After leaving Labuanbajo we spent 10 days sailing among the islands between Sumbawa and Flores. The Komodo and Rinca Islands (and P. Banta which I mentioned in a previous post) are dramatically different from the islands we’ve passed through before in Indonesia. The treeless grass-covered hills, the rocky foreshores and sandy beaches are wild and barren with the emptiness of the north Karratha coast and the austerity of the Shetland Isles. The islands have been designated a national park in order to protect their most famous resident, the Komodo Dragon.
We visited the park headquarters on Komodo Island and took a guide to help us search for the dragons. He spoke adequate English and was knowledgeable about the ecology of the dragons, but also filled us in on the local folklore and supersitition about the dragons. The dragons are believed to be the spirits of departed brothers and sisters and so have never been hunted by the local villagers. The couple of dragons we found on our walk through the bush and dry river beds were like super-sized monitor lizards, slow and lethargic in the morning sun. Nonetheless we kept our distance as the arsenal of
toxins carried on their teeth would make Chemical Ali sit up and beg! The walk was livened up watching white cockatoos and emerald pigeons in the trees and jumping when wild boar scrunched through the undergrowth.
The second highlight of our visit to Komodo Island was below the sea surface. Makassar Reef is a wide reef on the east of the island where the seafloor rises steeply from 200m to 10-20m then breaks the surface as rocky coral heads and sand bars. We snorkelled the drop-off in the hope of seeing Manta Rays and were not disappointed. After about 10 minutes a huge dark kite shape appeared out of the blue, then another, then another. We were lucky to find five Manta Rays circling a coral head about 15m below us. Their movements are slow and graceful, their black backs in silhouette as they glide across the sea bed then a twist or an acrobatic flip reveals their bright white bellies and gills. Embellished with a protruding box-like jaw at the front and a whipping tail at the back their appearance is peaceful yet slightly sinister.
Cruising in the Komodo and Rinca Islands is really spectacular. Deep channels with fierce currents separate the islands but their convoluted coastlines provide sheltered bays with calm waters shallow enough to drop an anchor for the night. Because of the lack of fresh water on the islands there are virtually no villages and because it is a national park there are very few fishermen (the park is patrolled). Consequently these beautiful islands which are teeming with wildlife are virtually deserted. During the day we’d see dragons sauntering along the sand soaking up the rays. Fish were jumping all around the boat and the herons and terns were having a field day. In the evenings we’d watch wild pigs, barking deer and monkeys come down to forage on the beach while fish eagles circled the thermals overhead. Picking up driftwood for our evening barbie we’d see dragon tracks in the sand . . . so we’d get the flames leaping high and hoped to keep the giant lizards with their halitosis at bay!
All too soon it was time to leave, with our visa clock ticking it was time to head to Kupang and finally leave Indonesia. We waited a couple of days at Nusa Kode at the southern The sail across the Savu Sea was tough. Te sea was rough and with west setting currents and SE winds gusting upto 30 kts it took a couple of days longer than planned. We reached the coast of West Timor as the sun was setting on the fourth night but it was too dark to anchor. We spent the night sailing slowly southwards down the coast to Kupang and in the morning as we entered Kupang Bay a pod of five dolphins came out to welcome us.