Komodo – Eye to Eye with Huge Lizards and Tiny Nudibranchs

The island of Komodo in central Indonesia, part of a cluster of small, dry islands situated between the big islands of Sumbawa, Sumba and Flores, is famous amongst nature-lovers for two reasons: for its Komodo dragons and for its rich marine life in the park surrounding it. I had always been aware of the super-sized lizards and the tales surrounding them, but not so much of the pristine coral reefs in the area. When two colleagues of mine came back from their trips to Komodo, they were enthusiastic about the diving, the abundance of coral life and the islands themselves. I therefore really wanted to visit the Komodo National Park and see for myself healthy and colourful corals, as well as the unique lizards on the islands.

Several airlines fly from Denpasar in Bali to Labuan Bajo on Flores, and I took one of them on July 11. Labuan Bajo, a small fishing town on the west coast of Flores, is the entry point for the Komodo National Park. It sees quite a hustle and bustle during the tourist season in July and August, when live-aboard vessels, divers and adventure-seekers like me visit the area – to my surprise, as I did not expect much tourism in the area except for a few curious herpetologists visiting the dragons… Four dive centres, a few guesthouses and hotels, restaurants and even internet facilities (with an unbelievably slow connection, though) were available in Labuan Bajo, and it looks as if more are to come. Compared to tourism hotspots on islands such as Bali or Java, however, Labuan Bajo was still a remote, undeveloped, charming little town with very cheap guesthouses and restaurants. Its inhabitants were mostly Muslim, lived in small, wooden houses and were obviously not used to seeing foreigners walking down their street. I was frequently greeted with “Hello Mister!” and involved in some strange conversations. The Lonely Planet had a short text about this phenomenon, which I not only encountered in Flores:

“Few places in Indonesia have so many ultra-keen English-language students desperate to help tourists in return for conversation practice. They pop up everywhere. This can result in delightful friendships or infuriating feelings of being pestered, depending on your outlook (and good fortune).”
Very often these constant greetings were tiring and even annoying, as I could never be undisturbed and by myself, and being a woman travelling alone “so far away from her husband” also didn’t help. But then again, I luckily never felt unsafe or got into a very unpleasant situation; the locals were mostly just curious or trying to be friendly – a different culture I just had to be aware of.

More to come...

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