After nearly a week on Java, it was time to move on to other islands. Kris and I boarded another one of the many small planes we took over the course of our travels and made our way to Flores. The harbor town of Labuan Bajo is one of the main jumping off points to get to Komodo Island and see the famous dragons. Incidentally, the surrounding waters are also acclaimed diving spots, so LB (as the locals called it) was filled with tanned blond Europeans who all appeared to be perfectly content to hang out there for months on end. The proportion of attractive people in that tiny town was seriously off the charts.
We stayed at the picturesque Bayview Hotel, a guest house that hugged the cliffs just above town and gave us prime seats for a spectacular sunset on our first night there. The vantage point also happened to be perfect for hearing all three local mosques projecting their call to prayer at top volume. They went on for so long that we started wondering if prayers had ended and announcements were being shared (“There’s a bake sale immediately following the service…”).
The next day got off to an early start when we woke up at 5:30 to depart for the four hour boat ride to Komodo. When confirming our boat reservations the day before, we wondered how the ride could possibly take that long. Turns out that we were going about the speed of a rowboat, so it’s a miracle that we chugged out there in a mere four hours. The time passed blissfully, though — we had chartered a boat so it was just us and our co-captains. We savored our breakfast as we plowed through the water, read our books, and and watched island after island appear and then recede from view.
Komodo itself was quite an experience. It’s a much bigger island than I was expecting, and apparently Komodo dragons are found throughout, as well as on the smaller neighboring island of Rinca. We paid our entrance fee to the national park and hired a guide, who, as was promised in Lonely Planet, was armed with a long stick in case any dragons were feeling feisty along our walk. We spent about an hour traipsing through the forest and basically saw a family of Komodos: the patriarch, who had evidently just feasted on something and had the swollen belly to prove it, a few kiddos scurrying through the brush, a mama dragon, an angsty teenager, and then a tiny little baby clinging to a tree. I pointed that one out to the guide, thinking it was a big lizard, and his reaction was priceless: “Oh my god! Oh my god! You found a baby Komodo!!” Just call me Kendall the Komodo spotter.
These dragons were all observed separately because, as we learned, they’re more or less out for each other at all times. The moms ferociously guard their nest from the male dragons to prevent the eggs from being eaten — but then as soon as they’re born, the little guys have to run up into the trees for shelter or the moms may start devouring them. It’s a dragon eat dragon world out there, folks.
The rest of the day was spent lunching, snorkeling, and taking in the beauty of the island’s pink beach, so named for the tiny bits of red coral intermixed with the sand to give the beach a slightly pinkish tinge. It was my first time snorkeling, and wow was it incredible.
On our last day in the area, we hired a driver to take us inland a bit, to hike down to a waterfall, Cunca Wulang. Our guide was wearing flip flops, chain smoking cigarettes, and frequently texting on his phone while leading us through the woods, and we were still both scrambling to keep up with the man. The waterfall was beautiful, as to be expected. I was too chicken but Kris jumped off the cliff, and together we swam into the grotto where the water was cascading down. Swimming towards the waterfall; now that was a workout.
Next destination: Bali. This was a bit of an unintentional stop, layover-style, as we ended up having an extra 24 hours before Ainsley flew in. We figured as long as we steered clear of Kuta (the party scene) that we’d have a pleasant visit, and we ended up at Belangan Beach on the southern peninsula of the island. Before getting there, though, we thought we’d nail down travel arrangements for the following day when we were jetting off to yet another island. We had originally planned to meet Ainsley at the Bali airport and boat over to neighboring Lombok, but those logistics were looking complicated (the ferry departed from the other side of Bali; the boat was probably going to take another four or five hours; and it didn’t drop us remotely close to our final destination on Lombok), so the alternative — a 30 minute flight — seemed way more appealing.
We narrowed down our options to the two airlines that offered Bali –> Lombok flights and approached both of their information desks. The first airline only had one flight left for the next day with seats available, but it would be departing 30 minutes after Ainsley’s plane was scheduled to land from Sydney. No go. We headed over to the next desk and proceeded to talk in circles with the incredibly friendly and yet confusing attendant. The conversation went something like this:
Kris: We’d like to book a flight to Lombok tomorrow, Tuesday afternoon. There are three of us, one of whom lands here on another flight at 3pm. Do you have anything later in the afternoon or the evening?
Attendant: We have a flight at 4pm to Lombok.
Kris: Hm, that’s probably going to cut it too close. You don’t have anything later?
Me [In front of attendant, Facetimes with Ainsley to confirm flight gets in at 3pm, etc.], to attendant: Such a shame that we can’t catch a later flight.
Attendant: So sorry.
[About 10 more minutes of this back and forth.]
Me: So should we aim for something first thing the following morning, on Wednesday, then?
Attendant: I think you should book tickets for our 6pm flight tomorrow (Tuesday).
Me and Kris [palm to face]: Uh, yeah, that would be great.
Attendant [worriedly]: But it’s more expensive.
Us: Ah, ok, what kind of difference are we talking about?
[Attendant types out number on calculator and pushes it in our direction. It’s the equivalent of one additional dollar.]
Us: I think we can handle $31 instead of $30 tickets, thanks.
Attendant [still worried]: But there’s also a surcharge for overweight bags on that flight.
Us: I see; that’s good to know. How much?
[Attendant types out another number and shows us. It’s the equivalent of 50 cents.]
Us [stifling laughter]: Thanks for the heads up. We’ll take three seats on the 6pm flight tomorrow evening, please.
Following that exchange, we taxied out to Belangan Beach in search of a place to stay the night. All’s well that ends well, and we wound up in a beautiful bungalow at a lovely villa with an infinity pool and delicious banana pancakes for breakfast the next morning, so let’s just say that finding it entailed our cab driver pulling over to ask for directions, me at one point speeding away from Kris on the back of someone’s motorbike, and a somewhat dramatic showdown with a semi-wild pack of dogs growling and barking aggressively as they approached us.
We spent the next day lounging on Belangan, watching the swarms of surfers and enjoying the beach. My only regret from the trip is that we didn’t go surfing that morning, but we anticipated being able to do so elsewhere so passed it up. The body surfing was fun too, though!
One final installment to come…