Dragons are real and they exist in an isolated chain of Indonesian islands. Setting sail from the coast of Lombok, we intend to find them over the next four days. They’re not fire-breathing, or gold-hoarding: they’re 3-metre-long monitor lizards with a ferocious bite.
Rinca and Komodo island are home to these Komodo dragons. They’re located between Lombok and Flores, and boast more than lizards: beautiful pink beaches, curved rock formations, gorgeous sunrises.
My company for the four days at sea are an eclectic group of nationalities and ages: the usual suspects, such as the Dutch, Canadians, Germans, and (a ton of) Brits all show up. But there’s the Irish, the Chinese, and inconceivably, an adventurous couple who’s decided to bring their baby along for the voyage. The beauty of travel is that no matter where you come from and who you meet, with a pack of playing cards and enough alcohol in your system, you can get along with anyone.
Two days in and a routine has already been established. We sunbathe on the deck of a boat as we head towards those Komodo islands, playing cards and sharing stories. We have a brief amount of time to jump into the sea and snorkel amidst choppy waves, and occasionally we reach islands along the way where we can watch the sunset or climb small waterfalls. Food and dinner are buffet-style and authentically Indonesian. In one sublime moment, a herd of dolphins follows along with our boat.
It’s idyllic, but we’re still waiting for the journey to really get going: there’s a lot of sailing and not a lot of activity.
On the first night, we’re gently rocked to sleep by the motion of the waves. On the second, we’re at the mercy of the ocean, violently tossed from side to side. The American sleeping next to me, at the back of the boat, is soaked to the bone. I feel fine.
The next day, I don’t feel fine. Maybe it was the rough night prior, or maybe it was the succession of sickly shots of rice wine I downed after dinner (I got very, very drunk), but my stomach is playing up. The first sight of Komodo dragons is enough to distract me for a while. They’re huge, lumbering beasts, unafraid of humans and, as our guide points out, are adept at detecting who’s on their period.
Later, we step foot on pink sand and snorkel amid stonefish, rays and coral. I search for an elusive sea turtle, my own Moby Dick (I can’t find it. Afterwards, I leave lunch to go to the loo and a sea turtle pops its head out of the water to wave hello to everyone else). At Rinca island, we find more Komodo dragons, and manage to keep our cameras away from lurking macaques.
The third night is dubbed ‘party night’ by the captain. The party boat next to us are loud, drunk, and look like they’re having an amazing time. I can’t really say the same for us: the company is nice but a makeshift limbo contest and a dispirited rendition of ‘Come on Eileen’ can only take you so far. The night ends magically, however: I decide to take my sleeping mat onto the deck and stare up at the night sky, free from air pollution. I sleep under the Milky Way.
We wake up and watch the sunrise from Padar island’s stunning vista. The island’s coast snakes around itself, deep hues of blue emerging as the sun hits the water. This is the highlight of the final day, which consists of a lot of sailing, a quick stopoff on a windy sand bank, and more games of Whist and Snap. By the end of the journey, my playing cards are tattered.
We dock, thank the captain, and find a hostel in the town of Labuan Bajo. This is our first sight of civilization in four days. Travelling by sea isn’t for everyone, but it’s something I recommend everyone try out. You’ll encounter some sticky moments (an upset stomach on a rocking boat as you try to keep your balance on a squatting toilet may or may not be one of them), an unreliable shower, a lack of Wi-Fi and potentially a wet night’s sleep, but the views are incredible, the company is wonderful, and you’ll have the chance to see one of the rarest animals on Earth. And, hey, if a baby can manage four days at sea, then I think you’ll be just fine.
This experience was thanks to Wanua Adventure, which hosts excursions from both Lombok to Flores and Flores to Lombok. The voyage, if choosing deck class, will cost you 2.800.00IDR (£145) — relatively expensive for budget backpackers, but well worth it, low-cost in comparison to most alternatives, and good value considering the company’s reliable reputation. You can find out more on their site here.