Labuan Bajo is an interesting place. A bustling city described by the international media as a “fishing village”. 🙂 We arrived at the beginning of the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit. Had we been aware of the event when we left Banda we may well have waited. For us, events like this get in the way of our traveling enjoyment. However it was eye opening the amount of security, the number of officials and the pomp that Indonesia put on for this group. Everywhere around Labuan Bajo there was enhanced security. Roads were blocked, many re-routed, new black vehicles; many electric, accompanied by support vehicles were everywhere. We watched a practice run with the motorcades and hotel. Generally as white tourists here we seem to have a great deal of privilege . Only once were we asked to stop while a motorcade went by. In the end, the interruption to our cruising life was not enough to dissuade us from enjoying this “fishing village”.
Labuan Bajo was filled with tourists. The harbor was filled with small local boats; I say small, but they are often 100’ or more. More like mini cruise ships. They have accommodations for up to 30 guests +/_ and with 25 crew, chefs, spas, and dive facilities aboard.
We enjoyed the few moments of pageantry we came across. As usual for us, we didn’t stick around for more. We explored the town a fair bit, tried new restaurants and were denied entry to one of the tourist lookouts. The representatives here for Asean had that all to themselves.
As we so often do we learn about where to go and what to do from other cruisers. One such place was an Italian eatery; La Cucina. We liked it. Air Conditioned, fair prices and good food. That goes a long way in our book. After a couple of visits we were sitting across from another tourist… eating alone. We invited her to share some stories as we all ate, initially she refused preferring her own company to ours. 🙁 After a couple of small talk questions we discovered that she too is a sailor; and a new one. As we finished our meal she joined us for some sailing stories. Here from Germany; she’s in the midst of working on her medical degree. But; she and her boyfriend / partner, just purchased a sailboat and were planning on some sailing adventures. More stories, more laughter and it was time for Ice Cream. After which we invited her to our boat for a peek into the cruising lifestyle.
Three days later we brought her and her traveling companion to Elysium. A slow dinghy ride. We picked their brains about Germany, Europe, the events effecting their lives on the other side of the world. Luisa and Anouk; her friend, probed us about the cruising lifestyle and life in America (which we know little about as we’ve been gone 6 years). Culture shock is in our future.
Visiting new places is ok, checking out environmental wonders exciting; but what we love most is meeting and sharing info and ideas with people. Luisa and Anouk were the frosting on our time in Labuan Bajo. The discoveries of things in Germany and even what they had seen as tourists in the land of the Komodo Dragon helped provide directions to our adventures. They had finished a 3 day Liveaboard cruise (scroll down to see the real Indonesia cruise boats). We had already decided we too needed to see the Dragons. Their time there confirmed it. As for Germany, too cold isn’t in our cards. We have discovered we’re warm weather sailors! Sunset passed; photos taken and we traded more stories. As the evening wore on I dinghied them to shore where they summoned a taxi back to their abode in town. What a great evening. In the am we headed off to see the dragons.
First stop was just that, a stop in another Indonesian anchorage. And I was happy this one wasn’t deep. I don’t like anchoring in water deeper than 15 m. If something happens, retrieving the anchor is a real pain. And, I like this anchor. I don’t want to loose it. Even though I carry 5 anchors, many for different bottoms and situations, this one; a Spade, is our primary anchor.
The following morning we headed to the Komodo National park, a Unesco World Heritage site. A great bay; well protected, soft bottom, and not that deep. We headed ashore to suss out the situation and pay our fees. The park headquarters is new and only been open a bit over a year. The anchoring fee was $100,000 Rp / night and the park fee for W/ and I about $500,000 Rp. We had heard from others before us that the Dragons were more active in the morning. We arranged to arrive at 7am the following day.
There we met the rangers who explained where the Dragons were and a bit about the purpose of the park. Three rangers guided us to the museum entrance where we met Win (his western name-we would have difficulty pronouncing his given Indonesian name) our actual tour guide. Groups have a max of 5 people and we were lucky, it was only W/ and I. We had our own personal guide! And, he was good. First we forgo the Museum part till after the walk and dragon spotting. Dragon details are fascinating. Dragons can smell food (blood and stool) up to 2 km away. This includes females during menses. Women at this time of the month carried a “dragon stick” on the hikes. The sticks we guess are to keep the dragons head away. They had a notch that would appear to surround the dragons neck or mouths(guessing here as we didn’t see one actually used). And it is only myth that Dragons breathe fire! Sorry 🙂 . They don’t move fast for any distance choosing to slowly stalk or wait for any prey to wander close. And when close (a couple of meters) they strike. In one second they can attack up to 5 meters. Exactly why all the rangers expected their group and themselves to stay 10 m away.
I watched as one tourist attempted to get closer with a camera. The tourist knelt down and began inching closer to the dragon. The ranger reached down and firmly grabbed his forearm as a parent would a child’s. That tourist was not going any closer. Kudos to the ranger keeping people safe!
People can survive a bite; if treated quickly. Some people have actually died. I’m not talking about in history, I’m talking about recent history. Dragons are lazy hunters. Often they let their prey come to them. Then in one second, they leap and bite. Their bite is what is deadly. While the bacteria in their mouths are quite dangerous too, it is the saliva that does the work. Any bite that draws blood will continue to bleed. Their saliva has an anticoagulant in it. Thus any person, deer, buffalo, (all part of their diet) will bleed to death. So the dragon waits. Or follows, knowing that it will not be long till they can have a good meal. They eat everything. Everything! They will grab a head and then roll much like a crocodiles or gator. Once the animal is beheaded they break the skull and swallow everything. Bones consumed as well. The calcium is then deficated and the white colored areas around the grounds identifies where they have been. Much like sharks, teeth are lost and regrown as they age. Our ranger found a tooth on the walk and he showed us. We asked about keeping it as a souvenir but that was verboten. Although I understand we can buy some in Bali. We left the tooth.
After the walk; an hour was suggested, we spent two; we visited the Museum. There we heard about a couple of rangers who had been bitten. Both survived with immediate medical attention and time. One took over 7 months for a full recovery. Scientists use an identical technique in capturing and restraining Dragons as they do with Alligators and Crocodiles. There is a lot of similarity between those three animals. All apex predators. At the end of our time with Winn we invited him out to the boat when work was over.
I went to the dock to pick him up about 5:30, after prayers. There I met the engineer for the property. His English wasn’t the best so he went to their housing and gathered up another ranger. I was escorted to their living area to pick up Win. They were not wanting me to be alone in the Dragon area. I respected that wish.
I am always intrigued by the inner workings of any place. At their living compound they had internet. But in the park; very little. What surprised me was that the park has the infrastructure to have good cell phone access. Seems to me it would be a huge safety issue. And the rangers said during Asean, when the elite from the Pacific islands were around, the internet was strong throughout the park. Once Asean was over it was shut down again.
I brought Winn and the engineer out to our boat. More stories, more shared experiences. We get to see a slice of each other’s culture. We showed them our home and while showing off our aft cabin (where we sleep) Winn apologized. We didn’t understand. He said that in the Muslim culture the sleeping quarters of the couple is very private and the public (guests) are not invited to that area. Hmm. Here we’ve been in Indonesia for 6 months and we’ve never heard of that taboo. We too apologized for subjecting that to him. A beer got us past any discomfort and in the cockpit we talked of the park, dragons, and our futures. As the moon rose over the mountain I returned them to the dock. We picked up the dinghy, we store it on Elysium’s hip, and hit the sack. Tomorrow we would begin heading West to Bali.