A Journey Across the Flores Sea: Lombok to the Komodo Islands
Towards the end of my trip, I found myself on a small island off the western coast of Lombok, Indonesia called Pulau Gili Meno. This island has an area of only 15 square kilometers or about 5.8 square miles; one can circumnavigate the island on foot in just 1.5 hours. This island was very quiet and rural. The only way of transportation was horse-drawn carriages or electric powered scooters. Staying on this island was so refreshing…void of the artificial noise from motor vehicles…only hearing the occasional horse gallop. Relaxing on the white-sand turquoise beaches, scuba diving, and free-diving to epic arrays of underwater statues was truly blissful. After a couple days of beach-laxin and diving, I learned of a 4-day boat journey across the Flores Sea to the Komodo Islands, and as well as a three day hiking and camping excursion to Mount Rinjani. Rinjani is the second highest volcano in Indonesia and a place of extreme spiritual significance to the Indonesian people, Rinjani meaning “God” in Javanese. As this was towards the end of my trip, I only had time to do one of the excursions. After some contemplation, I decided to do the boat journey, figuring I would be able to see a lot more of Indonesia and have a wider variety of experiences.
The next day, my friend and I hopped on a 15-minute slow boat from Gili Meno to Lombok Island, where the boat was docked. We spent three days in Lombok, waiting for the boat to depart, and stayed in southern Lombok, in a small town called Kuta. Here we rented a motorbike and explored the coastal sites, local villages, hikes, and beaches. Every day we would pick a random spot on Google Maps and go to it, exploring everything in between and stopping at whatever we found to be intriguing. This of course meant that many of the roads we took were just brutal…consisting of giant rocks, dirt, and potholes. I do not know how our motorbike survived those three days, the motorbikes in Indonesia are honestly some of the most durable vehicles I have ever seen. Lombok very much embodied raw Indonesia…poverty, undeveloped infrastructure, farmland, self-sustainment, lack of foreigners, and strange looks from the locals. This was the Indonesia I wanted to immerse myself in. Raw. Real. Unfiltered.
On our 3rd day, we got picked up from Kuta and were driven 1.5 hours to Bangsal, the meeting point for the boat voyage, and then another 3 hours to the harbor in northeastern Lombok, called Kayangan Habor. The first ride was in a private car, and we were so unbelievably stoked to be in an actual car with air conditioning…that is how you know you have been backpacking for a while! On the 3 hour ride, we got put into a mini-van shuttle, and I got stuck in the front seat…smooshed in between two people. This ride was terrible, as I am 6’ 1”, and had no room to put my legs anywhere…my legs constantly scraping against the radio knobs, and the seat being too short to put my head back making it impossible to sleep…LOL needless to say I was sore the next day, but hey I was in Indonesia so I was not complaining. The shuttle was very wide as well, and the roads were very narrow…so whenever the driver had to go up a curve on a hill, he would have to lay down his horn, and me being in the front seat with no seatbelt on, made me very nervous of a head-on collision…but hey I survived so it’s all good! After 3 hours, we finally arrived at the boat, and we picked beds on the top deck. We were given cornbread snacks and tea, and left the harbor headed to our first destination.
I live for raw, spontaneous, organic moments. Often times when you plan something, you will have this certain expectation of how it will be in your mind, and that leaves people often disappointed…the magic of spontaneous moments are you have no expectation, so you cannot possibly be disappointed! I was not quite sure what to expect from this boat trip, but it was truly spontaneous and epic. Every single day we woke up in a new location, seeing things we have never even dreamed of, constantly on the move. Every day was an adventure and I loved it.
The next 4 days, we lived and slept on the deck of a boat, traveling 606 kilometers/377 miles from Lombok to the Komodo Islands. We had no cell service and no showers…just the ocean. I cannot describe how nice it felt being completely disconnected from the outside world, only being able to communicate with everyone on the boat and only able to see what we sailed to. No distractions. Just pure living.
Our first destination was to Kenawa Island. From the harbor, it took us about 1.5 hours to reach Kenawa. The boat was epic. The boat had about 17 travelers and 5 local crew members, all super friendly. Once we reached the island, the boat set anchor and we were told we had to jump off the boat and swim to the island to get there. Epic. Just what I was looking for. We jumped off the 2nd deck of the boat and swam towards the island. Once we hit the reef, I felt something bite me…startled, I thought it was just my imagination, but then I got bit another two times, and realized that this tiny territorial reef fish was actually biting me! My mind was blown, I never imagined such a tiny fish could be so aggressive and could actually nibble on a human. That would be like me trying to bite a whale…I was so much larger than the fish! My friends got bit as well on the way in and were just as startled. This island was essentially uninhabited, and was very dry and void of vegetation, except for yellow grass. This island was so small, you could walk around it in less than 30 minutes. Towards the end of the island was a really cool looking hill, that we hiked to the top of and were rewarded with some seriously epic views. After about two hours of being on the island, we swam back to the boat, being bitten again, and then watched sunset on the boat, while we sailed towards our next destination.
The sunset was mental. Everyone gathered around the front of the boat, and we were all vibing, getting to know each other while watching the sunset...everyone was very cool and from all over the globe. As the sun set down the horizon, it lit up the clouds in a golden pink hue and accentuated the ocean’s waves in a beautiful contrast…simply stunning.
For dinner, the crew served us home-cooked Mie Goreng, essentially fried noodles with chicken and vegetables, and man it was delicious. At around 8:30pm, the boat stopped and set down anchor for the night and we all went to the roof to stargaze. I thought the stars in northwest Oahu where I am from were insane, but the visibility and stars on this side of the world were on another level. The wind was howling, and we were all just laying down mesmerized by the stars…you could distinctively see the Milky Way and as the night went on, we saw more and more shooting stars. I was ecstatic. Here I was, just laying on roof of this boat somewhere in Indonesia, in the middle of the Flores Sea, stargazing and swapping stories with a group of people I did not even know existed just two days prior…I had never felt so alive.
The next morning, I woke up at 2:00am to the boat moving and rocking violently like it was in a massive storm. Concerned, I looked outside and saw clear skies and figured we were just crossing a rough patch of sea…eventually I fell back asleep. I awoke to sunrise at our second destination, Moyo Island. After a breakfast of banana pancakes, we immediately got our masks and snorkels on and headed to the edge of the boat. I looked over the edge of the boat, at the clear turquoise water, and saw blue bioluminescent plankton…I did not know they could also be bioluminescent during the day?! I jumped into the water and started snorkeling around the reef towards the island. The plankton fascinated me…I noticed my dynamic apnea (breath-hold) was significantly longer than usual, probably due to the fact that I just woke up and have not done much moving, meaning I had a lower heart rate and thus less oxygen consumption. After seeing some interesting coral formations and colorful reef fish, I got to the island, and we all started hiking into the rainforest. After about 30 minutes, we came upon this stunning waterfall. We climbed up the waterfall barefoot…it was so grippy it was quite strange, you did not even need to use your hands to climb up the waterfall…it just stuck to your feet. Eventually, we came to this swimming hole at the top with a rope swing and hung out at the spot for a bit. We then hiked back and swam back to the boat and began our 17 hours of straight sailing in route to Laba Island, not doing much but tanning and sleeping on the way there…
Laba Island. This was definitely my favorite island we visited. The views were mental. Again, we had to jump off the boat and swim to the island…the only way we could access any of the islands (Besides Komodo Island) was by physically swimming to them. I thought that was amazing…starting every morning with a dip in the Indian Ocean, swimming around and exploring islands most people will never even see in their lifetime. We hiked around this island for about two hours, enjoying the island and taking some epic photos and videos. I loved this island, there was so much to see and hike…I easily could have spent the whole day here. There were so many other mini-islands surrounding it in the distance, enhancing the already gorgeous view. The entire island was covered with yellow savannah-like grass, stunning ridges, and a gorgeous array of blues…from deep blue to light turquoise just surrounding the island endlessly.
That same day we also hit Manta Point and Pink Beach. The Komodo Island region has some of the best dive spots in the world, and Manta Point is one of these spots. Manta Point is located in a channel that connects the Indian and Southwest Pacific Oceans…causing a crash of warm and cold water and an intermixing of diverse nutrients from warm and cold marine environments, to occur at Manta Point. This attracts tons of plankton and in turn, tons of Manta Rays. After Laba Island, we sailed to Manta Point and tried to snorkel with some Manta Rays. After 30 minutes of searching for rays from the boat, our guide decided it would be best to search for them in the water and have the boat follow us, like a drift dive. The current was extremely strong, some of the strongest and most unpredictable currents in the world being found in the Komodo Islands, and we were immediately dragged by the current. After about 45 minutes of snorkeling, we were unsuccessful and found no Manta Rays. Although, we did spot some Green Sea Turtles, and later on after the boat journey, I came back to scuba dive here and spotted some Manta Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays, and White Tip Reef Sharks!
After Manta Point, we sailed to Pantai Merah AKA Pink Beach. This small island holds one of the seven pink beaches on the planet. This beach has a pinkish tint in the sand caused by the small particles of red coral that wash onto the beach from the reef. This beach was not as pink as I thought it would be…you could only really notice the pink when the ocean crashed onto the sand and made it wet or by picking up a handful of sand and looking closely for the red coral fragments. This beach was quite fun to relax on, but it was packed with tourists. There was also a cool hill you could hike up to get a scenic view of the island and its opposite side.
Our last day we explored Kelor and Komodo Island, and disembarked at Flores, Indonesia. Kelor was the tiniest island we visited…just a small beach, and hill you could hike. We only explored this island for an hour and then snorkeled around the reef for a bit and found a cool Blue-Spotted Stingray. Then, I hiked up the hill to get some of my last shots from the Flores Sea! Next stop, Komodo Island.
10 feet long. 150 pounds. Deadly venom…this is the Komodo Dragon. A giant lizard that is wild and endemic to Komodo Island. We had to have two rangers guide us around this island. Komodo Dragons have a diet of Timor Deer and are known to occasionally attack humans, and our rangers were only armed with massive sticks. Within the first 10 minutes of being on this island, we encountered a medium-sized Dragon. This Dragon looked massive to me. We encountered it walking across this wooden bridge, and our guide immediately told us to back up and keep our distance from it. The Dragon looked like a real-life dinosaur, and I could not stop staring at it. After a couple minutes, it walked away and we continued our hike around the island. Throughout our hike we encountered one more Dragon of a smaller size. We learned that the Dragons lay eggs and share a nest with a specific type of bird that nests on the ground, and that Dragons live in the tops of trees, hunting birds, until they fully mature and are capable of hunting larger game. We also learned that just the week prior, a tourist got their leg severely bitten and was in critical care…most likely going to die. I felt grateful to leave the island with all my limbs!
After, Komodo Island we headed to Flores, Indonesia, our final destination. Eating home-cooked Indonesian meals, skin-diving, exploring uninhabited islands, unique hiking, golden hour from the sea, and next level star gazing, every single day. What a journey. I will remember this trip for the rest of my life. Just a year ago, I would have never thought I would be backpacking through Indonesia this soon…and just a week prior I never thought I would be living on a boat traversing the Flores Sea. Anything is possible. There are no limits, no matter what you think is possible or what other people say. Don’t feel confined to do what is expected from you, life is short. Do what you love. Chase your passions and live in the moment.