Lenny Kravitz and I share the same sentiment. It was time to move on. So I traded in dragging around Kuta for cruising through eastern Indonesian islands on a Phinisi; a 120 foot, southeast Asian, wood trading boat. An 8-day adventure on the Indian Ocean sounded like the perfect way to explore what lies in the further reaches outside Bali and what lies below its renowned turquoise waters.
Now before you go all Captain Phillips on me, I asked about pirates. And when the response came back from Amanda, the no nonsense, respectably hard-lived, gravelly-voiced, story-from-every-corner-of-the-world operator, that worrying about pirates on this route is like worrying about getting hit by a bus, I believed her. I cautiously flew (yes, flew on Garuda airlines- the best airline in Indonesia determined by my crack safety research) to the island of Flores to board the recently gutted and renovated vessel which could have easily been a stunt double for any boat in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. So with my own bedroom (plus ensuite bathroom and A/C, I might add), 11 other foreign mates, and 10 crew, our dark, imposing Al Iikai (Queen of the Seas) took off in search of other ominous creatures. The first one came to light on the island of Rinca.
Rinca includes a portion of Komodo National Park that is home to about 2000 Komodo dragons, the largest living species of lizard. And they were hefty, unfriendly, and intimidating. These were no dragons like Puff or Pete's from yesteryear. They were beasts and they were pissed. Call them Moses since any time one lumbered in our general direction, tongue-a-darting from its mouth, the group would back up and part like the Red Sea. As the old wives' tale goes, a missing Swiss photographer once got too close to the dragons that all they found of him was his hat and glasses. I'm guessing the animal skulls shown prominently at the park's base are meant to do double duty: educate and scare the crap out of you.
Unlike the dragons and their dusty, arid landscape, the next monsters appeared on the ocean floor. Manta rays. And they. Were. Massive. Like minimum 15-foot wingspan massive. And since there's never a guarantee of what you will see below the surface, this display was a show stopper. One. Then two. Then five at a time. Huge black shadows that sent a quick scare up the spine. We ogled over these graceful giants as they glided into view from below then disappeared into the cloudy deep. Snorkeling along the surface, we had the best seats in the house. (Still waiting on shared underwater pics so click here for a good example of what we saw.)
And so the journey went. With monstrous sightings throughout. Not any less ominous was the dark, still night that enveloped us at the end of each day. Stretched out on a day bed on the bow. Bobbing along the rocky sea. Listening to the relentless, lapping waves against the boat. Hearing the hollow groans and whistles of the wind gusts through the mast's ladder rungs and ropes. Staring up at the black canvas sky filled with fluorescent specks that just got flicked from a celestial paintbrush. And skimming the view only to realize there's not another soul out there. There are likely fewer feelings of humility I've experienced than this. A monster of a lesson at the very least.
Al Iikai upon sunset arrival in the Labuanbajo harbor on Flores island
Al Iikai- My home for 8 days
Dawn from my bedroom door (with the cool door handle in the foreground)
Many hours were spent here on the bow of the boat
Hanging out on the bow with an active volcano in the background
Next door neighbor one morning
On any given night...
Komodo National Park- A nervous smile with dragons behind me
German mates getting up close and personal with this lazy guy
There's a dragon down below but I just really liked this sign!
A not so subtle reminder that Komodo dragons will eat anything