Return to Dragons and Heaven

Many times I have checked the “been there done that box” and passed on returning to an event I have experienced. Seeing the rare and exotic Komodo Dragon is something I can do over and over. I also get a hoot out of sharing past wonderful experiences with new people. Experiences like feeding massive Sting Rays in Tahiti, traditional dancing events, village feasts and walking in primitive lands with ancient dragons are things I can do over and over and love to share.

So thusly we headed for Rinca Island and the ranger station I had visited a year ago. Simone had to fly to Bali for her visa extension leaving only Sion on the boat. We pulled into the narrow anchorage and saw one other cruising boat, and they flew the Yank flag! After the anchor is set we popped in the dinghy and met the neighbors on Uliad, a couple with a 13 year old son. They invited us over later for sundowners. We then went ashore to make our reservations for the next day’s trek into the land of the dragon. We met the gang ashore, paid the park fee and sat at the small café for a Coke. Monkeys scurried about the encampment.

I then was summoned to see the Port Captain, a casually dressed lad with official paper work and a stamp. After paying the twenty dollar fee we all had a good laugh, one lad had a Deep Purple tshirt so I bellowed, Dum DumDum, dum dum de dum Smooooooke on the water. They all joined in and we had a rousing jam session. The next day the naturalist greeted me with the same riff.

Back on the boat I took Sion for a short dive just outside the bay on a lovely coral reef. She saw her first Cuddle Fish. It is really rewarding to see a new diver discover all the wonders. Sion is doing very well and will be an excellent diver.
At the appointed hour we headed over to Uliand and joined with another boat, Kiwi’s on Relapse. They are also a “kid boat”. I told Sion about all the wonderful kids I have met cruising and how it seems to produce phenomenal, independent and adaptable children. The kids we met substantiated my claim. We had a great evening catching up on this year’s rally and other cruising stuff, good to be back with cruisers.
Up at dawn we headed to make our 7 am appointment to begin our trek. We were joined by the mother and two sons off of Relapse. We had a guide as did they but we were together most of the time. The “long trek” is two hours and about 5 k and takes you up and over a tall ridge. This gave me a rare and cool shot of Furthur at anchor below.

We hiked for quite a while as our guide chatted away. He is from a nearby village on Rinca Island, his English was excellent. Once again I am amazed how well non educated young people around the world speak English and yet most Americans are morons when it comes to other languages, a scathing indictment of our education system.

After a bit the guide comes to a halt and points into the bush, there lies one of the most amazing sights on the planet, the Komodo Dragon. This relict of the dinosaur age still lives in the same islands it has occupied for millenniums. The origin is uncertain, there are skeletons of like beasts found in Australia but no real idea how they got here. The dragons are fierce hunters, they can run and astounding speed and snap the legs off a deer in one bight. They are also indiscriminant in their prey; they dine on their own young, any animal and the occasional unlucky human. The guide told us three children from his village have fallen prey to the dragons. Basking in the sun motionless as we pose around her for pictures it is hard to imagine it moving at all. The guide keeps a close eye on her and always keeps his defensive stick at ready.
The trek is littered with reminders of how prolific the hunters are; bones of deer and water buffalo abound. A Komodo Dragon will eat 40 kilos of meat a day, a water buffalo will last a group less than a week. The dragons are diabolical hunters, if the initial attack does not kill the prey the saliva is so toxic that the victim will die in a few days. The Dragon just follows the wounded critter around till it drops dead.

The trek is always a gamble as the Komodos are wild and come and go as they please. We were lucky enough to see three this fine day, last year we saw more. The gamble is removed when we get back to the encampment as there are resident Komodos that hang out awaiting handouts; this gives a great photo op.
After the trek we pulled anchor and headed out to get internet reception and news of Simone. She hit a holiday in Bali so had to stay longer so we headed up to Gilli Lawa Laut for some more diving. This is simply one of my favorite places on the planet. The barren rugged hillside falls onto a ring of coral and drops to anchorage depth. As we moor on the north side it is protected from the prevailing southerly winds. We stayed here twice last year and it is the place I vowed to return to.

We dropped the hook in 20 meters of water and again watched it hit the bottom, I love it when that happens. We were very fortunate that there was only one other boat in the anchorage. We donned the dive gear and headed to the reef for a dive. The clear water and exceptional coral array combined with the huge amount of fish made for an excellent dive. We hovered at the restricted depth of the student diver. Where the white sand meets the reef I spotted a small basking shark and pointed it out to Sion. Her eyes bulged in her mask and she recoiled at first but bravely joined me to hover over the shark, her first shark encounter.

On the way back we met the neighbors, three lads from Darwin, and made arrangements to join forces for a dive in the morning. That night we were blessed with a brilliant moon, calm seas and clear skies, a cruisers dream. Yes this is a place to put on the top list, a place of beauty that creates lasting memories, a place to cherish.

The next morning we did some explorations on the dinghy and stopped by one of the dive boats to see if could join them on a pinnacle dive. This dive requires a “live boat” and is more advanced than Sion’s level for now. A bit of talking and it was agreed I could join them. They picked me up and off to the pinnacle we went. Divine Diving operates this smaller dive boat and the ten passengers came from France, Italy and the USA. We dropped in the water and began to traverse the current and find out 25 meter depth. Once on the wall we perched on the leadge as the show began. A constant stream of sharks passed by including one rugged looking Grey Reef Shark who had seen some battle and had the scares to show it. This was the first Grey I had seen since the South Pacific. It was joined by a dozen or more White Tipped Reef Sharks. The sharks passed within feet of me as I hovered facing the current. This was simple a magnificent dive, the best shark experience in my year of diving in SE Asia, I was jazzed!

While I was in shark heaven Sion had kayaked to shore and did a trek, we met back on Furthur for lunch and a nap in the sun. Hard to beat this way to spend a day but the next dive was coming soon.

We had done the fast drift dive in the narrow pass between the two islands several times last year, it is a hoot and a half. Simone and I had talked about it endlessly so Sion was ready. I had real confidence in her diving already, so off we went with the Darwin boys who would snorkel the pass.

The current was running the opposite way we had rode before so we entered from the other end. The current swept us along as we spotted a White Tip Reef Shark who seemed to keep an eye on us the entire dive. We plummeted into the “fish bowl”, a round sandy area surrounded by a coral wall and yup stuffed with fish. We circled the bowl and traversed the strong current at the downstream end to make another pass of the bowl. The second time around we let the current take us up over the wall and blast us down the chute.

As we tumbled along we gained our balance and took on the Superman pose flying along above the sandy bottom. As we zipped along I saw a large Manta Ray make a fast turn around us, we saw the magnificent creatures under side as it banked the turn, it was only a couple of meters away.

As our speed decreased I took us to the south bank of the channel and we hit a back eddy that took us 180 degrees around. By this time air was running a bit low so we headed up the bank to safety stop depths. I deployed my “safety sausage” marker and we hovered. As we drifted along I spotted a large turtle working along the coral. This made for a record die, shark, Manta and turtle all in one dive. Who could ask for more?