On the search for Komodos, Indonesia
Arriving at the Kencana Booking office we were greeted with utter chaos, it seemed we weren't the only ones rushed into this trip and a few people booking via agents which had promised the earth to get their custom, we had booked direct as we had 6 months earlier read a travel story in a magazine about the Kencana Tour which inspired us to book with the same company. Eventually it all got sorted and we boarded the bus for the 2 hour trip across Lombok (Pass the erupting volcano, Maddalena most worried) to get to our boat.
As the boat came into view we were surprised by just how nice it looked, even though we booked cabins (as opposed to sleeping on deck) the price was cheap and we weren't expecting such a nice boat. It was an all-inclusive deal and the first lunch was spicy, it looked like the children were only going to eat boiled rice for the next 6 days. As we boarded the boat Mr Waddie introduced himself as our guide, his English wasn't great but he could make himself understood and always had a smile on his face.
The first day we stopped at Kenawa Island and was our first opportunity to go snorkelling off the beach, the kiwi in Edwina came out as she stated we wouldn't need our shoes as we entered our launch boat to take us to the beach, needless to say it was a painful experience steeping out of the launch boat onto sharp coral beach, we defiantly wore our waterproof shoes on every excursion after this.
We had hoped to have some confidence building with the kids in the Gilis before this trip, but since that got cut short we just had to try on this trip. The kids did very well considering, we were also very lucky, there was a reef around 20 meters from the beach and the water never got to more than 10 feet deep, Arabella seemed most up for it and spent the most time in the water, we saw the most amazing blue starfish, which was great as the others then also wanted to see the starfish, slowly but surely we made progress and the kids ventured further into the reef and got used to the idea of swimming with the fishes. After we had dinner, again the diner was spicy (fish) and the kids ate boiled rice and pineapple. The boat continued to sail overnight as we sleep in our hot cabins and it was a refreshing to wake up for day 2 and go outside and feel the wind.
After breakfast (banana toast) we visited Santonda National park, we were advised to walk to the inland salt lake first around 50 meters away, it didn't seem that exciting but we went. It looked like the lake had formed in an extinct volcano which was a cool setting, the lake looked murky but I decided to jump in anyhow and was surprised with just how salty in was, it reminded me of the dead sea (where me and Edwina first travelled 20 years ago) as I could easily lay on my back and float without any swimming, the extra buoyancy made it impossible to drown and allowed people to venture far out into the lake. Arabella embraced the situation but Luca and Maddalena were more cautious and only spent minimal time in the lake. The highlight of the park was about to come as we went back to the beach to go snorkelling. The reef was only a few meters from the beach and the sea was never more than after 5 ft deep, placing your mask into the water you were greeted by 100s of fish of all different colours and sizes, "Nemo" Arabella was first to shout. The low depth and specular aquarium view allowed all the kids to venture deep into the reef and gain confidence snorkelling.
Mr Wadie gave us the usual warning by shouting "10 mins", "10min" so we packed up and as we headed back to the boat a number of fellow crew members were jumping off the front of the boat, the kids were mesmerised by it, joking I ask Luca if he wants to jump, to my shock he nods. Initially I think he needs a life jacket and I should jump in with him, but a young Belgium guy who is a confident swimmer offers to jump in first and look after him, Luca and I climb to the front of the ship and once you're up there it seems higher than first thought, I did think Luca would turn round but he just throws himself off the boat, he grabs onto the Belgium chap and swims with him back to the steps, damn I think I have got to do it now, I hate to admit it but it was scary but I manged to throw myself off and climb back on the ship
Back on the boat we had a 6 hour sail to our stop for dinner, last night whilst playing cards, the kids made wishes to the other boat members to see dolphins, so we were all delighted that a pod of dolphins joined us briefly on our way to the dinner stop.
Tonight's sail was cooler in mine and Lucas room, but Edwina's and the girl's room was above the engine and another hot night ensued for them. Anchor down and wondering where Luca was the search was on……he was found at the back of the boat sitting in the dingy boat used to transport us to the islands. He was sitting talking to one of the men who works on the boats and was being taught how to fish, Luca was all smiles and felt very proud of himself when he quickly pulled up the line to discover a small fish. Other crew members made a big deal of Luca catching a fish and Luca stayed with them for a few hours continuing to fish much to his delight.
One thing that was a concern for Edwina and I was how other people would react to seeing three young children travelling with their olds and being trapped on a boat with us all for 6 days. We were pleased to say that people were fantastic, taking an interest in what we were doing but most impressive was how several of the fellow travellers interacted with the kids and fantastic to see how the kids reacted to an extra 25 strangers with ease. The kids had their favourites, a lovely British girl who introduced herself to us when we arrived at the booking office, a Finnish girl who worked with children, Arabella really took a shine to her it was great to see Arabella become more expressive and independent chatting at ease, giggling and just being silly, then there was the Belgium chap who was a great playmate with the kids especially on the beach and he was the one that helped Luca after his epic jump off the boat. There was HR (aptly named as he had people issues) from America with dreadlocks and covered in tattoos, piercings and travellers jewellery the kids were intrigued by his tattoos and had lots of questions of how they were done, Luca would explain in detail the process to Edwina later on the following day with great detail. And their was a lovely Indonesian couple from Jakarta who took great interest in all the kids and entertaining them on the beach with water fights. Everyone on the boat was considerate to the kids helping them in and out of the small boat when transferring from the ship to the beaches, letting them go first at dinner time, allowing them to go to the loo instead of having to wait. Just a bunch of decent people.
Day 3 we woke up approaching Komodo Island on the boat, we often get asked if it's hard travelling with kids and the answers yes, but very rewarding, and it will create memories for us and the kids for a lifetime. This morning was one of those challenging mornings, maybe the kids just didn't get enough sleep, but it started with complaints and tears, Luca started first, tears about walking, getting up and generally just being asked what to do. Arabella was next complaining about the walk. We were told that we would be walking with the rangers for around 2 hrs to search for Komodo dragons and that sightings were not guaranteed.
The boat docked up at the jetty and within walking 100 meters on the way to picking up our rangers we had had spotted our first Komodo dragon, they walk so gracefully but if they feel threatened can reach speeds up to 25 mph and they have been known to bite tourists getting too close for a photo. We meet up with the ranger and immediately spot another 2 Komodos, we keep our distance but try and encourage the kids to stand with their backs to the dragons which they reluctantly eventually do.
We were then treated to a very special moment even something our ranger had not seen before, 2 komodo dragons mating, the ranger already describes that they are making babies and spared me the birds and bees discussion again after the Elephant incident in Nepal.
We were doing the hard walk but had the most chance of seeing komodos, Arabella and Luca were still playing up at this point. I pick up a stick from the ground with a 'Y' shape, these are the same sticks the rangers have to protect us from any Komodo attack. Luca seems chuffed at the thought of being able to repel a komodo, as we progress though Arabella keeps complaining and the noise is not conductive to seeing wildlife, the ranger points out a branch for the medium track and I think maybe we should cut it short. Now that Luca was in the swing of things, this now upset him and the tears started again until we could calm him down with they weren't going on much further. I actually enjoyed being as a family on our own with 1 guide, it does make sightings much more special than in a group of 30. We did see more komodos, I lost count but Maddalena is adamant we saw 15.
Back at the port we haggle for some wooden komodos and get back on the boat, even though we explicitly told Luca not to throw his shoes down the stairs on the boat which made him determine more to do so, as expected one of his shoes fell into the sea, Luca collapses on the floor pounding his fists against the deck, Maddalena starts shouting "Shoe overboard, shoe overboard", pandemonium ensues as the crew think someone has gone overboard board, eventually it all calms down as Lucas fishing friend realises what has happened and climbs down the outside of the boat to grab the shoe and return it. We then head to pink beach for snorkelling and swimming. It seems every reef possess its own challenges and each time it seems like starting again building the confidence for the kids, it doesn't help that last night we saw a sea snake by the boat and Luca repeatedly asks are there any snakes in there. Arabella and Maddalena eventually make it out to the reef, but Luca remains firmly in swallow depths.
At night we docked into the port of Labuan Bajo (Flores), it was a small town with only one road but we got kicked off the boat at 16:30 and with a motor launch needed to get back on board it was good we negotiated at early pick up at 20:00. We wandered up and down the street browsing at souvenirs, Arabella bought a dolphin, Edwina a komodo T-shirt and I bought a couple of pearl necklaces that we could use further down on our travels. I spotted a barbers so I and Luca went for a haircut, I added in a wet shave and quick back massage, hopefully that will last till after Christmas. When we got back on the boat a new couple from Australia had joined they had been travelling for 2 years I was inquisitive to understand how financially they funded their travels but with English teaching skills and with online work it seemed to make it possible, hats off to them! A further 4 were joining the boat that night but over 20 were leaving the following day leaving only 12 of us for the journey back to Lombok.
Day 4 and we were off early to Rinca, one of 4 islands where the komodos live, nobody knows why the komodos are only found on these 4 islands only which for me adds to the beauty of seeing them in the wild. Another 2 hour trek was planned this morning and I and Edwina wanted to avoid the shenanigans of yesterday. First we offered that one of us would remain on the boat and they could choose to stay or go, I think it was important so it seemed to be their decision, lucky they all choose to go. Before we left Nonna had generously given the kids a pot of money to spend on their travels, the kids have already bought lots of gifts and Edwina is tracking the money, I also thought I would try a bride, I added if there was no complaining I would add £5 into Nonnas pot, not sure what did it but the kids were fantastic today, we were very lucky on our walk, we spotted deer, monkey, buffalo, 1 adult komodo and 2 baby komondos and when we got back saw another 8 komodos by the kitchen area, you could real tell the difference between the wild komodos we saw and the ones that always are present at the kitchen area scavenging for scraps these Komodos looked less active and healthy.
Next stop was Gili Laba and an opportunity to play on the beach and snorkel, the snorkelling was better than yesterday but still not as good as Satonda in terms of fish, but I could stand near the reef and all 3 kids swam out to the reef, both Arabella and Maddalena swan over the reef solo and I was proud of the new found confidence. It was at this point that the other shipmates left, back on board the dynamics had changed, it now seemed like a big ship for just 12people and we were well spread-out, to add to the tranquillity was a really calm sea, the sails were up and we sailed calmly into the sunset passed an active double volcano still smoking from the eruption 2 years ago. Since there was less of us it seemed that they would cater more for the westerners and brought noodles out for dinner, Mr Waddie was adamant the food wasn't spicy repeatedly saying "Not spicy, not spicy" and it may not have been for the Indonesians but it certainly was for our children.
We took the opportunity to compare our battle scars over the last few days, the salt water and trekking had left us both with nappy rash, I ask Edwina to apply the talcum powder , "Where" she says, "it's obvious", Edwina erupts into a fit of laughter, at this point I realise mine is far, far worse than hers.
Day 5 First stop was to visit a waterfall on Moyo Island, Arabella and Maddalena go at the front of the group independently from us, the track is very uneven with multiple stream crossings, my parental instincts wants to call them back so I can help, but I resist as I know they wouldn't of done this a few months ago and I should let the confidence flourish. A 5 hour sail was needed to reach our next destination Gili Bola, it was a picture postcard island, tiny small round island that you could walk around in 5 mins with a coral reef off the beach, the island was inhabited by a married couple aged 70, Indonesians who moved to the island 40 years ago and planted some coconut trees to sell to passing boats and raised 12 children. Edwina discussed with the old fella his way of life when she noticed what seemed like cataracts over his eyes and him squinting, Edwina offers her sunglasses, "Much better", Edwina then decides to gift the glasses to the old man. The rest of us take the opportunity to explore the reef with our snorkelling gear and sample some of the old couple's coconuts. A few more hours sailing and we stop for the night, I was quite relived we were not sailing tonight, one of the panels were missing in the boat and every night as the boat sailed if a kid got anywhere near that part boat fear and dread would take over and found it hard to relax in the evening, I knew if we had someone go overboard in the night with no lifejacket by the time the boat stopped there would be little chance of finding anyone in the pitch black horizon.
Day 6 The boat started up a 6am for our final stop of the tour back to Kenawa island the first place we stopped, it was amazing to see the difference in the kids between snorkelling 6 days ago and now, Maddalena was the most impressive swimming ever into deeper water and most relaxed at snorkelling, Mr Wadie shouted for the last time "10 mins, 10 mins". Back on board we packed up and reflected on the trip, we were sad to be leaving we thoroughly enjoyed our time on the boat and consider it a highlight of the trip, although both Arabella and Maddalena stated they never want to eat plain rice for a meal again.