After leaving Wakatobi we sailed southwest to Flores, the island mostly known for its unique dragons and the Flores Man (Homo floresiensis) , a little known cousin to homo sapiens.
We sailed past Taka Bone Rate “coral islands over sand” . It is the third biggest atoll in the world after Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall’s and Suvadiva in the Maldives. With an area of 530,765 hectares, the waters are littered with reefs which makes sailing at night impossible, so we had to sail a few more miles to get there. On the way we stopped in the small atoll island of Karang SaneSane, further south. It was early in the morning and we did some nice snorkelling, although we could see that some of the reef had been damaged by dynamite fishing. In fact throughout our snorkel we heard a few explosions that came from an island 8 miles away where we had spotted some fisherman working.
Underway again southbound we sailed through a big pond of pilot whales that were heading West.
We decided to jump in the water to have a closer look at this big family, since it had many calfs with them. It is always a big joy on board when we get to see mammals in the water and this time even Nils got to jump in the water! (he insisted, telling us that he had missed all the other opportunities and he was not going to miss that one).
It took us 3 days to sail the 325 miles but we finally arrived in Labuan Bajo.
Here we met with Nautilus and Caminante who have been sailing pretty much the same route we have throughout this last year. Nautilus we had seen in Raja Ampat for New Years Eve but Caminante we had not seen since we dove Ngau Pass in Fiji.
It is always a very happy and comforting moment to catch up with old friends (old is a saying, we are all the same age +- and they all have children as well) so it didn’t take much to have a party going on board.
That same day we had our grandmother Mamichou join us for the next 10 days in the Komodo Natl. Park.
After some provisioning we headed to the island of Rinca. There is a Ranger Station here were you pay your park fees and get to walk with the Rangers around some trails.
It was a fantastic walk and we got close to some water buffaloes that were chilling out in a river and saw some dragons from close up. The Rangers carry a big wooden stick to control the dragons in case they would want to attack us, since they can be deadly.
Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) can grow up to 3 mts long and weigh as much as 70 kg. Although they look like giant lizards and behave the same way, mostly just sitting motionless in the sun, they can run up to 30 km/h to catch their prey.
Once they have a buffalo or deer (endemic to the SE Indonesian islands) between their jaws, they inject them with an anti-coagulant containing venom into the wounds, speeding up blood loss. The victim simply slowly bleeds away.
Komodo dragons are the world’s largest lizards and believed to be the last survivors of the giant lizards that lived in Australia millions of years ago. In their current version ( 900.000 years since they got to these islands) they have survived ice ages, sea level rise and many earthquakes and tsunamis that plague this archipelago of islands. But as usual it is the human who seemed to be able to vanish such intriguing animal of this planet. Fortunately Indonesia established the Komodo National Park in 1980 and it is a World Heritage Site since 1986.
There are about 3.000 Komodo dragons as of today.
The Ranger Station in Rinca had been interesting but kind of touristy so we decided to head to the southern end of Rinca. Few boats get there because it is too far away for most tourist trips. It was the kind of place we would love!
And surely, Telug Lehokuwadadasami did stand up to our expectations.
To get there we had to sail through a narrow channel where at one stage we encountered currents of up to 5.5 knots against us. The currents in these waters are fierce and many a boat has landed with its hull under water because of them.
The bay has a horseshoe shape and is protected from the southern ocean swell through the island of Nusakode.
Here we spent a few days watching the wildlife. Deer and tapir’s share the beaches and woods with the Komodo dragons and many species of birds.
On our way up to Labuan Bajo, we stopped in some more islands, where we got the chance to dive and hike a bit.