An ocean away: Komodo National Park

An+ocean+away%3A+Komodo+National+Park

Riley Kerns

Everyone has his or her own vision of what paradise looks like, from a sunny Florida beach to the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and everywhere in between. For me, paradise is Pulau Sebayur Besar, Indonesia. 

When my mom and I were planning our trip to Singapore, we were also searching for nearby locations to visit. There were countless options: Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and more. Indonesia, however, stood out to both of us. The flight durations were reasonable; the geography was completely different from that of Singapore, and it was on my mom’s bucket list of places to travel. Once we picked the country, we then had to decide which islands we wanted to explore. After some extensive research, we chose Pulau Sebayur Besar, which had a resort that was close to Komodo National Park.

After our flight landed in Labuan Bajo, we met our driver. We took a car from the airport down to the marina where we boarded a boat that would take us to the island. From the mainland to the resort I saw islands sparsely lining the horizon with deep blue water filling up the empty space. Having lived in a landlocked state all of my life, the ocean fascinated me. The mysteriousness and unfamiliarity of it called out to me. For the 30 minute ride, I never looked away from the panoramic view in front of me.

When we arrived at the island, the director of the Komodo Resort welcomed us in the dining pavilion. He provided us with tamarind juice, a local treat, and a rundown of all of the activities available. This resort specialized in scuba diving but also had snorkeling excursions, visits to different parts of Komodo National Park and other hiking opportunities on the property. With only three full days to spend on the island, I narrowed down what I wanted to do, even though the answer was everything

By the time we had settled into our hut, it was nearing sunset. The sky glowed of all different orange and pink hues reflecting off the clouds, which we watched turn into starry black space as we ate dinner. Though it was only 7 p.m., my mom and I felt weary and ready for bed. 

I was up bright and early at 5 the next morning. Thanks to the jet lag, I really didn’t know what time it was. I spent most of my time sitting by the water on the beach before breakfast. After we ate, I explored the house reef before the sun’s heat became too intense. The resort had snorkels, masks and fins for rent to use on the property as well as snorkeling and diving tours. I acquired my gear and headed straight for the pier. My experience with snorkeling before this trip was limited and unsuccessful. I would always get water in my mouth and goggles that didn’t fit my head, so I didn’t have high expectations in my abilities. When I got in, however, everything felt natural, as if I were made for the water. Underneath the surface was a completely different world. There was coral of all sizes and colors and species of fish I didn’t even know existed. I was captivated by the foreignness. 

I spent the morning swimming until my fingers and toes were pruned, and my mom told me I should get out. I had to get ready for my next adventure beginning after lunch: Komodo National Park. 

We took a two-hour boat ride to the island of Rinca, one of the best parts of the park to find Komodo dragons. In order to dock, the captain had to tie our boat to another boat since there wasn’t enough space on the pier. To get to land we had to climb across three other boats, also tied to each other, finally jumping from the bow of the last boat onto the boardwalk. After we all maneuvered our way through the maze of vessels, our guide led us on a trail through mangroves, boulders and barren fields until we reached the ticket office. Wild animals, such as water buffalo, monkeys and deer, wandered around the visitors center.

The plan was to take a “non-rigorous” hike on the island in our group of about 10 people. As we started toward the trailhead, I turned my head to the left and spotted a giant lizard, and I wasn’t the only one. Immediately, our guide directed us to stand back, drawing a line in the sand not to cross for our safety. The lizard, commonly known as a Komodo dragon, was at least seven feet long and completely unphased by the group of tourists standing around it.

We hadn’t even left the park entrance and had already spent twenty minutes taking photos of the lizards. Eventually, we started on the dirt trail, winding through low hanging tree limbs and leafless shrubbery. In the tree-covered areas, we saw a herd of water buffalo and a Komodo dragon in her nest. As we kept walking, the wooded terrain turned into the base of an open, grassy hill. The incline was fairly steep and rocky. At the time I wanted to turn back to avoid the hill, but I pushed through, racing up  to get it over with faster. Once I reached the top, I could see for miles and miles with a 360 degree view. From one angle, the bay we entered from was visible. Looking another way, I saw palm trees lining the peaks of other hills on the island. 

After a group rest at the top, we began our decline, which was more difficult than the assent because of the terrain. My tactic, however, was the same: get down as quickly as I could without dying. Thankfully, the visitor’s center was just a short walk from the base of the hill, which meant our hike was finished. As soon as all the group members were at the bottom was at the bottom and caught their breath, we headed to the boat. 

We were now on our way to I-don’t-even-know-where to watch the sunset as tens of thousands of flying foxes, also known as fruit bats, emerged from the mangroves. We waited until we saw one dark object in the sky. Thinking it was a bird, I didn’t pay much attention to it, but as it flew overhead I saw the prominent outline of the wings. Soon there were four in the sky, 20, 80, 200. Before I knew it there were thousands upon thousands of bats flying above us. Once the event started, it only took 15 minutes for all the bats to fly past us and the sun to fall below the horizon. 

The next day, I was up early again, this time waiting for 8 a.m. to come because that was when the boat taking us out for snorkeling would leave the pier. Even though I had familiarized myself with the activity the day before, I would now be in the middle of the ocean instead of near a shore. Our snorkeling group consisted of my mom, me, two Italian couples and our guide. We were going to three different locations, each with its own unique features and marine life. 

The Fishbowl was the first stop of the tour. The name came from the large amount of coral and fish in the reef. It felt like swimming in an aquarium. The reef wrapped around an entire rock, which jutted up above the surface 10 feet or so. It was so colorful and lively with fish swimming in every different direction. I had circled it a few times until we were called back to the boat to go to our next site: Turtle City.

Our second dive was my favorite of the three by far. It was one of the best places for spotting sea turtles, hence its name. Turtle City was also the largest site, in terms of area, that we swam in. We spent at least a full hour swimming in the crystal clear 50-foot deep water, scouring the bottom for a glimpse of a green shell. After just five minutes, our guide pointed to one resting between some coral. Then it seemed they were appearing from nowhere. Every way I turned I could find one. There were even a few that were so close I could’ve touched them. If I could have stayed there all day, I would have, but we had to get back on the boat to go to stop number three.

Our last swim was along the shore of an island well known for stingray spotting. I had only caught sight of one in the distance because most of my attention had been on making sure I didn’t get pulled too far from the coast. The current was the strongest I had ever been in. The water forcefully propelled us forward, at least giving our legs a break from kicking. There was the occasional fish or coral I could see, but for the most part it was just rocky, so we didn’t stay for too long.  

It was a little afternoon by the time we got back to the resort. My mom and I ate lunch and then took a nap, exhausted from our earlier adventure. While my mom stayed in our hut, I went down by the water to lay out on the shore until it was time for supper. 

For our final day, my mom and I thought it was best to stay on the island instead of venturing out on another demanding excursion. We spent our morning snorkeling around the house reef and sitting on the pier. Even the simpleness of these activities tired me out, so for the afternoon I stayed in our hut and packed for our flight the next day. Soon enough the sky started to darken. There was a hill behind all of the huts, which my mom and I had been told was an ideal spot to view the first and last light of the day. After finding the trail, we hiked about halfway up it for our last chance to watch the sun sink into the ocean of Komodo National Park. And just like our time at the resort, the sun was gone before I knew it.It wasn’t just the turquoise blue ocean and white sandy beaches that made Pulau Sebayur Besar paradise; it was the adventures I had and how I felt when I was there. I had forgotten that the rest of the world existed and didn’t really care about what was going on back at home. I felt at peace on the island, secluded and tucked away where very few could bother me. 

Before this trip, I had never gone to the beach for a vacation. The longest I had been to the ocean was for a short day trip, and it wasn’t nearly as beautiful. Now, nothing will compare to the standard I have of what a beach and ocean should look and feel like. The entire trip to Komodo was a one-of-a-kind experience. There is nowhere else I could have had the opportunity to get as close as possible to wild, venomous, six-foot lizards or snorkel crystal clear waters looking for sea turtles. I wished to stay there forever and explore more regions I was unable to visit. Komodo National Park helped me see a drastically different side of the natural world from the endless cornfields and woods I’m used to in Missouri. It’s amazing to me how everything is connected by the same waters yet has the ability to be entirely diverse. 

What is the most interesting place you have visited? Let us know in the comments below.