I woke first on the boat, hoping to see sunrise. My head dripped as I lifted it from the sodden pillow. I was soaked – the boat’s roof was leaking – yet I had somehow managed some sleep. I crawled out of bed and out to the front of the boat. The dark clouds from the night before were still there, obscuring any sunrise. Flying floxes were returning from their nocturnal activities with wild squeaks. It rained sporadically. A cloudy, miserable morning. Soon, one of the Dutch blokes came to join me, and we continued our conversation from the night before about our love of Africa. He told me about his overland expedition from South Africa up to Ethiopia. Sounded great. He harboured a deep love of Africa that I could see in his eyes as they gleamed with the stirrings of his memories and adventures of old. The rest of the boat soon joined us, and we sipped tea and ate some chocolate rolls.
The boat spluttered into life, and we headed off to Komodo island, more rugged and beautiful than Rinca. While the others on the boat did the short 15 minute ‘trek’ around, I opted for the 2 hour long trek, as I wouldn’t be joining the others onto Lombok anyway. Me and my guide set off, just as the others were coming back, a look of boredom on their tired faces, with the Frenchman shrugging in that gallic way suggesting displeasure with something. Disgust even. No dragons for them, then.
I headed up high through the trees to the top of a hill for some expansive views over the island, and inward to deep valleys and gorges. This was real ‘land of the lost’ territory. I half-expected a T-rex to come stomping through. I saw a huge komodo dragon instead. There it was, sunning itself on a rock, at least 2.5 m in length. The backdrop was the sea and the cliffs all around. Not many people get to see a dragon on Komodo island, ironically enough. The guide was as delighted as I was. We walked on, after I had posed for photos as near as I dared, and spotted another one stomping through an open area of grassland. We followed the beast as it swaggered off, its body moving from side to side. Perama’s ‘Hunting Komodo by Camera’ tour and all its ridiculous connotations came to mind as I followed it with my camera, snapping many a shot. This was incredible. Here I was, stalking a 3m long komodo dragon in the wild, on Komodo island. The stuff of my dreams. We walked on, but saw no more.
At the entrance, I went down the pier to speak to one of the boat captains, who told me I could join his boat for the trip back to Labuanbajo if the passengers agreed. Turned out that it was Zinedene’s boat, the Frenchman I’d met on the plane, and he was here with his wife and kid. I was glad I had been so friendly with him on the plane. As I went to the guardhouse to get my bag, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of another dragon. This one had obviously smelled the deer lying on the beach. It swaggered down the path, and started to go over the bridge. It was huge, and weighed at least 1 ton. A guide was walking over the bridge the other way, with his wishbone stick. Unbelievably, he prodded the dragon with it, and the docile creature turned around with a great grunt and eased itself down to the beach to wait and watch the deer. Wow. Zinedene was delighted, and we stalked it and took photos for half an hour like excited teenagers. Or like David Attenborough. We talked about it for a long time on the choppy ride back to Labuanbajo.
Back at the port, I checked back into Gardena hotel, collecting my backpack I had left from before. I was exhausted. Unfortunately, I had little chance to rest. A large Russian woman had checked into bungalow 23 next door. She began asking me loads of questions about the island, and talking about her travel adventures. My nice plan of chilling with a book gone, I listened, and added my own anecdotes. She soon invited me onto her porch for a bintang. It was the last thing I needed, but to reject a Russian offer of drink is rude, so I joined her in drink. Before I’d finished and could make my excuses, she had gone into her room, reappearing with a small bottle of Beefeater gin, and a can of Shweppes tonic water. She poured half the bottle into a glass for me, and half for herself, topped with a splash of tonic. I don’t usually like gin, but this was pretty nice, and it was great to drink it as the sun set over the volcanic ocean vista in front of us.
Soon, though, sleep overcame me, and I had to make my excuses and go and lie down. It had been a very long day. 2 hours later I awoke and got ready to go out. The Lounge was closed, so I went out on an empty stomach. Not a good idea. Paradise Bar is set on a hill,, with magnificent views of the sea and surrounding islands. It was heaving with locals and tourists. I had a bintang and got chatting to 2 Dutch girls at the bar, who had decided to cycle across Flores, and had bought 2 old bicycles and painted them bright orange. Had a drunken dance, fuelled by gin and bintang, chatted to everyone in the bar, got more drunk, and staggered all the way back to Gardena and crashed in my bungalow. What a day.