I’ve always loved lizards. In fact, I currently have a bearded dragon, named Roxy, and two leopard geckos: Mac & Cheese. I have always been fascinated by Komodo Dragons- giant, massive lizards that are bigger than dogs. If there are two animals that I want to have the pleasure of seeing in the wild it is the Manatee and of course, the Komodo Dragon. Hands down, one of the coolest animals ever. That’s why, when Andrew mentioned that he was going to be heading to Indonesia for work and that perhaps we could spend some time traveling in Bali, I immediately started to my plans into action. You see, Komodo Dragons are only known to live in the wild [and thrive] on some of these small/tiny islands of Indonesia. They are protected by law. I HAD TO SEE THEM! So, after lots of planning and hoping that we weren’t getting ourselves into a messy situation where someone would run off with our money, we packed our bags and headed out of Ubud for Denpasar. We had scheduled a flight from Denpasar to Labuan Bajo, Flores… an island a few to the east of Bali. Setting up the flight Flores was rather random to say the least. I had read on a few sites about two airlines that fly there once or more times per day depending on the season. After an email to an airline “TransNusa”, we received a response letting us know that there were two seats available and a price total for the seats. I knew I wanted to go and see these dragons, so I held my breath and told Andrew, I was paying. We received an email stating that our seats were confirmed.
I had also researched a number of tours and trips that groups offered once in Flores to go see the Komodo Dragons. Many of them offered week-long excursions or more. I was looking for a simple 2 day, 1 night deal. This limited my options, but I was able to find a tour group that I had read a bunch about claiming that it was a reputable group and that the guy in charge was fantastic. I emailed him and let him know we had flights and asked for his availability. He confirmed and that was that. We took off from Denpasar in a tiny plain, excited for the next adventure. We arrived in Labuan Bajo, Flores in the late morning. The landing strip [yes just one] was rocky and muddy. We disembarked and walked into a one-room airport waiting room. Our luggage was handed over and we went outside to wait. The airport was indeed a single small building with a dirt parking lot immediately next to it. No security here— cars and trucks drive up, drop off, park, hang out, etc. We waited for an hour or so, turning down many people who were offering tours, and then called the number for the contact group. Andrew spoke with the man who told us that the driver was on the way. We waited again for about an hour or so until an SUV pulled up and out hops a guy, no boy, who is about 14 [maybe?]. He introduces himself and lets us know that he will be our guide for the trip. We’re wondering where our guide is [the man who we’ve been talking to all along], but we don’t ask questions.
The driver as it turns out is Jeffrey Buana’s brother [Jeffrey is the tour group’s main contact and owner– Putri Komodo Tours]. Anyway, we drive in the car for a bit before our guide lets us know that we’ll first go by a limestone cave for a tour and that the cost is $2 a person or something equally low. We nod and ride along thinking that wasn’t part of the outline, what are we doing and what are we getting ourselves into? At the caves, we met a boy who was perhaps 12. He gave us hard hats and flash lights and took us on a short hike and into a giant limestone cave. I have to admit, the cave was pretty awesome. We saw all sorts of fossils and a cave spider [nasty], and other cool sights…. including some crawling. We learned that the boy who was our guide was going to tourism school and that they learned English and how to give tours, as well as other business skills. Pretty cool.
After the cave tour, our guide took us by a grocery story to buy beer and then to a snorkel shop to pick up snorkel gear. Finally, we arrived down by the docks and saw our home away from home for the night- a tiny boat that looked pretty awesome. We hopped on board and they showed us to our cabin- one of two on the ship that had a set of bunk beds. They showed us the restroom and then encouraged us to sit and relax. I think were 5 of us in total on the boat- Andrew and I, our guide, and then our captain and cook. They served us fresh fruit and snacks and gave us juice and water. We took off into the water– headed for Rinca Island… home of Komodo Dragon National Park. The trip to the island was awesome. The water was GORGEOUS. We were even allowed to climb up the mast and sit on the top “deck” of the boat. It was perfect and lacking security and so so perfect :0).
and on to part II…