Friday, 4 November 2011

Enter the Dragon

Back in Flores…

The bike had been handling quite badly, pulling to the right and trying to tank slap while under engine breaking. After checking out everything from the bearings, the forks and the headstock, I concluded that it must be the worn front tyre. Luckily, I’d managed to pick up a motocross tyre in Kupang, it was only 1cm wider than the recommended size, it would do.
After replacing the tyre the tank slapping stopped but it would take a little while before the tyre wore in and the handling improved as is the way with new tyres, especially ones that are not the correct size.
I’d never had a tyre lose it’s shape before. I must admit I’ve been less than an impressed with the Metzler Tourance, not as good as a road tyre on tarmac and about the same as a road tyre off road.

Once the tyre was replaced we took the short ride East to Moni and a visit to the famous colourful volcanic lakes of Kelimutu.


Rising early the next morning, we hopped on the bike and made the 10 mile ride up the slopes of the volcano to the car park and then sauntered up to the edge of the first crater. Unfortunately the view was obscured, but as the sun rose the clouds started to burn away revealing the brightly coloured lakes below.

Kelimutu has 3 lakes all of different colours, changing during the season from turquoise, blues, greens, reds, and sometimes black depending on the time of year and the up-welling of minerals from the volcanic activity below.

It was a nice sight but with a full day ahead of us we made our way back down the mountain, packed the bike and headed off West along the Trans-Flores Highway.
The tyre was starting to wear in nicely and it was great to get a second chance at riding the road I’d enjoyed so much a couple of weeks previously.

Ende's Traditional Farewell!

Road to Bajawa


Bajawa, the highest town in Flores has a cooler more temperate climate, a refreshing change from the hot sweaty temperatures of the coastline and a good base for exploring the traditional villages in the surrounding hills.

We checked in to a hotel just outside town and grabbed some food and a couple of beers before everything closed for the evening.

The following day we headed off to check out a couple of local villages, some hot springs and the little back-roads that wind their way through the mountains.

Bena Countryside

Bena has been touted as the one of the best preserved Ngada villages in Flores. Since the 80’s the village elders have been working with a national organisation to preserve the traditions and culture while creating sustainable tourism to bring much needed revenue for the village. It was interesting to see the weaving and how villages across large areas of Flores must have once looked, with traditional thatched roofs and stone monoliths, the focus of religious ritual and the resting place of dead relatives.
While families still live in the village, it had a bit of a feel of an ethnic village theme park which is understandable when tourists are thrown into the equation.

The village of Bena

We took a rough road through the mountainous forest to a lovely natural hot-spring at the confluence of a freezing cold mountain river and a steaming hot volcanic stream. It was bliss to lie around in the pools where the rivers met, the first hot bath we’d had in a long time.


We weren’t quite so lucky with the weather the next day, cutting across the mountain tops the heavens opened and it proceeded to pour down for the next 2 or 3 hours. Thankfully after passing Ruteng the rain started to abate and we pulled in for a warming coffee, looking like drowned rats.

Road to Labuhan Bajo

On my way East two weeks earlier, I’d passed an area where the locals seemed to be mining the mountain slopes next to the main road and I’d promised myself I’d stop and take a closer look on my way back to Labuan Bajo.
I pulled over and took a few photos, as the guys waved from the dangerous looking dirt cliffs.
While snapping away, a guy came up and started speaking to us in pretty good English, which is sort of surprising in Flores. It turned out that his wife worked as an English teacher at the local school and as a result his linguistic skills had also benefited.
Apparently the workers were mining boulders from the cliffs to be ground up into powder and then turned into bricks for house building. Teetering on homemade bamboo ladders and gouging away at the face by hand, it’s certainly not a job for the faint of heart with collapses and injury a common occurrence. Life can certainly be tough on the edge of existence.

Cliff Mining

It was dark when we finally made it to Labuan Bajo and took a room at Chez Felix.

The next day we booked a trip to the Komodo Islands and then spent the day having a few beers and eating some wonderful wood fired oven pizzas with real cheese, the best I’d had since leaving Europe!

We’d opted for a little bit of luxury with a 2 day trip to Rinca and Komodo. Bar a small island only used for scientific research, the 2 islands are the last bastions of the endangered Komodo Dragon.
It would be 2 days of good food, snorkelling, wildlife spotting and a night sleeping under the stars out on the deck of the boat, nice.

Boat ride to Rinca

Rinca and Komodo are 2 of the driest places in the Nusa Tenggara island chain, sandwiched between Sumbawa and Flores the landscape is characterised by low rolling treeless hills interspersed with wooded gullies reminiscent of Southern Spain.


We checked into the ranger station. After being assigned a guide we headed off on a loop through the Rincan countryside.

Almost immediately after leaving the camp we spotted our first dragon at the side of the trail….

The Dragons once lived across much of the mainland of Nusa Tenggara but due to the loss of habitat and prey the numbers have dwindled to 2500, leaving them firmly on the World Wildlife endanger species list.
Komodo Dragons have a life span of 50-55 years, being solitary creatures they only come together during the mating season to fight and compete for the attention of a female.

Komodo Dragons are stealth hunters. Feeding on Wild buffalo, pigs, horses and deer, they lay in wait for prey to pass or sneak up on sleeping animals and strike before moving away to prevent injury.

It was widely thought that the dragon killed by infecting it’s victim with huge amounts of bacteria due to rotting meat in it’s mouth; a recent study by Australian scientists suggests otherwise.
It’s now believed a powerful toxin is injected from glands in the mouth prevent the victim’s blood from clotting, resulting in a slow death over several weeks during which time the dragon will diligently track the animal, waiting for it to weaken enough to be captured.
Eating only once a month, they consume half their body weight in meat in one sitting, enough to see them through to the next kill.

Prey and Predator

Once impregnated, the female digs a pit and buries up to 20 eggs of which 15% will survive. She then guards the nest for the first 3-4 months before leaving them to fend for themselves. The gestation period for the baby Dragon is 8-9 months, once hatched they dig their way to freedom.

Nesting Dragon

Due to the fact Komodo Dragons are cannibalistic; the life of a young dragon is a precarious one. To avoid being eaten, even by their own mother, they spend the first year living in trees eating small insects and other lizards, only returning to the ground when reaching a metre in length.

We left Rinca and took a short ride to our mooring spot near a mangrove island full of Flying Foxes. It was a truly idyllic spot, watching the sun go down as the foxes left their roost for the evening.

Sundown with the Flying Foxes

Next stop the bigger island of Komodo.


We set off on a walk across Komodo.


Komodo dragons can move very fast over a short distance.
We’d been told a story from February this year of a guide that had been bitten on the back of his ankle by one of the dragons frequently found hanging around camp on Rinca. Drawn by the smell of cooking food, it’s not unusual to see half a dozen specimens baking themselves in the sun.
While the physical wound was not life threatening, the other staff had immediately poured alcohol on to his leg in attempt to slow infection; the ranger was then flown to Bali and underwent a 6 hour operation to save his life.

I could certainly understand the respect and the constant calls from the rangers to ‘keep your distance‘.

Rounding a corner and coming across a fair sized specimen, the ranger we’d been assigned turned to me and told me ’get your camera ready’. He then proceeded to jab the Komodo in the tail and rear legs until it got up and scampered away.
I looked across at Helen, she had the same look of surprise and shock on her face that I must have been displaying. Definitely a different style and I’m sure one that doesn’t appear in the park ranger’s handbook…

The 2 day trip was over and we’d arranged to spend 4 days on the small island of Serayu to have some relaxed time before Helen headed back to Medan and I headed back West.

Manta Rays on the way to Serayu


Serayu is a small island with a dozen basic beach huts and a fishing village on the far side of the island 30 minutes’ walk away.

With no naturally occurring freshwater, all water is shipped in from the mainland and is only available for 1 hour each day, enough time to fill a couple of buckets for washing.
Surprisingly this brought some added bonuses. The mosquito, the blight of countries all over the world and hated by anyone who’s traveled in tropical climes, requires a fresh water source to lay their eggs. Result!

An English couple I’d bumped into several times since Lambata came strolling down the beach as Helen and me wallowed in the warm tropical seas. Flores is just one of those places where you keep bumping into the same people again and again.

Arriving a Serayu

After 4 days relaxing it was time to head back to the mainland so Helen could catch her flight back to Sumatra and I could get the ferry heading back West to Sumbawa.

After saying our farewells I started the blast back up to Lombok to get my soon to expire visa extended....