Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Indonesia's Komodo National Park: On Trekking and Komodo Dragons


People moved briskly, as if with a sense of purpose, or maybe there was. Every thirty meters or so, I had to stop to catch my breath. The sixty-degree incline was overwhelming that I used all my limbs to pull myself up on the first ascent. With my flip flops and bikini top on, the scorching heat burned me to bits. Go Carla, you can do it!, I kept on mumbling as rocks and loose soil came with my scramble. I reached the first viewpoint after thirty minutes and saw the vastness of turquoise water sheltering on the coves of the islands. The rest went on to the peak while I stayed there, in awe, and never went further up.

I dreaded this day, the day that I was pulled out from my comfort zone and cram me with activities that I wouldn’t normally do. But I was born ready, so bring it on!

Komodo National Park Indonesia Speedboat
Terrified; of hiking and komodo dragons.
Labuan Bajo was our fifth stop on Trip of Wonders 2016, a twelve-day exploration on different key destinations in Indonesia by the Ministry of Tourism with 40+ souls from different Southeast Asian countries. We enjoyed the first leg of our trip when we visited Jakarta (for a quick overnight stop), Bandung, Yogyakarta and Lombok.

Komodo National Park Indonesia Speedboat

Labuan Bajo is the capital city of Mangarral Barat regency, the westernmost region of Flores. It is usually the jump-off point to great expeditions around Komodo National Park, declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 and selected as New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2011. We’ve got two full days of exploring those and after having great time on our beach escapades around Komodo, we’re now on the second day of hiking and animal-hunting; my waterloo.

Komodo Island

Everyone seemed excited as we got off from our speedboats. The morning sun was intensely piercing our skin, but they seemed not to mind as they were too eager on the first activity.

Komodo National Park Indonesia Komodo Island
Komodo Island
Arriving at Komodo Island, we were ushered to the briefing area and were told about the do’s and don’ts inside the park. We’re off to hunt for wild komodo dragons which didn’t scare me off like the others for I really know nothing about animals. Really, even distinguishing breeds of dogs would be challenging for me.

Komodo National Park Indonesia Komodo Island

Moving on, I learned that komodo dragons are vicious carnivores, the largest living species of lizard that grows up to ten feet found in Indonesian islands around Flores (a protected area known as Komodo National Park). Stories of its venomous bite and occasional attack on humans did scare me, who wouldn’t be.

Komodo National Park Indonesia Komodo Island
Stay within your group, always.
We went on different groups and were guided by three ranger escorts on our way, holding on to the Y-shaped sticks that are used to prevent komodo dragons from attacking. We’re in the middle of summertime in Indonesia and the heat caused apparent drought on the vegetation. Everyone was quiet. Nobody made any unnecessary movement.

We reached a viewpoint and relaxed a bit. Still, it was nerve-wracking.

I carefully traced the path made by our guide making sure I was just inches away from him. We got out of the forest into what seemed to be some villas used as guesthouses. Then I saw a pack that was quietly encircling something, and yes, it’s a komodo dragon.

A photo posted by blissfulguro (@blissfulguro) on

And there it was, a sleepy huge komodo dragon that looked like it just had a hearty meal and was about to take its siesta that morning. It wasn’t moving aggressively as what I thought it would do. It looked like very tired, like that of a very lazy dog. But I didn’t move closer, actually I veered away from the group as they started to take snaps of it.

Komodo Dragon
Zoom lens, don''t worry.
Another komodo dragon, around twenty meters from it, was sluggishly lying on the dirt just like the first one. I wasn’t scared nor did I panic, I just maintained a comfortable distance while asking my buddy if they could climb the trees or swim in to the sea (I was just making sure), and he said yes to both.

Komodo Dragon
Again, zoom lens. Me too scared.
I took two photos and left the area. The close encounter was terrifying especially if you’re a fan of animal channels. As for me, just hearing stories about close encounters with these lizards made me vigilant.

Rinca Island

A thriving mangrove forest welcomed us as we dock on the next island at the Komodo National Park. It was just our lunch place (I will dedicate a separate post on our great Indonesian food trippin’), or so I thought.

Komodo Deer
Komodo dragons' possible lunch
After the meal, we gathered on the clearing for some briefing on, yet again, do’s and don’ts around the park. Apparently, it was still another komodo dragon-hunting trip.

It started out fine; the sun was hiding on the thick clouds that cooled off the island. There were old houses that stood next to each other into the thick forest, and then we stopped.

Komodo National Park Rinca Island
Rinca Island short trek
I thought that we’ll be having another kind of briefing when I saw some komodo dragons lying on the dirt underneath some houses, there were seven of them.

I was totally terrified.

The komodo dragons at Rinca Island were far more active compared to the ones we saw at Komodo Island. There was even a moment when two female dragons were engaging on a cat fight (or dragon fight) that was easily averted by one of the guides. My friends took some snaps while I stayed beside a tree far away from them (which apparently is not even safe) and followed the guide who’s leading us to another area.

Komodo Dragon Rinca Island

Komodo Dragon Rinca Island
There were seven of them, all in attack mode.
We treaded the forest and reached the nesting area of the dragons. The mating season starts between May and August and just in time for their egg-laying season (September) we were there exploring the nesting holes. The eggs will be hatched after eight months (April) and the baby komodo dragons will then dwell on trees, away from the predators and even for the adult dragons.

Baby Komodo Dragon Rinca Island
Camouflaged baby komodo dragon
We emerged on our point of entry which concluded our short trek. There are other trails for the adventurous ones but gladly, we took the shortest possible trail.

Padar Island

I was scratching my head as we arrived at Padar Island and saw the steep incline of the rolling hills; it looked very intimidating, for me.

Komodo National Park Padar Island
Scratches my head at this sight
Padar Island was our last stop, a great spot to view the entirety of the surrounding islands which is frequented by travelers who want to have a panoramic view of Komodo National Park.

The first assault was steep with loose soil and rocks. I was using all my limbs to climb up the hill and it took me forever compared to others who were hiking as if it’s a flat surface. I saw another level of uphill and downhill path, and then another, and then more.

Komodo National Park Padar Island
Intense summer heat plus this...
I lost count on the times I almost gave up but the cheer I got from my buddies pushed me to reach the first viewpoint.

And yes, the view there was utterly amazing; turquoise water, cerulean sky, green and brown mountains and more. It was so beautiful that every angle of my camera took nothing but great photos, like the ones used as wallpapers on computers.

Komodo National Park Padar Island
Padar Island
Komodo National Park Padar Island
Picturesque
I sat on a rock, rested for a bit, and just stayed there, in awe.


Looking at the topmost peak, I imagined how beautiful the view was from there. But I was pleased from the view I’ve got (and the fact that I even got there) which made me stay there not thinking about pushing myself more. A pat on the back for a job well done, and another set of photos. Then I climbed back down (which was harder).

Komodo National Park Padar Island

The climb back down was harder
I reached the foot of the first hill after almost slipping a number of times. I grabbed some drinks, jumped into the clear blue water and floated all my wearies away. It was totally a refreshing way to end a very exhausting hike.

I immediately took a dip after the trek, refreshing!
I always say that I like mountains from my perspective on a flatland (like when I saw the snow-capped Himalayas in Nepal), but never did I thought that great surprises await you at the top. Our trek at Padar Island and the komodo dragon encounter at Rinca and Komodo Islands defied my usual travel routine. And it did feel great after, like I could do this more often, or maybe not. 


Trip Of Wonders 2016 Indonesia
16 of 40 souls from the Trip Of Wonders September Team!
The Komodo National Park trip made me appreciate the amazing natural world before everything became automatic and convenient. And amidst the struggle, it’s the cheer that you get when you reach the top that matters most. Because no matter how beautiful a place or an experience will be, if it’s not shared with great people, then it would be totally unexceptional.


Komodo National Park
Flores, Indonesia
Website: http://www.komodonationalpark.org/

Check here for discounted hotels in Labuan Bajo

Special thanks to Indonesia's Ministry of Tourism for making this trip possible. 
As always, opinions and opinions are all mine.


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