Dragons Really Do Exist! Visiting Indonesia’s Komodo Islands

Oh, the Komodo Islands. Remote and hard to reach, only accessible by the terrifying death airline, Lion Air (this is the airline that had that terrible crash a few years back).

These islands lie off Indonesia’s western portion of the archipelago and are known for – as you may guess from the name if you are not an idiot – Komodo dragons. These ancient creatures roam the islands, and you better be careful. They’ll kill you if you aren’t. They can run fast up to 20 mph and can smell blood 12 miles away (this is a real figure). If you’re a girl and you’re on your period you maybe shouldn’t even go there. Legitimately.

Unfortunately the islands are becoming too touristy these days causing detriment to the locals. Which I did not find out until after we got back and was a bit surprised to hear; unlike the crazy Gilis the island was not very crowded.

To The Hostel, On Foot

We decided to walk to our hostel from the airport because it was only 20 minutes away. Can’t say I’ve ever left an airport on foot before. Some other backpackers asked us to share a cab but we rejected them to save money. I mean, how bad can 20 minutes be? Naturally worse than expected. It included some steep sloping areas and not quite clear paths, but we made it to our filthy “dive hostel.” The town of Labuan Bajo was not as expected, with shady undertones and a gross riverfront with 3 large mini markets (luckily prices are so cheap!). There was a night market with food stalls and fires fueled by hair dryers (really – photo below) that local fish are grilled on. Also a man tried to sell us bananas for 12x the retail price (we refused). There is a main street with some tourist fare and local restaurants, and this is where we booked our tickets for the Komodo Island tour.

Death In The Waters (Not A Joke; People Died)

We went into a few offices to price shop, and the guys kept saying things like “oh we aren’t going there now.” Something seemed shady and off in their delivery, and I began to suspect there was something nefarious going on behind the comments. Had there been an incident? I proceeded to ask why, if something happened, and they admitted yes, an accident. Stellar. Later, a Google translation of the keywords “death” “boat” and “accident” into Bahasa Indonesia, followed by an Indonesian Google search, then a copy/paste and back translation – all over uber-slow wifi, of course – and we had confirmed a boat capsized the week before killing 2 people with several others requiring rescue.

We booked anyway, but I awoke in the night plagued with fear, listening to the rain beating down thinking of nothing but a capsized boat. By 5 am I was deranged and 100% not going on the tour; I didn’t feel safe with the weather and it wasn’t even going to the desired itinerary!

And so, I stayed back while Sarah went alone to see the dragons we’d risked the flight on Lion Air for. It’s OK though; she made quick (unreciprocated) friends with an overzealous girl we met in the road. I went back into town to the small morning market on the waterfront for my local pastries, then continued on a trek over 1 hour up a winding steep road not made for walking. My destination? The “best lookout on the island.” Amelia’s Seat.

It was OK, but nothing that amazing. At the time I arrived at the lookout two open-air vans of school students did as well. And boy, were they were overjoyed to see me. A white person! Standing atop the peaks! All alone! I knew what was coming next and, sure enough, I was taking selfies en mass within seconds. They seemed happy though, and I don’t really mind.

While up on this cliff I spotted a nice-looking resort below and decided to give it a shot. I went down on foot, bypassed the gate without saying a word to the guy, and walked right in like I belonged. Works every time (well, some of the times). I had access to the fancy pants pool and beautiful private beach, which, for the record, was not that nice and nothing like the photos. I meandered down the beach past other such private resorts, checking out the length of sand.

Dragon-Related Qualms

I had qualms for missing the dragons, and after seeing my sister return safely decided to book for the following day. I did, being sold the modified itinerary as well. At morning I arrived and was thrilled when they told me I was in fact going to Komodo Island AND the Pink Beach – the two things I wanted to see but weren’t on the altered “people just died” itinerary! And so, I set off on a boat bumping along, not getting too seasick quite yet but feeling not great either…

Komodo Island

The highlight of the tour is an island where Komodo Dragons live, one of the only such places in the entire world. I got lucky on the day I went. My group saw three dragons up close, including the baby one running by (it can still kill you, to be clear). Their long tongues were out, scary and slurping. We also saw the drugged one, docile and ready for photos in which suddenly the guides weren’t scared to approach it for! We trekked through the woods, the guides holding large sticks which they would prod at the dragons if they got too close. Of course, only 12 people have been killed by these beasts in recent years. Most of whom disregarded the warnings and wandered off alone or approached the animals.  At the end of our walk we saw a bloodied deer laying comatose on the beach, probably waiting to die. The dragons inject an anti-coagulate into them so they bleed out and cannot survive after any initial attack.

Manta Point

Manta Point is one of the most breathtaking thing I’ve ever seen. We stopped the boat in the middle of the choppy waters for this one, bumping around with the current. Then we took off our towels, grabbed our fins, and dropped into the cool waters. It was rough. Very rough. As I was acclimating someone said to look down, and it was then I saw the most amazing thing I’d ever seen – the giant manta ray! It was imposing and looming, totally unreal. Literally massive, 60 meter wingspan. I wasn’t even expecting to see anything and whatever I write hereafter will not do it justice. When we were trying to get back into the boat another tour-goer asked me for help as he thought he might drown. 

Pink Beach

The pink beach is not as pink as it looks online. Not even close. Surprise, surprise (not). This is 100% an internet versus reality thing, and people upping their saturation on Instagram to about 87% thing. The beach was still pretty, I mean it was vaguely pink because of the red coral that intermingles with the sand, and the snorkeling was incredible!  But if your’e imagining some ridiculous aerial drone photo of you looking fit in a bikini on a Barbie-pink sand, yea that’s not real. (It’s almost as unreal as those photos of Pura Lempung, don’t even get me started)…

Meanwhile, At The Hostel… 

Meanwhile in the hostel, there was a massive bloodstain apparently from a diving injury that remained on the floor, not cleaned up, for over 24 hours. A girl in our room also stuck a giant band-aid from a moto taxi accident onto the floor of the room, which was also covered in blood and again that was not cleaned up. There was also a real-life sugar daddy type man with two teenage girls. He was 70 and they were 22 and he was buying drinks for them all in quantity and they were staying in a shared room. I am not sure what else to say. If you go to Labuan Bajo…beware (of many things).

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