Dragons, or other sea monsters, were often depicted on medieval maps to indicate uncharted territory. Hence the phrase, “Here be dragons”. They are a staple part of fantasy fiction, from “The Hobbit” to “Game of Thrones”, but they really do exist. On only four small islands in Indonesia you can find the Komodo dragon, the largest living lizard in the world. I was on a four-day boat trip heading East from Lombok to Flores stopping off to see these dragons en route. I knew it would be no luxury cruise, with no cabins, just a mattress on deck, no showers, no privacy, but the scenery would make up for all the hardships. Or so I hoped.
The website for Kencana Tours promises a maximum of 20 people on the trip, but there were close to 50 milling around the office in Sengiggi, Lombok, on the day of departure. Not to worry, I thought, as I’d read that they divide large groups up and use two vessels. After waiting around for an hour and a half we finally set off for a 3 hour stiflingly hot bus ride across the island of Lombok to the port on the eastern side. We were not even given a mediocre packed lunch until around 3pm. Surely, things could only get better. Or so I hoped.
My heart then sank further as I saw that we were all going on the same boat. All 45 of us. Luckily, everyone on the trip was like-minded and laid-back so it made life a lot easier, but things were very cramped. Because of the late departure we didn’t set sail until 4pm and it was dark within a few hours so we didn’t see the bats we were promised as part of the first day’s programme.
Darkness falls quickly here once the sun has set. New friends were made easily, especially easy when you’re all sleeping head to toe. We played cards on deck, as the boat cruised through the pitch black night. We anchored at Gili Bola until 2am and then set off again. With the engines now running, I found it almost impossible to sleep. In the rush to claim a mattress spot, I had been very British and reticent and now paid the price, as my place was close to the food area. Some alarmingly large ants seemed more interested in me than the scraps of food.
We arrived at Gili Moyo the next morning. This island lies to the north of Sumbawa island. The day was perfectly clear, the weather bright and sunny, the sea a gorgeous deep blue, while jade green hills rose steeply in the interior of the island. We trekked inland to a waterfall and I conquered my fear of heights by climbing up the rocks at the side to the pool at the top. Afterwards we went snorkelling where the colourful fish and coral are really amazing. In the afternoon we continued to Gili Satonda where we swam in a salt lake.
The second night was spent sailing again and this time the sea was quite rough and so we pitched and tossed the whole night. We disembarked at Gili Laba grateful to be on terra firma again and hiked up a steep hill for breath-taking views of the sea below and Komodo Island, our next destination. On Komodo we finally came face to face with the famous lizards themselves. They are actually a type of monitor lizard, but can grow up to 3 metres in length and can move quite quickly if they fancy you for lunch. They have been known to attack and kill humans. Luckily though, the rangers who accompanied us were well armed with … a pointed stick!
On our last day we visited Rinca island and apart from more of these extraordinary creatures we also saw deer, monkeys, wild pigs and water buffalo. After a last swim and snorkel on the idyllic sandy beach at Gili Kelor, we finally docked at Labuanbajo on the western side of the island of Flores. It was an incredible trip despite the discomforts, taking you to places otherwise inaccessible by land, but I was glad to be back on dry land sleeping peacefully in a bed.