James really wanted to see the Komodo dragons while we were in Indonesia. There are heaps of tour companies offering multi-day trips but we ended up going with FloresXP because they seemed like a decent compromise between the overcrowded budget tours and the $10,000 luxury tours. The owner Max was great to communicate with, the website was easy to navigate, group sizes were small (ours was 6 people), and the reviews were great.
The sleeping quarters were pretty basic. This photo was taken before they put sheets on the mattresses, but you get the idea – we were all sleeping in the same room together.
And the combined shower/toilet room was a little offputting. Think of those teeny tiny powder rooms with a toilet. You had to manually flush the toilet by pouring water in (there was a tub of water with a scoop floating inside), and the toilet paper was disposed of in a bin. There was a handheld shower at the opposite end and when you wanted hot water you had to let the captain know so he could run the generator. The toilet was so close to the shower I was worried it would splash all over but the water pressure was so low that it wasn’t a problem if you were careful.
I’m not going to lie – I was bloody worried. This is not the Diary of a Deprived Housewife. But wow, was it worth it! The trip was packed with trekking and snorkeling, and the physical exertion and crazy natural beauty made for a memorable four days.
We were picked up from our hotel and taken to the boat. The crew introduced themselves, explained the itinerary and boat rules, then we headed to Rinca Island to check out the Komodo dragons.
A pod of dolphins escorted us part of the way. Awesome.
photo from Justin
We went to the park office to pay the fees allowing us to trek and snorkel the national park that day. This was easily the most unpleasant part of the trip (yes, I’m including using the marine toilet).
The fees are ridiculously high but hey, whatever, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, they need the money and rich foreigners can afford it. But it was insult to injury that if you didn’t have exact change the staff (the fat old guys in the office – not the young guides working outside) would keep the extra for themselves – they called it a “tip”. Ugh. I think it’s just one of those things that’s really annoying but you have to learn to let it go because ultimately it’s a few dollars and just what happens to tourists. =/
The Komodo dragons mainly lazed around the office so you didn’t need to walk far to see them.
photo from Justin
We also did a light hike (maybe 45 minutes?) around part of the island where they showed us some dragon nests. It was soo hot – no wonder the Komodo dragons just lie around all day.
We had lunch and did some snorkeling afterwards to search for manta rays but no dice. =(
We couldn’t linger too long because we had to go to Padar Island for a hike to see the sun set. Here we are at the top:
photo from Ciara
Our group was James, me, Ben, Ciara and Justin. We are missing one member because even though he was a strong hiker he didn’t like the height and the tiny ridges we had to walk to get up there. He missed this gorgeous view.
photo from Ben
It was actually a pretty short hike distance-wise but it was very uphill – remember we started at sea level! Going up was fine – just a matter of cardio and leg strength – but going down steep hills in the dark was pretty dicey and I kept skidding on the dirt/gravel and making our poor guide very nervous. But I made it back to the boat in one piece and we had dinner before showering and going to bed.
I didn’t realise this at the time, but we had signed up for the 4 hour adventure trek on Komodo Island (in hindsight it’s obvious – it’s the name of the tour!). There were no bullshit “tips” to the office staff this time but the fees were doubled because it was a Sunday so we were all a bit unthrilled with that. =/
Like with Rinca Island we saw a lot of Komodo dragons at the start, but we were also fortunate enough to see some more about 30 minutes into our hike. We asked the guide how he could tell the males and females apart and he said that the females were smaller and had “a more beautiful shaped head”. So I think this one was female?
photo from Justin
I checked the weather and it was 33C but apparently because of the humidity it “felt like” 45C which sounds about right. It was one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever done. We didn’t have enough water – maybe 1 litre each – and had all pretty much run out before the halfway mark. I actually left my second water bottle on the boat because like I said earlier, I hadn’t realised we were going out for 4 hours!
I think the head guide told us that the distance was 10km and we went up about 200 meters (it’s been awhile so I might have that elevation wrong). We were all in reasonable shape but humidity makes weaklings of us all.
Check out James’ intense torso sweat:(I was no better. I looked like I’d been swimming in a pool.)
This next photo was about the halfway point – lots of downhill to go. The sweat has reached the crotch but James still has some pep left in him:
Our two guides were machines – they barely broke a sweat, shared their water with us, plus after we reached the boat pickup point they had to turn around and do the hike again in reverse. We all did the super American thing and tipped them heavily because they deserved it way more than those desk guys did.
It sounds weird, but the experience of pushing through the dehydration, tiredness and humidity was one of my favourite parts of the trip. Or maybe my favourite part was getting back to the boat and drinking my bodyweight in water.
After lunch we set off to Batu Bolong for some snorkeling. James and I were still exhausted from the hike and almost decided to just stay on the boat, but the crew told us we’d be missing out if we didn’t.
From the surface it looked like nothing special – just a giant rock in the middle of the ocean – but underneath it was a watery paradise! There were so many species of fish and all this gorgeous colourful coral. I also saw some eels and a turtle.
I think it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Every direction we turned it was unbelievably gorgeous; we were giddy swimming around just staring at everything.
This black brainy thing in the bottom right was one of my favourite things. I don’t know what it was (I found it in the marine life guide afterwards but it’s slipping my mind now). You can’t really tell from the picture but in real life it was glowing like crazy and just so, so pretty.
So yeah, that was pretty amazing! I can’t remember what we did afterwards – I think we might have gone somewhere else to snorkel and then we docked at Gili Lawa for some swimming while the crew prepared dinner.
We woke up early in the morning for a hike on Gili Lawa to see the sunrise. It was nonstop steep uphill, but because the sun hadn’t risen it was a cakewalk compared to the day before.
Steep gravelly path – my downhill nemesis!
Again we were treated to gorgeous views where you felt like you were on top of the world. In the photo below you can see the sun rising on the left at the same time as the moon setting on the right. I think it’s kind of cool that James is lit from the sun and I’m still kind of in shadow.
I felt simultaneously wholesome for hiking before breakfast but kind of gross from the dirt and sweat.
After breakfast we went on another search for manta rays. The captain went looking for one of their feeding channels so we could see a lot of mantas without expending too much effort. And this time we hit jackpot!
You might remember we saw some manta rays in Hawaii and I fucked up with the GoPro and didn’t have the camera running. This time I wasn’t taking any chances and gave the GoPro to James. Afterwards he was super excited and was like “I got some awesome footage!”
I couldn’t believe how close they got to us – pretty much within touching distance.
Here is a manta ray, a whole bunch of fish, and even a jellyfish. We got stung a couple of times by jellyfish in the water but it wasn’t too bad. Totally worth it to see the mantas!
Afterwards it was time for lunch and then snorkeling at Sebayur Island. It was this protected little area with really calm water.
There was a lot of cool stuff to see – lots of fish (including a barramundi!), sea cucumbers, coral, a couple of eels, an octopus, and a cool blue starfish.
I got separated from James and started following a trigger fish around. I must have gotten too close to its … I want to say … nest? – do fish have nests? Anyway, I got too close to where it didn’t want me, so it full on attacked. (FYI: mute the video if you don’t want to hear a LOT of shrieking)
What a mean fish.
(Also I showed this video to James and he laughed and laughed. James, you are no better than that dickhead fish.)
No wait, he’s OK. Here he is getting revenge for me. It’s probably not the same one, but it’ll pass on the message.
After all the excitement at Sebayur it was time to head to a pirate island to spend the night on land. On the way we saw more manta rays and some flying fish.
The island had a separate shower and toilet – luxury. And a hammock!
These were the sleeping cabins which all had ocean views. The building on the right was the kitchen and communal eating area.The hills behind the camp had goats. Goats! (I don’t know why that excited me so much since we’d probably seen hundreds of mantas that day)
We were climbing before dinner and heard some bleating which we all thought was one of the other group members. So we kept bleating at each other until we figured out we were actually having a conversation with the hill goats.
And this is where we watched the sun set.
James getting some meditation in before dinner (also you can see our boat in the background!)
Surprisingly, sleeping in the cabin was less comfortable than sleeping on the boat – it was much hotter (it took me forever to get to sleep) and I missed the ocean breeze. But still, it was still a fun experience and a nice way to end the day.
The next morning we did some more snorkeling and saw some more manta rays. They are so chill and graceful in the water – I could spend all day watching them! In the video below there was just one manta to begin with but he lead us to a big group.
Ben was off scuba diving and the others were resting on the boat which was their loss because I saw a freaking shark. It was just a little one, but still really cool.
Then it was time for lunch and off to Mawan Island for some free time. Look how gorgeous and secluded it was! We were the only ones there the whole time.
We spent the next hour or so relaxing and exploring the beach. James is wearing Justin’s spare pair of bathers because he left his on pirate island. =(
Also at the top of my leg where it meets my bikini you can kind of see my original skin colour to get an idea of how dark I got! The backs of my legs were another few shades darker than the front since that was where the sun hit the most while I was swimming.
It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo but the wet sand has a slightly pink hue from the mix of the white and red coral. If you grabbed a handful of it you could see the individual flecks of red that gave it the pinkish tint.
photo from Nicola
After our beach time we visited Rinca village and did another short (but so hot and so humid) hike to visit a bat cave. Then it was time for our Komodo adventure to come to an end. =( We sat on the roof of the boat in the dark, watching the stars and and flying foxes as we headed back to Labuan Bajo.
So yeah, it was a pretty intense few days. I’m pretty sure we stank at the end of it. I’m definitely not used to the humidity and lack of mod cons, but the FloresXP crew took such wonderful care of us that the boat felt a lot more luxurious than it actually was. I can’t believe how much amazing stuff we got to see in just a few days and what a beautiful world we live in.