Creeping behind a guide along a 50 cm-wide mud track lined with thick bushes, in search of the fatally venomous Komodo Dragon, I am quietly nervous. The guide’s weapon of choice, strangely, is a long stick with a fork at the top, similar to the tongue of our predator. Peering through the bushes on either side, I am desperately hoping to see, but not be attacked, and am stunned as a dragon approaches us on the track. Lying down, these creatures look like very large lizards, but thumping towards us, lifting each arm and leg with brutal force, it’s more reminiscent of a dinosaur. As we crouch in the bushes to let him pass, the guide displays the power of his magical stick and eases the massive reptile out of harm’s way.
Rewind a few days, and I arrive at the West Flores town of Labuan Bajo, by a twin-engine aeroplane. With my car (and boat) transfer a no-show, I am left to stare into the faces of the locals all desperately trying to get my attention from the other side of the security glass. After a dubious local ride followed by an alternative night’s accommodation, I find myself at the local fish market, to be collected by boat and taken to a remote peninsula, the home of the Waecicu Eden Hotel.
Labuan Bajo is an extremely basic town, and is the gateway to the Flores Archipelago and the islands inhabited by the endangered Komodo Dragon. The town’s fish market is the major gathering point for locals to buy and sell their daily catch, as well as a selection of fruit, vegetables and basic necessities. The main street is dotted with tour operators and restaurants, only one or two that I would entertain the thought of entering.
Finally on board my boat to Waecicu, I note with interest that the only way that this boat can keep moving is if its driver keeps manually pumping water through a dangerously noisy engine. But as I gaze out to the islands of the Flores Archipelago, the beautiful Indonesian waters take my breath away. My final gasp comes when Waecicu Eden Hotel comes into view. Like a group of treehouses stepping up the side of a remote peninsula, Waecicu is just like the set of the 1970s television series, Swiss Family Robinson.
The beach-level bungalow (utilising an eclectic mix of shells, rocks and driftwood washed up on the shores as its structure) is the reception, restaurant, lounge with hammocks, a games corner and bar. Then the incline begins, with steep steps leading to the day beds and massage room, and more and more steps leading to the individual bungalows stepping their way up the side of the sheer peninsula. Everywhere I look, I see collectables of flotsam and jetsam now creatively adorning every corner, shelf, step or garden bed. At Waecicu, with every glance you discover something new, and its remoteness, basic accommodation and local atmosphere are all part of its charm. The leaky canoe and local inhabitants, of the animal and human kind, also make for an interesting exploration of the surrounds.
My next journey out to Rinca Island – one of the three islands in the archipelago that the Komodo inhabit – begins by raft. Our boat is about 200 m off shore, and so we board a makeshift raft that slowly pushes us towards the boat’s bow. Once on board we start our two-hour trip to Rinca Island and the Komodo trek. The waters are a magical crystal blue and in places I can see the coral from my pulsating bench seat on the old boat. Dolphins are plentiful and playful in the wake of the boat, and we even glimpse a whale waving his massive flipper. But the sun’s magical rays soon disappear and the ominous thick grey cloud that we are approaching shows the Indonesian monsoon season’s powerful colours. As the rain pelts down, I revel in the surreal experience of being on a rickety old fishing boat in such a remote location, amidst a storm and about to go on a Komodo hunt.
Stepping off the boat on Rinca Island is like being in Jurassic Park – a whirlwind of emotions and adrenaline spinning around my body. Met by a local at the wharf, we are walked to the ranger’s office. The morning rain has turned a normally barren walk into a mud pit and a couple of smaller Komodo welcome us with the steely glare that they are famous for. Some of the island’s other inhabitants – wild monkeys – hear our arrival and rush to see if we have any snacks in hand that could be stolen. After our very official clearance by the ranger (and an introduction to the skeletons of the buffalo, deer and pig who all fell victim to the Komodo), we are allocated our guide and accompanying stick and set off on our trek. As we walk, the vegetation becomes thicker and I realise how terrifyingly close I could get to this lethally venomous creature …
Now, looking back on my time in Flores, I realise that it is the journeys and destinations that present unique challenges that are the most memorable. The huge flies, mosquitoes, questionable kitchens and associated dishes, heat and lack of electricity in remote locations become a distant memory and it’s the views, people and interesting experiences that make you smile, leaving a special memory imprinted
in your thoughts long into the future.