Mantas and Dragons in Komodo
I had spent the last few months on Gili Trawangan, a backpackers’ paradise east of Bali, working as a scuba diving instructor. Life moved to the ebb and flow of the tides, the patter of feet on the sand and boats splashing through the water.
The diving: Flores Dive Centre
The dive sites: Manta Point and others
The reading: Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl
Next time: Liang Bua, Flores (home of Homo floresiensis)
Time to leave
The time had come to leave. A job in the Caribbean was calling and I wanted to explore the more rugged parts of Indonesia. Thor Heyerdahl’s fanciful adventure in Kon-Tiki had left me with plans for a wild adventure involving the Solomon Islands, French Polynesia and onwards to Easter Island: all I knew was that I had to head west.
I booked a flight, certified my final dive group, hunted for the pair of shoes I had last worn a month ago, packed my bag, took the boat to Bali and – still with no shoes – boarded a tiny aeroplane to Komodo.
I had that familiar strange sense of departure as I flew over the Gili Islands. The sea melted directly into a sky such a deep blue that the clouds seemed to be bobbing on the waves, the deep green mountains dripping from the sun. It was thrilling to be flying above the maps I had been studying for so long.
Take the diving, forget the lizards
Labuan Bajo, the closest port town on Flores island to Komodo National Park, is a typical Indonesian outpost. The main street is lined with dive centres, bookended by a vibrant seafood market and grubby container port. The diving with Flores Dive Centre was superlative: majestic manta rays and lush, pristine soft coral.
One dive at Manta Point ranks among my best ever. We descended to 12m in a racing current and were swept at exhilarating speeds over a rubble bottom as graceful manta rays materialised from the blue, circling us before they disappeared again. Marine conservation would be an easier task if only more people experienced the unforgettable thrill of a manta flying overhead.
Komodo island was rather disappointing, little more than the typical tired Indonesian tourist trap. A disinterested ranger took us on a short walk through the island but the only dragons we saw were lounging in the shade under the chef’s hut by the gift shop. These squat, powerful lizards were fierce and prehistoric but it was miserable to see them brought low.
Sadly I didn’t have time to ride to nearby Liang Bua, where the Homo floresiensis fossils were discovered in 2003, or to visit Mount Tambora, the volcano which erupted 200 years ago and hid the sun from Europe for an entire year. Next time!