Hendrick was our tour guide for the day. Very well spoken, he gave us some interesting history of the island of Flores, which does seem to be an unusual name for an Indonesian Island. Flores was settled by the Portuguese; hence many settlements including Labuan Bajo were named by them. The island was then taken over by the Dutch who ran the Portuguese all the way to the end of the island where they unceremoniously booted them off. The area where this occurred was aptly named "Ende", meaning "the end". The island remains 97% Catholic, a bit of an anomaly for this predominantly Muslim country. We now understand why so may villagers own pigs.
We enjoyed a very comfortable double-decker boat ride over to the island of Rinca (aka Rinja) in the company of cruisers from the yachts Imagine, Island Sonata, Keris and Seamist. On the way over to Rinca Hendrick imparted to us information on the Komodo Dragons giving us some cautionary advice and asked us a rather interesting question: Is anyone here bleeding at all from any cuts and more importantly, are any of the women having a menstrual cycle? If so those persons are not permitted to enter the reserve because the dragons will smell blood and come after us. He recited several incidents of dragon attacks on humans that included deaths of tourists as well as attacks on park rangers, stressing the need for us all to stay together and not venture away from the protection of the rangers. The Komodo dragons appear sluggish but can move with lightening speed when on the hunt, and the smaller ones can leap and climb the trees. Oh Joy.
Arriving at the island, our boat pulled into a berth directly in front of the park entrance. We were assigned two rangers wielding long poles with a "y" shaped end. This is our protection from deadly Komodos? The rangers took us into the actual ranger station to register and suddenly one of them pointed to a nearby group of trees. We all looked wondering what he was pointing at when suddenly someone exclaimed; "Dragon!" Barely 10 feet away from us rested a large Komodo dragon. It appeared to be sleeping and when we leaned in for a closer look it opened its eyes & moved its head in our direction. We all gasped and started. The guide put his arm out to direct us back. My gosh it blended right in with the ground! We were assured that right now was the best time to view them because they are sunning to get warm and will generally just lie there until it becomes too hot for them then they will disappear into the bush. If we were lucky we would see a few more. Today we were very fortunate. At least a dozen dragons were out and about. Eerily, they hang out AT the ranger station, even resting underneath the cabins. We spied one ranger sitting on the deck of his cabin reading whilst two Komodos lounged underneath him. It really was unbelievable. Suddenly a ranger called for us to come look as he pointed to a smaller dragon (about 1 meter long) in the wooded area that had caught and was consuming a very large snake. It was an incredible sight. We continued walking through the camp passing one dragon after another. Most were resting but a few of them actually got up and ambled to a more cozy spot to rest. It was creepy and a little exciting. Fortunately for us this was the largest sighting they'd had all week. The dragons ranged in size from about 1 to just over 3 meters in length. We passed a few places where the skeletons of animals had been prominently displayed, apparent victims of the Komodos. From the ranger station we were taken on a hike to a mount for a panorama of the park. It is hot, dusty and desolate here. Along the way we spied several feral hogs, lots of monkeys and heaps upon heaps of Buffalo dung but no buffaloes. On return to the ranger station the dragons had all disappeared back into the bush as though they had been a mere hallucination. It was now 11:30, so after a short stop at the small cantina for a cold drink and a snack of junk food we returned to our boat where we noted dozens more various sized boats tangled up in dock lines happily bobbing around in the small anchorage. Indeed we had been first to arrive and probably had the best sighting of them all. We had to walk across another boat to get back onto ours and then watched in fascination as several boat boys busied themselves at the lines to get us un-tethered and away. We only tapped one other boat getting out of there, which in and of itself is a miracle.
Back out on the water we enjoyed an incredibly scrumptious lunch prepared by Hendrick and the first mate. It was a varied spread large enough to feed us all several times. Bellies full, some of us retired to the cushion-covered upper deck for some rest in the shade before our snorkel stop. On the way over we spotted several dolphins and even a dugong/manatee. It was a lovely trip through clear water that was so many shades of blue and green that our eyes feasted on the passing seascapes. Eventually we came to a little island popular for its snorkeling and swimming beach. Frank, Stuart, Cheryl, Ruth and I donned our gear and dove in. The small reef was nice but not spectacular. What impressed us were the varieties and number of fish about. We followed several groups of them from coral head to coral head, passing several sea anemones teeming with bright little clown fish. The water was none too clear but we managed to thoroughly enjoy ourselves.
We returned to the anchorage at Labuan Bajo utterly satisfied from the day's outing. Amazingly, the entire trip cost only $45/person, all inclusive.
We had been invited to join the others back on shore for dinner but we were exhausted and needed to ready the boat for an early departure in the morning so we opted for a quiet dinner onboard.