You can’t go to Komodo National Park in Flores and not see Komodo dragons. And we saw them, but it looks like I deleted the photos off of my memory card so I don’t have any proof. Looks like you’ll just have to believe me. N and I heard that Rinca Island was less touristy than Komodo Island, so we shelled out 300,000 rupiah each to go on a group tour of the island with Christian’s Tours in Labuan Bajo. We weren’t given a whole lot of information from the tour office as to what to bring or how to prepare. We were just told to show up at a certain time and that the boatman would speak English.
The next morning, we walked to the tour office down the street from our hotel. There were four French tourists and a Spanish couple going with us, and we all walked down to the harbor to get on the boat for the two-hour ride to Rinca. The boat we were instructed to board was a tiny old thing with benches facing each other along the sides. The boatman spoke no English. He communicated via hand gestures and that’s how we found out he was 70 and has been manning a boat for 40 years. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was this particular boat he’s been on for the past four decades.
The eight of us sat there for two hours in near silence as we sputtered along past small islands. By the time we arrived on Rinca, the sun was high in the sky and it was hot. We didn’t really know where we were supposed to go so we started walking down a winding path towards what we assumed was the entrance to the park. A guide was leading a pack of French tourists back from their tour, so he waved goodbye to them, turned around and introduced himself as our guide.
Mahmed carried a long stick with a forked tip for keeping the large lizards at bay. The land here was arid and relatively flat, and we walked down a concrete path towards the ticket booth. Mahmed pointed to the base of a small tree, where a juvenile male dragon lay in the shade. His legs were all splayed out comically and he slowly lifted his head to look at us as we stopped at a “safe distance” — whatever that means because these reptiles are fast — to stare and snap photos.
Mahmed explained that the dragons are most active in the early morning when it’s cooler and they’re hungry. By the late morning, they grow lethargic from the heat and the food in their bellies and lie still for the remainder of the day. It was clear we would be watching dragons nap all afternoon. We got to the ticket office where we paid 20,000 rupiah each for the tour guide, 50,000 for one camera and 50,000 each for the entrance fee. We bought the 3-day national park pass (80,000 rupiah) for the snorkeling trip but it had expired the day before so we couldn’t use it to get into Rinca. The first thing we had to do was to decide as a group which trek to take; short, medium or long. We all decided on the two-hour medium one which would take us through the jungle and then up a hill to a vantage point in the savannah. He warned us that there is no guarantee we would see the dragons anywhere along our route, but that they usually congregated by the rangers’ kitchen. So off we went towards the kitchen, where we immediately saw four adult dragons laying unmoving by the kitchen while a smaller juvenile walked around flicking its forked tongue. Mahmed explained that the adult dragons will eat the smaller ones, so the babies climb up and live in the trees for the first few years of their lives until they grow bigger.
We walked on into the “jungle” where trees made shade against the sun and brown leaves crunched under our shoes. We stopped by another large tour group of older American tourists clustered around three holes in the ground. Pregnant females dig three holes into the ground and lay eggs in one of them, using the other two as decoys against predators. Out of about 30 eggs, only a few ever survive into adulthood.
The jungle was dry because it wasn’t yet the rainy season in Flores, so the riverbed was mostly dry. We followed it and saw some wild pigs, monkeys and deer off in the distance. A few minutes later, Mahmed spotted a water buffalo resting in the shade of a tree so we harassed it with our picture-taking. Before heading onto the island, N and I considered not bringing along a bottle of water. But we did and this bottle of water kept us from collapsing in the savannah portion of the trek, which was very hot and dry. We slowly wound up a hill to the top, where the sun beat down on us and we quickly took some photos of the jungle below before descending down small gravel rocks that shifted under our feet as we picked our way down. There was no sign of life here in this part of the island, and all of us were eager to get back to the campground area.
When we got back, we saw a buck grazing which I guess Europeans don’t see much because they went for it like white on rice. And speaking of rice, a lunch of a tiny piece of fried chicken over white rice was served as soon as we got back to the boat. It wasn’t much but gave us enough energy for what came next. A snorkeling stop is included in our tour, and while we were told we would be making two snorkeling stops, we only got one. Our boat stopped next to a few other day trip boats on a nice sandy beach, and we got out and snorkeled for a bit. The marine life here wasn’t anything worthwhile, but we did see a bunch of fish we’ve never seen before.
We got to talking with the two young girls who we thought were related to the older French couple, but it turned out they were Belgian, not French, and the four of them had met along their journey from eastern Flores to the west side and decided to travel together until they arrived in Labuan Bajo. The girls were going back home to work, while the French couple had another week in the area. We lay in the smooth shallow area and talked about what they had experienced in Flores. Eastern Flores would have to be on our next trip to this beautiful county.
To know: – Bring plenty of sunscreen and water – A private boat to Rinca will cost about 800000 rupiah or more, including one or two snorkeling stops – There are plenty of tour offices along the Main Street in Labuan Bajo so price shop – Ask if the boat has life vests on board. Many don’t, and fatal boat accidents are very common in Indonesia. None of the boats we asked about had radios for calling for help, but this area is a heavily-traveled route so there are many other boats around.