Indonesia - Lombok - Dragons and Thieves
Oct 9, 2003
|In the pretty little village of Labuanbajo on the west coast of Flores, five brave backpackers - 2 Americans, 1 German, 1 Spanish and 1 Canadian (moi!) - boarded an Indonesian cruise ship (aka old wooden fishing boat) in search of dragons. The four-day boat trip would take them westward from Flores to Lombok, passing through the Komodo National Islands. These islands are dry and barren of all but cactus and shrub brush for most of the year ... perfect conditions for the island's main inhabitants ... the Komodo Dragons.
Still a little weary from our bone-shaker road trip across Flores, we decided that traveling by boat from Flores to Lombok was a great idea, especially with stops along the way to do some dragon-spotting, snorkeling, and beachcombing. We met 3 other backpackers in Labuanbajo, and since they were heading in the same direction we all signed up for the same boat trip.
It's hard to believe that in a few short hours we went from Flores, a lush island with tons of rain, to Komodo and Rinca, islands with the lowest annual rainfall in all of Indonesia. And it was hotter than Hades there as well ... temperatures are known to exceed 43C in November and December, and it wasn't far from it at the end of October when we were there.
Lizards are the main attraction on Komodo and Rinca - the world's largest known lizards to be exact - called Varanus Komodoensis, or the "Komodo Dragon", measuring up to 4 meters long and weighing 150 kg. Although they look docile lazing in the shade, they can move with surprising speed and have been known to easily bag their prey (wild deer, buffalo, pigs, some poor unfortunate tourists or villagers) with their powerful tail and razor sharp teeth and claws.
Eager to see these famous dragons, we all quickly jumped off the boat when we arrived at Komodo. To our great fortune one dragon was right there at the gate, seemingly awaiting our arrival. Wow ... it was HUGE! And not too pretty either, looking like a cross between a large crocodile and iguana, and with a snake-like head and tongue.
Brave warriors that we were, we quickly scrambled up onto the nearest bench when the dragon moved in our direction. However, when we saw it effortlessly scale a large boulder to retrieve a bit of food, it became apparent that our bench was no safe haven so, when it wasn't looking, we not so bravely ran as fast as we could in the opposite direction.
Our trip included guided dragon-spotting hikes on both Rinca and Komodo, made difficult by the extreme heat, but at least we got our fill of dragons. Leaving the dragons behind, we continued westward, stopping at various islands along the way to do some snorkeling.
Now, let me tell you about our boat. It was old, took on water like a sieve, smelled strongly of diesel fuel and other things that I'd best not mention, had one small squat-basin toilet, a small grimey galley, and an engine that was louder than a freight train. Cockroaches ruled the lower storage area, which made me cringe every time I went below to retrieve my pack. We slept on deck under the stars with one thin mat and one old blanket which also smelled strongly of diesel. Our meals were simple but surprisingly good considering the condition of the galley.
Why are we on this boat, you ask? Well, it was leaving when we wanted to leave, was heading in the direction we wanted to head, looked not too bad in the water until you got up close, and quite honestly there really isn't much better in Indonesia to choose from! Definitely not luxury cruise material, but we made out okay.
Well, that was until we arrived in Lombok and discovered that our bags had been gone through by the crew and money stolen. They were clever, they didn't take credit cards, cameras, or passports - just cash. And not all our cash, just enough that you might not notice it missing unless you really thought about it. The only problem with their plan was that we noticed it before we got off the boat.
Discussing the theft with them got us nowhere ... we knew they had our money but they denied it vehemently. So we did the only thing we could think of - we reported it to the police. Except the amount that we reported stolen was about 50% higher than what was actually taken.
Why did we do this? Well, here's a little lesson in Indonesia Corruption 101. The crew might screw around with us but they won't do that with the police. I can guarantee that after we left, the police would immediately hassle the crew to hand over the money ... not to return it to us, but to pad their own pockets. The police won't believe that they actually stole less than what we reported, so the crew would have to dig into their own pockets to make up the difference. Or at least that's what we hoped. We knew we'd never see our money again, but we felt better knowing that our lying thieving crew wouldn't get to keep it either!
Refusing to let this incident dampen our spirits, JP, Marian (the Spanish girl from the boat) and I set off to explore Lombok, the other 2 fellas having their own agenda once we hit land. We first went to Senggigi (the only place on Lombok with an ATM), and although we hadn't initially planned on going there, were delighted to find probably THE BEST restaurant in Indonesia, or at least the best that we'd experienced in the past 2 months!
From Senggigi we traveled to Tetabatu, where we did a little 14 km hike through terraced rice fields to reach a beautiful waterfall ... scenic, freezing, very refreshing. A couple days later, we continued on to Gili Air, an island just off the north coast of Lombok. The Gilis are known as a great dive and snorkel spot, however most of the coral was destroyed by El Nino (according to the locals) although we heard more stories that bomb fishing actually did the damage. The coral is starting to grow back (should be great in maybe another 50-100 years!), the snorkeling was somewhat disappointing, but we did see around 14 sea turtles while snorkelling at one spot so that made the whole trip worthwhile.
Our much enjoyed R&R in the Gilis brought our trip to Lombok to a close, and we made our way back to Bali, another full day travel experience. With our visitors visas about to expire, it was time to leave Indonesia behind ... and Thailand ahead to explore.