#14// Indonesia pt. 2: Dragons
~HELLO! LONG TIME NO WRITEY. Because of an acute perfectionist problemo and the fact that I wrote this weeks (months?) ago but never got round to posting, AND in anticipation of the disappointment eighty year old me will feel at never having finished these, I am once again back aboard the blogging train to finish off the tales of Asian adventure. I do hope you're still interested, otherwise I am writing this for a VERY delayed gratification.~
I believe I left you after an impromptu projectile vomit and before an impending quest for dragons. Our quest starts in Labuan Bajo, a small port town in the west of the island Flores, a place nearly every tourist passes through before heading to Komodo National Park. Nat and I fly in at noon on Monday and quickly realise Flores is EVEN HOTTER than Bali (wasn't sure that was possible). We head out of the tiny airport into the blistering sun hunched under our massive backpacks (side note: I am BAMBOOZLED by the ever-heavy weight of my bag. I finished and donated my 1000 page Ken Follett book AGES ago! Doesn't that count for anything?!?) A lot of taxi drivers offer us a spot in their air conditioned cars - they want a sale, sure, but I also think I can see genuine concern and surprise at the fact we've decided to walk twenty five minutes to the main town on a non-shaded dirt track in the midday heat (over 40 degrees if you were wondering). We loudly say "tidak terima kasih!" (a cheery and carefree 'no thank you') and whisper under our breaths about inflated prices and using our own legs to get us places.
By the time we arrive at our hostel we are parched, slightly delusional, have sweaty upper lips, stringy soaking hair and what feels like burnt eyelids. Thank God we saved thirty pence each on the taxi. We spend the rest of the day walking up and down the one main street of Labuan Bajo trying to find the best diving and boat trip deals. It's hot, smelly (thanks to several open drains) and tiring work, and by the evening Nat has joined me in the nausea camp (I know it's bad to admit but I'm kind of glad he's joined me, it's pretty miserable camping on your own).
Turns out when you're both in the nausea camp things reach a new level of pathetic - we spend the whole evening and night groaning in our dark air conditioned room, updating each other on when we think we might vomit. Bright and early the next day we embark on our two-days-one-night boat trip (because when you're feeling sick the BEST thing to do is to head onto the cheapest boat Labuan Bajo has to offer). Thankfully, the moment we get on-board we know there's no mistaking that we picked the right boat. There aren't any over-expressive Frenchies playing techno - there's just a couple on the top deck playing Bananagrams. I breathe a big sigh of relief. We've found our people. Nat's inner businessman has a field day - he makes friends with couples working at Deloitte, KPMG and PWC. You may be wondering why they're on the cheapest boat Labuan Bajo has to offer. After an awkward conversation it turns out they don't realise that they are and we discover they paid considerably more than we did (and that's all the recognition our bartering skills ever needed).
We have three stop offs on the first day, Kanawa Island, Manta Point and Padar Island. Kanawa Island has crystal clear waters and an abundance (!) of coral and fishies. I am enjoying myself until I witness a girl in our group crush the coral with her fins and a Russian guy pick up a starfish and then drop it. Ironically, later I overhear the girl saying that she's interning at a marine conservation lab in China (incidentally I also overhear that she's a member of Bournemouth pole-dancing club and that she wishes she could find a Chinese equivalent).
Pretty soon it's lunchtime and I am both happy and sad to see that Nat has left me alone in nausea camp; I manage a few mouthfuls of plain rice before heading back to my favoured damp bean bag on top deck. Next up is the almost-guaranteed sighting Manta Point. I don't know if it's coincidence but the Bournemouth Brits are playing Green Day ear-splittingly loudly and we only see a fleeting glimpse of one manta (most groups normally see about ten). Do mantas have ears??? Would the many reverberations of Twenty One Guns scare them off??? When the one manta is spotted our boat crew yell at us like we're in battle and we all jump off the side of the boat, fins and snorkels on, and splash around furiously trying to catch up with it. We don't see any more mantas and something tells me this might not be the best method. We do, however, see a LOT of small jellyfish (the most bitterly disappointing substitute for a manta, I can tell you) and we all clamber out of the water as quickly as humanly possible.
Final stop for the day is Padar Island, which involves a hike up to the top to witness sunset over the three bays. I haven't eaten properly in four days and Nat was busy throwing up most of last night, but we are still so stubbornly competitive that we march at the front of the twenty five-man boat brigade to reach the top first. It's not that steep but it feels like my feet are bricks climbing the steps and just ten minutes in we are both drenched in sweat, red-faced and barely able to communicate apart from to tap one another aggressively if we see anyone catching up. None of our competitive angst is rewarded because it turns out barely any of our boat bother to climb to the top anyway, so disappointingly we only have a couple of people we can nod to and knowingly say "not far now!" to on the way back down.
Sunset is beautiful and after all of my hard work climbing I am happy to realise I have my appetite back! Unfortunately for me, it's not fried rice I'm craving but pizza, potato dauphinoise (curveball I know), spaghetti, marmite on toast, roast potatoes and gravy - literally ANYTHING but what is on the boat, or indeed in Indonesia. I'm not exaggerating - Nat and I spend three and a half hours imagining what food we would eat if we could. The setting is perfect for a meaningful philosophical conversation - beanbags on the boat deck under a sky of bright stars - but the only things we discuss are the best dips for poppadoms and how to get a good crisp on a cottage pie. At this point someone nearby chimes in to suggest sprinkling salt and vinegar crisps on top to give a surprise crunch which I am SO EXCITED TO TRY WHEN I GET BACK. That evening about eighteen of us are crammed under a canopy on the top deck to sleep which is a very sticky and cramped affair. My head is right by some random person's feet and I fall asleep hoping the alarmingly hairy toes don't make contact with my forehead.
I've always been first awake at sleepovers (most friends usually wake up with me propped on my elbow smiling and staring) but to be first awake on a boat of twenty five is next level. I roam/crawl among the sleeping hordes for a while, feeling pretty special, then the novelty wears off and I go back to poke Nat awake. Today's the day for DRAGON HUNTING.
Komodo National Park is named for the Komodo Dragon, the world's largest species of lizard, found only here. They have been known to attack and kill humans but generally prefer to feast on deer. They're pretty lazy - they've got enough bacteria in their mouths for one bite to be fatal so they don't even need to make it a big bite; they'll just hang around waiting for you to die from blood poisoning (fun!). We arrive on Komodo Island and I think there's been a miscommunication error - the Russian's Russian girlfriend seems to think we are ACTUALLY hunting dragons and has strapped a huge knife to her belt. Meanwhile, whilst waiting for our guide to meet us, the Russian himself starts doing pull ups from the frame of the wooden jetty. We get it. You Russians mean business.
We see a fair few little'uns on Komodo Island and then a big fat stinking male innocently sipping water from a waterhole. There's a lot of stringy saliva involved which actually puts me off getting bitten more than the big teeth. Bodily fluids are a big no from me. We move onto Rinca Island where we find about eleven in one go, all hanging by the back of a hut. We are lucky (?) to witness a mating occur. My only comment is that Komodo dragons look like the laziest, most unenthusiastic, reluctant species to procreate. Although maybe I'm being mean. Perhaps they're just not exhibitionists, after all, we were an eager crowd of twenty five with cameras. Nonetheless, Komodos still seem less 'killer dragon' and more like surly overgrown geckos.
Next stop we do some amazing snorkelling by Pink Beach (so many fishies) and walk to the (very light) Pink Beach shore - apparently it's lost its pinkness because tourists kept taking the pink sand as souvenirs. It's a four hour journey back to mainland Flores after that and I spend all of the time sweaty, sticky and dreaming of pizza. In fact, when we arrive back Nat and I make a beeline for that authentic Indonesian restaurant 'Made In Italy' and I am relieved to be reunited with dough.
Next day we go diving in Komodo National Park which is very fun, although it's my third consecutive day on a boat and I feel like one big vomit waiting to happen. Thankfully there is no vomit and we end the day in another Italian restaurant for pasta (who knew you could find such Mediterranean delights in Labuan Bajo?!).
The following morning we catch a flight back to Bali with the plan to go to the Gili isles. I went three years ago and have been chatting excitedly to Nat about them for a while now ("they don't use any cars!! Just horse and cart! It's so idyllic. So dreamy. So perfect. You're going to love it!!!!"). When we walk around Sanur trying to book our boat tickets across we are told that the island will have no boats either way for five days because of "big waves" and I work to backtrack my glowing reviews in favour of our new destination Nusa Lembognan ("nahhh, Gili is nice but it's a bit small you know, a few too many people. Nusa will probably be just the right size!! Motorbikes are so useful for getting around! Bit medieval just using horse and cart isn't it!!?!"). We do actually have a great few days in Nusa Lembognan, staying in the fanciest hostel ever (silky faux-fur throws for duvets! Sturdy wooden bunk beds!) for £1.80 a night. It's just a shame one of our dorm mates has a phlegmy cough and a disinclination to use deodorant. Our boat back to Bali is the bumpiest, speediest most adrenaline filled ride of my life - every wave sounds as if it's just dented the entire front of the boat and our driver is enjoying himself playing candy crush on his phone. I really wanted to do one of the crazy jet boat experiences in New Zealand but it was a bit too pricey - good thing I got the death-dodging Asian equivalent a few months later!
Our final few days in Indonesia are spent in Kuta so that Nat can have yet another surf lesson (there's no limit to this chap's enthusiasm for surfing - but there sure is on mine, so I spend most of my time sleeping on the beach). Soon it is FAREWELL BALI and HELLO MALAYSIA, where I am reunited with a very old and faithful friend...
If you didn't already know, Nat has fallen deeply, irretrievably in love with his GoPro and has made a few little vids of our time in Asia. You can watch his Komodo video here: