Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2/23/15 Day 403 Hiking with Dragons and Swimming with Mantas

With our hearts set on Wicked Divers we were disappointed to find that they were closed for the slow season, Paradise Divers was our fallback. We scheduled a two dive + Komodo dragon visit for 1,100,000 rupiah (85$). The fees alone set us back an additional 230,000 rupiah. It is unfortunate that all over the country the National Park fees were changed only in January, only two months ago the same money would have bought us a three day pass, now a single day is all we have to see all of the beauty of the Komodo National Park, it is scandalous really. The boat was fighting the current like crazy, just chugging along at the pace of a sloth. It took hours to get out to the Komodo Islands and our first stop was to see the dragons. Our dive boat dropped us off at the dock on Rinca Island (one of the five islands in the entire world inhabited by dragons) and we followed our naturalist guide up the path, an Indonesian boy armed with a stick to fend off the fierce (lazy) dragons. We suggested that the medium or longer route were our preference and that as seasoned adventurers it would be easy for us to finish the route in the time allotted but we got suckered into taking the measly short path as they are more interested in tourist money than tourist enjoyment. We walked past the ranger station, gave them some more money as if our fees weren't enough and continued towards the dragon gathering. It is to be expected that the majority of the dragons would be there lazily perched near the kitchen, no surprise at all, they are lizards after all and lizards are lazy sun baskers. They weren't doing anything National Geographic cover-spread worthy but I was there to see the dragons and they were everything that I could have hoped for. Huge, beautiful, lazy dragons! Moving on along the trail We were lucky enough to actually see a female on the trail, it is not often they are seen away from the kitchen, she was guarding her nest where she has dug many holes to disguise the actual location of the nest. Komodo Dragons only eat once a month, it is a marvel that during their 30 year lifespans their bodies can flourish to the weight of 70 kilograms (154 pounds) and 3 meters in length (10 feet). The juveniles spend their first years living up in the trees to avoid becoming dinner for the larger cannibalistic dragons even their own parents would swallow them up as a snack. 
Satisfied with our dragon experience our boat swooped us back up and we raged against the current for another 2 hours! Our first dive was scheduled to be Batu Bolong, a favorite dive site of many locals but as we motored towards the site we could see the currents ripping with ferocity, you could literally surf these crests. We would have to go to Manta Point first and hope for Batu Bolong to calm down a smidge. We squished into our wetsuits, tightened our weight-belts and dribbled spit into our masks to ensure we were ready for the Flores Sea. With the turbulent current we dropped to the bottom as quickly as possible, it didn't take long with only 12 meters to the floor. Only a few minutes into our tank and it came sweeping over us 10+ feet in diameter the manta ray took our breath with it as it floated out of our view again. We watched as pairs of two and three danced just inches above us for the rest of our 62 minute tank. We seen more than two dozen of these majestic creatures and it felt like a dream. 
Batu Bolong was still ripping like crazy at this point so we changed course for Tatawa Besar, Laughing Island. I had started the day with congestion and it had been able to slowly equalize the first dive. I chose to ignore Wolfgang the crazy Austrian running the shop who suggested I take a decongestant.  PADI guidelines prohibit decongestants under any circumstances, especially on such a long dive day, if it were to wear off before the dive was over the results could be disastrous. The currents were still wrenching so as soon as we got into the water everyone headed down fast, I was having major issues equalizing and tried to allow my body to do its thing, the Divemaster kept trying to get me down lower and I was trying to stay level waiting for the pressure in my ears to subside, finally after equalizing and over-equalizing I was able to lower down, tears dripping into my mask and flowing into the sea the pain was horrible and that is the moment that led to my brutal ear infection and possible ruptured eardrum.  My ears came close to equalizing and I was able to finish the dive. The corals and fish were absolutely astonishing. We swam alongside: a huge Grouper, Titan Triggerfish, Blue Spotted Stingray, Moray Eel, Yellow Box Fish, Rainbow Lobster, a few more mantas and even some Green Sea Turtles, unfortunately we were too deep for my waterproof camera and we do not have a GoPro (a near future purchase for sure). We do however have some footage filmed, and edited by Gus of our Manta Ray dive! Here is the YouTube link:

First look at the Komodo Islands

Lazy dragons

Mama protecting her nest

Look at that tongue
Our ferocious naturalist guide was luckily there to scare her off

The savanna of Rinca Island

Land crab

Naturalist poi sideshow

Canal low clear waters
Some of the strongest currents in the world pulse among the Komodo Islands
Starting our day at 7 am and ending at 19:00 makes for a long day on the sea

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