December Travels, Part I: Here Be Dragons

December Travels, Part I: Here Be Dragons

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted something and I apologize for being such a horrible blogger. Because of end-of-semester exams and end-of-year holidays, I had about five weeks off between Thanksgiving and the New Year. I decided to take that time to do a mix of domestic and international travel with friends, as well as pockets of staycation.

January 4th I went back to school and had a rough few weeks transitioning back to doing the thing I’m here to do. Then last Sunday all of us ETAs flew to Jakarta (just a few days after the bombings) for a Mid-Year Conference. Now I’m back and ready to finally start unpacking my adventures from the past month.

Without further ado, here’s travel blog one!

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December 1-7: Flores, Indonesia

On December 1st I flew to the small port city of Labuan Bajo on the island Flores and met up with eight other ETAs. Flores is in the east in the NTT (Nusa Tenggara Timor) province. This marked the first time I’d left the island of Java. The second I stepped off the plane I knew this was a very different place. There was an overwhelming quiet. We left the runway and found the noise while waiting for a cab. Some sort of parade was going on and all of these trucks blasting music and packed with people standing in the beds waving yellow flags kept driving by in the distance. No clue what was happening, but it looked like fun and was something I’d never seen on Java.

As we got to our hotel and explored the downtown area the differences between shy, quiet, reserved Java and boisterous Flores became stronger. Java is predominantly Muslim; many of the women wear jilbabs and the standard male haircut is close-cut. Flores, on the other hand, is largely Christian, which meant I saw more hair than I had in my past three months—both from uncovered women and dreadlock-sporting men. The people and the pace of life seemed much more relaxed and reggae was everywhere. Definitely a much more Caribbean feel. There was also alcohol (!) which is (1) definitely not in Wonosari and (2) not very prevalent even in large cities. There was also no doubt the sea was an integral part of everyone’s livelihood here.

Those of us who got in on December 1 spent the first day in awe enjoying the beauty of the cliffs and the sea. The next day we hiked to a waterfall, did some cliff jumping, and then met up with the others, who spent the day in awe enjoying the beauty of the cliffs and the sea. We also arranged a 3 day/2 night boat trip to explore the waters and islands around Labuan Bajo. The biggest draw is Komodo National Park (Taman Nasional Komodo), home to the famed komodo dragons, but there was a lot of awesome stuff around and we wanted to make the most of our short time here.

The nine of us joined four crew members and had an amazing time sleeping and eating (some of the best food I’ve had in Indo) on our own private boat. I’m not usually one for relaxing on vacation and generally prefer to fill every second running around snapping pictures. But this trip was filled with lazing around on deck enjoying the beautiful weather and breathtaking scenery, and I loved every second of it. After three months of struggling through to make sense of my new life, laying around reading, enjoying the sun, and chatting with a collection of awesome humans—IN ENGLISH—was exactly what I needed. PLUS, we really also did a whole lot.

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Highlights:

–Visiting Rinca and Komodo, two of the islands that comprise Komodo National Park and some of the only in the world where komodo dragons exist. Both islands were arid and scrubby, and looked like the places you’ve always imagined dragons would live. Rinca had about 2,500-2,700 dragons and around 2,000 people. Komodos, which grow to about 3m/10ft long and can weight up to 150 pounds, are the largest lizards on the planet. They’re also incredibly deadly, with 60 types of bacteria frolicking around in their mouths. This means that when they bite their prey (deer, water buffalo, other komodo dragons, humans, unicorns, etc) they don’t die because of venom, but disease and blood loss. After biting prey, komodos often santai (relax) and wait for the bite (blood loss, shock, sickness) to do the job; they’ll simply lounge around slowly trailing their maimed prey until it’s dead and they can feast. Sometimes they hunt alone, sometimes in groups of up to five. They look big and lazy, and their walk is just goofy—they swing out one of their front legs and the back leg on the opposite side and slink forward. But then we saw one lunge at a deer and caught a glimpse of how terrifying it would be to have one attack you. It also doesn’t help that the nearest hospital that can treat a komodo bite isn’t on the island or even nearby (4 hours away) on the mainland in Labuan Bajo, but further away in Bali.

And now everything you’ve ever wanted to know komodo mating! We saw a nest, which was a large earth hump with a dozen or so holes that looked spectacularly unimpressive. Like badger holes or something. One of the holes contains about 15-30 eggs. The others are all decoy booby trap holes to catch sneaky cannibal komodos. The eggs spend 2 months in the mother’s belly and 9 in the hole. For the first three months or so the mother does nothing but guard her holes and loses about 30 pounds. Then she gets bored and wanders away. After they hatch, baby komodos scamper up and live in nearby trees for 3-5 years, eating whatever poor souls happen to climb into their death tree. Any komodos that are too slow climbing up or decide to climb down too soon fall victim to cannibalistic komodos, including their own mother who has seemingly forgotten that she cared so much for them before…

Komodo Island itself is larger than Rinca and has about 200 more dragons. The dragons, by the way, aren’t kept in enclosures but are free to wander the island like wild sheep or squirrels. Except they’ll eat you. As such, you have to walk the island with two guides, one in front and one in back, who carry long, forked wooden sticks. A thin, frail wooden stick carried by a mere mortal doesn’t seem enough protection from deadly, fire-breathing, flying beasts, but somehow they work. I suspect they’re secretly wizard staffs.

–Sunset near Flying Fox Island, where we were able to see thousands of flying foxes (read: GIANT BATS) waking up and heading out to hunt.

The black specks are giant bats
The black specks are giant bats

–Snorkeling at Pantai Merah (Pink Beach). My first time snorkeling!! I splashed around with some amazing coral and awesome tropical fish. And the coolest part? I stumbled upon a sea turtle with a shell that was about the size of my chest and creepily stalked it for a while.

–Snorkeling with manta rays in open water. They’re BIG.

–Star gazing on the deck of the ship and marveling at the beauty of the night sky.


 

After getting back into Labuan Bajo, six of us flew to Ende on the other side of the island, where we planned to drive to Moni at the base of mount Kelimutu (home to three color-changing crater lakes). Before the boat, we met a guy at the bar in The OrangeLabuan Bajo who said he was from Moni and told us to call him if we needed a place to stay. We decided why not and ended up staying in a guest house his friend owned. He also picked us up from the airport and drove us the hour or so to Moni. His car was called The Orange and I’m convinced he was a contestant on Pimp My Ride; there was no trunk space because an enormous speaker system took up most of it, the interior was cushy black and orange leather, and the stick shift was an intricately carved penis. We nicknamed it the dick shift.

We were going to hike for sunrise the next morning, but didn’t have plans for the evening. Our guide said there was a hot spring nearby. We thought it’d be fun so decided to go. We drive up the mountain a little and then he stops. We get out. We’re on the side of the road. It’s dark. There are no lights and certainly no hot springs nearby. Then he starts walking into the rice paddy to our left. It’s dark and we can’t see much, even with a flashlight and a few phones. But we follow. He slips and falls down. We contemplate the poor decision we made. We press on. We wonder if we’ll die in the middle of rice paddies. Finally we arrive at a small pond. He takes off his shirt and gets in. The water goes up to his shins so he lays down. We look at each other. We follow suit. The water is actually delightfully warm. The fear of being eaten by an enormous snake in the middle of nowhere slowly faded away as we laid down and enjoyed chatting and stargazing.

The next morning we woke up early and headed to Kelimutu. We drove up most of the way and then hiked for twenty minutes or so. The sunrise was nice, the scenery beautiful, and two of the lakes (we couldn’t find the third) sort of different colors!

After that, some of us headed to Ende to catch a flight back to Java while others headed to Maumere for their flight the next day. On the way to Ende we were stopped because the road—curvy, high up, and mountainous—was under construction. The only reason we didn’t wait an hour was because an ambulance came through and they had to let it go, so we followed close behind. The airport in Ende is somehow smaller than the one in Labuan Bajo and rivals Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs.

Other fun pictures:

Tune in soon for December Travels, Part II: Kakak dan Kakak Ipar Saya

Until next time,
bh

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