We got a very shaky and bumpy flight to Laubanbajo on Flores early Monday morning. The place proved to be a fairly grubby one horse town but its the only place you can arrange to get to Komodo Island from so we had no option but to live it up as best we could. On the plus side, we met quite a few other people in the same situation so we could group together to help reduce the cost of chartering a boat. The guys in Laubanbajo have got it pretty nicely wrapped up. There’s no official tourist office or anything so you have to go to one of the agents to sort out a boat and they’ve all got the price nicely fixed between themselves so there isn’t much room for bartering. We banded together with a French Canadian chap and an American girl called Leah and booked a 2 day trip to the islands for a bit of Dragon spotting. We thought we had it bad with the hassle in Indonesia but Leah being of Korean descent had to put up with a constant stream of “You Japanese?”, “konichiwa”, “You know Kungfu?” and other inane comments from people who no doubt thought they were beign friendly. In the space of a few minutes even I was getting tired of hearing it.
On Tuesday morning we got on the boat and headed out for 2 hours over rough waters to Rinca island (which is the only place aside from Komodo island where dragons live). There were a number of the beasties lying around the rangers hut but they weren’t that big and were determined not to move. WE headed out on a 5Km walk through the national park and came across a young dragon searching in a nest for eggs - they are cannibals and often eat their own young. We saw a bunch of other wildlife - wild pigs, buffalo, deer etc but that was it for dragons on Rinca so were a bit disappointed. Hopefully Komodo would prove better. We got back on the boat and headed out to a coral reef for some snorkelling which was cool. However, the weather started getting unfriendly and when we anchored off Komodo island for the night a huge gale and lashing rain ensued for most of the night which made sleeping on deck a bucketful of fun.
The next day we landed on Komodo and headed out for another walk. No one had been able to get to the island for the last 6 days due to the bad weather so were lucky to make it. We set off on our walk and within a few minutes came across 4 huge beasties gathered around a dead wild pig which had been hung up by the rangers. The poor creatures aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box and had been sitting there for hours just staring at it as if it was going to come down bu itself. We got very close and were enjoying the thought of having to leg it if one of them came for us when a bunch of Danish tourists arrived. One large woman got too close and two of the dragons began padding towards her looking mightily unhappy. This stirred up the other two who came prowling over our way. we tried to look cool as we edged away but these feckers were big, I mean badass, and their gaping maws are a harvesting ground for all sorts of poisonous bacteria. The rangers armed with thin sticks didn’t fill me full of confidence that if it came to a whooping match that they had much of a chance. It was time to scarper but we couldn’t run otherwise they’d go for us so we edged backwards taking care to keep the Danish woman between us.
We continued for another few Km until we came across a lone dragon sunning himself on top of the hill. He looked pretty lazy so the ranger took the opportunity to grab his tail so we could have a feel of the rough, scaly appendage. The dragon didn’t appreciate this much and ambled off in a sulk. He didn’t make it far before collapsing in the shade and looking glum. They aren’t so tough afterall. Afterwards we were back on the boat for the stormy trip back to Flores. Once there we booked our flights out to Lombok island for the next day.
We arrived in Bali again on Thursday but our onward flight to Lombok was cancelled due to strong winds which meant another night in Kuta. It was paid for by the airline though so it wasn’t so bad. Indonesia has been having a pretty shocking set of disasters recently with at least 3 plane crashes, 2 ferry sinkings and an earthquake in Sumatra. We weren’t overflowing with joy to be flying around again but there isn’t much other choice in Indonesia. Bus travel is torturously long and painful not to mention the hassle of having to argue with every bus driver.
So on Friday we got an early flight to Mataran on Lombok then took a taxi to Bangsal and a boat over to the 3 islands known collectively as the Gili Islands. This is a stupid name because Gili means island and all islands in Indonesia are called Gili something. The islands are nice and relaxing with good snorkeling and beaches. We took a glass bottomed boat tour of the islands and saw lots of tropical fish and turtles.
By Sunday we had to leave to get back to Java for our flight back to Kuala Lumpur so the journey began with a boat, then a bus then a flight then 2 more buses in the city of Surabaya. This is Java’s second biggest city and is as ugly as Jacarta. However, tourists hardly ever come here so there was no hassle and it was interesting experiencing the gamut of buskers and tat sellers that plague the buses. The place was mosquito infested though and there wasn’t much to see so we were fairly glad to be leaving the next day.
Indonesia has a lot of potential, especially with trekking and diving but the touristy areas have been destroyed by touts and overcharging is endemic. Travel around the country is badly organised and generally torturous. If you had some time to learn some Indonesian though and a few months to travel you could go to the more remote areas and experience some of the real culture of the country. Unfortunately, most people won’t have time to do this and are restricted to the main tourist areas and the associated hassle.
If you have 2 months, I’d recommend it. If you have 2 weeks, go to Thailand.