844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Komodo National Park (Indonesia)

For an updated version of this post, go here

April 15th, 2009 -  Yesterday I finished a three day boat tour of Komodo National Park . It is a magnificent area. I am seriously losing track of time but I think it has been about five days since I've written anything.

I arrived in Flores (the town of Labuanbajo) at night on the 10th. Many of the cheaper places were booked so I chose to live it up for $40 a night. And now that I am used to this hotel it is difficult to go back to budget. In Labuanbajo there is crappy and really nice, but no in between. There is also the added benefit of having a safe place for the motorcycle. This hotel on the beach about 2 km out of town. The town itself has a sort of quasi-charm but is not particularly memorable.

There is a hotel employee here named Benny that exudes personality. He is extremely nice and helpful, one of those individuals that you are compelled to like. His smile is completely disarming. He keeps calling me Eric and I haven’t the heart to tell him he’s mistaken.

Luckily, I’ve found a traveling companion for this part of the trip, a Swedish guy also traveling solo. We bumped into each while waiting for the ferry from Sumbawa to Flores. It is nice for a change to have someone to help relieve the burden of decision making.

We spent most of the day of the 11th researching our Komodo trip. The day was filled with difficult Englonesian language conversations, price negotiations, and boat inspections down by the harbor. I even had appointments with potential captains at my hotel. We were all business.

In the end we went with Captain Rudy, a recommended operator listed in the Lonely Planet. He spoke almost no English whatsoever so the initial phone conversation was a real treat. I did paste together enough Indonesian to get him to my hotel so it worked out.

Most folks do a two day, one night trip through the national park. We met a another tour operator that did three days, two nights and decided we would like to spend a bit more time exploring the park. We were hoping to encounter some fellow travelers, not only to defer the cost of the trip (with two it was about $100 a person) but to spice it up a bit with a few more personalities. Frankly, a group of Scandinavian female volleyball players would do nicely. Although Frederick (the Swede) and I are more fun than a barrel of monkeys it is always nice to have a group of interesting people. We’d both been traveling solo for a while and were looking for a bit of socialization (and a volleyball match or two, wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Unfortunately, our search proved to be fruitless. It is low season so there are not that many people around. The ones we did encounter did not lend themselves to a three day trip on a relatively a small boat. We were forced to amuse ourselves.

A word on the Swede. He is only 19-years-old but carries himself as if to be much older. He is extremely intelligent and speaks English very well. I am not writing all this because I have a crush on him. He merely struck me because of his youth and the fact he is traveling for six months by himself. He told me he went to Papua New Guinea for a couple of weeks and that he spent some time in the capital, Port Moresby. I’ve been to Papua New Guniea and I can say with absolute certainty that Moresby should be avoided at all costs. It has no redeeming qualities save the people, at least some of the people. Not only is it a shithole, it is a dangerous shithole at that. When he told me he spent some time there I was a bit shocked. Who would do that? He would. I knew right then that we had a lot in common, a kindred spirit if you will. When I was nineteen I was drinking shitty beer in a dorm room in Upstate New York, not avoiding the Rascals (as the local gangs terrorizing the streets at night are known) on the streets of Port Moresby.

But I digress. We set out on the morning of the 12th. It was the two of us and the crew, Captain Rudy and his nephew. There was plenty of room on the boat so we were not cramped for space and they made sure we had plenty to eat. Fish, rice, eggs, shrimp crackers, capcay, coffee, tea and bananas were the standard fare.

Our first stop was Rinca (pronounced Rin-cha) Island. This island is closer to Flores and is one of the three other places besides Komodo Island where dragons can be found. While waiting in the ranger office to pay the park fees I was told an interesting tale by one of the employees. Dragons have been known to attack humans from time to time. A month or so ago a fisherman was killed. Dragons can be vicious but it is the bacteria in their mouth that is the real danger. Even if you survive the attack you will be dead in a matter of days as result of infection if you do not seek medical attention. On the island their standard fare includes deer, buffalo, and monkeys. Often they will merely bite the animal and then patiently wait around for the bacteria to do the work for them, a process that could take a few weeks. Not a problem when you live on an island. There is no escape.

(Author's Note: Within days of returning from my Komodo trip new research regarding dragons went public. As it turns out Komodo dragons are actually venomous and it is this deadly venom that kills prey, not bacteria as it has been so long believed.)

Back to the story. So about two months ago an employee was in the office (the one I was now standing in) when a dragon decided to ascend the steps and pay a visit. From what I was told the ranger panicked big time and the dragon struck with success (I forgot to ask where the individual was bitten). There was much frantic scurrying about. The desk was knocked over and the dragon continued to engage. While this is going on other dragons were lured to the area by the smell of blood. I was told that they were all around the cabin. So the worker managed to jump on top of a cabinet for safety until a fellow worker came to the rescue (branding a wooden staff used specifically for keeping the beasts at bay). Evidence of the attack is still present in the form of blood stains on the wall and window (see pics). Super. I was a bit confused when I realized that there are three sets of windows in this relatively small cabin. Why not just jump out the window. I was told that this oversight was the result of severe panic. I also deduced that perhaps the other dragons were lying in wait. Luckily, the ranger survived. A speed boat back to the mainland arrived in time to save his life.

[Author's Note: Initially, I thought Mr. Ranger Man was pulling my leg but oh, tis true, tis true. It made international headlines.]

There were still a good ten dragons hanging around the camp area. Normally, they are solitary creatures but will congregate in groups around a food source. The lizards are not fed but can sense garbage and smell food provided for the park staff. So before we even set foot in the interior we were able to get real close to the lingerers. This was a good thing as nary a dragon was spotted during our one hour hike. This was bit disappointing but sometimes Mutha Nature refuses to cooperate.

The next morning it was off to Komodo Island. This time our hike did yield two sightings. However, our guide would not allow us to get very close so pictures were difficult, made more so by the difficult lighting (many shadows). Now I am sure you are thinking that they are justified in being overly protective but I happen to think they go a bit overboard. It is true that dragons, although lethargic in appearance, can manage short bursts of speed (up to 11 mph) when needed to capture prey but the staff behave as if our lives were in constant peril. It is not like I wanted to run down the leathery monsters in order to get in a bit of dry humping. A closer look was my only goal. What about journalists and scientists? I know they get much closer and do so under the close supervision of the park staff, some of which have been working there for twenty years. Then again perhaps my thirst for excitement gets the better of me. Naaaaah. I do understand the policy. It would be a public relations nightmare if a tourist were killed or injured. Shit would hit a large fan and heads would roll.

The real treat was finding seven or eight dragons meandering along the beach area upon our return. This was our best chance to see the lizards out in the open. It was superb.

After our dragon safari the rest of the time was spent cruising through the park waters. There was a source of tension along the way. As I said above we went with the three day tour as opposed to two. Although we believed we had communicated our desire to squeeze more in when we made the arrangement Captain Rudy seemed dead set on merely stretching the two day itinerary into three days and spending more time in each spot. We, of course, wanted to see more places and were moderately successful at doing so but not without lengthy and laborious conversations in mutilated Indonesian. The third day was a bit of a wash but it was nice just being out on the water and taking it easy. This would be the result of ‘nonthinking outside the box syndrome’ I discussed in some of my earlier posts. There is no mal intent, just a lack of understanding, or meeting of the minds if you will. It was made a bit more difficult as I discovered that our Captain could not read a map so well. But do not get me wrong. He was a kind soul and he did much to ensure an enjoyable trip.

The last night we spent docked near Kanawa Island, a very small island with some snorkeling and a few bungalows for rent. It was an extremely relaxing place. We did a bit of fishing off the dock enjoying a beer or two to help pass the time. Two Russian woman were the only guests on the island when we arrived. It was one of the local islanders that started the fishing expedition in an effort to procure dinner for said Russian nationals (he was donning the sexy violet underwear). So that is how we spent our early evening, fishing and sipping Bintang (Indonesian beer). After dinner we enjoyed a few more beers by the fire on the beach. Part of dinner included barbecued fish and squid. There are worse ways to spend your time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim