Sink Or Swim: A Day Chasing Dragons

Having spent our first afternoon in Flores trekking miles to see the world’s most underwhelming waterfall, it seemed only right and proper to reward ourselves with a few consolatory beers in our new favourite bar, The Lounge in Labuan Bajo.

Earlier we’d given Antonio, our driver and guide, a hefty deposit and asked him to find us a boat to take us to the Rinca, where we hoped to see komodo dragons. At this stage, both HN2 and I were both beginning to have some reservations about Antonio, but despite this, we foolishly parted with a substantial amount of cash and gave him instructions to find us a seaworthy boat. Antonio said that we should meet him at 7am the next morning and that in the meantime he would sort out all the rest. With that all settled, Seamus and I got on with our evening.

We went to bed far too late and then were rudely awoken at 4am by the deafening sound of the call to prayer being blasted by loudspeakers from the top of a minaret right next to our hotel. How we had failed to notice this mosque which was practically under our noses, I have no idea, but with a pounding tangover* this was not my idea of a wake up call. On sleepy Catholic Flores, I was thinking more along the lines of church bells.

I slept fitfully till 6am then went to wake HN2 and put the kettle on.

When at last HN2 appeared from his room, he looked decidedly peaky – jetlag, partying and generally being worn out had all started to take its toll on him. ‘Wifey, I’m feeling bloody crap and I’m still getting a really bad feeling about this boat that we’ve asked Antonio to find us’

Ever the optimist, I tried to quell Seamus’s fears and said that I thought it would be all be fine. The real decider for me was whether HN2 was actually going to be feeling fit enough for a 2-hour boat ride to Rinca. We drank our coffee and then headed down to the harbour to check out the boat, and see how HN2 felt in an hour’s time.

On our arrival at the harbour, we were greeted with a motley assortment of sea craft. Some looked decidedly better than others, some on the other hand looked like they were struggling to stay afloat. It was to one of the latter that Antonio led us. ‘Here is your boat, and here is your captain’ he said pointing to a young boy who was hardly out of diapers.

Seamus’s worst fears had indeed been confirmed: we looked at each other, and then looked at Antonio. ‘Listen Geez’ said HB2 pointing at the boat  ‘your ‘avin a bloody bubble bath with us mate if you think we are going to set foot on that! You’ve got to be kidding! Tell me yer ‘avin a bloody giraffe!, You think that me, and my Mrs are getting on that pile of shit? You’ve got to be bloody jokin’. Experience had taught me that it was better not to butt in. HN2 didn’t stop there; he continued to grow angrier and more agitated as Antonio then started a defensive and long-winded explanation as to why he had selected this particular boat for us. ‘Well, you have to go this boat because I’ve paid for it with your deposit and if you want better boat, going to cost you lot more, LOT more’. Seamus and I could see the $ signs flashing in neon above Antonio’s head but we were not going to give in.

HN2 strode off down the pier; throwing his arms around and jumping up and down like a leprechaun. Thankfully, being married to the Irishman, this is something that I am familiar with. I asked Antonio to excuse me so that I could talk to HN2 in private and decide what we where going to do. Inwardly I was fuming that Antonio had set out to rip us off, but I had to play the Kissinger figure here and although I could see that our long awaited and much anticipated trip to see the komodo’s was not shaping up as well as we had hoped,  I was still determined that HN2 and I were going to have a great day regardless of Antonio’s money making schemes. HN2 then told me that Irishman’s last words to him as we left the airport were ‘Make sure you look after my Mrs’.

We christened the new boat that Antonio eventually found for us, Rainbow Warrior and felt blessed to have good natured Captain Yogi and his skipper to look after us. They made us sweet black tea and doughnuts for breakfast and HN2 and I enjoyed the pleasant two-hour journey to Rinca on seas as calm as a millpond. We passed by tiny islands, sand bars, dolphins, mangroves and the stunning mountainous backdrop of Flores. The sweet black tea was a miracle cure for both of us and we were excited about seeing the dragons.

Once the boat was safely anchored at Rinca, HN2 and I made our way in the blistering heat along a tiny path. We didn’t know what to expect and there was no one around to ask, so we kept walking until eventually we came to some hideous, rather incongruous archway welcoming visitors to the Komodo National Park. We walked under it and noticed how the landscape was starting to look decidedly like Jurassic Park. Open savannah on one side and mangroves on the other. We bumped into a ranger who was directing some tourists towards the exit and he muttered something about there being a komodo lying under a tree. Being that there where trees everywhere, it was difficult to work out exactly which tree the ranger was referring too.

Bear in mind that these enormous carnivorous lizards have a fearsome reputation, and that HN2 and I had spent hours watching grisly You tube videos, we were just a little nervous. We hadn’t got a guide, we didn’t have a stick and we really hadn’t a clue where we were going. As we meandered slowly along the path in the baking midday sun we noticed what appeared to be a graveyard to our right. There were lots of little crosses with people’s names and dates on them. Was this the final resting place of the unfortunate visitors who’d fallen prey to the dragon’s lethal bite?

The dragon lying under the tree did not come out and greet us, and after paying our entrance fee and being allotted a guide, we started out on our own hunt for the legendry dragons. As it turned out, we didn’t have to hunt very hard, in fact we almost tripped up over them. There, lying in the shade beneath the rangers hut, where 6 komodo dragons. Whilst we were stood admiring them, Dino assailed us with komodo facts for a full 15 minutes.

  1. Komodo dragons can weigh up to 166 kg
  2. They can run fast – up to 15 mph
  3. Their bite is so full of bacteria and poison that you will be dead within 24 hrs if they haven’t already eaten you.
  4. They are efficient eaters. Only 10% of your body will remain should they decide to eat you. They eat bones, clothes, hats, and sunglasses – the works.
  5. They cannot bend when they run, so if one chases you, start zigzagging immediately.
  6. They can easily fell a buffalo. They like eating humans too. Mostly they eat deer.
  7. The Komodo mothers lay their eggs in a hole in the ground and guard the nest fiercely for 9 months until all the babies are hatched. Komodo mothers often then decide to eat all of their babies, which seems like a terrible waste of time to me.
  8. The nearest anti-venom serum is on Bali. It’s probably a good idea not to get bitten.
  9. Komodos have a lifespan of up to 60 years.
  10. Komodo dragons smell through their long forked tongue. They can sniff out their pray up to 2.5 miles away. Make sure you have a bath and, clean your teeth before going to Rinca.  Wear provocative perfume at your peril.

Aside from the dragons, Rinca is also home to giant rats, wild buffalo, monkeys, wild boar, and 3 varieties of venomous snakes – Russell’s viper, king Cobra and the Green tree snake. There is also a delightful bird that looks a bit like a guinea-fowl called the orange footed megapode.

We stopped off at a tiny island on the way back and snorkeled before heading back to Labuan Bajo and our new favourite bar.

*Tangover – the Irish boys and my name for the unique hangover asscociated with drinking Indonesia’s finest formaldhyde based beer.

18 thoughts on “Sink Or Swim: A Day Chasing Dragons

  1. That video seems like a horror movie to me! I have this fascination for dangerous animals (unless they come near me) and especially komodo dragons, perhaps because they are so rare, and almost magic.. and so far, far away from us.


    1. This was the best You Tube film on Komodo dragons that I could find – I’m so sorry if it seemed like a horror movie! I can deal with the komodos killing other animals to eat (although I admit they have a very grisly way of doing it) but the thing I find very odd, is that they should eat their own babies, especially when they’ve waited 9 months for the eggs to incubate and guarded the nest so fiercely.


      1. The horror movie thing wasn’t meant as anything bad, actually!!! 🙂 But that thing about the babies – extremely weird I must say.


    1. If you get a chance Amit, you must go. Sailing to Rinca was a great experience and for the first time since living here, I really did get a sense and feel for the archipelago – all those islands, some big, some tiny. Now I can see how Indonesia is made up of 17,500 of them! X


  2. I did not watch the video. WordPress was not cooperating but that was probably a good thing. Those K. dragons give me the willys. You are one plucky lucky individual to brave going in a boat with no life jacket? Or do jackets not exist there? No one could have paid me enough to go see those dreaded reptiles. Your new name is “plucky lucky.” This post was a wonderful travel log. I enjoyed the photos but literally ran past the photos of the dragons.


    1. Yvonne, you do make me laugh! I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos. They are odd creatures, and very difficult to spot in the bush because they blend perfectly into their environment – amazing camouflage. Without the help of a guide we probably wouldn’t have been able to spot any when we were out walking so I was grateful that we were able to get up close and personal with the ones lying underneath the rangers hut. Apparently they like being under there because they can smell the rangers food!


      1. Oh my gosh. Under the rangers hut? Are the rangers not afraid of those venomous creatures? Your revelations of those dang dragons just keeps me in a semi- permanent state of anxiety.


  3. I can’t bring myself to watch the video but would love an opportunity to see the dragons in the flesh. Didn’t realise they were so vicious. Great story.


    1. Thanks Hayley – The video is a bit grisly but it does give the viewer some idea of how the komodos work when out hunting. It’s their bite that is so lethal and eviscerates their pray. The toxins and bacteria from their jaws is lethal. If you can’t bear to watch the video, you can get a lot of information from google search and there are some great images too! I hope you can visit Rinca or Komodo and see them for yourself some day 🙂


  4. I couldn’t watch the video either (I’m such a baby). Just saw the new James Bond film, and there was a formidable dragon in it that, you guessed it, ate someone (not our dear Danny). Yikes! And yet, what a trip! Gorgeous photography, as always, Lottie. And now I want doughnuts, too. xxx


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