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krisek Labuanbajo - A travel report by Krys
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Labuanbajo,  Indonesia - flag Indonesia
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krisek's travel reports

Komodo Dragon - a lizard everyone respects

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Komodo dragons, world’s largest lizards, are found exclusively in Indonesia on several islands of the Lesser Sunda archipelago. They prefer hot and dry places and typically live in dry open grassland and tropical forest. They look unreal, almost mythical.


Komodo Dragon
Komodo Dragon
Smaller and closer to Flores than its more famous sister island of Komodo, Rinca is considered a better place to see the Dragons. It’s possible to come closer to the animals and it’s generally easier to spot them. Rinca has the same population of the creatures as Komodo (approximately 2500 lizards) but it’s smaller.

The trip from Flores to Rinca takes about 2 hours of sailing on a rather basic wooden motorised boat, depending on weather and roughness of the seas. (To Komodo it takes 4 to 5 hours.)

The wind slowed my boat down considerably making waves hard to navigate. The boat did not rock heavily, but large splashes kept reaching the deck. It was a great trip and I was very happy that I decided to do this part of the holiday this way. Of course, it would be even better if the sailing took less time. The landscape en route was not spectacular enough and having the possibility to spend more time exploring the island and being with lizards would make the trip perfect. The thing is that a faster option is very available, for example through the EcoLodge, who offer transfers by speedboats. It is much more costly though.

Komodo dragons are extremely dangerous. One bite kills. The bacteria do the job. Attacks on humans are not rare. On 2 June 2007, an eight-year-old boy from a fishing village on the Komodo island was killed by a dragon while stepping out into the bush for a toilet stop. The dragon bit him on the hip, tossed him and dragged him around.

A different incident occurred on Rinca in 2005. A freelance tourist guide was bitten on the arm. He was taken to a hospital Bali, where he survived after an intensive antibacterial treatment that lasted a month.

Abdul was my 18 year-old guide to Rinca provided by the Komodo National Park. He was very professional, knowledgeable, polite and considerate. He monitored his guests’ progress during the trek to keep the most comfortable pace and suggested breathtaking breaks whenever people (me+2 friends) might look little tired.

Favourite spots:
Komodo Dragon
Komodo Dragon
My first encounter with the dragon was right at the boat landing. A large male was resting at the pier. It was lying in a shade, close to the path. Zooming camera lenses did not appear to bother him at all. The personnel at the Komodo National Park were polite (entry USD15) and provide general information and advice about the lizards and how to approach them.

Soon, I was expedited into the interior of the island to achieve the primary objective of this entire holiday. I did not have to wait long to achieve it (if the boat landing encounter was not to count). A few large and lazy dragons were resting in the rangers’ compound counting on residents’ dinners leftovers.

Hiking about Rinca was an attraction on its own. It was lovely - open spaces, little streams, lush vegetation in places contrasting with openness of the savannah, super tall palmtrees standing gracefully, and yes, occasional sighting of the komodo.

What's really great:
Komodo Dragoness - digging a nest
Komodo Dragoness - digging a nest
The first great sighting of a komodo was a pregnant female digging up a whole to lay her eggs. She was well aware of my presence and she briefly stopped her struggle and watched me carefully. As soon as she realised that my camera was not a threat, she resumed. She managed to throw the soil high in the air with her front legs. The dirt would travel well over two metres away from the hole. It was exhilarating. It was thrilling! Moments like that are priceless! It is actually very difficult to describe feelings, but for sure they make the moments unforgettable.

The fact that she stopped, looked at me and then decided to continue, denoted intelligence. I am not sure whether an average human would expect that this gigantic lizard would be capable of making judgements like that. I also then realised that the dragons had no fear of people. I felt I was invading her privacy, so I moved away.

Sights:
Komodo Dragon
Komodo Dragon
The Komodo Dragon is the sight. I loved their movements - steady, confident. The thickness of their skin created an illusion that they moved like a machine or a computer generated creature.

I saw a few more of varanuses on the way back to the park’s headquarters. The female was still digging up her hole, and she did show signs of fatigue. As she was digging right by the footpath, she might have been disturbed several times by a number of tourist groups. I think I saw five groups at the time I visited. I guess she might have abandoned that nest altogether. Although the Dragons have a strategy to dig up a few decoy holes...

The last of my sightings was a small female crossing a dried part of a small river delta. The delta was flat and the barren hills in the distance created a very dramatic background. This lone lizard and the overall landscape composed an unforgettable picture. It might have become the greatest memory from this holiday. It was perfect.

Accommodations:
Flores island
Flores island
Perhaps the only better accommodation option near Labuanbajo, the Bajo Komodo Ecolodge (USD 50), is located about 3 km to the south-west of the town centre. It’s an airy place excellent for relaxing. The main building, housing reception, kitchen, dining room, lounge, terrace, and a few guest rooms is like it was transported from African bush. The first floor upstairs has no windows. The vertical shutters and high ceiling create an illusion of great space like an interior of a cathedral.

What also made the EcoLodge special was its bar policy. It was an honorary system. In the book at the bar, claim one page, put your name on it and help yourself from the bar noting on the page what you took. Upon check-out you pay for your drinks.

Although the lodge was located near the beach, access to the water’s edge led through high grass field. The beach was not maintained. It was a communal one, used by the villages for daily domestic matters and was not indented as a relaxing place for tourists.

Nightlife:
Sunset over Flores
Sunset over Flores
Happy voices and loud music from a disco club across the road kept reaching the EcoLodge’s upstairs terrace. It sounded like the club was clearly a fully licensed place. That Saturday night was, I think, a karaoke night, whose quality was steadily deteriorating into the night. I was almost gagging to go there, jump around, meet with locals, perhaps sing something, too.. but the thought of a very comfortable bed after a day full of adrenaline was stronger. Much stronger! So, sadly I went to bed a few minutes before midnight.

Hangouts:
Boats at Bidadari island
Boats at Bidadari island
A short snorkelling trip to Bidadari island was priced at €25 regardless of the number of passengers, but I guess the boat would struggle to take more than twenty people.

I did go. It was a very small one. Its entirely territory was a conservation zone. The beach was small but lovely and the approach to the coral reef was free from stones, rocks and unpleasant sea creatures. The water was getting deep quickly so it was a great swimming place, far away from the hassle of tourist resorts, beach boys selling watch copies, beads, necklaces, bracelets, pirate DVDs, small wood carving, pendants, etc. Eh, I so wished I could have stayed in the area for a few more days.

On the way to Bidadari, there were other small islets with great beaches, but I was not sure if it was allowed to land on them.

Restaurants:
Flores harbour
Flores harbour
The only attraction in Labuanbajo appear to be a string of local and seedy restaurants positioned along the harbour offering view to the bay and the harbour. They do offer some food as well, but their hygiene is so poor that it requires significant bravery to order anything from there. Not even a bottle of coke (I saw how they were opening them!). Anyway, apparently, there were better and cleaner ones amongst them, so it would be a good idea to browse through and shop around. The restaurants were cheap - main dish was about USD 2-3, and it combined nasi goreng (fried rice) with some fish or meat. Some of the menus were several pages long!

On the higher elevation of Labuanbajo, there were lodges, some of which had basic restaurants, and I heard that they might be better to those in the harbour. Plus, those on the hills would offer better views.

The safest option was again Bajo Komodo Ecolodge, which cooked beautifully and a set dinner cost only about USD 5-7. Nice!

Other recommendations:
Komodo Dragon
Komodo Dragon
Labuanbajo can be easily reached by land-and-boat from Bali and Lombok, but the trip would take very long - a good thing if you have plenty of time to explore the country, and not a very good thing if are in a hurry. The fastest way is to fly (60-75 minutes) and, at a price of about USD75-90 return from Bali or Lombok. It actually does not work out much more expensive than the overland trip, since ferries can be expensive (USD20), plus hotels en route all add up! A few local airlines offer regular flights (prices a in USD as quoted by airlines).

The EcoLodge offered trips to Rinca and Komodo islands. Their prices (in EUR as quoted by the lodge) were competitive - end of August 2007.

Cost per person / 2 people:

-Boat €80 / €80 (to Rinca) or €125 / €125 (to Komodo)

-Guide €20 / €20

-Lunch €40 / €80

-Park fee €60 / €120

-Car € 60 / €60

The above were subject to 10% service charge. The boat can be substituted with a speed boat, which costs to Rinca and Komodo €350 and €500, respectively.

Published on Thursday February 14th, 2008


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Wed, Dec 03 2008 - 05:21 PM rating by frenchfrog

Super, what an interesting report! lots of facts provided. Very detailed. Amazing!!! mant thanks for sharing your adventure krys! Great pics as well.

Sat, May 03 2008 - 03:15 PM rating by mistybleu

A very interesting report, I didn't realise these dragons could cause such injuries. But what a wonderful island to explore.
Amanda

Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 03:44 PM rating by alfonsovasco

i spent the whole afternoon reading with pleasure practically all your reports. that was better than reading a bood travel book. thansk for your time offered to us.

Fri, Feb 22 2008 - 11:22 AM rating by marianne

Good information. I see that prices have risen dramatically. I was in Komodo in 1998 and paid next to nothing for the trip to the island and the guide. It just proves that the world changes.

Sat, Feb 16 2008 - 06:26 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Oh! I dream to get to Komodo. Maybe one day, after reading your report.

Thu, Feb 14 2008 - 02:50 PM rating by rangutan

Some dinosaurs survived? Exciting Crocodile Dundee stuff! :-) [4.5]

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