One of the best things about exploring Komodo National Park in Indonesia by boat was being able to just plop off the side at a moment's notice and snorkel in the pristine water. We could jump off the deck and swim for the nearest beach or splash around hunting for a glimpse of marine life, and it was fantastic. And then it was wonderful to unwind on board at the end of the day, tired and happy and soaking up the last few rays of the day's sun. These are a few excerpts from my travel journal over the few days we spent on board. And once again, failed GoPro means no underwater pictures! If you want to read more of our Indonesian Adventures, you can find the posts linked here.
The boat pootled on and we prepared to snorkel at our next stop: long beach. It was indeed quite a long beach, but more than that, it was empty. As we drew near, it was genuinely astounding to see such perfect turquoise water give way to crystal clear shallows. And the sand was pale and silky, almost glowing and tinted pink with coral dust at the shoreline. I think it was probably the most picture perfect beach I have ever seen. Better than the ones on holiday brochures, and better than most in reality as it was deserted.
It was part of Rinca island, and the little boat dropped us off on the beach so we could swim about. There was quite a strong current but we drifted about watching fish in and around the coral. A weathered log protruded from the sand up on the shore, looking for all the world like a Komodo dragon. It proved not to be though. Which is mostly fortunate but it would have been a bit cool if it was. The dragons apparently don’t like salt water though, so fair play.
We saw lots of colourful fish darting about beneath the waves, but it was Pete that spotted the huge jellyfish wafting by. Jellyfish are seriously weird: you don’t know where they’re going, what they’re looking at, what shape they’re going to be next or even what they’re thinking.
So weird. But kind of ethereal, drifting along.
I also saw what I think were a little band of squid or cuttlefish. They were swimming wrong which was what made me peer at them and then I realised their eyes were way back on the sides and they didn’t seem to have tails. They frilled about a bit as they swam and so I went to hunt out Pete to get his opinion. I think they were minisquids.
Eventually, I figured I’d probably absorbed enough direct sun. We stood on the beach and waved and the little boat came back to ferry us over to the good ship what’s-her-name once more. And it was, of course, time for lunch, on the boat where the food never stops. Lunch was enormous: fried tofu, spicy squid, battered prawns, noodles, rice, a vegetable dish and a salad. Plus melon and watermelon for dessert. Yikes. Once more, two platefuls only just put a dent in the offering.
Full (or even over full as my breakfast hadn’t even finished digesting) we relaxed for an hour or so as we made our way to pink beach, another snorkel site. On the upper deck, there was a pile of mattresses and I collapsed onto them to read. But reading soon turned into pure lounging which finally evolved into dozing, as I hovered in the dream-like place between sleep and wakefulness, aware of the warmth of the sun, the cool breeze, the gentle motion of the boat and sounds of water and the engine as I floated along on the edge of sleep. It was blissful.
I was almost disinclined to get up for snorkelling again. But get up I did.
We were dropped off at a little jetty and walked round to the beach barefoot. The wooden boards and sand were scorching hot underfoot and made a brisk half-trot necessary to avoid contact with the ground.
The water felt beautifully cool after that, but sadly the visibility proved to be pretty poor. There was a surprisingly strong tide washing in and out, stirring up the sand and fragments of coral. Further out we were able to make out some fish and coral, but I think I had been spoiled by some of the other places we had visited! It also made it very hard to see other people; snorkellers would pop out of the blue every so often, and I lost sight of Pete altogether. Pete is hard enough to locate at the best of times while snorkelling as he spends as much time under the water as he does on the surface, so it’s no good scanning the waves looking for him He did tow me along while I held his flippers which was quite entertaining. He also gave me a ride on his back, but that failed when he dived down and couldn’t pull me down with him. All the bubbles came out of his snorkel into my face and it made me snigger and inhale salt water.
He’s lovely though so we forgive him.
With snorkelling done, dinner pitched up once the sun had gone down in a blaze of glorious colour. The evening’s feast contained skewers of BBQ chicken, fish stew, tempeh and courgettes in a tasty, sticky sauce, a salad dish, a veg dish, pasta and rice. Yikes. Oh, and watermelon to finish. I managed 1 proper plateful and 2 smaller ones and called it quits. Pete had been feeling the sun a bit and so he went as easy as he could on his stomach. There was really no escaping the heat.
After dinner was pure lounging time. Travel journal time, if you will, book time and podcast time and cuppa time. I loved this aspect of boat travel: it was very soothing. Slightly less soothing was when the cockroaches appeared. One or maybe two big ones and a handful of little ones and so I moved respectfully from the stern to the chairs at the front of the boat.
The next morning, having slept for hours, it was hardly surprising that I woke shortly after six. And I couldn’t drift off again: the promise of sunshine outside the cabin windows was too inviting, so after reading a bit, I dressed, snuck out of our cabin and went to enjoy my book and a cuppa on deck (I hoped the sleep would do Pete good).
Breakfast appeared at eight and was a moderate affair. By which I mean it was a large meal for breakfast by anyone’s standards but small for the feast the ship’s chef kept laying on. I offered Pete breakfast, but he didn’t feel up to it, so I returned to the upper deck and demolished my tasty fried egg sandwich, along with some banana fritters and several slices of watermelon. And tea. Always tea.
And then I ate half of Pete’s fried egg sandwich as well to show willing, and because I'm great at sharing.
In theory, our last day on board would be spent hopping between 3 snorkel sights and then making course back to Labuan Bajo. However, once we reached the first one, I explained to Alex that Pete wasn’t feeling great - we thought by this point it was overexposure to the sun - and that we’d prefer not to snorkel. I suppose I could have but I think it’s quite intimidating to plop into open ocean by yourself. Let’s just say my mind starts to see sharks where there aren’t any.
So we trundled on through the waves to the second option: manta point. There were quite a few ships moored in this otherwise unremarkable patch of sea all looking for manta rays. However, it seems the mantas were having none of it as we didn’t spot any. And according to Alex, there’s nothing else to see at the site if there are no mantas. No worries then: it meant Pete could stay snoozing in bed and we didn’t miss out by not snorkelling.
So we put out for the third site: Alex was very keen for us to visit this one as turtles have been known to swim there. We bobbed along quite merrily and I enjoyed riding along on the ocean, reading and inhaling cups of tea.
I knew we’d reached the right place when the noise of the engine died. The sea was impossibly, perfectly, alluringly blue and the already scorching sunshine rippled slightly on its surface. I roused Pete who felt able to get up and was willing to try a little bit of snorkelling.
Alex called me while Pete was getting ready: the crew were throwing handfuls of rice overboard and fish were swarming around trying to be the first to pluck the grains from the water. It was amazing what you could see just hanging over the side of the boat and made snorkelling look very promising. And who knew fish love rice? It puts sushi in a whole new perspective.
We applied a thick layer of suncream, added toothpaste to our masks (it keeps them from misting up somehow; science could be involved) and hopped in the water. We immediately saw all the fish from earlier now skulking underneath the boat. What kept them there I have no idea, but there they were, swarming and swerving about. We swam out, away from the boat, eyes scanning the sea. The water was extremely clear, and we could see coral on the ocean floor metres and metres below us, dotted with fish. I spotted my little squiddies again and swam through schools of littler silver, flickering fish.
Pete spotted the first turtle though. It was lying on the sea bed, extremely calm and relaxed, safe in the depths. After observing it for a while, we paddled away to explore more of the site. Pete swam off one way and I another; I put my head out of the water to see where I was and a fellow snorkeller gestured at me: something big. He pointed towards a group of three other swimmers. I asked what it was and got an exciting answer: a turtle.
I swam in the direction he’d indicated, calling to Pete and waving. But I also kept my mask in the water scanning for life.
And then I saw him, floating serenely along, flippers barely twitching as he rode invisible currents. He was so calm and beautiful and I floated along after him at the surface, peering down on the graceful form.
I had finally managed to attract Pete’s attention and wave him over and we swam along behind the turtle. The other snorkellers persisted in diving down after it, crowding around and shoving cameras in its face. Which made me annoyed and frustrated: why not just leave well alone and observe? However, when the turtle smacked one of the cameras with a flipper, the others fell behind, leaving just me and Pete twitching our flippers to meander along after him. Cowabunga, dude.
He bobbed up to the surface a couple of times to take a breath, and I popped my mask out of the water to see his face break the waves. And then he would drift along again, happy in his own little world, scaly front flippers occasionally waving gently to steer or move him along. We followed him for quite some time before letting him drift off into the blue, gradually fading into the enveloping depths. Magical. (But oh how we wished the GoPro had worked!)
We swam about to explore another area of water, looking down over a patch of coral. And then Pete waved me over: not far from our boat was another turtle, hovering over the coral. A number of smaller, black fish were bumping into his carapace, perhaps cleaning it as the turtle touched down briefly.
Moments later, the turtle rose straight up to the surface for a breath, smoothly, dignified, without even seeming to bend a flipper. It was marvellous. The buoyancy control in his shell put every BCD ever designed to shame. We watched him dive again to head back to his cleaning station and then, satisfied with the job the fish had done, he moseyed away. (Didn’t leave a tip though.)
When we put our heads out of the water, we realised we were right by our boat’s steps and so we climbed out, dripping but happy. I don’t think we could have topped that as a snorkelling experience.
Lunch followed soon afterwards: tofu and egg in a spicy satay sauce, a whole fish each, squid in a yummy sauce, prawns, noodles, rice and a vegetable dish. And watermelon. Far more than we could manage but I did my best with 2 platefuls, hoping that snorkelling burns off a million calories an hour. While we were eating, we had begun our voyage back to Labuan Bajo. Time to pack up and leave the little ship we had called home for the last three days.
A couple of hours later, and we were back on dry land. Alex took us along to our hotel, we bade him goodbye and dived into a good shower - hot water and double shampoo to get three days and at least five salt water adventures out of my hair. It felt gooooood!
P.S. You can find other stories from our time in Indonesia linked here: Indonesian Adventures.
P.S. You can find other stories from our time in Indonesia linked here: Indonesian Adventures.