The moon waxed full over Indonesia, as I checked into the oceanfront Kul Kul Resort on Bali's famous Kuta Beach. My luxurious room centered around a super king-sized, bamboo four-poster, canopied bed. The lavish bathroom included a sunken tub adjoining an open air, oriental garden, while the spacious sitting area was provided with a spray of orchids, a fine bottle of chilled white wine, and a selection of cheeses, sweet breads, and exotic fruit. Having spent the previous four nights sleeping on the floor of a fisherman's hut off the coast of Borneo and bathing in the sea, Kul Kul's impressive amenities were a pleasure indeed. It required considerable effort to remind myself that travel involves much more than the search for luxurious creature comforts and outstanding service. Contrary to the game of golf, the most rewarding travel experiences are often discovered "in the rough."
Arising early the next morning, I flew east to the remote coastal town of Labuhan Bajo, on the northwestern tip of Flores Island, Indonesia. A tiny fishing village, Labuhan Bajo is jumping off point for the thirty mile boat trip to Komodo Island, home to the fearsome "Komodo Dragon." My host, Kul Holidays had managed to hire a native pearl fishing boat, not very impressive to look at, but the only vessel in the region complete with scuba tanks and air compressor. Casting off in mid-afternoon, by 4:00 pm I was exploring along a coral garden that rarely, if ever, had seen another scuba diver. The unsullied reef encompassed acres of delicate finger corals and majestic elkhorn beginning just inches from the surface. Visibility was good, at least 100 feet. I swam past giant anenomes harboring entire families of clown fish, vibrant soft corals, massive tridacna clams, and large red gorgonians with multi-hued crinoids swaying gracefully at their tips. The reef was also home to a great array of fishes, though they seemed somewhat wary of me, the large, unidentified bubbling monster. Still, I swam surrounded by majestic emperor angels, pairs of exotic butterfly fishes, thousands of tiny orange antheas, silvery jacks feeding on baitfish, schools of bannerfish, swirling moorish idols, and a fat cuttlefish twenty inches in length and almost as big around. A four foot long tuna passed at the edge of visibility, surveying his moveable feast, then circled back at point blank range to fix his impassive predator's stare upon me. My air supply finally expended, I surfaced from the dive exhilarated, my pleasure enhanced by the excitement of diving new and uncharted waters.
Back on board, with a cup of sweet Bali coffee in hand, we recommenced cruising towards Komodo as the sunset silhouetted a ring of volcano-coned islands, painting the sky in a shimmering palette of pastels. Dinner, cooked over an open fire, was served on the foredeck of our modest wooden vessel. Seated with the boatmen crosslegged on deck, we ate with our right hands, Arabic style, picking out morsels of sticky rice, noodles, fried egg, fish, and vegetable. The wine steward, astute as always, suggested lukewarm mineral water as the proper beverage, and as that's all we had anyway, it clearly complimented the meal superbly.
Now in darkness we voyage through the night, bioluminescent plankton sparkling in our wake. Our bow points to the Southern Cross, which outshines the glow of the Milky Way as a radiant moon rises from the mountains to the east. Making my bed beneath the stars, I pull my sarong around me to ward off the chill of the night and dream of the beauty of this days diving and the mystery of Komodo ahead.
Awakened by the first rays of dawn, our western horizon is commanded by the bulk of Komodo Island. Sailing onward as the light improved, I assembled my scuba rig and strode once again into the blue unknown. What a difference a day can make. A wind had come up, and the water felt at least five degrees cooler. Upwelling currents carried all the way from Australia swept me along at a breathtaking pace that the force of my fins could not overcome. The anenomes and soft corals were plastered flat by the turbullent flow. Even the piscine inhabitants had difficulty maintaining their positions in the nooks and crannies of the reef. I did spy some fishes new to me and cruised for a while with a school of enormous bumphead parrotfish, but it was with some relief that I clambered back aboard the boat and warmed myself in the strengthening sun as we drew up to the wooden pier which serves as entrance to Komodo Island National Park.
Komodo is not an island where a visitor can just wander about, as it is inhabited by a population of 2,500 monstrous monitor lizards, the fearsome "Komodo Dragon." With a park ranger, we set off across the arid terrain, following a dusty trail heading inland. Egrets and eagles soared overhead, exotic bird songs filled the air, and a handsome pheasant fluttered across the path before us. Motioning for silence, the guide knelt and pointed into the underbrush, indicating a pair of rare megapode birds beside their indicative nest, the large compost mound they build to organically incubate their eggs.
We had just resumed our hike, when suddenly the guide waved me to a halt. With his stout walking stick he pointed to the edge of the trail where a prehistoric monster lay motionless, meeting my gaze with an unblinking stare. Gray-brown in color, armored in a thick wrinkled skin, the Komodo lizard attains a length in excess of ten feet. An enthusiastic carnivour, the dragons' bite is so prone to infection as to be considered poisonous, and it can kill man or beast with a swipe of its powerful tail. The good news is that this one appeared indifferent to my prescence and very well fed. On Wednesdays and Sundays the guides arrange a feeding, sacrificing goats to the voracious reptiles and creating a spectacle for the tourists. Not seduced by such carnage, I was glad that my visit fell on a Thursday. But as the monster tracked me instinctively with his reptillian eye, I had to wonder if he really knew what day it was.
Back on the boat, sailing slowly towards civilization, I contemplate the future. What unusual delights will the next dive offer, and what further mysteries are to be encountered in Indonesia, the world's fifth largest nation? Comprised of 13,677 islands spanning 3,500 miles, it is home to diverse peoples rich in indiginous culture. Exotic wildlife and timeless natural wonders abound, including the world's most ancient first growth rain forest. Throughout Indonesia one may still trek through remote mountain ranges, stroll miles of beautiful untouched beaches, and swim along countless unexplored reefs waiting to be dived and snorkeled. Opportunities for discovery are unlimited, the people are friendly, and believe me, even the food is great. Excitement and wonder are in the air. Take the plunge...dive into the adventure of Indonesia.
©1992 - K. D. Knezick
Haiku of the day - Sea eagle flies in the face of the sun. Strong, watchful, free.
Please follow these links for information about travel to Komodo, Alor, Indonesia, and beyond:
Read "Exploring Indonesia" -- Ken Knezick's comprehensive dive report
Read "Wakatobi Found" -- Report from Wakatobi, Indonesia
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