I was picked-up at the Labuan Bajo airport by a local (a friend’s friend) who I had been talking to for the last week. He drove me into the port town to his office and I booked a trip to Komodo island, and a scuba trip. I then checked into Hotel Matahari, a single room for 80,000 rp. I spent the entire day in bed resting then went out for a quick local dinner at Blue Corner. I was exhausted from all the early mornings and traveling.
The next morning I boarded a small wooden boat for a 2 day- 1 night trip. The group was me, two Argentina girls, an American couple, a German man with his Balinese wife, and her brother. There were also two local captains. We headed first to Rican— island, part of Komodo National Park. The mountains of land jet out all over the ocean. The grass covers the land like a golf course- smooth with random Palm trees. I’ve never seen anything like it.
At Rijan Island we paid the park entrance fee of 228,000 rp ($17 per day,) and we did the medium hike which was a little over an hour through both jungle and open land. We saw a bunch of lazy resting Komodo dragons, which look like large lizards with crocodile skin. There were three random water buffalos and a lot of buffalo poop. A few monkeys and jungle turkeys. We didn’t see any snakes or deer.
After the hike we had lunch on the boat then drove for two hours towards Komodo island. The weather turned but it only drizzled for a bit before the sun came out again.
We got to Komodo Island to find deer lounging on the beach. At the gate we were told we had to pay again for tour guides and a hiking fee, another hidden cost that they opt to not tell you about. All seven of us decided we didn’t want to pay again especially because there was nothing different on this island. So we boarded the boat again and headed to Phuket island to go swimming. Here and our next stop locals arrived on long wooden boats to sell pearl necklaces and Komodo dragon wood figurines.
We then drove a little farther and docked for the night. I sipped whiskey with the German and his local brother in law while the sun set. We then had a feast, this time with fried calamari. The locals played western music and a nearby boat lit fireworks randomly throughout the night. I slept on top of the boat on foam mats covered with a wooden awning.
In the morning we were up with the sun and started off for Pink Beach at 7am. The beach did not appear pink from the ocean but once on it I could see the tint of pink along the shoreline caused by broken up pink coral. The snorkeling before the shore was amazing with pink and purple corals.
After we drove to Manta Ray Point to snorkel. The manta ray’s look like giant sting rays, one we saw was 3 meters long. They swam to the surface so we could see them from the boat, but it was much more exciting to swim with them. As cool as it was though it only made me want to dive to actually swim deep with them. To our surprise there was a lot of trash in the water.
After a few manta ray spots we went to a small beach. We had lunch then snorkeled around. Snorkeling I saw brown coral with blue tops, and there was one 5″ pink fluorescent fish that kept running into my googles with wide eyes, backing away, then doing it again. That made my day.
I lounged on top of the boat taking in too much sun as we drove back to Labuan Bajo. I went back to the same hotel but got a dorm this time, then relaxed for the night. Unfortunately it rained throughout the night and I had to walk outside to get to the shared bathroom.
The next morning I was at Manta Rhei Dive shop at 7am for a full-day three tank dive. The Manta Rhei wooden boat was much nicer than the previous boat I was on; it was clean and new looking with big colorful bean bag chairs on the top. They served grain bread and donuts for breakfast, cookies and oranges in between dives, a nice lunch including a salad with avocado (my first salad in months,) and pound cake and watermelon after our last dive.
[I bought a red filter for my GoPro which is needed for diving, which I learned in Thailand when all my photos came out dark green. However, this time all my photos came out yellow and red. I'm not sure why but I'll figure it out before my next dive. For now here are some abstract photos of the bluest water I've ever seen.]
The American couple from my snorkel trip were also on the boat. My dive group was a dive master from the shop, a dive master in training from the shop, an instructor from Mexico fun diving, a dive master from Bali fun diving, and an open water diver who dives at home frequently. This was the first dive boat I’ve been on where you enter the water by falling backwards. I smacked the back of my knees all three times on the ledge even though I thought I straightened my legs- three days later it still hurts.
The first dive we went to was Mini Wall. The water temperature was cold, at 25 Celsius. I was chilly in a wetsuit, which I did not expect considering I was diving in Thailand without a wetsuit and was fine. I ran out of air faster than everyone else, and faster than I ever have before (because I was freezing,) so for the next two dives the dive master in training became my buddy so we could go back to the surface early without dragging everyone else back with me. [All the other divers were wearing multiple wetsuit layer which they brought from home- my dive buddy was wearing 2 wetsuit tops underneath his normal wetsuit.]
The second dive we went to was Makassan Reef (Manta Point.) This was my first Drift dive and would have been very exciting if I knew how to handle it. The current was insanely strong and we moved so quickly, like a high-speed conveyer belt above the coral. The other divers in my group were relaxed but I had never done a drift before and didn’t know how to control my body from slamming into the ground or floating too high up, so in the end I probably looked like a maniac flapping away. The black and grey reef manta ray’s were incredible, ranging from 3-4 meters. We saw about 10 of them during the dive. At one point my dive buddy grabbed me and we stayed low while a manta swam directly above us.
The third dive was at Batu Bolong. This is known as being the best dive site in Komodo for having the largest animals- sharks, large fish, octopus, etc. However, I did not get to experience the site as it should be. It was the coldest dive at 24 Celsius, and there was also intense currents. We were constantly battling the drift one way then it would shift and we were fighting to get back the other direction. It was a non-stop workout and I ran out of air the fastest here at just 33 minutes. I did manage to see a few white rip reef sharks, a lion fish, and a turtle, but nothing I hadn’t seen before.
When we got back onto the boat we saw how intense the water looked from above. The area we emerged from looked like a toilet flushing. It was difficult to move around and get the other divers, and the ride home was a mess. It started to rain, then pour, and the waves were rough. The captain was unable to turn the boat towards the mainland without almost tipping, so we went out of the way for a while. The boat didn’t have sides so the rain was soaking the boat. I attempted to hide in the captain’s quarters but when the local crew jumped out to wipe the windshield and guide the boat I also got the splash of the rain. It took almost four hours instead of two to get back.
I decided I needed a massage when I got back to shore, and a hot shower. My knees were incredibly sore from working them so hard in the freezing water, and my back (which is always sore from poor beds and non-stop travel) was in even more pain from sitting awkwardly on a wooden shelf for the past few hours. I’m sunburnt from the live aboard so as good as the cream felt on my skin it also burned when she grabbed me. Throughout the night after the massage I was in more pain. I think I pulled a muscle in my neck, and my chest felt funny.
My dive buddy runs the Manta Rhei homestay and he let me stay the night for free, even though technically you need to do two days of diving with them to stay there. We went out to a local restaurant for dinner and once again I shocked locals with the amount of chili I can eat (I put two servings worth in my soup.) We split two Bintang’s and picked up another for home. We chatted for a while before going to bed.
The next morning he drove me to town at 8am. I had breakfast at a chic hippie Greek restaurant on the main road. I then picked up my laundry and grabbed a motorbike off the main road to take me to the airport. I flew to Bali, then to Lombok with Wings Air.