18 September 2009

Thar Be Dragons - A Boat Trip From Lombok to Flores

(I tried to post this entry a few days ago, but it got all garbled. Here it goes again - I promise it is fixed! Read me! PS - any comments that got left on this one got deleted, please re-comment!)

The route - Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo and Flores

As much as all travelers dismiss the Lonely Planet, mocking it relentlessly and pretending that we do everything completely on our own – that is pretty much a load of crap. Most backpackers have, shoved deep in their packs a Lonely Planet or similar, clandestinely consulting it on buses and in the safety of their guesthouse rooms far from the (often extremely) judgmental gaze of other, more hardcore backpackers. My general rule of thumb is “don't always do what LP tells you to do, but don't ever do what they tell you not to do” (don't do what Donnie Don't does.) Basically, if they advise strongly against a brand, business or hotel they probably have good reason and you should avoid it.

Hence it was with an extreme sense of trepidation that we set out on a 4 night/4 day cruise from Lombok to Flores with a company other than Perama. The Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide and your small Indonesian grandma were uniform in their advice: Do not, under any circumstances, book with the myriad other companies plying the backpacker trade in Bali and the Gilis. Go with a trusted name. Do not get stuck on a floating rustbucket in the middle of nowhere with only rice to eat and conniving crew with sticky fingers breathing down your neck. And if you do – don't blame us.

But – on the exact day we needed, for the exact price we could afford, traveling the exact itinerary (Lombok, 2 stops in Sumbawa, Komodo, Rinca and Flores, with a few snorkeling stops on the way) we wanted was another company. Kencana. Shudder.

The transportation to shore...

S did not want to book, fearing cockroaches in our beds and mealy plates of rice on the table. “Can we fly?” “Flights are booked.” “Can we go overland?” “It involves a 24 hour busride.” “Can we skip the dragons?” “No.”

Kencana it was. We boarded the small minbus that was to take us the 3 hours to the other side of Lombok from Sengigi and immediately met Will and Jo, two lurvely Brits on their own epic journey around the world. Slowly the bus filled up and we set off. Things looked promising.

Zee amazing incredible tiny boat - 24 of us lived here for four days.

We arrived at the boat and I assumed that it was the boat taking us to meet the real, larger boat. Until I saw the eighteen thin matresses lined up on the upper deck. No, this tiny boat was to be our home for the next 4 days, along with 6 crew. 24 people on a vessel that I would estimate could comfortably sleep 8. S glared at me. “Well, look at it this way – we have no beds or tables, so your fears can't come completely true!”

S having a go at some pishing. He caught no pish. Puck pishing.

The boat, once we settled in and made friends, turned out to be just fine. Yes, the slow put-put motor meant that we sailed late into the first night and all the way through the second, making sleep a precious luxury that we were forced to seek in the afternoon. Yes, the meals were repetitive and completely lacking protein, with the exception of the three live chickens kept aboard the boat and killed daily (if you are planning to do this trip, bring A LOT of yummy snacks. If you are vegetarian bring tofu. A lot.) And yes, it was baffling how the “pishing” never actually resulted in catching “pish.” But we snorkeled some beautiful reefs, saw loads of Komodo dragons and met some really great people.

So, as usual Lonely Planet – stick it in your ear.


The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly the two stops we made in Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the last remaining habitat of the fearsome (just ask Sharon Stone) Komodo Dragon.

Arriving on Komodo. Note to self - long hair and hat = Kim Mitchell.

There are approximately 1300 dragons living on Komodo Island, and another 1100 on nearby Rinca. Komodo was our first stop in the region, and we did see quite a few (not to mention about a gazillion horse-sized huge deer) but they were mostly found lazing their fat bodies near the snack stalls.

Six lazy guys - that is, until a bird landed....

The following day on Rinca we saw dozens more. Some were lazy 'retirees' mooching near humans, but also a lot of guys (and I do mean guys - male Komodos outnumber females 3.5 to 1) hanging out in their natural desert-y habitats. Their huge lumbering weight is incredibly impressive up close, and they look sluggish and slothful. That is, until we saw a bird touch down near a group of six - it was then that I realized how potentially dangerous these beasts are.

Sharpening their claws. K, I'm gonna go over here....

Surprisingly fast on land, faster in the water and with an ability to scale trees easily they actually deserve their frightening name. Komodos are also conniving beasts, biting huge water buffaloes and then creepily lurking around until they die weeks later from their extremely toxic saliva. Not surprisingly, a ranger guide is compulsory at all times. They carry big sticks. My request for one was turned down....

A Komodo (a bit camoflauged) near it's nest.

All in all - taking the Lombok - Flores boat trip with a non-reputable company is a gamble - and in our case it paid off. Well, that might be too glowing - it was more like a draw. But it reminded me that comfort is sometimes a luxury and I don't always need it. Give me a thin mat to sleep on, some lukewarm Bintang to sip and plate after plate of plain noodles and I'll be happy. For a few days, at least. Well, as long as there are dragons....

Um, Violet...there's uh....a Komodo Dragon right effing behind you.....


Ben said...

we where going to do this trip once, but made probably our stupidest error in booking the trip from some dodgy agents. The trip got delayed and when we came to set off it was cancelled.

Some serious arguing took place to get our money back! Still we got to spend longer on Gili AIr which is not to be sniffed at!

Grant said...

So glad u r still a pescetarian! Recently attended Dr. Dan Murphy nutrition workshop on strict vegans. Turns out u can’t get the required essential oil EPA from plant sources. It must come from ‘PISH’. Yes some ALA gets converted but not the amount required especially for expecting mothers ( now u know why there are some many idiots out there, well some of them) . If u think this is not true, u r wrong(see it’s happening already). Caveat that by saying no more than 3 servings per week or u r likely to accumulate lead which leads to said imbecility. So u have to be a sort of Goldypish.
Dragons, huh! How kewl is that!

Violet Dear said...


Christian said...

Hey Violet,

Thx for blogging this - am trying to dig out some Lombok-Komodo-Komodo options for May 2010.

There's (unsurprisingly) not a lot of info online re: the Kencana boat. You wouldn't happen to remember how much you paid for this would you? Also, I'm assuming you booked from Senggigi??



Violet Dear said...

Christian - we actually booked on Gili Meno, but made our way to Senggigi that morning. I think that it was about 150 Canadian per person (I cant remember how much that is in Rupiah) - let me know if you have more questions!

Cheers - V