Lombok to Flores by boat & Komodo Dragons
We love to travel overland (or sea) as often as possible, as we believe that the journey can be just as adventurous, if not more, than the destination itself, and the four day Kencana adventure tour from Lombok to Flores is certainly a great way to travel east in Indonesia. And what better reward after those four long days, than to land on a modern day ‘Jurassic Park’ where man-eating dragons roam.
The trip is an epic adventure that, although not luxurious in any way, is a great way to experience the beauty and vastness of the country and is also an authentic way to experience Indonesian travel – after all, the country is made up of thousands of islands. The trip covers a vast distance, passing stunning islands, and tropical clear blue waters and feels wonderfully remote, but there’s plenty to see and do throughout the journey too, with great snorkelling, swimming, hiking, the opportunity to see dolphins and whales (which were there but we didn’t see) and of course encounters with the infamous komodo dragon on Komodo and Rinca island.
For a long time we pondered whether or not to take this trip, as we’ve heard horror stories of sinking ships, stolen luggage and bad weather and so we considered our options carefully, those options being either the more expensive (and luxurious) Perama Tours or the more affordable (and less luxurious) Kencana Adventures. Once we’d discovered though that a good friend had recently made the same trip with Kencana, and loved it, our minds were made up.
We booked the tour with an agent on Gili Air, and after asking at a few of the many tour offices on the island, we just went with the agent who gave us the best price. We paid 3,000,000 Rupiah (US$300) for two people (which included all transport and other fees except for a small 20,000 Rupiah fee (per person) for visiting two of the islands and a 50,000 Rupiah fee for our camera on Komodo) our fee also included a free horse carriage pick up from our hotel in the north of the island.
The transport from Gili Air leaves early in the morning on a local ferry which takes you over to Lombok, and from there, the air-conditioned bus collected us soon after, and drove us for a couple of hours to the main Kencana office, where we could stock up on goods, were given a briefing about the trip and could get to know our 18 new friends a little better.
Included in our ticket price were five, one and a half litre bottles of water per person, but we also had the opportunity to request more water, beer and soft drinks which would be waiting for us on the boat. We ordered four extra waters for both of us, which was more than adequate.
With the tour now officially started, we drove east across Lombok for a few hours, arriving at the port at around 3.30pm. Our small, but very cool boat was waiting for us at the harbor and we jumped on-board our new home excitedly – a good idea would have been to immediately gone upstairs to claim the best beds at the back of the boat – the 20 passengers plus crew fitted easily onto the boat and it never felt crowded, although the upper deck only sleeps 18 people comfortably. Life vests were also onboard.
Soon afterwards we were heading out to sea, the atmosphere on-board buzzed with gossip and chat as new acquaintances were made and as the sun bagan to dip below the huge horizon we cracked open a beer and settled in. It was just a few hours to our first destination and in a sheltered bay, we dropped anchor and sat to enjoy a wonderful dinner – in fact all of the food throughout the four days was delicious, plentiful and very typical Indonesian food.
By 9pm the lights were off and everyone had retired to bed, but as we hadn’t picked a decent spot in the sleeping area, we decided to take our mats down onto the deck to sleep there. With the deck almost all to ourselves, we spread ourselves out and gazed at the billions of stars overhead as we gently bobbed to sleep on the water – we fell in love with life at sea and immediately began pondering a life on the ocean. How much would it cost to buy this boat………? (Just US$20,000 by the way).
At 2am, the engine unexpectedly kicked in and we set sail east, (we say sail, but it wasn’t quite that romantic), this boat wasn’t powered by the wind, but a large, loud engine that chugged us into the night. As we left the safety of the bay, the boat began to rock a little more and splashes of water rained over us on deck – we felt like stow-aways and huddled together to try for a little more sleep.
At first light, everyone was up early, and raring to go. At that point we’d already arrived at our first destination of the day, and after a decent breakfast, we dived into the sea from the bow of the boat, to swim ashore for a hike into the jungle on Moyo island, there we could find a waterfall where we could take a freshwater shower, and although the waterfall wasn’t particularly big or impressive, the cool powerful water was the perfect remedy to a salty night at sea.
Back onboard, we made a second stop to visit the large but somewhat warm and weird salt water lake on Satonda island, before enjoying some impressive snorkelling action – the quantity of colourful fish amongst the coral was mesmerising, had we been dropped into a tropical aquarium?
After a large lunch (did we say the food was impressive?) we embarked on the main ‘sailing’ part of the journey, a 17 hour haul to Komodo island. Onboard there was plenty of time to read, chat, re-charge camera batteries or just enjoy the sublime, green rugged landscape of Sumbawa to the south, or the endless ocean that stretched out to the north.
That night, as the boat made its way into open water we were woken by extreme rocking, as if a female Polish shot-putter on steroids was trying to rock us to sleep. This was the only time we began to feel anxious, and so we started planning our route to the life-vests. Dropping down through the hatch onto deck to gauge the mood of the crew, we found them casually smoking (as usual) and smiling (as usual) – everything was fine, this was a mere one meter swell caused by two currents meeting and a little wind. God help anyone caught in a storm!
The best day by far. It began with a steep hike up the side of a mountain for spectacular views of the surrounding area – we were reminded of the beauty of the rolling hills of Wales – yet in a much more dramatic location, here we were explorers and the islands around us, there to be conquered. That’s how it felt anyhow.
Later, our pretty white boat sailed alongside the huge Komodo island, following its impressive curves and spiky terrain, much like the dragons themselves. The island felt mysterious, dangerous and unchartered territory.
Stopping at the impressive ‘Pink Beach’ which although didn’t look at all pink from the boat was, on closer inspection, in fact pink. Covered with a sprinkling of super fine red coral, from up-close the it was indeed pink, much to our guide’s satisfaction, as we returned on board humbled to have not believed him in the first place.
In this bay, the snorkelling was unreal, we don’t know all of the names of the fish we saw – but there were manta rays, small sharks and others that just appeared to be not of this world.
What followed, was a our very own Jurassic park adventure.
Stepping ashore on Komodo island was something very special indeed. Our guides were tooled up with long Y shaped sticks to fend off any potential man-eaters, but on our short hike, most of the dragons we found were quite content to lie around in the shade and have their pictures taken – although we’re sure they were eyeing up their favourite tourist for a post buffalo snack.
It turned out that most of the dragons we got to see, had made themselves comfortable outside the restaurant close to the port – all they were missing were some serviettes, knives and forks.
The highlight of the entire trip though came unexpectedly that night. As darkness fell, a young, energetic Austrian couple dived overboard into the black seas to cool off – what they discovered was that the plankton (under a moonless sky) was reacting to their movement by shining in fluorescent green lights, millions of them.
Before long, the entire group had joined them for a spot of night snorkelling, a truly magical feeling gripped us all, this was like nothing we’ve ever experienced before, the whole group laughed, screamed and joked splashing around in this wonder of nature – there was no way to capture this moment, no way to describe it – we could only be there, at that special moment, savour it, and remember it in our hearts forever.
This was one of those moments that travel was made for. A moment not in any guide book, brochure or tour plan, a complete moment of personal discovery. It was ours, ours alone and will remain with us forever.
Our guide wasn’t too keen on his entire group disappearing into the darkness of the water, but he couldn’t stop us either, he simply allowed us to enjoy the moment, keeping a keen eye on us all, only later did he explain his concern. Put simply, sharks!
Filled with adrenalin, our final night onboard was wonderful, as the group bonded closer together under a blanket of stars, beers clinked and we laughed and joked into the night.
After a peaceful night’s sleep in the calm harbor waters, we awoke early again. Rinca island, is the only other island in the world where the dragons exist, and there, we were able to enjoy a much longer, rugged hike searching for the mouth foaming beasts. Unfortunately though (as is our luck with wildlife) we spotted only one dragon, but plenty of its prey in the shape of water buffalo, deer and boar, yet again, the most photogenic dragons had positioned themselves next to the cafe.
With Flores and the harbor town of Labuanbajo in sight, there was a final chance to swim and enjoy a game of football on the beach with a group of local kids before we sailed slowly into harbor. It had been epic, magical, salty, sweaty and tiring, everything a good adventure should have, and it’s certainly a trip we’d recommend for anyone looking for adventure travel whilst not afraid of roughing it for a few days.
In Labuanbajo, we found all of the necessary amenities a weary traveller needs, and although the level of accommodation was quite poor, after 4 days on a boat, it was very adequate. Most surprising was the number of quality restaurants with fast wi-fi connections which allowed us to re-assure friends and family of our safe passage. Flores was now spread out before us, sprawling further eastwards waiting for us to explore more.