Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Step Back in Time…Dragons and Wooden Boats

Together with our new friends Eric and Birgitta on “Aerial IV”, we pulled up our anchor on Saturday morning, June 10th and made the short trip over to the island of Rinca, where the Komodo National Park Headquarters is located. The anchorage was in a narrow inlet, and we anchored and tied up, med-moor style, to the Mangrove trees behind us. We did this in order to stay out of the channel and out of the way of the local tour boats that ferry tourists over to the Park from Labuan Bajo. It was interesting to see the landscape change from lush greenery, to dry, arid hills. We also had to battle some fierce currents and wind against tide waves and eddies, and at one point, we were only doing about 2.5 knots through the water!

Fishing village on the way to Rinca

The dry, arid landscape is a new look for us!
Once we were tied up and our boats secured, we took the dinghy over to the small dock and nudged in between the many local boats already tied up there. We walked a short distance to the office and paid for our stay at the park and for a trek the following morning. We opted for an early morning trek, knowing that the Komodo Dragons were at their most active between 6:00am and 10:00am, after which time they simply lie in the sun like statues. Also, we wanted to be able to walk around before all the tourists arrived from Labuan Bajo!! For the 4 of us, it cost us Rp 800,000, about $62 US.

The boats crowded around the dock at the base of the park HQ

We thought we'd left the crocs behind in Australia!  This monkey swatted Gaby's hand when she tried to tie our dinghy to the dock!

By sunset, most of the boats had gone, and we were alone in the anchorage. It was time for a quick haircut for Benjamin, Gaby and Dave, and then we headed over to “Aerial IV” for “Popcorn Hour” aka sundowners!! Eric and Birgitta are wonderful, and just incredible to talk to. They have written 3 books: the first was about their circumnavigation with their 3 boys; the second was about a trip to the North Pole, and the third was about their sailing adventures in the Northern Passage. In 2010 when they sailed through the Northern Passage, they became the 42nd sailing boat in the world ever to have done this!! The Northern Passage takes you through Greenland and Alaska, and is considered the world’s last natural wilderness. They had to battle icebergs, saw polar bears and had 24 hours of daylight! What a treat it was for us, and especially the kids, to hear them talk about their adventures. We felt quite honored to have gotten to know them!!

Early the next morning, when the sun was barely peeking above Rinca’s hills, we headed out in the dinghy to go and do our “dragon trek”! We had 2 guides, both armed with forked sticks, who met us on the dock. On the way up to the ranger station, we were all so busy talking to each other, that we almost missed the first dragon!! He was walking to the side of the wooden pathway, his forked tongue flicking in and out, in and out! They use these tongues to smell! Apparently their eyesight is not the best, but their sense of smell is, and they can smell blood up to 3km away!! Yikes!!

The first guy that we almost missed!

He had drool coming out of his mouth!!

Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable, and his English very good. Before we even left the ranger’s station, we saw 2 or 3 dragons, they apparently smell the food being cooked in the kitchen, and come and hang out there.

He posed for a picture with us!

3 dragons hanging out at the ranger's station

One of our guides with his forked stick
This display shows some of the animals the Komodo Dragons have eaten, and this was all that was left of them.  They eat the entire animal, including bones.  The skulls and horns were the only things left as they were too large for the Komodo Dragons to eat!
Off we went on our trek, hoping to see some more dragons. The island has buffalo, wild pigs, monkeys, and deer. Only a few minutes into our walk, we heard a rustle in the trees. It was not a dragon, but a buffalo! And then one buffalo turned into 2 and then 3 and then, best of all, 2 babies! I have seen buffalo before on trips to the game park, but never this close, and never on foot!! We stopped for a while to watch and photograph them, and soon noticed that unfortunately we were between a mother and the father with the two calves!! Our guide actually got nervous. He said he could handle Komodo Dragons, but his stick was no match for a buffalo protecting her calves!  He ushered us along quickly, and soon we left them behind us!

Mommy Buffalo

Baby Buffalos
The rest of the trek took us along footpaths up the mountain that provided us with beautiful views of the surrounding area, and of our anchorage. We saw a dragon nest, but did not see another dragon until we reached the ranger station again. By that time, there were 5 dragons there, along with a very young one. We were told the female dragons have absolutely no maternal instincts whatsoever, and will eat their young with no qualms!! Young dragons usually live in trees, eating lizards and insects and trying to stay out of the way of the bigger dragons!

Our main guide, Rinus, leading the way

With Eric and Birgitta from "Aerial IV" on top of the hill 

Ben and Gabs...on top of the world!

Looking for dragons
A view of our boats in the anchorage

Cool Runnings and Aerial IV

The Komodo Dragons are found on 4 islands only, Rinca, Komodo and 2 others in the area. There are about 1,500 on Rinca, with a ratio of about 3.4 males to one female. They can eat a pig for breakfast, and will often kill a buffalo. Their prey doesn’t die immediately upon being bitten by a dragon, it is the bacteria in their bite that eventually kills it. So when they bite a buffalo, they will wait 2 – 3 days while the poor creature dies of a bacterial infection, and then they feast on it! They are really pre-historic looking creatures, and seeing them was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!!

Proof I was there!
A step back in time...pre-historic creatures! 
Local boats tied up to the dock

We said our farewells to the dragons and our guides, and headed off to our next anchorage. We were thrilled to finally have some wind, and we were able to sail all the way to Loh Gebah, where both Aerial IV and Cool Runnings were able to pick up a mooring ball. We spent a lazy afternoon catching up on reading, snoozing and, well… just being lazy!! Our plan had been to sail to Bali together with Aerial IV, but unfortunately they were having problems with their anchor windlass, and Eric needed the next day to repair it. We were anxious to keep moving, and given there was great wind again, wanted to take advantage of it, so we could continue sailing. We decided to leave the next morning and sail to Wera, on the island of Sumbawa, and hopefully Aerial IV would catch up with us there.

Aerial IV sailing behind us on the way to Loh Gebah anchorage on Komodo Island

Ben has a new haircut!

Our anchorage in Loh Gebah, off Komodo Island
We arrived in Wera at about 3:00pm, and after securing the boat, we decided to go ashore. We had chosen to stop here because we had heard about this village where they build boats the old fashioned way (another step back in time). These huge, traditional wooden Indonesian boats called Phinisis are built entirely out of wood, with no blueprints or molds. Phinisi vessels are built traditionally in both method and equipment. The keel is laid first, then the stem and stern post are erected. However, unlike Western wooden ships where the shape of the boat is built by attaching wooden planks to a frame or mold, when building a Phinisi, the planking is assembled before the frame! From the keel upward, the planks are fit to each other using hand-drilled holes and wooden dowels until the form of the boat is shaped. Amazingly, this is all done by “eye” according to the experience of each master builder, a skill that is passed down from generation to generation.

Passing a local boat on the way to Wera

Wera with a wooden boat under construction on the beach

Spider boats anchored off Wera
We took the dinghy ashore and tied it to a big concrete pier. We could see some of the boats being built on the beach, but decided to walk through the village first, and back along the beach. The village of Wera, as most of the island of Sumbawa, is devoutly Muslim. We read in the guide that the village was friendly and welcoming. We tried our best to respect their culture…we covered up, and Gaby and I walked a few paces behind Dave and Benjamin. We greeted people, but no-one greeted us back. In fact, some of the older generation actually “shoo-ed” us away! Only the little kids made us feel welcome by running up to us and saying “hello”! We could tell we were not welcome and we started to feel very uncomfortable, so we headed out of town and onto the beach to see the boats being built. It really was incredible to see these huge boats with their wooden pegs in different stages of construction.

One of the newer boats under construction

You can see the wooden pegs holding the planks together

This one looked like it had been here a while, since the wood had already changed color

It was very sad to see so much trash in these villages

With Dave, Ben and Gaby in front, you can see the size of the boats

One more
We walked a little further along the beach, and were approached by two young men. They handed us a somewhat official looking receipt, of which they had a whole book, and started demanding that we pay them, presumable for anchoring in the harbor. If it had been official, we would have obliged, but they seemed very unofficial, and we could tell it was just a racket. We declined, and said we were leaving. They got more and more aggressive, thrusting the receipt book at Dave and pointing to the amount. By this time, a small crowd had gathered. Dave told us to just start walking (fast) along the beach towards the pier and dinghy. When we got to the pier, there was a relatively large crowd of men now who had gathered around our dinghy! By this time, the tide had gone out quite a lot, and it was about a 10ft drop down from the pier to the dinghy. Dave jumped in first, then got me in, then Gaby, and lastly Benjamin, who had been a trooper and had held onto the dinghy’s painter (rope) for all his might while the rest of us jumped in. For all the negativity we were experiencing, there were still a few kind souls, one of whom held onto the dinghy rope and helped Benjamin and allowed Ben to get into the dinghy, and another old man on the beach who had been witnessing the exchange between Dave and the men demanding money, who put his hand on Ben’s shoulder and smiled at him.

A few of the friendlier faces, although you don't see big smiles on these guys either!
We got back to the big boat, and decided that we didn’t feel comfortable staying the night. We decided to pull up the anchor, and since there was no other safe anchorage around that we knew of, we had to do an unexpected overnight sail! Luckily the moon came out around 8:00pm, and the night was not too bad. It was very unfortunate that we experienced that, and it was the first time in Indonesia that we did not feel welcome. Every time prior to this, we had experienced nothing but friendliness from the local people. It was a hard, but extremely valuable lesson for the kids to learn. Gaby at first could not understand that the people of that village actually did not want us there, that because of our religion, or our skin color, or the color of her hair, we were not welcome there. A hard lesson to experience first hand, but that’s what this trip is all about: learning life lessons that just cannot be taught other than by experiencing them first hand.

Still smiling


  1. Dragons, polar bears, buffalo, and surly locals... Just another day on Cool Runnings.