#Myfirstdragon – Komodo Islands & boat living

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IMG_6942Being the super keen organised person I am, when I turned up at Wicked Diving Centre I was told to come back in a few hours as I’d already checked in and sorted my gear out. In all honesty initially I was little annoyed; I could have just chilled by the hostel pool. But I figured I’d go for a wander, look for some postcards (apparently they aren’t much of a ‘thing’ anymore.. managed to find one design, dusty & crap – bought 4 of the same for the family!) But, as cheesy as it sounds I flipped the idea of trying to find something to waste time, to thinking I was given a gift of a few hours, so what should I do with it? And headed to the rooftop bar/restaurant ‘Bajo Taco’.

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Drinking an iced mango smoothie, eating vegan BBQ jackfruit tacos whilst enjoying a fabulous view of Labujan Banjo and writing some lyrics. Yup, truly a gift.

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Back at the shop, after sitting round like a lemon for a while, occasionally exchanging a few words of small talk and awkward smiles, we headed to the boat.

My first thought was ‘oh, it’s very small’ and figured the hull must be really big to sleep us all in… but then realized that this was a separate, smaller dive boat! In my defence I wasn’t the only one to think that…

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The actual boat, I loved. Basic, but perfect. For guests there were 3 twin rooms, and a bunk/dorm with 8 beds. I had an upper bunk; by choice! It was smaller, so let the larger guys take the lower, bigger beds, and had a little window, so actually made me feel less claustrophobic than a top bunk usually does.

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It was super cute and I loved peeking my head out the window in the morning (which someone may have smashed accidentally as we were leaving the boat!!!) With a decent curtain, light and power sockets it was a huge upgrade from my hostel bed; not what I was expecting!

 

The main section of the boat was the dining & briefing area, and on each side there was a toilet and shower room.

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The rooftop was a chill out area littered with bean bags, where I spent most of my non-eating, diving & sleeping time. And that’s pretty much how the whole trip went; dive, eat, sleep, dive, eat, sleep…

 

The food was great. Being a vegan my menu is generally always limited, but aside from the breakfast pancakes (I really, really love pancakes) I didn’t feel I was missing out at all. Wicked Diving is a Sea Shepherd affiliated organization, developing and offering environmental training programs that support Sea Shepherd’s mission to ‘DEFEND * CONSERVE * PROTECT’ our oceans. It also meant they don’t serve seafood on any of their trips 🙂 Lunch and dinner always included at least one tasty tofu or tempeh dish, and there was of course an array of sauces as well, sambal being my new favourite chilli sauce.

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Just woke up. Tired & happy.

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I go on dive trips because I love to dive (duh), but in general the dive community is a friendly, open, sociable bunch and that’s also a huge part of it. The free hours were spent talking, laughing, eating snacks and drinking coffee… or the pretty disgusting electrolyte drinks! And the occasional swim in the sea of course.  IMG_7109

 

 

 

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Morning dives were at 7:30am, with wake up 30 minutes before, time for coffee and some toast (or more realistically, bread.) Each morning I woke up around 6am, and headed to the top deck for some yoga whilst the sun was rising. Utter bliss. None of my photos do the scenery justice; it was just too blue, too green, too raw, too shimmery, too vast! Sat afterwards, with a coffee and journaling away, I felt truly in heaven… knowing that in an hour I’d be under the water only adding to it all.

 

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Just over the half the boat guests had come over together from France. As nice as I’m sure they were most of them didn’t speak to me and they generally kept to themselves. Thankfully, all of the English speaking contingent (in which only Adam was actually English-English) were of exceptionally high caliber, and with Tony (professional photographer) to boot, good chat and stupidity were in abundance.

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Anne’s birthday  was on the second night, and coincidentally a friend of hers was a tour leader on a boat nearby; they hadn’t seen each other for 18 months! So after songs and cake I headed out with her on the little speedboat to go and pick her up for a few birthday drinks.

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The other boat was much grander, having come down from Bali, but all the extras for me, would have been totally unnecessary. I didn’t need an air-conditioned chill out cabin with TV; friends, a beanbag and amazing scenery suited me just fine.

My final choice of operators was between Wicked Diving and another, who had, for not too much more, a more luxurious boat, with a Jacuzzi on board too. But, the company ethics and community programs aside (massive pull) I just like the idea of a simpler boat with a main chill out area to just hang out, talk, read, sunbathe.

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As much as I love the sunrises, the sunsets were even more spectacular.

Komodo Dragons

I’d seen one before in London Zoo years ago. I like to think of that moment, and how the idea of actually seeing them in Komodo, and doing what I’m doing now; diving, working in Human Rights, living in Hong Kong, wouldn’t have seemed like a distant, unreachable dream. And here I was, in the land they came from. As a side note a few weeks after the two Dragons were brought to the zoo one climbed into the adjacent enclosure and died of injuries from the fall. Until just now (like, right now, fact checking) I thought that one had killed the other! IMG_7246

We took the little dive boat to Rinca Island and were immediately greeted by Monkeys. Nice. We spent the next hour walking around the island, though we saw most of the Dragons in the first 10 minutes, generally sleeping with full bellies, close to the village,  and under the houses.

 

 

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According to local legend the Dragons first came to the island as the non-human half of a set of twins born by the Dragon Princess, Putri Naga. The Dragon, Orah, was raised in the forest. Years later her human son, Si Gerong met the ‘beast’ in the forest when his Dragon brother tried to steal his kill, and spear him in retaliation. Mum shows up and explains they are in fact equals, brothers. And from then on the Dragons and humans lived alongside each other in harmony….

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As a lover of reptiles it was cool to see the largest of them all. The Dragons were amazing, huge, stocky creatures with skin that looked impenetrable. I was expecting to see more of them, and to see them in the hills (which we never actually walked up) in the less inhabited areas. Apparently sometimes you don’t see them at all (not sure if this is true) so perhaps we were lucky to have seen so many? Though we were told how powerful and dangerous they were we were allowed very close to them and all that was between us and them generally was our guide with a large forked wooden stick. Their real danger is their poison. It was quite surreal being told about ‘baby dragons’ (who apparently like to hide in trees) and to take the guide seriously, trying to remember he wasn’t actually talking about a mythical creature!

 

And sadly, that was it. The end of the liveaboard 😦

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Look how sad* Tony was (*exhausted/getting ill)

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After checking back in to Dragon Dive and chilling with my new kitty friend on the wicca swing by the pool for a while I went to the post trip dinner at Bajo Taco, and met a couple of newly qualified DM’s who were doing a very appealing day trip the next day to Padar island, where THE Komodo brochure pictures are taken from. So after inviting myself I dashed out to the travel agent a few doors down to book in. They went home due to the 5am start, but I headed up to Paradise Bar, courtesy of their free pick up party bus.

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Actually a really cute open bar, with a pretty decent view of LB. Live music was mixed; the reggae I loved, the annihilation of certain tunes by drunk people not so much..

 

Padar, Komodo Island & Pink Beach

 

After a 5am start, snooze on the boat & a breakfast of coffee & bananas we arrived at Padar Island. No words needed. Here’s some pictures.

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My retouch skills are seriously on-point…  hahaha

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We then headed over to Komodo Island to search for some dragons. (Note: We had to pay any extra 340,000 IDR on the island for the fee and tour, which we weren’t told about.) Knowing now that they weren’t as abundant as I initially thought I spent a little more time just admiring and appreciating them. At the end of the tour we spotted a teenage (in my head) dragon walking along the beach, probably the highlight for me.

 

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I never made it to pink beach.  After melting onto the front of the boat I could only muster up the energy to chuck myself off the side for a snorkel. I did however see about 50 confiscated bottles of pink sand at LB airport, alongside hundreds of seashells and pieces of coral.

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Within seconds of being under the water I unexpectedly spotted a white tip reef shark. I was so unbelievably happy! But within a few minutes I started feeling the most intense headache. I call myself a sun junky, and love sitting in mid 30*C temperatures, but sometimes forget that I am not a reptile and despite drinking tonnes of water, lathering on suncream (reef safe) and wearing a hat.. going from boiling sun to cool water is going to have repercussions… There was a lot of life under the pier, and after following a huge family of squid around for a few minutes I had to concede to the pain and get out. When the others came back to the boat they commented how cold the water was, which I hadn’t noticed.. I guess it was too much for my body to deal with!

Snoozed on the front of the boat (in the shade) again, ready for a quick snorkel at Manta Point. Sadly no Manta’s, but a pretty strong current so I just drifted alongside the boat, moving with it, enjoying my last moments in the sea.

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That night I was utterly wiped out – had a massage, and a dinner of oreos. I felt really dizzy and nauseous throughout the night, but thankfully felt better in the morning to enjoy brunch at the veggie/vegan cafe and snoozing by the pool before catching my flight to Jakarta. 6 hours there (nice airport to be stuck at!) and then back to Hong Kong.

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What a magical, magical trip. One I never thought I’d make, due to fear. Hey ho, shows how a leap of faith (or was it really more an ‘ahh fuck it’ moment) can turn out to be.

Wonderful people, both guests and staff (everywhere) and incredible, diverse diving. And a lot of oreos. What more do you need? ❤ Terima kasih

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