Awe-Inspiring Days at Komodo National Park

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Dreams do come true. Yes. This time, I will be traveling with one of my bestfriend, Tara. We’ve been waiting for this day. All these years, all we could ever do was to admire the beauty of Komodo National Park through our computer and phone screen. We are more than excited imagining this day is finally coming. Traveling, for us, is some kind of investment, for our soul, for our inner side. After numerous research and review, we prepare ourselves for four days and three nights sailing trip organized by Indahnesia from May 27th to May 30th 2016. This is an open trip. Ten travelers were scheduled to sail along. I hope you feel as thrilled and deeply awed as I am when you read this chapter of my journey and fall in love with my country, Indonesia. Please do enjoy and welcome aboard!

Why Komodo National Park?
It is mandatory for a citizen of a country to honor its nation’s pride. Komodo National Park listed as one of the winner of New 7 Wonders : Nature and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Amazing isn’t it? Being among other world wonders Amazon Forest, Ha Long Bay, Iguazu Waterfall, Jeju Ssland, Puerto Princesa Underground River and Table Mountain, Komodo National Park acknowledged with the most vote. That is why, as an Indonesian by citizenship and by heart, I dream to visit Komodo National Park.

Located between two provinces of West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara, Komodo National Park includes many islands with the major three, Komodo, Rinca and Padar. These are volcanic islands in origin. In 1980, Komodo National Park was established as a conservation for endangered Komodo dragons, largest lizard in the world, and its wildlife habitat. Consists of 603 km² land area and total of 1817 km² area, this park also holds one of richest marine life biodiversity, included in Coral Triangle in western Pacific Ocean. Several islands that we are going to visit are Kanawa, Gili Lawa Darat, Padar, Kelor and of course Komodo.

How to get there?
The trip will begin at Labuan Bajo, the main harbour city which is the departure point for major travelers. I took a night flight from Jakarta, transit in Denpasar, Bali for five hours and flew to Labuan Bajo with earliest flight and landed at Bandara Komodo at 09.00 in the morning. Flights to Bandara Komodo, Labuan Bajo is available from several points of departure.  It took fifteen minutes of driving from the airport to reach the harbour. The sailing trip itinerary starts 10.00 in the morning depart from this site.

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The main airport, Bandara Komodo of Labuan Bajo.
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Waiting lounge in Bandara Komodo.

Boat Accommodation 
Since this is a sailing trip, it is important when planning the trip, travelers should understand about the boat which is going to be the temporary home for the next three days. Because all activities will be done on board. Our boat is wooden built, middle in size, open-deck type, with capacity for ten travelers exclude the crew. There are four beds on below deck, large open setting in middle deck, four beds on the top deck under canopy and a hammock. There is only one bathroom with fresh water supply. Electrical sockets are available in every area of the boat, bottom, middle and top. I am quite relieved, less worried for low battery gadgets issue and one of the perks, this boat has sound system, with loud speakers and USB/Aux jack. Yes! I think I’m going to enjoy my stay on this boat, I said in my heart.

The captain of this boat is Taher, an original Komodo-islander. The crew consists of five local people, Taher, Alias, Sofi (Alias’ daughter), Gais and Baim. It is essential to get in touch and know the crew in person, the ‘landlord’ with whom I am going to live in three days. They are going to be my guide and my sole place to ask about anything along the trip.  Ten travelers were planned to join the trip in the first place, but somehow because one and other things, seven other travelers cancel the trip, so it’s just the three of us now, Tara, Reni and I, along with crew of five, we sail to our first destination, Kanawa Island.

Kanawa Island
The island is located for about 15 km from Labuan Bajo harbour. I fall in love with Kanawa at the first sight. The view of stone hill covered with grass alongside white sandy beach and clear blue water, stole my heart right away. By origin, this island was first managed by a local native of Labuan Bajo, then the management was handed over to a foreigner who groomed the island with fourteen beach bungalows around the hill with sea view. A wooden bridge is placed for the entrance. The color of blue blended with turquoise and green persuaded me to see what is there under this water. I cannot wait to jump and snorkel here.

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Welcome to Kanawa Island.

Manta Point
After being allured with the beauty of Kanawa, Captain Taher sail his boat to our next destination, Manta Point which takes for an hour boat ride from Kanawa. The boat then stops right in the middle of ocean, no island in sight. I have to admit, these sailors has an incredibly sharp vision. They could detect slightest movement above water then point their finger saying “Hey look, that’s a Manta!” Enthusiastically, I jump and give a look around, but I do not see anything beside dark blue water. Mr Alias points his finger to a direction and say “It’s there, look. Come, jump into the water, swim there. See the manta for yourself, but remember, do not touch them. Do not ever touch them, their skin is very vulnerable to human touch.” I stay quite. Speechless. “The stream is a bit challenging, swim carefully and stay together. If you are troubled or anything, wave your hand, we all stand by here on boat”.  I could feel everything in my tummy. There is enthusiasm, fear and excitement. I see Captain Taher jumps into the water and swim ahead to a distance, stops then shout “Come, there is a Manta!” Tara and I look at each other, I could tell her heart is beating as fast as mine. This is our first time doing this. I was thinking in my head, for once in my life, when will I be available to see Manta with my very eyes? I jump into the water with my snorkel and fin. I could feel the stream, I swim right away trough the cold water. Tara is swimming next to me, together we head to Captain Taher. The water is dark and I see nothing but water and Tara’s fin. I keep on swimming until I notice something dark was passing through under my body in that depth. Something was then moving across this water, something huge and fast, and there, I see it, I witness it, flying over here and there, I hold my breath, dear God, it is breathtaking beautiful.

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Flying underwater with Manta.

Manta ray fish (Manta birostris) is the largest ray fish in the world. It’s width could reach to seven meter long. Manta ray’s tail is different with sting ray, shorter and stingless. The manta that I am swimming next to is unique, it has no tail. Their whole skin is covered with mucous layer as a protection of infection. Manta ray fish is now considered near threatened because their population is decreasing due to fishing industry and water pollution. Please, please people, let us stop harmful fishing and stop polluting our ocean.

Gili Lawa Darat
After experiencing swimming between manta rays, off we sail an hour more to one of the greatest spot to see sunset in Komodo National Park, Gili Lawa Darat. Gili Lawa itself differed into two, Gili Lawa Laut and Gili Lawa Darat. Gili Lawa is the gate to Komodo National Park.

Our boat sits on the shore and we continue to trek the hill to top of Gili Lawa Darat. This island is a large land contoured with hills and covered with grass, it almost look like a savanna. In the summer, the green grass changes color to brownish yellow which seen beautifully contrast to the blue water. It was not a steep track on Gili Lawa, however the sandy ground is a bit a challenge to step on. After twenty minutes trekking we reach the top right when the sun just about to descend. Color light blue with streaks of orange and crimson in the sky framed with yellowish green hills, blue water and white sandy beach, no wonder people claim this as best spot to witness the grandeur panorama of sundown. Sunset trekking is a must!

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Sunset view from Gili Lawa Darat

After the sun sets, we trek downhill and back to our ship before the sky lose its light. We sail again before dark to Padar Island. By night we reach Padar Island and the boat harbors on the shore. It is a friendly weather. The waves are not too much and it is nearly a calm night, I did not have any seasickness. After dinner and light chat, we decide to rest the day off. This is my first night living on a boat. I choose to sleep on the top deck under the canopy. Wherever my eyes go, I see dark sky embroidered with stars and moon. Sleeping right under the Milky Way, my eyes got teary, it is amazingly beautiful and soothing. Under this gorgeous darkness with pale moonlight, Tara and I inhale our breaths deeply without any words. Our mouths full with silent prayers and worships to The Almighty up there. My camera lens is not able to take shots of this fascinating view, but through the lens of my very eyes, I take mental pictures of it and it fits perfectly into my memory. A memory I keep it dearly with the melody ‘O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the works thy hand hath made, I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Padar Island
Padar is the third largest island of Komodo National Park, after the islands Komodo and Rinca. Padar island is inhabited and there is no proof of komodo dragons presence here. At dawn, we start to trek the island planning to see the sunrise from the top. Not much different with Gili Lawa Darat, grass also covers Padar island, the ground is sandy but the path is stonier. It is a farther trek and steeper than Gili Lawa Darat. After an hour trekking, we arrive at the top and instantly hypnotized by the panorama. A scenery of blue water, brown lands, and three beaches with tree different sand colors, pink, black and white. It is also one of the memorable sunrise view ever, because we got see the sunlight and the moonlight in the same sky. Phenomenal.

Mr Alias told us about the history of Padar island. He was one of the pioneers that found tracks to the top of Padar which accessible for tourist nowadays. He found it years ago during an expedition with the national magazine, Tempo. While he was telling his story, he saw the awed face of Tara and I and then sums of the beauty of Padar in these words, “Indah, Tara, God was smiling He creates Padar Island. Subhanallah.”

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View from top of Padar, three beaches with different sand colors, pink, black and white.

Namong Beach
We reach Namong Beach that is located an hour from Padar Island. The pink colors of sand resulted from deteriorated red corals. Namong beach is not a common tourist destination. That time, our boat is the only one harbored at the shore. The beach is less popular than the other Pink Beach, which sands is not pink anymore because the corals destroyed by the number of tourist boats harbored there. Mr Alias took us to Namong Beach to show us the pinkest beach of all. It was a gloomy morning, we just had an hour episode of storm and rains is still dripping. We harbored at the beach by mid day planning to walk around the beach and snorkeling around the shore.

It is almost lunch time, we are chatting and laughing when I randomly ask Mr Alias “Sir, is there any komodo dragon is this beach?” “Hmm, yes, it could be. Komodo dragons are there between islands not only at the main island, Komodo.” I gasp. “Wow, so there is a possibility when we snorkel we might bump into a komodo? That is scary, Sir.”, I say. I look at Tara, there is a slight fear in her face. “Yes, might be. Komodo is a great swimmer. They could swim between islands. But it is very rare. Extremely rare. My last experience was ten years ago, it was on a project for documentary filming of Komodo. I was working with several researchers, we lured the dragon to the water with bait, a fresh meat, so we could see it swimming. It did swim for a while but then back to the beach. We have no footage of Komodo diving, the project was then terminated. It’s rare. Komodo swim and dive, very rare.” said Mr Alias. He furthermore tells us about this experiences with komodo dragons and then we heard someone screams. It’s the voice of Captain Taher. He was already on the beach since fifteen minutes ago. A loud continuous voice was heard. Mr Alias quickly run outside the boat to see what happens. Everything happens so fast, so fast, next thing I know Mr Alias also screams from the boat and points to a direction. I hear his clear loud voice “Komodo! A komodo! Indah! Tara! There is a komodo! Quick, come quick, get your camera, give me your camera! Now, now, quick!” I look at Tara, she’s looking at me too. I take my phone, hand it to Mr Alias, then he jumps off the ship and runs to Taher. I see Captain Taher is 50 meters away on the beach and he is pointing at a dark figure a feet in front of him. “Come, here! Come see this! Extremely rare! Come Indah, Tara! Come!” he said. The rest of the crew then jump off the boat and follow Mr Alias. I stun. I stand in silent looking at that lizard on the beach is swimming and it swims towards our boat. I freeze. Breathless. Silent. So this is real. This is very real. I said in my head. Tara is as freeze as I am. For a couple of minutes, I stand still in between awed, amazed, thrilled, afraid, everything, then I decide I have to jump. I jump off the boat and run to them on beach. Seconds later, Tara also jumps off the boat. We run to the crew to see the swimming komodo. They are exhilarated and scream “This is very rare, my God! We are very lucky! We are very lucky!” I got shivers on my body. Awed. Amazed. To witness the dragon itself. So close. So real. So beautiful. So strong. So vicious. A beast. A magnificent one. My dear God!

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A komodo dragon swimming on the pink Namong Beach.

Kampung Komodo
After nearly an hour at Namong Beach, we then sail to a village located in the border of main island, Komodo. A home for local natives called Kampung Komodo.

Mr Alias take us around the village. With total of three hundred families, these local people mainly work as fisherman. There is main wooden bridge built across the village. Houses were mostly wooden built with Panggung style. This is the home of Mr Alias and boat crew. I could feel warmth in my heart when I walk through the village. They know each other as families and they greet us with smiles and familiar gestures. There is a slight of  homey feeling when I see the lives of these local people. Electricity only available at night time, there is one health center in this village with midwives only. No doctor on the island. Those who seek healthcare must go to Labuan Bajo. There are two school buildings in this village for elementary school and high school. Children running across this village barefoot and swim on shore freely. But they are not alone this island. Komodo dragons live around the village. Sometimes, story told, komodo dragon may come near the village and eats their sheep and animals.

When we are offered to stay the night on the boat or at the house of Mr Alias, Tara and I choose to stay in the village. Mr Alias has been a tour leader for the last four years, he has many visitors, local and foreign people. His house is available for travelers, he named it Homestay Siwa, right after the name is his son Siwa, who has a keen interest of komodo dragon just like his father. Sofi, one of boat crew is the daughter of Mr Alias. She lives here with his father along with her five siblings. Sofi had an eight-months old daughter, Atika. Due to economy condition, Sofi has to work with his father, being a cook on the boat. They stay on Labuan Bajo when there is no sailing trip. They can only come home to Kampung Komodo when their boat is booked for sailing trip and they got visitor to sail with. It’s been eight days since Sofi last see her daughter, Atika.

The family of Mr Alias and Ibu Hani is very warm and modest. Their original, authentic hospitality is really a gift for me, for us, urban travelers. They tell us stories about previous visitors, from Poland tourist who stays in their house for two months to story of Siwa making a documentary film about Komodo with foreigners. Mr Alias had prepared the room for us to stay, a mattress, bed net and electric fan. His house were built from wood. At night, I peek outside the room and found a sweet moment where Mr Alias and Ibu Hani sleeps hugging their toddler children Anna and Palo, on the open veranda with an oil lamp. A true modesty and hospitality from local people, a heartfelt priceless gift. I will come back here again, someday.

In the morning, Tara and I rush ourselves to the harbor deck of Kampung Komodo. Some kind of ritual, I always managed to see my favorite moment of day during traveling, sunrise, when sun comes out and greet earthlings with its light and warmth. The masterpiece majestic composition of colors in the sky that makes me very grateful and believe that things will be alright, just like the sun rises everyday to start a new page, a new feeling, a new journey.

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Sunrise at Kampung Komodo.

Komodo Island
Leaving Kampung Komodo, we continue our journey to Loh Liang in Komodo Island. There are various treks available here, short, medium or long trek. We take the short trek and a ranger is assigned to accompany us. Again, we are lucky, when we get to the hill, we see two komodo dragons are running to each other. Mr Alias knows every ranger in this island. During our trekking, he told the ranger about us meeting a swimming komodo unexpectedly yesterday at Namong Beach. Ranger is very thrilled, he even ask to save a copy of the footage of  the swimming komodo, he further comments, “You are very lucky, I am a ranger and I have not even see a swimming komodo before.”

Records about komodo first found in 1910. Locals called komodo dragon with a native name, Ora, which means “screaming”. This largest lizard is categorized vulnerable by the IUCN International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Komodo  dragon is protected under animal conservation law in Indonesia and world.

Turtle Point
Next, we depart from Komodo Island to Captain Taher’s most favorite place, Turtle Point, located about 30 minutes from Loh Liang. There are many turtles, swimming in depth, I even see a dugong when I snorkel here.

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Turtle Point, Komodo National Park

Karang Sembilan
Then we continue the trip to a unique place in the Flores sea. It is named Karang Sembilan because it is formed out of dead corals that swifts by oceans waves and form a figure of number nine ‘9’. In the middle of this island, lies a shallow pond, 80 centimeters deep covered with green algae, seaweed and populated with sting-less jellyfishes. From above we could see these little blue-tentacled-jellyfish. Captain Taher allows us to join him swimming in the pond with several conditions, we shall not stop swimming, we shall not flip our fin too hard, we shall not stand on the algae and the jellyfishes.

Kelor Island
Last destination on our sailing trip, Kelor Island. Tara and I called this island, a one million dollar view island. White sands, beautiful corals and underwater life, breathtaking scenery frop the top of the hill makes Kelor a must to visit.

After snorkeling, we hike to the hilltop which has steep track, more than 45 degrees inclined. Compared to Gili Lawa Darat and Pulau Padar, Kelor trekking is the hardest, but the view at the top worth the struggle. The best view comes after the hardest climb. To witness sunset from that height, it is indeed a million dollar view.

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Sunset on the top of Kelor Island, Komodo National Park.

Back to Labuan Bajo
We head back to the city, our sailing trip is over. We arrive in Labuan Bajo harbour by 19.00 at night. Glowing city lights is very pretty for our eyes. Along the harbour, there are lots of food stalls with fresh sea food as main courses. There goes our dinner, local cuisine harborside.

Tara and I then stay the night at Labuan Bajo, because no flight available nighttime from Bandara Komodo. We stay at Selini On The Hill Villas. This unique and beautiful villa offers a natural, eco friendly and traditional experience. Built of wood and designed like tree houses,  furnished mostly with wood, air conditioned, large open veranda with a sea view made my last day in Labuan Bajo unforgettable. For only 600K++ per night, it is a great place to stay.

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Sea view from the veranda.

Gua Batu Cermin
Last day in Labuan Bajo, Tara and I scheduled to fly back home at 15.00. By mid day, we get a chance to visit a cave called Gua Batu Cermin, 15 minutes driving from our villa. The cave was found by  Verhoven, a ducth archaeologist at 1951. Verhoven concludes that Flores Island was used to be underwater by the findings of fossils in the cave that similar to marine life, such as turtles and jellyfishes. The sunlight that comes through reflects on the stones and passes along the cave walls makes it looked like a refelcting mirror, that’s why it’s called mirror cave or Gua Batu Cermin.

This is it. The epilogue of our four days three nights trip in this national park. I get to see amazing colors painted on the sky over the horizon, flying underwater with manta ray, being so close to the beautiful underwater life, being a part of an incredible moment witnessing komodo dragon swimming, experiencing a warm and modest village life, start the day with great sunrise views, sleep underneath a sky full of stars and waking up with sea view from the hilltop of Labuan Bajo with my best friend, it is a dream that comes true. A dream that becomes a memory, that will make me fall in love, fall in awe, over, over and over again.

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Thank you Tara Candida Mariska, my fellow doctor, my schoolmate, my roommate, and my former workmate, for a decade of colorful friendship. A soul sister whose brain wickedly synced with mine. Thank you for your patience, your impulsiveness and our nyeleneh frequency of thought that entwined in laughs. Your giggles and the sound of your voice mumbling Under The Sea through your snorkel imprinted in my head and I can hear it every time I see underwater scenery, Ay! Thank you Indahnesia for organizing the sailing trip, from island to island, from uphill to underwater. Thank you Mr Alias for his authentic, original and special guidance. I consider you as my father every time I visit Kampung Komodo. Stay warm as you are, stay healthy, Bapak! Thank you Captain Taher for the splendid underwater documentation, for the enthusiasm for all living things under water, on land and in the air. Keep the fire burning, King of Turtle!

Thank You, Almighty, Mahabaik. For everything. For priceless lessons, soul-treasure and lovely memory. Thank You for the chance to admire Your great work and masterpieces in series of miracles beyond words. God is the Great!

So I see you later, Komodo.
And you, yes, you who’s been reading this, you have to come here. It’s a must 😉

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***

The expenses in total of 5600K++ IDR consists of : round trip flight tickets Jakarta-Labuan Bajo for 3300K++ IDR, three days two nights sailing trip 1650K IDR (includes food, water, accommodation on board, transportation to and from airport), a night at Selini by The Hill for 600K++ IDR, and an optional trip to Gua Batu Cermin for 100K++ IDR (includes transportation).

Reservation of flights and hotels are being done via Traveloka. Sailing trip itinerary organized by Indahnesia, who also offers other trips, you can check it here. The documentation during the trip is included in the package offered by Indahnesia using GoPro Hero4, you can also check them on Instagram Indahnesia.id or click here. You can contact Indahnesia, with Ruby (Labuan-Bajo based) in this number +6283820117990 or directly contact Mr Alias in this number +6282145252757.  All pictures uploaded here are taken personally with Iphone 5s.

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