Komodo

 

A quick hour long flight took me Labuan Bajo, the gateway to the Komodo national park. I landed in a tiny airport and jumped on a bike to my hostel, 5 minutes after leaving the airport, as the bike crested a hill I got my first look at the Archipelago. Small green pyramid islands jutting out of the blue sea. It was stunning.

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The same can not be said about Labuan Bajo however. Although it is the gateway to somewhere I can honestly describe as the most beautiful ive ever been, it was in short a shit hole.

The place is a small port town, its dusty and rat infested streets are lined with stalls for people trying to sell you trips to see the world famous Komodo dragons. I say Rat infested as I saw at least 4 during the course of 1 cigarette.

Now the Dragons were a huge factor in me going to the Park, however the real draw was under the water.

I had read some amazing things about the Komodo Park diving. The strong currents, the huge numbers of fish and coral as well as the bigger underwater species, Sharks, Turtles, Whales and Dugongs. I was definitely up for the challenge.

I found a dive shop I liked the look of and booked myself in for 3 days of diving here. I Couldn’t wait, I woke up the next morning giddy with excitement mixed in with my usual pre dive anxieties and nerves.

We bored the beautiful boat they use for the day trips and spent an hour and a bit familiarising myself with the boat and staring in awe at the beautiful island scenery we were passing, before we arrived at our first site. Batu Bolong.

Now Batu Bolong is considered one of the finest dive sites in the world. Its strong currents attract a huge number of fish and other species.

The pre dive meeting spoke about the strong currents and I felt my anxieties getting higher and higher. I love diving but ive had a few bad run ins while diving giving me a healthy respect and fear of the activity I enjoy so much.

I have never dived anywhere with a really strong current before so I was very nervous. But we suited up and in we went. As we descended I found myself having to swim quite hard against the current. As we levelled out I began feeling very wobbly and on the verge of a panic attack. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so weird. I communicated with my DM that I was going to head up a bit. I slowly ascended about 7m and just like that the feeling was gone. It was like a switch being flipped in my head.

Now I put this down at the time to the sheer beauty of the dive site. Because that was what it was. There were schools of fish everywhere, as we got closer to the reef the current disappeared. I saw beautiful lion fish, turtles, shark, octopus. Huge fish swimming out in the blue. Eels sticking their heads out of the reef, there was so much colour and movement it was almost to take in. I see now why this site is so well regarded.

All to soon I was down to 60 bar of air, the sign the dive is almost over and its time to head for our safety stop. Again I communicated this to the DM. I’m notoriously bad with air consumption, a tank that lasts an hour for someone will last me 50 minutes, so after checking how the others were doing we continued. Odd I thought, normally when diving when ones low on air the whole dives finished, but on we went. As my air got lower and lower I began watching it with real trepidation while cursing the DM for his unprofessionalism. When I communicated to him I was down to 20 bar we began to buddy breath for the last 5 minutes of our safety stop.

When we got out I was determined to talk to him about this as I wasn’t happy. Well little did I know, as we had done our descent we had been caught in a downwards currant. This was all news to me as I was diving without a computer. We had ended up getting out of the currant at 41M. That’s 11m lower than I’m supposed to dive on my qualifications, and for good reason.

After 30M divers are more susceptible to Narcosis nitrogen. Now I’m no scientist so I’ve lifted googles explanation of what this is:

Breathing nitrogen under pressure produces an intoxicating effect known as nitrogen narcosis. Most divers experience symptoms of nitrogen narcosis at depths greater than 100 feet, but symptoms may occur in depths as little as 33 feet. For this reason, use of compressed air deeper than 120 feet is not recommended.

Well suddenly my near panic attack from earlier made total sense. It also explained why my air had gone so quickly and why we had taken so long to ascend. In layman’s terms, The deeper you go, the slower you need to ascend.

So what I had taken as total unprofessionalism was Infact the opposite. Had we finished and ascended when I hit 60bar he would have put us all in danger of “The Bends”

We still had 2 more dives that day, the first a drift dive. A drift dive is one where you enter with the current and just go with it.

It was an amazing dive and at one point I saw 5 sharks all in one area. I couldn’t believe how amazing the underwater world of the komodo national park was. Drifting along with the current seeing sharks everywhere, fish everywhere. The most amazing colours and shapes of coral.

I think my photos paint a better picture than my words ever could:

 

After my day diving I spoke to my hostel and got booked on an overnight trip to go and see komodo dragons.

I booked a budget trip having spent a lot more on diving that id planned and was up early to visit my boat. On getting to the boat I wasn’t blown away. It was very basic! But on meeting the people id be sharing the next few days with it got better. There was a huge mix of people. A older Australian guy, 2 French blokes, an Indonesian lady and her German daughter, 2 Catalonians and a young Danish/Dutch couple.

A great mix of people who were all really friendly and nice. We all got on really well.

Our first stop was to Rinca Island. One of 2 islands in the Park that is home to the Dragons. We were warned by our stick wielding guide that these were wild animals so sightings were not guaranteed.

I think we went about 100m before stumbling on 8 Dragons, all cooling in the shade of the villages kitchen. While they don’t get fed here, the smell attracts them.

There were huge beasts! Just lying there relaxing while 10 wary tourists took photos. Komodos are one of very few animals in the world that are actual Man Eaters. There bite contains deadly bacteria. They bite their pray then stalk it as it slowly dies of infection. They are also incredibly quick when they want to be. While our guide was very relaxed, I’m not sure what his stick would have done had they decided we were on the menu!!

 

We went further into the island and climbed a nice hill that offered a great view of the bay, we also spotted another dragon off in the distance stalking a deer. Very cool!!

Our next stop was Komodo island itself, this is the second and bigger islands where the dragons live, but where sightings are less common due to its thick vegetation, well luck was on our side as we saw 2 more dragons here!

We finished the day anchored in a beautiful bay watching the sun go down and the flying foxes going out hunting.

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As the sun started to set we all realised we had no idea where we were going to sleep! There was no apparent bedding or sleeping quarters. Our cooler had also run out of water, we were all getting a bit nervous of the night ahead when the crew brings out 2 slabs of water and mattresses for everyone. We were sleeping on deck, but we had a mattress and pillows, something I wasn’t sure we would get!!

While I didn’t get the best sleep ever it was nice falling asleep looking out at the sky and swaying with the waves.

We were up early for sunrise before going for a hike on Pulau Padar, a stunning island that has 3 distinct bays. While it was only 7am the sun was beating down and was an absolute killer and we scrambled up the trail. The reward was worth the toil as the photos below go to show!

 

As we were basking in the stunning view of nature at its finest another group of tourists summited the peak with us, complete with a drone.

Nothing shatters the peacefulness of a good view than the buzzing of a bloody drone complete with 10 Asian tourists posing loudly for the photos under it. If a photo could talk these would scream “LOOK HOW MUCH FUN WE ARE HAVING HEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHE”  it was infuriating. Cant people just enjoy a view without the bloody posing and shouting!!!

Grumble over, we made our way back to the boat and headed out to Manta Point, as the name states its  great area to view the gigantic Manta Rays. Armed with a mask, snorkel and Go Pro I jumped in and immediately encountered 6 of the huge beasts in the crystal clear water. Mantas are about 3-4m wide, they are stunning and graceful creatures gliding through the water. Read, Camera, Action. Well it would have been action if there was any battery in it!!

Back to the boat for a quick power charge before getting back in with literally 2 minutes worth of battery to go snap happy.

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As we made our way back to Labuan Bajo I remember sitting on the front of the boat listening to the Dubliners, watching the beautiful islands going past and just feeling complete contentment. The natural beauty of the National park is just mesmerising.

Back on land, but not for long, I had 2 more days of diving left!

I spent my second day diving back in the centre of the park, we tackled Batu Bolang again and this time we had no hiccups. That being said, the current suddenly changed while we were down there and I literally had to hold onto the reef as the current tried to take me. It was exhilarating and great to see the fish zipping past me as the stopped fighting the current and just went with it.

The highlight was watching a puffer fish hit the current, expand and then just be swept along like a balloon in a storm.

We went back to manta point and after snorkelling there I got to dive.  Again the currents here are mental and we got to the sea bottom and just lay there clutching a rock and watching the mantas, they came so close, some playing in the bubbles the dives gave off. They were close enough to touch at times.

It was a very strange dive just lying on the sea bottom for 40 minutes but it was great fun!

On my last day in Komodo we went to dive the north of the Park. Our first site, The Cauldron is a channel between 2 islands where the current going through peaks in an area they call the shotgun. Being an “experienced” diver (even if I don’t feel it at times) I was able to experience this. After a relatively current less dive to clutched onto a rock and slowly climbed up it, as I poked my head out I was hit by the “shotgun” it felt like It was going to take my face off!!!! It felt like someone’s hand pushing my mask and regs into my face. A very strange feeling!!

 We followed that up with a very strange dive, we dived in the blue. This means there was not a huge amount of reef anywhere and a lot of sea, it is very easy to get disorientated on this sort of dive. Why did we do this dive? For the sharks of course. there must have been 15 swimming and playing in the current just off from us. While it was quite intimidating being so far from the reef, it was amazing seeing so many sharks in one place!

I said a sad farewell to Komodo and boarded a flight back to Jakarta. A care package my mum had sent over in January had arrived so I was collecting that before boarding another flight to Kuala Lumpur.

As I went through departures and went to leave Indonesia I was informed I had overstayed my visa by 1 day. Despite pleading ignorance and arguing weakly I agreed to pay the fine (£20) when I saw 2 burly airport officials begin to take a bit to much notice of little old me!

I had the most amazing 31 days In Indonesia. From the Tops of Volcanos to the bottom the seas, I really like the country and will definitely be back before too long!

 

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