Komodo Dragon

It’s Sunday, I’d ended up with a month betweens jobs and was looking at the wall, wondering if the other wall had a more pleasing aspect.

After having a quick look at kayaking trips on the net, I half-heartedly pinged off a general query and headed out to catch the Football game. Phone rings during 3rd Quarter and I nearly ignored it, footie is footie!

Anyway, my Sunday query was been answered and by late Monday night, tickets are paid and bag is packed for Thursday… I went back to looking at the wall…

O’night in Bali  and arrive at the Komodo Ecolodge in Lubuan Bajo on Flores Island.

After a comfortable boat trip across the archipelago, it’s time to paddle. Quick-slow-quick trip around an Island was planned with an eye on the ‘Weather’ front sitting out there. Needless to say the cooling rain was just what the Doctor ordered. Back to the Mother-ship mooring and the crew have erected our tents ashore for the night. Dinner aboard and then we’re paddled ashore – and left there without a kayak or paddle (is this a trust thing?).

Just lie down and it starts… thut thut thut thut thut thut thut thut thut thut thut thut thut thut thut… there’s around 40 fishing boats out on the water for the night-catch… thut thut thut thut thut thut… plus the ‘Stereo Speaker’ competition… thut thut thut thut thut thut… the motors aboard are mostly single cylinder diesel motors idling out of sequence… thut thut thut thut thut thut until 5am. Surprisingly after a disturbed night we three paddlers were quite refreshed and ready for the day.

Its now 6:45 am and there’s D&J and myself standing on the waterline caterwauling across to the Mother-ship “Coffee coffee coffee”. The crew paddle ashore to ferry we three aboard and I decide to swim the 75m… as I near the boat I realise that she is sitting in a 6km tidal race. Hard dig later I just manage to grab the water-line strake (rub-rail) and drag myself along to the boarding ladder. I have just provided everyone a moment of concern, yet mainly amusement. For myself ‘flip! It was close there for a moment’

That early morning dip with excitement set the standard of the trip! We snorkelled, paddled, ate, rested, snorkelled, paddled ate and slept. I’d brought my own paddles with me, so it was great to finally get used to using the ‘Greenland style‘ blade – funniest sight though was seeing the crew member straddling a kayak using it as he portaged the tents ashore! You could see him just throwing it away and giving up on the whole idea – he was so used to the ‘vertical dugout stroke’ of a wide blade, my paddle in his hands was like a stick slicing through water – all effort and no gain! Past experience with hiring kayaks was that the paddles supplied were like a ‘tonne of bricks’ in your hands. No Roads Expeditions have obviously thought about the comfort of their clients as the paddles weren’t much heavier than my ‘Werner 4 piece Camano blade’ – thanks!

After the disturbed night, one would have thought that a visit to the fishing village would have included ‘pillaging & looting’… These coastal fishing villages are still basically subsistence survival. They salt the catch and sell the excess, purchase what greens they need from Lubuan Bajo including water! There are natural springs on most of the Islands however accessing the supply is difficult as well as sporadic for the population demands. Both Villages we visited were primarily Muslim, so the style of dress and customs were a pleasure to observe, the acceptance of the villagers made the visit easy without the inherent feeling of ‘gawking or intrusion’ The children a delight though their command of English brought a smile every-time they said to us “Miss Photo Me”, regardless of gender.

So it was a case of paddle 6-9km, snorkel for an hour, lunch, siesta, paddle 4-6km and set-up camp. The kayaks we used are Komodo Sea Kayak which converts from a single to a double. D&J had no problem handling the 7.4m beast while I just needed time to adjust to paddling after 6 month break.

Just a tip, if you go, stay with the Guide! Matias would indicate the Island to head for and D&J and I took basically a straight line. Matias seemed to do these big wide sweeps and arrive ahead of us! It wasn’t until I saw him standing up and paddling that I realised he was reading the currents and using them to hold the edge on us.

The Komodo Dragon tour on Rinca Island was almost the highlight. Being cold-blooded creatures, by the time we were ashore they’d mostly slunk off to snooze. The few we saw around the Ranger Station enhanced the ‘fright tales’ we’d heard before we’d landed. These 2-3m long beast can accelerate up 18kmh, they have an incredibly acute sense of smell and will gravitate to ‘blood’ within 1/2 hour from several km’s away. They are primal and the local name means “land Crocodile”. The Rangers were supportive of our need to get close for the ‘tourist photo’ by which I mean about 4m was close enough as I was gently tugged backwards. Just amazing!

Back to paddling, I’d started to climb down the boarding ladder when I slipped, I’ve come up gasping, managed to grab my cap and flip it into the kayak and I’m floundering around looking for my sunglasses. At this point Lexie (crew member) grabs some goggles and dives overboard, after surfacing for the third time, I lift my Sunnies off my face saying “Ah well, they’re lost, don’t worry” About this point in time the crew are just wetting themselves… all that effort and with the language barrier Lexie had no idea of what he was diving for until I realised I had my Sunnies after-all!

Similarly, I’d misplaced my smokes on-board and couldn’t find them as we were about to paddle across the bay. After a few choice words, I set off having disrupted the start and inconveniencing everyone into a search! We finish the paddle and have boarded when our guide Matias asks if we’d like a cold drink from the Esky. He straightens up and offers me my ‘zip-locked’ smokes suggesting I should smoke Menthol rather than chilling them!

So after 5 days paddling and snorkelling, it was time for the last paddling leg back to Komodo Lodge…

Great trip: smoothly organised, filling variety of local cooking, tents & stretchers made for great sleeps, interesting side trips to Villages and best of all we kayakers felt part of the ‘Team’. Thanks to Matias (guide Leader), Lexie, Luan & the Captain.

If you are interested:- “No Roads Expeditions” are the team! (Their pre-organisation information emails were to the point and the whole trip went smoothly)

As a footnote: – Yayasan Ayo Mandiri Massage and Training Centre opened in July 2007 to provide training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities (PWD) in Labuan Bajo… Absolutely worth supporting – The best massage I’ve had!

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