CHRIS & ANDY'S TRIP '04 travel blog

Komodo dragons near the ranger huts.

Dragon spotting in the forest.

Rinca Island.

Water buffalo near their creek.

We hiked up to the top of the island.

Another look from the top of Rinca Island.

A big lounge lizard.

Tongues out mean 'I can smell you'.

He could easily outrun us if he wanted.

Sunset at Labuanbajo.

The Toyota Kijang we took across Flores Island.

Midan style bath. No sink, no mirror, no fun.

Labuanbajo sunset.

Our hotel had a great view above the harbor, but only so-so rooms. The Hotel Chez Felix was perched high on a hillside and overlooked the strait between Flores Island and Sumbawa Island. Between these two large islands a thousand smaller ones, including Komodo and Rinca (pronounced rin-cha) crowd together making a spectacular prehistoric-looking sight.

We passed by volcanic peaks, rock cliffs, palm-dotted ridges and shallow coral reefs (which showed up as a lighter aqua-blue than the surrounding sea) on our way to Rinca Island the next morning. Two and a half hours later we got to Rinca to see the Komodo dragons. Both Komodo and Rinca have these oversized lizards, but we chose Rinca because it was closer and cheaper to get to from Labuanbajo. The first one we saw was at the end of the boat dock. He was about 5' long and they told us that he's usually found there at the same spot. We paid our fees and took a guided 5 km. hike into the island's interior. As we passed the last elevated (for good reason) bungalow near the ranger station, we saw 3 large Komodos lounging just under the steps. The largest was about 9' long. We got as close as the guide would allow and took some photos. The guide carried a long pole that was forked at the end to defend against agressive lizards and to move lazy ones out of our way along the path. The hike was very hot, but we saw a few dragons at various distances. We hiked up to the open hillsides at the top of the island for some more fantastic views. At one stop we encountered 3 wild water buffalo at an almost dry creekbed surrounded by dense trees. Again, I got as close as I could and took some shots looking down on them from the opposite bank. They watched us carefully and when one began looking a little perturbed we backed up the hill and continued on.

Back at the station we saw the 3 dragons again. The guide got them to move around a little by waving a broom around. They are curious and aroused by movement. At the cafeteria we had cokes and while Andy's girlfriend was in the toilet ( a separate building behind the cafeteria) a Komodo approached it from the trees. We all watched as the guide got him to move away while Andy called to her not to come out 'just yet'. They told us about the Swiss tourist who, in about 1974, went out without a guide to look for dragons. He must have found them, because they found his camera and his hat-nothing else. Attacks are rare, but the dragons can get aggressive at any time-especially when they are hungry. And they aren't afraid of people. If the bite doesn't kill you, the toxic bacteria in their saliva will. Guides who get nipped from the local dragons need to go all the way to Jakarta for treatment.

Another hour by boat took us to a small deserted island where we snorkelled for an hour or more. We saw fantastic anemonies, fish and coral in just a few feet of water. We finally go back to Labuanbajo at 5:00, just in time to meet a guy selling pearl necklaces and small Komodos carved from wood. We all ate dinner together for the last time as a group. The next day the Belgians (Andy and family) left and the girls in my group went for introductory scuba dives. After 5 days together we said our goodbyes, exchanged email addresses and wished each other a safe journey.

I bought a ticket back to Bali at the Merpati Air office on the edge of town and the guy there asked me how much I paid for the moto (scooter), which was waiting outside to take me back to the hotel. I said 10,000 rupiah, and he gave me that 'you poor sap' look. I said, "Too much?". He nodded 'yes', but I couldn't complain because it only came to $1. I guess next time I'll bargain it down to .50 cents or so.

My flight took off at about 3:45 pm. and was on the same twin engine turbo-prop that had brought me from Bali. The ride was easy and when I got to the airport I caught a taxi back to the Prawita Hotel in Kuta, where I stayed before.

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