With my 2 day dive trips and dragon excursion booked I was a happy camper.
The dives were taking me to Castle Rock, Crystal Rock, Tatawa Besar (3 of the supposed best) and another ‘fill in dive’ on the way to see the Komodo Dragons on the island of Rinca, Komodo National Park on day 2.
On day 1, forced to get up early (I still love early mornings! ) I rode down to the dive shop on my Tiger after missing breakfast, collected my rental dive gear and wondered down the short walk to the harbour. Here I found the usual ‘organised chaos’ as dozens of dive boats tried to embark all their divers at once and leave all at the same time. Our group hung back a bit and let everyone else leave before setting off on the 2 hour ride to the first dive site. We were on the ‘slow boat to China’ so no point in racing.
I took my time and set up my own dive gear, even though the trainee Divemaster onboard offered to do it. A good service for some maybe, but I personally think all divers should set up and check their own dive gear before a dive – after all, their life may depend on it (this is what I used to teach anyway).
The rental dive equipment was in the standard state of repair I usually find it in at many ‘bulk-tourist dive operators’, and I’m glad I checked it. The tank O-ring had a small leak and the octopus demand valve mouthpiece was almost bitten through (some poor soul had been chewing on it!). Luckily they had spares at least.
I always bring my own mask and roll-up snorkel with me, as nothing spoils a dive more than a leaky, poor fitting and foggy mask. I also always bring and use my own dive computer so I can look after myself, as too many times I have seen bad instructors or guides run divers into unplanned decompression (Egypt is a prime example). But don’t let this put you off – do the correct course (such as PADI Open Water) and it’s easy to dive safely; with a trustworthy buddy of course!
On the boat there was the usual eclectic mix of divers; a long haired fellow from Istanbul, a Swiss backpacker, a Chinese tourist and a French dude. Our guides were local but our trainee Divemaster was a Czech who was escaping the ‘rat race’ for a life under the waves – good for him!
In any group of divers there is always one ‘wally’ who doesn’t listen to the guide, dives too deep and lays on all the coral (which may kill it). In our group it was the long haired fellow from Istanbul. He made me realise I don’t really miss teaching diving at all. I got well with the French dude, Marc, who was on a few weeks’ holiday and touring around Indonesia on a 150cc Yamaha he’d rented from Bali.
In summary, the diving was pretty good. Currents were strong, but that’s fine if you don’t fight them and drift, and the coral and sea life was pretty in places. The surrounding islands were also beautiful – if a little baron. Komodo National Park is actually a collection of 29 volcanic islands in between Indonesian islands Flores and Sumbawa.
I have a pretty good underwater camera at home but as it’s too bulky to travel with me on my bike, so I instead travel with my GoPro Hero 2 (with underwater case and red filter). However, I’m never really too happy with the still photos it takes, and so here are a few screen shots I’ve cut’n’pasted from the video I took, which although not great in resolution or quality, I think give a better representation of the dive.
Highlights included a couple of reef sharks (always good), including a group of 4 baby white tip reef sharks hiding under a ledge.
Turtle are also always good to see, and I got pretty close and personal with one for a while, until it tried to eat my camera. Turtles – you can’t take them anywhere!
Ever since I was lucky enough to dive The Galapagos Islands, I always feel I’ve been spoilt with diving, and although Komodo was good, it didn’t really get me that excited, and didn’t live up to the hype I’d heard previously. How spoilt is that! So, here’s a quick advert for you: dive The Galapagos if you ever get the chance! – Best diving in the world (so far, for me anyway).
On day 2 after the 2nd dive we landed on Rinca Island, Komodo National Park, where there be Dragons.
I must admit I was expecting something HUGE, and when I saw them I was a little disappointed. Having said that, they were big enough to do damage had they wanted to.
With an average length of about 8 feet (2.5m) and weighing 200 pounds (91kg), Komodo Dragons are the only lizards that will attack & eat something bigger than they are (including humans and buffalo), and can consume 80% of their body weight in 20 minutes. That would be like an average human man eating a 140lb (64kg) steak in 20 minutes – Man vs Food eat your heart out!
Most of the Dragons were hanging underneath the kitchen as I think they must be fed by the locals (although they said they didn’t, as that would mean food association with humans). Except for this one that headed straight for us on the path, meaning we had to climb up an embankment to keep out of its way!:
As well as a ferocious, bacteria infested bite, the Komodo dragon has recently be found to be venomous (like other monitor lizards), causing rapid blood loss, inhibition of clotting, paralysis, and extreme pain. This is a good reason to listen to the guides (armed with forked sticks) to keep out of their way, and not to sit down in front of them so as to tempt them (well, except for the quick photo of cause!)
With my duty in Flores and Komodo National Park complete it was time to up sticks and jump on the ferry to the nest island in the Indonesia chain – little known Sumbawa. As Marc was also heading back that way to return his rented motorbike to Bali, we tagged along together. This was good for me because he had a map – I didn’t!
You may think catching a ferry from Labuan Bajo to Sumbawa is fairly simple, but fate would have it we had come at the busiest time ever known to the city – the opening of ‘Sail Komodo 2013’. In a few days Labuan Bajo was to be the final destination of a yacht race from Darwin that started back in July, and the Indonesian President was inbound. This was great for tourism, but not so great for catching a ferry to leave the island because the ferries were planned to be used as floating accommodation for the thousands of visitors flooding in. They even enlisted their military hospital ship as a floating hotel.
After a couple of false attempts where departing ferries mysteriously departed early, or not at all, Marc and I had to stay another night until we eventually heard on the ‘local grapevine’ that a ferry was departing at 4pm (after the 8am one didn’t). Relieved to finally be onboard and about to set sail to a new destination, I suddenly felt great – how lucky was I to be travelling the world and island hopping across Indonesia on my Tiger? I celebrated with an iced tea and biscuits, because that’s all they had onboard, but I didn’t really care.
Marc and I relaxed on the stern, watching the ferry load up. It was surprisingly empty. The journey to Sumbawa was only around 6 hours, which meant we’d arrive before midnight – perfect. A bit worried about the stability of my bike (with no tie-downs), I went back down to check on it before sailing and found some helpful soul had spider-webbed a couple of ropes across her to steady her. Nice they didn’t bother to protect the seat, but I guess she’s had worse (my bum, for example). At least she wasn’t going to fall over. Sumbawa here we come!