This part of our journey began with a short flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo, on the island of Flores. Unlike Java and Borneo, which are mainly Muslim, and unlike Bali, which is mainly Balinese Hindu, Flores is mainly Catholic. Our guide here, Paul, explained that when getting an ID card in Indonesia, every person must declare a religion, and the religion is printed on their ID card. The options are Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, or Protestantism. And since 1980, inter-religious marriages are not allowed; one partner must switch religions upon marriage. In addition to your religion, your ID card will also state your occupation.
At Labuan Bajo, we boarded a boat with Paul and the boat’s crew of 3, and set sail west across the Flores Sea to the island of Rinca, which is part of Komodo National park. At Rinca, park ranger Kashmir (?) took us on a short trek in search of Komodo dragons. The only dragons we saw were at the beginning and end of our trek, in front of the ranger station. Apparently they come down to the station because they smell the food. There was one there when we left and 2 there when we returned. The dragons are giant lizards about the size of a crocodile. All of the rangers carry large forked sticks that they use to ward off the dragons in case of attack; attacks are apparently quite frequent. During the actual trek, Kashmir frequently stopped after hearing something that might have been a dragon, but ended up showing us a long-tailed macaque (monkey), wild chicken, deer, or water buffalo. The water buffalo are like a cross between a cow and a rhinocerous, and they like to take mud baths (which is difficult for them right now during the dry season). And upon returning to the dock, I learned that a long-tailed macaque will, in fact, start to hiss at you if you get too close to take its picture. 🙂
After finishing our trek on Rinca, our boat took us back to a mangrove island we had passed where, around sunset, thousands of flying fruit bats take off from the trees and fly towards Flores to look for food at night. Having thousands of bats flying overhead at sunset is a pretty cool sight. 🙂 Then our boat parked us in the Rinca harbor overnight.
The next morning, the boat started moving before either we or the sun were up, around 5:15am, we got up to watch the sun rise around 6am, and we got to the island of Komodo around 7:45am. Komodo is the other part of Komodo National Park, except it is much bigger than Rinca with approximately the same number of dragons on it, so it is even harder to spot one. And since June-August is breeding season, they are usually pretty reclusive around this time, digging nests and burying eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the babies will run up trees to live for the first few years, since the adults will actually eat them instead of taking care of them. On this trek as well, the only dragon we saw was when we returned to the ranger station. This one was a female, whereas the 2 on Rinca had been males, and this one was hungry and on the move, whereas the 2 on Rinca had been lazily lying there. Rangers surrounded it with forked sticks so that it would not attack the tourists while we took pictures of it. During the actual trek, our guide Alvin pointed out a lot of his favorite birds, such as the Oriole, and caught a flying lizard for us. We also saw some deer. Alvin told us that he knew Paul and that Paul had asked him personally to take us. This is his last month working as a ranger; he intends to enroll in college next month.
When we finished our trek on Komodo, our boat parked near Pink Beach and we went snorkeling over a coral reef that lay between the boat and the beach. Well, I went snorkeling. Ted’s flippers were too big; his mask couldn’t seal to his face over his glasses, and he dropped his snorkel on the bottom of the sea and had to have a member of the boat crew dive down and retrieve it… so he swam to the beach and back with me while I looked at all the pretty things underwater. 😛 The water was only a few meters deep, and at the bottom it was covered with coral and fishies. My favorite was a multi-colored fish that was neon blue, green, and purple and perhaps 9 inches long. After I climbed out of the water, our boat began the 4-hour sail back to Labuan Bajo, where we checked into a nice hotel on the beach and enjoyed some traditional dance performances of the Manggarai people in front of the restaurant that was under a gazebo. The next morning, we flew back to Bali to begin the last leg of our adventure.