Hunting dragons, talking to turtles & dancing with manta rays
A week before Christmas, over lunch one of my lovely friends was chatting about her planned travels to Flores and the Komodo National Park, on a boat. Being the adventure kitty that I am, I pipped in questioning the spareness of a bed for one, casually throwing in that I am happy to sleep on a deck and can cook if need be!
Well a day later and I was sharing the kids cabin 2 bunk beds 3 kids one kitty. I was 100% certain I would be sleeping on the deck!!! I don't use air-conditioning you see, I am one of those people that believe we should be able to exist in the environments of our choosing . That is without fluorescent lights and AC. Just don't take my laptop off me or either of my phones.... I will die, the end.
Bali is a magnet not only for international travellers, spiritual seekers of enlightenment, Bintang loving sun worshipping Aussies, bendy yogis and or Russian digital nomads with more followers than everyone else combined on the internet. Domestic travellers like Bali too. Wealthy Jakarta folk head on over to create a different kind of chaos in the Bali calm.
On December 18 it was announced that the Camp Covid Staycation would get some new rules. To travel to Bali you will need to get a PCR test (a lab technique called polymerase chain reaction - PCR)These are $120 a pop and involve getting a giant cotton bud shoved up your nose, which makes you sneeze leaving everyone thinking you have covid. PCR tests need to be travelled on within 72hrs of testing even though they are "valid" for 7 days?
This meant that if family of four comes to Bali for a 7 day vaccay all of a sudden they are up for another $1000 in PCR tests. This new rule wiped out pretty much the entire traveling family demographic some 120 thousand projected arrivals and as a cancellation consequence lost Bali in excess of AU10million in very much needed tourism revenue. Ouch. It also stopped a fresh wave of Covid celebrating Christmas on our tropical island paradise. It also deterred my fellow Komodo bunk mates mums & dads from adventuring out of the Bali bubble. I don't blame them the rules could change with one sneeze, meaning you might find your self creating a new home in East Nusa Tenggara!!
I slept on it, I had flights booked for December 26. I was going to cancel then I thought why the heck am I hesitating?, I am adventure kitty!! I must depart the bubble, I rapid tested, packed, scootered and parked. Made my way through the stamping fun park. My rapid test was stamped about 5 times before boarding my flight.
Oh aircraft you steely tubee beasts!! How I missed your recycled air, shitty food, dehydration, tiny toilets and that endless deafening hum of your roaring engines. I was as happy as a pig in poo poo!!! I snapped the whole adventure, so joyous was I to be back in the sky. IN THE SKY, flying!!!!!
Labuan Bajo is the town with the airport on the island of Flores, that grants you immediate access to brilliant Komodo National Park. Its so close to the port city, which is actually a town under siege. There is so much work going on here - new footpaths, lighting, roads going in the whole foreshore area is being turned into a mini Singapore, complete with its own mini Marina Bay Sands-esque hotel (sans casino) no one here is unemployed at the moment. The little warungs a thriving.
Since Camp Covid the tourist $$ literally stopped over night, that is all this town exits onIts been tough. Many of the bule orientated shops are shut, including tour operators who are all now operating from home. Day tours to Komodo stopped in March but have re-commenced, daily have been available since September with domestic tourists and us expats taking the advantage of the opportunity to see this amazing region in relative peace!!
Booking a day trip now goes like this:
Ring ring ring ring,
Me: "Hello?? I would like to book a Komdodo day tour?"
Booking Agent: "Ok that boat not going, we have other boats also good."
Me: "Ok, how much what time can I pay tomorrow who I get on the boat"
BA: "No, you need pay now, we buy snacks"
"I meet you in the car park near a cave bring IDR 1.5mill"
Me: "ah ok no???"
"You can make a receipt & come to my hotel and meet me in reception"
(where the owner will photograph you with the money lol)
BA; "Ok I meet you at your hotel 6pm"
BA: by WhatsApp at 4.30pm "Ok I am at hotel now"
Me: by WhatsApp "I will be there at 6pm, as per arrangement"
BA: by Whats App "Ok I wait you"
Secretly I was planning to only pay half, just for safe measure. I would pay the balance on the boat. This plan works, I remember to have faith in the universe.... and also recall that one time when I was in Thailand with my daughter and sister... When I handed over all of our passports and some cash to some random dude in a bar who said he could get us visas for Cambodia. My sister yelled at me, but that turned out ok we got our passports back with actual visas and walked over the boarder to Cambodia. This plan wasn't as bad as that idea, I laugh now... I think my sister actually didn't talk to me for two days. Soz, not soz Debs.
Pick up time is 6am. There is a knock open my door at 5.30am I fall out of bed fast thinking I late grabbing clothes as I trip over my still asleep feet to get to the door. There is a nice man there saying good morning getting me with Kopi Flores and an omelette. The hotel had made me breakfast bless them!!! I am so grateful for that coffee and it is bloody good!! The omelette is pretty dam decent too, after you get over sugary sweet white bread. I am not late, I have had coffee I am going to see dragons!!
The booking agent does not disappoint, my pick up is there at 6am happily opening the door to the neatly kept station wagon and introducing me to two other guests, we immediately start chatting its a good start. We get to the boat there are only 5 guests on a boat that seats 20 Happy days!! The other two guests are lovely and we share a bag of breakfast potato chips riddled with msg making the cheese flavour so dam good. We are friends within minutes. Its lovely to have such an intimate day with super nice adventure friends!
Our first stop is Padar Island. I look at the hike, (its a mountain) and think, ok thats roughly a week that my knees will need for recovery as I stretch my quads then give my hip flexors and calves some TLC no one else makes a move to stretch anything pretty sure they are gonna hurt tomorrow. There is a deer eating a coconut on the beach. A deer eating a coconut on the beach!!!!!!! The view at the summit is spectacular its green and lush by the time I get down my legs are like jelly. admittedly I kind of sprinted it, its a challenge. I wanted to beat what ever it was that was competing against me... which was nothing but my own brain.
Second stop was pink beach, many beaches around here are pink. Named so because as the red coral that surrounds the islands disintegrates it becomes the sand and it is actually pink!! Do not steal the corals and shells when you come here take nothing but magical memories leave nothing but footprints. Its fabulous the sky is blue the water is the aquamarine of dreamy escapes.
Stop three is Komodo, its raining, not set in rain but traveling island rain. Its a 20 minute deluge thats washes everything, makes you super sweaty as the humidity steams up, seemly out of control. We pause for lunch, which is a really thoughtful mainly vegetarian lunch box! With a piece of fried chicken (we are in Indonesia)I leave the yam goreng too is corner of the box and apologise to the chicken, eat the veggies with rice scooping up every scrap of sambal I can see. Yum. The rain clouds drift away, dragons please come out to play!
On the island of Komodo there are a few huts, a market of souvenir stalls food and drinks. The dragons can go where ever they want. There are 2m long wooden pitch forks accompanying the rangers... not sure what thats gonna do and I hope I don't get to see ... or do I??? My first Komodo Dragon sighting is right at the entrance to the park!!!! He is about 12 years old not to threatening, I am so excited. dragons dragons dragons. You kind of roam through the park on marked trails no fences any where.
I read up on dragons before my arrival, only 5 people have been eaten by them- good news.
They bite you first, let you run off screaming & wait 3 days for you to die slowly, then they invite their mate over for a feast. Then they turn on their oldest mate & eat him These fuckers even eat their own babies, forcing them to hide up trees to avoid being the next tasty treat. Komodos get up to 40 km per hour how the eff do they get their dinosaur bits moving that fast lord only knows. I have a snaps of me super close to the dragons such a cool experience and I spotted a baby one too!!!
Check out my personal IG account @adventuresofkitcat where I share video and snaps of the adventure. Apparently these guys originated from Australia which explains everything.
After the amazingness of dragon hunting I don't think the day can get better, it does. We land on a white stretch of sand, only sand, surrounded by turquoise waters and a plethora of coloured fishes. I squeal as I snorkel out with some trigger fish nipping my knees. My not so great at swimming Indo friends are all bobbing about in orange life jackets. Learning to swim should be mandatory in Indonesia they have sooooo much coast line!! I walk off to the other side of the sand and go for a swim with a green turtle who is not so keen for my company as I am for his. I disrupt my friend Gunthars selfie serenity with a photo bomb - me leaping over his head. Its a fantastic capture, we are all crying with laughter.
Manta rays. Holy shit balls these giant flying carpets are huge, the captain spots them on the Garmin and we launch our selves into the blue ocean depths. Its mating season and these wide winged magic carpets of the ocean are dancing with each other in the hope of attracting procreational mate. I have witnessed manta disco dating. Its breath taking. They move, we jump back on the boat the Garmin tells us where they are, we launch our selves in for another encounter.
One more stop, a jetty we a bazillion hungry fish and indonesians bobbing around in orange life jackets. I don't need to be in human seafood soup. I patiently wait till two boats depart filled with joyful story telling of memories made, me wondering what is this joint like in peak tourist season??? I jump in and swim around in so so many fish its crazy!!! there are crown of thorns star fish, blue starfish, spiny urchins, sea cucumbers its all happening. Its amazing.
Back on the boat its home time, we have done so much but it didn't seem rushed or like we were bnbeing headed around. Our tour guide was amazing, the boat staff fantastic my new friends awesome. Even though we applied several layers of sunscreen we have red noses but rally big smiles and so many wonderful memories. We are exhausted but happy happy happy. I am dropped by the driver at the hotel. All I can think about is having a hot shower and elevating my feet.
Adventure kitty is a kitty of happiness!!
Ps: I sent the booking agent a message thanking him for arranging such an awesome day! If any one needs a contact to arrange any Komodo or Flores tours message me, he was super helpful!!