers feed them) to buffalos in the wild.  On our hour long trek through the park we passed a couple of places were skulls of deer, buffalos, and even monkeys had been placed — the only tangible evidence aside from a few poop clusters — of these animals and their appetite in the wild.

Animals like monkeys and deer can be overpowered if the dragons get a hold of them.  They might have to lay in waiting until an unsuspecting animal gets close enough to them.  Buffalos are too large for them to tackle, so they use their somewhat poisonous saliva to bite them in the leg.  Then, they just follow until the buffalos collapse, which can take a couple of days.  But then it is feast day!

Buffalos, deer, monkeys, snakes, and numerous birds are part of the wildlife of this park.  We saw none of it…

After the pleasant yet uneventful walk through the park we headed back to the boat for the second stop of the day:  snorkeling at a coral reef.  We were served a delicious meal of chicken soup and rice which the four of them shared with me. 

I was trepidacious about snorkeling.  I had only done it once in my life off a coast of Mexico years ago.  I am very uncomfortable with the fin-shoes and was not even prepared for anything.  But our boat attendant twisted my arm to try one of their snorkeling glasses and breathing tubes. 

Boy, was I glad, I tried!  I have no experience and no point of comparison.  But what I saw by just floating and looking down was absolutely spectacular.  The water was calm and a perfectly preserved coral reef was within touching distance.  Red, black, and even turquoise-blue corals were interspersed with fish that looked like rocks, black balls with long fins and red “eyes” that were also a sort of coral and hundreds and thousands of multi-colored fish who did not seem to be bothered by us at all.  One kind, a pinkish one was on the attack and actually bit me.  Once I realized this, I kept kicking it away and as small as it was — no bigger than my hand, it actually attacked nonetheless.  Of the whole day, this was my favorite part.  Now I understand why people come here from all over the world.  I am sure not many of these pristine and preserved places are left in the world; Indonesia has some of the most famous ones.

In fact, it was clear that the reef had once been much larger.  Where the boats were docking, one could see the dead parts of former corals strewn around like garbage.  We destroy what we love and we love what we destroy…

Another snorkeling stop was on the itinerary but we were crossed by the weather.  A dark cloud brewed at the horizon and moved in on us.  Within half an hour the weather swung from sunny and warm to a full-blown storm and cold.  We tried to close all the shades in the boat, but as they might protect you from the sun, they were by no means waterproof.  Soon all of our seats were wet, the rain was gushing in from all sides and within minutes — we had all just come out of the water — we were shivering cold and wet.  Only the Italians had raincoats and a change of clothes, along with a few sarongs to wrap themselves in.  They shared one with me, which kept me from freezing, but there was hardly a place in the boat that could be kept dry.  I tried to take photos of this, but it was too dangerous to take the camera out.  At first we thought this was quite funny and adventurous.  But as time dragged on and the storm kept going, we got rather quiet and just tried to stay warm somehow. 

Only minutes before we reached the shores of Labuan Bajo again, the weather cleared up.  We were glad, we made it.  The value of a good crew and a sturdy boat could not be overemphasized.  Stories of broken vessels, failing equipment, and ruined itineraries abound…

After a drink at the local Pirate Bar sporting everything from Baileys to Jack Daniels, we parted.  This was a good trip.  I could not have pulled this off by myself.   Thanks again to the four of you and to my travel pantheon.  Great job!

5 comments so far

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  1. What a perfect day – from seeing the dragons to snorkeling among colorful coral and a rainbow of fish. So thankful you had a good crew and sturdy boat to weather the storm.

  2. Great pictures, especially of the dragons. Thanks!

  3. I’m curious as to what the bundled green stalks are in the Baby Dragon photo.

  4. That one picture you got of “storm moment” is really cool…the way you captured the water and lack of visibility. Glad all’s well that ends well.