After a four hour bus ride from the west coast of Malaysia to the east coast, we bought boat tickets for the next ferry to Tioman Island. We still had a few hours to spare and we spent them buying supplies and enjoying the air-conditioning and free wifi at the local KFC (perhaps my first KFC encounter ever). We eventually boarded the ferry, after a chaotic check-in and completely confusing process (no queueing here). We spent the next two hours in the frigid boat hold, so cold the windows were completely fogged on the outside.
Luckily, the end justifies the means, and we arrived on Salang Beach just before dark. Having called ahead, we found our beach front bungalow to be simple, but just our style. This being the “party beach” we were at the end and it was pretty quiet.
We spent the next few days before our friends arrived reading, swimming and relaxing in the hammocks along the sand. Cats are everywhere on the island, and our place had particularly friendly and well cared for kittens. Great fun watching them attempt to climb palm trees and run around in the sand (aka giant litter box). We also glimpsed a giant black squirrel, which I have been hunting since Penang and some monkeys clamoring along the shoreline.
We hung out with some people from our hotel and went to a “party” where Riki sang Taylor Swift with some German girls. The party scene was pretty low-key, though on the weekend, people from Singapore flocked to the island. And so did our friends.
We were delighted to meet up with our New Orleans friends, this being the first time we’ve had visitors, though really we were crashing their family vacation. Same, same. Tioman Island is duty-free, so the alcohol and chocolate are relatively cheap. Duty-free makes it sound fancy, but I don’t think there was even an ATM on our beach, there was no cell service and wifi was only available in a few spots. Rustic, right?
We went on a snorkeling trip with our friends, and 20 other tourists. On a boat made for 12 (there was a sign). We made a few stops and saw some beautiful coral. And lots of colorful fish. I managed not to get burnt, courtesy of snorkeling in my t-shirt, though if I were like most on our boat, I could have just worn a life jacket for sun protection.
For lunch, we stopped at a white sand beach, where we were discarded while the captain drove off to fix the engine. Shortly after our arrival, three giant monitor lizards must have smelled our food and came to harass us from the forest. They must get fed here regularly, as they were not afraid of us and our guide threw chicken bones and sausage at them. Same guide who was feeding the fish loaves of bread. It’s not something I like to see. I’d rather the wildlife stay wild.
The next day we all boarded the ferry back to Mersing, where we caught the bus to Singapore and the others went back west for a day before meeting up with us again.
We were not disappointed by our flight from Lombok to Flores (via Bali). We passed several volcanoes, with perfectly round craters and numerous gorgeous islands. The whole trip we were leaning over each other to see out the window.
When we arrived in Labuan Bajo, Flores, we joined two other couples in walking to town, which was rumored to be only 20 minutes. Well, it was a bit further, so Riki and I hurried ahead to beat the incoming rain. A friendly dump truck driver stopped and offered us a ride, so we ushered our new friends into the back of the truck and were dropped off 10 minutes later in the center of town. My second dump truck ride this trip (and in my entire life).
Well Labuan Bajo is a bit of a dump, but it is the harbor for most of the boats visiting Komodo Island. Early in our planning for Indonesia, Riki asked me if I wanted to see the Komodo dragons. I said yes, not really knowing what that entailed, but assuming it was going to be an adventure.
And an adventure it was. We booked a package deal with a travel agent for about $50 each for a 2 day/1 night boat trip, including two islands to visit the dragons and snorkeling on the second day. The fist day started out very drearily, with pouring rain when we arrived at Rinca Island, our first stop. Worried the dragons wouldn’t be out, we waited a bit for the rain to let up and then headed onto the island in search of the dragons. We were led by a guide with a two-pronged stick as his only defense against these dragons, through almost knee deep water, from the earlier downpour. After paying our almost $20 fee to visit Rinca and Komodo Islands, we were quickly rewarded with some dragon viewing.
At the top of a hill near the ticket booth were two large teenage males. We were told that they are usually around here because the kitchen is nearby and they can smell the food, even though the rangers never feed them. We got pretty close in my opinion. Near the kitchen, we also spotted two more Komodo dragons, who were oblivious to the rain. We had read that recently a dragon had attacked an unsuspecting ranger in an office for no apparent reason. This put us on our toes, ready to run if need be.
Then we took a short trek inland with our two guides, one of whom was a tiny 17 year old girl, who looked like she would be no match for a dragon. But she had the obligatory two-pronged stick for protection. We were on the lookout for young dragons, who had just hatched and were hiding in the trees from bigger dragons (and their mothers), who eat them. We didn’t find any, but Riki spotted a large one laying in the grass in wait of some nearby monkeys.
We continued our boat trip, and the rain decided to cooperate for the next few hours. Arriving at Komodo Island, we hired two more guides and went into the forest, where we saw many wild boars and orchids. Cool, but not that exciting.
But then, as we were taking in a nice view, our guide spotted a small-ish (was still huge in my book) dragon on the side of the hill. We got some good pics before we annoyed him and he took off down the hill.
At the bottom of the hill, we ran into a rare sight. A massive Komodo dragon was finishing off a deer, who looked like he had been dead for quite awhile. There wasn’t much meat left, but we watched as he picked at it and then defended it against the same smaller dragon we had seen up the hill.
It is quite funny to see deer on a beach, but it seems like a good idea, as you can see the dragons coming better than in the forest.
We anchored in a bay with many other boats and watched as giant fruit bats emerged from the trees and swarmed in front of the most amazing sunset we’ve seen (in awhile).
Day two promised to be just as amazing. Despite our boat’s generator conking out and sleeping in the stifling heat in our cabin and a rat rifling through our belongings at 3 am, the sun was out and the temperature was warm, a stark contrast from the previous day.
Our first stop, at Pink Beach, was at 7 am, and the water was cold. The beach is pink though, as its name implies. Red coral has been ground up and washed ashore. We saw a couple of fish while snorkeling, but nothing amazing. We didn’t stay long and continued on to Manta Point for our next stop.
And we were heavily rewarded. The current is strong at Manta Point and giant mantas like to clean themselves on the rocks in relatively shallow and very clear water. We were dropped by our boat and able to drift over at least 7 giant manta rays, who were just hanging out on the bottom of the sea. They were a few meters wide and so strange. Their mouths are like small, smooth caves and they almost seem more like plants then animals, until you see them swim.
We had thought about diving here, but my ear has been bothering me so snorkeling was the only option. It was just as well. With the snorkeling, we were able to drift over top the mantas, get picked up by the boat, brought back up-current and able to drift a second time to spot more manta rays. We even saw more sharks, but only 2 meters long this time.
Our last stop was even better. Kanawa Island has a “resort” where we had looked to stay, but it costs something like $50 for a shabby bungalow. The snorkeling here is amazing though. We hopped in the warm water and immediately saw thousands of fish and beautiful, healthy coral. I spied a blue spotted ray and Riki showed me a “baby” reef shark who was hanging around the beach. He was over a meter, but we chased him around trying to get a good picture. There’s something I never thought I would do – chase a shark.
What a successful trip. Completely satisfied, we headed back to shore to arrange for our bus trip the next day further east to Ruteng.