A Travellerspoint blog

The Perennial Traveller

How long can a person travel for?

There seems to be an unsaid rule about going backpacking – that it is temporary, that it is just a brief chapter early on in the life of a person. A year seems to be the common maximum life expectancy for a big backpacking trip; the once in a lifetime gap year. It is assumed that you get it over with and then you start your ‘real life’ – a career, a family, a home. Sure it is also accepted that going travelling will be wondrous and exciting, but that it is also just a prelude to this pending real life.

It is widely acknowledged that going travelling can unlock a broadened mind, through a wealth of varied life experiences – or at least certainly give a person the opportunity – so I’m asking, why should a person not have that accepted year of mind-broadening extended for an entire decade or maybe even an entire lifetime? Why not keep having the interesting, bizarre and mind-opening experiences that traversing different countries gift a person?

If someone was to travel continuously for say, ten years, it would be considered pretty unusual and that person would probably be unique in all of his circles of friends back home. What if that person carried on backpacking, forever? What would be said if he never settled down and started that career, and family? Would he be considered weird, an oddity, or not mature enough to start a ‘real life’?

To flip this question on its head: Is the considered norm of living in one place, with the same repeated weeks, year in year out, a good way to live a life?

I tried to avoid phrasing the above question negatively but it still persists to read back with an unhappy dressing drizzled over it. I did think to reword it to seem less gloomy but I realised it doesn’t need to be altered because it’s just the, perhaps painful, truth – if not painful, then unsettling, or even offensive. Most people that this question refers to really do have the same repeated weeks year in, year out; it probably refers to most people you know. Nor am I placing myself outside the scope of this either, as it referred to me before I set off on my trip, and the odds that I will end up back in this considered norm is high. The question is not meant to condescend, but to challenge and query the very idea of these repeated years in the same spot. If it does offend you and make you feel defensive, then you can perhaps rest assured that you are in the comfort of the overwhelming majority of the population and I am just one curious little cat.

I don’t even propose to have definite answers to these questions, after all, any answer would be unique to each individual, but I think it is definitely worth a little of our time to think about the questions themselves.

Just as a small side note for clarification: the definition of ‘travelling’ that I’m using means to travel as a way of life; to go on a backpacking trip where one really sees other ways of life and it includes working if and when necessary. No pre-packaged trips; half of the fun is in finding your own routes and solving what difficulties arise – I think those can be the times that truly define and shape us as people. Some people skip through entire countries in the space of a week or less, which is great if you just want to say you’ve been to fifty countries in one year, but the resulting experience will be very shallow compared with experiencing different cultures up close and personal. When planning a big trip it’s easy to overstretch the itinerary and include too many countries for the allotted timeframe. Unfortunately, this usually comes by sacrificing time in each place, which is a great tragedy; I think the goal is to spend as long as possible in each place that you visit – if you aren’t in risk of overstaying every tourist visa you get, you aren’t staying long enough.

To continue with the question: Firstly, the objections, because there will naturally be many to questions like these. Initial objections will be mostly concerned with the practicalities of travelling for a lengthy amount of time. This isn’t something I want to concentrate on here, but I’ll touch on it slightly. At the top of a lot of people’s protests will be concerns regarding the financing of prolonged travel. And yes, unless you’re infinitely wealthy, going travelling for an extended amount of time will require you to save up and then stop every now and then to refuel on money. A lot people don’t realise that you can work in so many overseas countries without necessarily needing elaborate employment contracts. These resupply stops aren't merely just a stop-gap to save up funds either. They are a major part of the journey as a whole, involving their own exciting adventures, allowing in-depth travel in the countries of employment themselves, as well as countless opportunities to meet new people whilst you live and work. This particular strategy would involve shuffling around financial priorities and/or looking for work visas and job opportunities in other countries; whether it’s a career-type job search or simply putting yourself up for a wide variety of roles. Some job roles lend themselves to travel; a travel writer for example, can move around, country to country, working and exploring. Maybe a travel writer is the stuff of dreams and not readily achievable, okay fair enough – work experience in certain, more common fields, such as general hospitality or au-pairing, can easily gain a person job opportunities the world over. Answers like these do of course go deeper, but not in insight; fundamentally it only involves some research and a person prepared to shake up their life – the rest are small details that can be looked up. I’m writing a separate piece on the practical aspects of saving to travel, and how to continue travelling for a lengthy time – not that I consider myself an expert, but it details the strategy I’ve used and what I’ve learned so far.

True practical reasons may exist of course. There may be genuine restrictions on a person making immediate changes to their life, but most restrictions will not be absolute or eternal, and they can be surmounted, if a person really wants to. If you have a reason, challenge yourself to overcome that hurdle within a certain period of time, don’t let it win without a fight. You can change your attitude and make plans now, even if you can’t implement them now. I’ve found that many people make objections simply because it’s easier to make objections – to stay in relative comfort – than to take action, even just as a thought experiment. So the big question: Why should we risk changing what’s comfortable?

If you were born in any ‘first world’ nation in relative comfort, you may have no idea just how lucky you are; through no commendable action on your part you have drawn a lottery ticket in life. You have probably avoided famine, torture and countless other cruelties of life that were given to another person, just like you, but born in a different location, equally through total inaction on their part. You had no choice in the location of your birth, or your nationality – home has become just what you’re now used to, so I counter the big question with another question: Why should you stay where you were born? A favourite quote illuminates my point; “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” As a worst case scenario, even if you travel the world and nowhere truly astounds you and you return home to live out your days, at least it will give you an unprecedented amount of perspective on how great ‘home’ really is. At the very least, you will look back at your own life and fully cherish your lottery ticket. That could be the worst case scenario; I’ll get on to what better scenarios could result from travelling later.

So can any objections worry my travelling forever proposition? Many individuals will, and have, made a good go at travelling forever, but let’s say this is not possible for everyone. Starting a family and being able to provide for your family is obviously a major life priority for most people and it will impede travelling at some point. There would be ways to compromise the two – a career that entailed frequent travel, or maybe even having your family involved in the travel. Each and every avenue will be detailed and unique, but let us say it does stop the average person from travelling endlessly; does it also defeat travelling for, say, five or ten years?

Our species has had vastly different priorities over its history; from hunting and fighting to survive, to needing to work endless hours to afford just enough to eat, to where a lot of us can be now – the fortunate tip of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Our winning lottery tickets mean that basic requirements for survival are met and we are able to concentrate on new, luxurious things like personal growth; on education, on fulfilling our creative aspirations. People should take advantage of the fact that we don’t need to work every minute of our lives just to eat and clothe ourselves like a lot of people still need to do in poorer countries. You may think you have it hard because you don’t live a life of luxury when compared to famous celebrities, but trust me, you are a celebrity when compared to people living in the third world. I think people should reflect and realise this and grasp life by the scruff of the neck.

I want to excite, motivate, and offend if needed, because I have seen a tiny glimpse of the benefits travelling can provide. And I have also seen what happens when people settle in a lifestyle even they admit is not what they want. Whilst I think travelling could benefit everyone, I don’t mean to aggressively persuade those who simply have zero interest in travel; my reason for writing this has been born out of talking to those who really want to travel, but ultimately fail to do so. Many people write to me and ask questions on how I travel, and say they wish they could do the same. Many of these people are young and have little more than a phone contract tying them down, and therefore many of these people are in a position where a few simple changes could enable them to travel, but too often some invisible force still holds them back. I've tried to think what fundamentally keeps so many people prisoner. With this, I think I've pinpointed two very natural human traits that crop up and hinder us over and over.

The first is that we too easily become comfortable in a situation – lifestyle in this context – and then fear leaving this comfort, even when we say we want to. It’s not hard to settle into a dull easy comfort, and to forget to put ourselves up for new challenges and experiences. Remember back to a time when there were seemingly infinite changes and new experiences. Remember being a child; think back to the wondrous ignorance of every day things, and revel in it. Don’t fear the unknown. Imagine going to a new country where you are ignorant of the way of life….and learn again.

The second trait, which is intrinsically linked to the first, is that we so easily become desensitised to amazing things and we lose our sense of wonder; things that should amaze us, and maybe did once but no longer do. Examples for this are overwhelmingly apparent on a scale too big to cover; from not realising our own winning lottery tickets, to not appreciating the beauty of nature and natural selection, to even not fully appreciating your partner whom you once couldn’t fault, and all in between. Again, remember back to a time when most things amazed you; as a child everything is remarkable, children are full of curiosity and excitedly question everything, their life is full of awe and new experiences. We have a tendency to lose this as we become older, and it happens over and over as soon as we become accustomed to something – even travelling itself. I’ve found it beneficial to practise my own ‘Thanksgiving’ once a month (just stating a few simple things that I’m thankful for over a toast of drinks) to actively remind myself of my fortunate situation. We may always have to actively remind ourselves to be grateful for what we have, but the very nature of travelling does a lot to help keep these traits at bay, because barely anything stays familiar, and thus we don’t fall as easily into the lazy mind-set of taking things for granted and lose our sense of wonder.

There are so many benefits to travelling that I couldn’t list them all here. A lot are personal, and for the individual, but there are many benefits that can affect a much wider circle too. When the news channel shows the suffering of people in a far off country, it is easy not to pay attention. We perhaps aren’t to blame either as it seems to be our psychology; studies have shown that every one of us has an innate prejudice toward ‘out-groups’. This isn’t to say that we can’t overcome this, obviously, but that we have a tendency to care for those close to us, or those most similar to us. We may have never heard of this country on the news, and the people on the screen look so different to us – it’s hard to relate to their intangible situation. More subjectively, it’s noticeable that a population of a country will care more about the unfortunate death of one child in their own country, than of the death of thousands of children in an obscure sounding middle-eastern or African country. If, however, you have been to that far-off country and met the locals and experienced their way of life – their struggles, their hardships, their laughs and games and tears, you may find yourself emotionally and morally connected to your fellow man, indifferent to location and culture. You will relate to them, and you may even want to help.

Imagine if we, the lucky ‘First World’ all experience this feeling of indifference to location and culture – what help may we, the relatively overfed and overpaid, be glad to give?

To come to some kind of loose answer to my original question of how long a person can travel: I think that the ‘gap year’ could and should become at least the ‘gap five’. The ‘gap twenties’ – meaning that people go travelling for their entire twenties – could be achievable for a lot of people if they want it; certainly the upcoming generations, if not the current. You can get your university degree before, or after. Retirement age will be increased several more times before the younger generations are in that age-bracket, so there will be plenty of time to work hard on that career. I think we have enough potential time to travel extensively, attain a career, and a family if all three are wanted. Some people may think that doing a large continuous period of travel like this will take something away from taking trips later in life – to leave the entire world ‘ticked off’. I think the opposite is true; as soon as you start travelling, the 'to go' list only grows, and rarely lessens. Travelling garners even more passion for travel and it also gives a person a long list of places they'd love to return to in later life. This answer may be a little narrow because I’ve mostly alluded to younger people, but it can be tailored to any age: make your forties or fifties include the ‘gap five’ or be the ‘gap fifties’; plan in your forties for your gap fifties – you get the idea; I’m not trying to create and brand a new phrase here, but I’m trying to create what I think is an updated and better unsaid rule about travelling.

You really do only live once, and don’t take the gamble on thinking otherwise. You are continuously just a potential doctor’s visit away from being forced to realise your own mortality; don’t stall and pretend you’ll live forever, face the fact of your inevitable and eventual death and take advantage of this realisation. Try to second guess your deathbed regrets and change your life accordingly. And when you meet your future deathbed self, see if your current reasons for inaction are good enough for them. Get as much varied life experience as you can, in whatever way appeals to you – my own personal recommendation to do this is, obviously, to travel and see as much of the world as possible.

Posted by Explorer_T 20:04 Tagged perennial_traveller Comments (0)

Danum Valley Field Centre Trip Report September 2012

Danum Valley Field Centre Trip Report September 2012

A note to my normal blog readers: This probably won't interest you. It's purely information for people searching for help relating to this destination.

I've posted this on the Lonely Planet forums & Trip Advisor forums as well. It's all a bit scrappy and not written very well but I just got it all down and it's too long to go over thoroughly, so I hope it reads okay.

Getting there:
My girlfriend and I got the 07:30 express bus from Sandakan to Lahad Datu (the closest town to Danum Valley) – to be more precise we left from Uncle Tan’s place in Sepilok – It was the bus for Semporna but it goes to Lahad Datu on the way. The cost was 25MYR and we arrived around lunch time. We just waited for it on the street at the location advised by the staff at Tan’s and we paid on the bus.

(You can get buses direct from Kota Kinabalu. There are a number of bus stations and bus companies in KK so your best bet is to ask at your accommodation for the details on which station to go to etc. I booked my bus from KK to Sepilok on the day of departure.)

----All the info is based purely on what we have seen, so parts may be missing details or be incorrect… but the important stuff should be correct ----

Lahad Datu:
Lahad Datu is kind of split into two main sections; one, which I’ll call uptown, has the airport and express bus drop off point. There are shops, petrol station and banks (with ATMs) and the buildings are mostly low (i.e. we didn’t see any big hotels, but don’t quote me on that – look for yourself online maybe).

To get a rough idea of my uptown/downtown you can zoom in to Lahad Datu on Google Maps and see the two main areas of action. I’m naming them based purely on the fact that my uptown is north of downtown.

Downtown seemed to have more hotels and shops. There was even a KFC with free wifi for anyone needing a Western fix. Hotels of note would be Silam Dynasty, Royal Palms (I stayed there – cheap option), Asia Hotel. There were more but I forget. There were markets for cheap clothes (we picked up some second hand rain jackets for a couple of £ and just threw them away after). Also things like supermarkets, pharmacies, fashion shops, bakeries and a whole manner of market stalls for food etc. it was a lot more built up than we thought it would be.

The DVFC Office in Lahad Datu is ‘uptown’, and very close to the airport and express bus drop off point – 5 min or less walking from either – taxi drivers should know the address by just saying the Danum Valley Field Centre Office so try to ask one of them and walk it if you are going straight from your bus/plane. There are fake taxi drivers (with just a car) who will charge a lot and just drive around a bit to get you somewhere to justify the price) I’d already booked a hotel in downtown not knowing the areas but if you could possibly find a hotel in this uptown area you could save some money, albeit not much as downtown it isn’t far anyway.

If you are staying in downtown, a taxi from the bus drop off/airport should not cost more than 10MYR (we got offered 5myr once from an official taxi without even haggling). If you get the express bus into LD you may get hounded by ‘taxi’ drivers as soon as you step off. They aren’t real taxi drivers and they will try to charge 25MYR, we got it down to 15; and only realised the next day how much more we could have gone down.

I’d read a lot of negative things about Lahad Datu on hotel reviews etc.; i.e. not worth staying, horrible, dirty… but to be honest we had a great feeling about the place. Parts of it do smell, but no more than a lot of towns in this part of the world. Everybody, and I mean everybody, was so friendly and nice. Whether it was an old man or a young girl, they all smile and say ‘hello friend’. People were more than happy to help us with directions or advice. I don’t think they get too many tourists here as many people would stop and say ‘’woah’’ at the sight of us… and not just my blonde girlfriend, but me too; they were amazed to see us and just wanted a wave or a hello. (If you are out of your hotel and need some help, the people in KFC spoke the best English we came across).

So we arrived in LD by bus early on, got a taxi to the Royal Palms Hotel, explored the town, stayed over one night, got a taxi to DVFC office… then the shuttle to Danum Valley.

DVFC info:
Your only two options for seeing Danum Valley are the Rainforest lodge which can cost a fortune. The other option is the Field Centre. I met people who just turned up and were allowed to go to the valley. I didn’t want to risk this however and after trying and trying for weeks I managed to contact them. I had to pay a 10% deposit via Western Union to confirm the booking.
Officially they say you have to be part of a research institute, or nature organisation. So basically, you must be part of a university or nature club. For example I was studying Biology and a member of a bird watching club. Typing it in an email was sufficient proof.

Unless they have a huge booking reservation, there will be space at the Field Centre. There are around 100 dorm beds and multiple private rooms and houses. It’s your call whether you risk not booking ahead. If you do just turn up, I’d arrive a day early (before the bus departures of Mon-Wed-Fri) and book a day before and stay a night in LD. Otherwise you may risk the bus being full or not running due to low demand. This will result in you paying 350MYR for a private vehicle. Departure time is 15:00.

They return to LD on the same days leaving the Centre at around 8:30am. Try to book any flights/transport with these times in consideration; a girl I met at the Centre had booked a flight leaving Lahad Datu early in the morning, so she had to leave at 6am stumping up the 350myr by herself. The journey is mostly on a bumpy road and takes around 2 hours.

The current Centre prices are:
Minibus transfer between the DVFC office in Lahad Datu and the Field Centre: RM65 one-way
Entry fee to Danum Valley Conservation Area: RM50 (one time payment).
The Education / Nature Gallery entrance fee:RM10.00/pp/entry.
Hostel dorm bed per night: RM91
Dinner: RM46. Lunch: RM36. Breakfast: RM29
Camera fee: RM10
Ranger fee: RM20 per hour
Standard room – 286myr per night
Full board food per day: 111myr

You pay everything up front at the office in LD. There are atms in the area; I used one close by.

Food:
Now honestly, the food was not worth the price. It was very hit and miss. One day our breakfast was so minimal it included cornflakes with no milk. There were hardly any other guests there (three in total booked for meals). You may be lucky and get some good food but our experience wasn’t great.

There is an option to take your own food and cook it there in a kitchen. The kitchen is near the dorms – which are a 10 minute walk from the private rooms, so do consider if you want walks in the dark to cook – I didn’t do this myself but another couple did. There was an issue with needing another gas bottle at one point, I’m not certain whether they had to pay for that.. But it would still be a lot cheaper than the provided meals. On the other hand, you may be very tired from walking in the insanely hot jungle all day, so consider if you really want to be cooking a meal after a very long day.

There is free hot & cold water whenever you want (with coffees etc.) About the only good “service” thing they offer.

Rooms:
The rooms themselves are fine, overpriced obviously, but fine. The dorms are separated by sex and are huge. 48 beds in each, separated into blocks of 4 beds. There are lots of fans and lights. The rest house we stayed in for our last couple of nights was also good; obviously it provides more comfort. It had twin beds, storage space and a bathroom.

The dorms are a 10 minute walk to the main cafeteria. The rest houses are right next to them. The reception building is in the middle of the dorms and rest houses.

Dorms/kitchen >>> reception >>> rest houses/cafeteria/library etc.

Walks and tours:
The centre says there are only two walks that you can do alone without a guide. Any others need require a guide costing 20myr an hour. One walk requires two guides, and is meant to last 7-8 hours.

We tried the two “free” walks to test ourselves and realised we had no chance of spotting any wildlife. We considered using a guide but in the end we didn’t for a few reasons. One was that we spoke to a few that were hanging around and they all spoke zero to little English. Two, we heard that they aren’t any better at spotting the wildlife. This was confirmed when on our second to last day, a group of five other tourists came, and they all hired a guide for a 5 hour walk – they saw nothing.

The issue is that in this kind of dense jungle, it is so hard, for anyone, to see wildlife. The jungle is absolutely amazing, for what it is; a rainforest. I’d recommend doing multiple walks (alone would be fine as long as you stick to the trail) but just enjoy them for the forest itself. If you see any wildlife, then that’s a bonus, but don’t go in expecting to because you may be disappointed.

If spotting an orangutan, is high on your list of priorities, then (kind of annoyingly) your best bet is to sit around either the cafeteria, reception area, and dorm area. We were continually told this and it was indeed right. The guides know of the close areas, ask them where the spots are, and check them out every day. The orang-utans love figs so find the fig trees and check them at the best times of day.

There is a great observation tower not far from the main centre; a 15 minute walk on one of the trails. It’s really high; ladder climb up a towering tree. We got up there for sunrise to witness all the birds waking up. One other couple saw some red leaf monkeys up there but all we, and several others, saw were birds (amazing ones though).

There are tours offered for 160myr, which can be split among several people. There is a night drive to try and spot wildlife. We passed on this as we had recently done some night walks and river cruises in Sepilok. The kind of things you will spot here are the obvious nocturnal animals; civets, owls etc... do a bit of Googling to see if it’s worth your money.

We did a morning sunrise drive to a high vantage point up and it was spectacular. We shared the trip with a bunch of people that arrived at the end of our stay so we paid a good price. We got some great views across the valley.

Conclusion
As a whole it was a great experience and I would do it again and recommend others to go. Just don’t expect any decent service and do expect to pay over the odds. If you are mentally prepared for this then they can only exceed your expectations service-wise.

The rainforest and walks were as amazing as we’d hoped. We would have liked to be able to see more wildlife, ‘in the wild’ rather than near the buildings, but it’s so hard in the dense jungle.

I had a lot of complaints about the Centre but in the end, they don’t officially allow tourists, and it’s an amazingly great experience regardless. I think I was just unprepared for what I got.

Here is the actual review I left on Trip Advisor which discusses my split opinions on the Field Centre a bit more:

Review

If there’s anything I’ve left out please say so and I’ll try to help out. It is annoying how difficult it can be to see the Danum Valley so I hope I help others.

With regards to any email addresses that I managed to contact them on… I do hope that by giving them out it doesn’t make them regret letting tourists in. I hope they don’t get swamped and decide to deter people even more. The facilities there are so underused but it just seems like the staff don’t care… and if they received a landslide of enquiries, they seem like the kind of staff to get annoyed and change email addresses etc.

Sigh, I hope it doesn’t backfire… Here they are:

wongrichel88@yahoo.com

rifhanmar@yahoo.com

sck_72@yahoo.com.my

jkosgidiman@yahoo.com

Posted by Explorer_T 10:16 Archived in Malaysia Tagged malaysia borneo sabah danum danum_valley danum_valley_field_centre Comments (0)

Komodo Island Part Two


View World Tour on Explorer_T's travel map.

It was just the four of us and our ranger, no other tourists in sight at all. No other boats were docked up at the pier either. This was a good sign as big groups of stomping tourists can scare away wildlife. We were only walking for about five minutes before we heard a rustle in some trees; we instinctively spun, cameras trained like guns, and looked for what lurked close by. It was a friendly deer, scratching its horns against a tree. The deer seemed unaware of us for a few moments. Then his gaze shot up and stared at us, for the usual ten seconds of fight or flight decision making. An instant later there was another rustle and it was gone – flight was the chosen option.

I’ve heard that a lot of people, who are very familiar with deer, detest them, describing them as parasite-bearing pests. These seem to be people who live in places where deer come into their back gardens and be a general nuisance etc. On the other hand, other people, including ourselves, still find them cute, gentle, and generally a little like Bambi.

No less than five minutes later we approached a bit of a clearing. We could see around four deer in the trees at the far end of the clearing. I then heard a whisper that very much sounded like “a dragon, a dragon”. Not knowing who muttered the whisper, we all huddled together without a word to try and see what the whisperer had seen. Then there it was. A long dark monster-sized lizard led in the shade at the edge of the clearing. It was totally flat on the ground, arms and legs lazily down by its sides… almost as if doing the ‘plank’. Led by the ranger we ventured closer, now around fifteen metres away. We saw another dragon to the left, slightly further away than the first. This dragon was again resting in some shade. Being coldblooded animals they do lie out in the sun, but when the heat is too much they take to the shade.

IMG_0502.jpg

We got closer still. Once closer we could see that the dragon’s body was led in a kind of bendy wave, almost like a snake or what you would imagine them to swim like.

The closer dragon raised his head to see who these approaching figures were, but he didn’t seem too concerned. With this being a national park and the dragons being protected as an endangered species (as well as being the uncontested top predator on the island) he didn’t have any fear of us. We, on the other hand had a very healthy fear of him. They can apparently run very fast in short bursts. These guys did look very lazy though. They kept an eye on us but never showed any sign of getting up. I went around to the side to get a little closer for a photograph, big stick in hand. It was hard to guess the length of the two dragons as they were led in this wave pose, shortening their length, but I’d guess they were both around the 7 foot mark.

The two dragons didn’t look as scary as we imagined; being led flat on the ground they still looked long, but not necessarily very tall and threatening. This soon changed however when our guide decided to hook his stick under one of the dragon’s tails. Maybe he thought we wanted some action and better photographs. We kind of did, but only if it was natural; this teasing and provoking of the animal wasn’t what we would have chosen.

What was shown to us though, was the animal’s quick reactions and strength. With a loud crack and lift of dust and soil, the dragon’s tail swung and whipped the stick to the side. The guide did it again and the dragon swung again, this time standing up and moving further away. He was irritated, but not enough to make a fight out of it. Once he was stood up we could see the powerful legs and thick veiny body. We saw how threatening he looked. He had a slow, moody swaying walk, and with his long tongue flicking out; it looked very calculated and sinister.

IMG_0453.jpg

We stayed in this area for around ten minutes in total before moving on. Some people don’t get to see any dragon’s here if they’re unfortunate so we were very happy to see two early on in our walk. As we turned I saw a deer dart across the walking trail and effortlessly jump over a huge fallen tree. We walked along the trail, spotting small lizards, cockatoos, and some amazing flowers. Our guide spotted many birds that we never even managed to see.

The trail eventually led upward and we stopped for a breather and photo-opp at the top of a hill. There was no shade up here and the sun was mercilessly firing photons at our poor white skin. Up close a lot of the plants and trees were brown and looked starved for water, but the elevated scenic views revealed a landscape full of healthy green.

The trail led down again; we spotted several more nervous deer in the foliage and a huge bees nest high up in a tree. The reaction to the bees nest was an all-around mutual, “oh wow cool… okay now let’s move on!”

We were on flat ground and near the ocean again, walking toward some buildings. We thought this was the end of the walk but as we approached a collection of wooden buildings we saw a small horde of dragons around one particular cabin. The word horde may imply that they were all stood up in battle formation, but just as their cousins at the beginning of our walk, they were all lazing around, some in the sun and others in the shade of the building. As we closed in with our eyes focused on the horde, we almost stepped on another dragon that we hadn’t seen. We probably wouldn’t have actually stepped on it, being as big as it was, rather kicked and fallen over it. Luckily we all noticed at the same time only a few feet away from the dozing lizard. Its dull coloured scaly skin had camouflaged itself against the soil.

This particular cabin that was surrounded by dragons was the kitchen for the people who lived and worked here. We asked if the dragons were fed by people, but we were told no. We were told that they used to feed the dragons up until the mid-nineties, but since then they haven’t fed them. I would be tempted not to believe the guy, as the dragons were evidently gathered here hoping for something. The other side to the argument would be the online reports that I’d read of other travellers that have come to the island; I’d not read that there were always dragons gathered at the kitchen, some people having seen very few dragons on their whole walk. It could either just be the smell of food that continually attracts them, or that the guide was fibbing and they do feed them.

We managed to get close to the dragons in a relatively safe way, by walking up the few steps onto the raised porch of the cabin. Some of these dragons were huge. While we were in front of the cabin taking photos, the dragon behind us that we almost tripped over got up and walked toward the cabin, walking right past us. He would have walked within about five feet of us had we not put a bit more space in between us. We stood still and watched the slow, calculated walk; his big sharp claws scuffing the floor and dragging behind with each step. There was something mesmerizing about the way they moved… and again, something very sinister. It’s when they walk that their long forked tongues slowly flick out to smell the surrounding area; their tongues alone are as big as some snakes. It all makes the dragon look as if it’s always thinking, and planning something.

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We saw a few dragons walking around like this, only to collapse again to rest. The slumbering dragons. A few looked with impatience at another when they walked over them or collapsed clumsily half on them. At one point a dragon, seemingly unprovoked, stood up and marched toward myself and the guide. The pace was twice as quick as we’d seen them move up till this point. I moved a few paces backward and knelt down to take a photo. I felt safe with the guide next to me. His big stick (no jokes) was forked at the end to stop, or slow down, an animal by the neck. If a few dragons came toward us in some planned assault however, I would have been out of there.

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At one point a small curious black bore came from the trees to investigate the area. His little tail wagged as he frequently stopped to look at us and the dragons. He got surprisingly close to the dragons, which looked up in half interest but took no action. Like lions and other such animals, when they are full, they can be seen standing right next to a potential meal without the potential meal having to flee. The bore wandered around sniffing happily for a few minutes and then trotted off back to the trees. As with the islands themselves, I’m projecting certain human-like qualities onto the animals – or to use a fancy word, employing anthropomorphism – I’m aware that this isn’t strictly the truth, but it makes for better storytelling.

We checked the time and realised our time was up and we needed to get back to our boat. We’d seen seven Komodo dragons in total, a very impressive number compared to several reports that I’d read, and so much more than we were expecting to see.

Back on the boat we ate some snacks and headed towards where we would be sleeping for the night. We witnessed a nice sunset on the way and came to a stop in the midst of many other boats out in the open water. There were huge flying foxes (bats) high up in the air that eventually settled themselves in some mangroves on a nearby island. As we ate our dinner we heard a little unfamiliar voice from nowhere. With the sun now gone, it was pitch black all around the boat, unable to see even the water. The voice was a man in a small canoe at the side of our boat. He was selling beers and souvenirs. This gave us all a chuckle; he left without a sale though.

It was time for bed. The sleep was pretty tough; with the rocking of the boat, and each bed being slightly narrower than a single size (for two of us), and Álvaro snoring his head off. Still, it’s better than a lot of these tours that have you sleep out on the deck.

It was around 5am when the boat started chugging again. We all tried to stubbornly keep ourselves asleep a little while longer, but by 6 we were all up and on the deck.
After some breakfast we all got prepared for Rinca Island. We arrived nice and early before any other tourists, and maybe more importantly, before the midday heat. I was majorly burned from the day before. In fact I was the most burnt that I’ve ever been. I had used sun cream, but obviously not enough; the walking, the swimming, and the fact that being in a small boat made the sun’s rays inescapable, all added up to what looked like second degree burns.

The set up was basically the same as before, we got our guide, complete with big stick, and he showed us a map of the trails. Our new guide seemed to be more informative and professional. I doubted that we would see him poke anything with the stick. We left the lodge and after a two minute walk we came to a huge clearing. In front of us was a big stone entrance with a massive stone Komodo dragon on each side. It felt very Jurassic Park. The immediate land around us was mostly barren, with trees and hills in the distance.

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We followed the guide for around a minute before seeing our first dragons. Under the shade of a nearby tree there was a big flat dragon and a smaller one that was slowly walking around sniffing the air with its tongue. The smaller one looked around three feet long, and must just be big enough to hang around with the bigger guys. When the dragons are first born they take to the treetops and stay there until they are big enough to avoid being eaten by the bigger boys, who are too heavy to climb.

Our walk started on the other side of where the locals live and so we came across another horde of dragons near a kitchen building. These guys were more active than on Komodo Island, although most were still sprawled out flat on the ground. We snapped some photos and headed out on our walk; we were keen to see more in their natural environment, rather than sleeping outside a kitchen.

On to the proper forest trail, we saw plenty of small monkeys misbehaving, sometimes stopping to look at us, as if they’d been caught being naughty. Around ten minutes into the walk we saw a huge hole in the ground to our left, and it was guarded by a massive dragon. The guide informed us that this female was guarding her nest of eggs. The dragon’s lair. Apparently the female would stay here for months guarding her eggs, mostly from other dragons, and sometimes digging other holes to confuse others. We were far enough away not to stir the protective mother and so we walked past without any trouble.

Our guide stopped and showed us several species of bird and general flora. We came to a tree that had several large skulls leaned against it. These were deer skulls and the result of hungry dragons. Our walk led us to the side of a stream and we followed it for a while. Half way down the stream we saw an enormous water buffalo having a bath. Only his head and top part of his body were visible out of the water. We were only around ten feet away from him but he seemed unbothered, although he never took eyes off us. His head was surrounded by a swarm of flies and every now and then he would dunk his head in the water to try and get rid of the annoyance. It was around 11am now and the heat was taking its toll on us, and the wildlife. We were envious of the buffalo’s cool bath. After a few minutes the buffalo leaned on his side and showed us his underbelly. He just looked at us with his limbs raised, as if he wanted us to tickle him.

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This scene with the buffalo in the stream reminded me of a David Attenborough documentary I once saw on the dragons – that had a very good chance of being filmed here considering the small number of places they are found – and they filmed a dragon attack a buffalo in a stream. The giant lizard lunged at it and tore into the buffalo’s back leg. The buffalo towered above the dragon but the dragon had a plan. Once he had sneakily slashed its leg open he played the waiting game. The bacteria-filled saliva from the dragon slowly infected the buffalo’s wound. The buffalo lasted weeks, but the dragon never lost sight of it, always within metres of it. Eventually the infection had spread throughout the buffalo and he collapsed, becoming a very large meal for several dragons.

The walk so far was better than the Komodo equivalent; the forest felt more untouched and like we were really in the dragon’s wild habitat. This was given the winning moment when our guide pointed to something to our left through some trees. We stopped and strained to look through the branches. We could see mounds of soil being thrown up from inside a big hole. A moment later a dragon’s head popped up, looked around and then looked at us. Just seeing the extended neck and head in view, it looked so much like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. I was living out my boyhood dream as close as I ever could. The dragon studied us for a minute or so and then went back to its business of digging a nest. We couldn’t get any closer and from our angle all we could see was the soil being thrown out, so we moved on.

Our walk came to an end back where we started at the cabins surrounded by lazy dragons. The area was now full of tourists snapping photos. We felt like these ‘show dragons’ were beneath us now we had seen some in their natural territory. As we walked back towards the pier we saw group after group of tourists; some having around fifteen people in. We were glad that we’d had such a small group. The tiny wooden pier looked hilarious now, completely surrounded by around fifteen boats. We made sure to thank our captain for getting us here early.

We had one last stop before arriving back to Labuan Bajo; a small idyllic island with white sand and crystal clear water. The other three snorkelled for twenty minutes – I opted out of this one. Between my tender burnt skin and my prior ocean experience, I didn’t fancy taking any chances. The fragility of my English body was all too evident; what I needed was lots of after-sun and some solid ground.

With everyone back aboard we headed back for the mainland and eventually a flight back to Bali. The trip had been a success. We’d seen 18 dragons in total, plus a whole manner of other wildlife; way more than we had hoped for. It was our first taste of some truly exotic wildlife in Asia, and hopefully not our last.

Posted by Explorer_T 08:53 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia komodo rinca komodo_dragons Comments (0)

Here be Dragons. Komodo Island - part one.

Part One of the trip to Komodo & Rinca Islands, Indonesia.


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Komodo

After spending some time on a boat, it’s not hard to start projecting personas onto the islands that you pass by. Some can look like paradise, with clear waters and lush vegetation, and others can look terrifying with dark caves and harsh grey cliffs.

In times gone past, if an island looked intimidating sailors would mark their maps “Here be dragons” to show dangerous and unexplored areas. I’m unsure whether they were being metaphorical or literal, probably a mix, but I would imagine a few were of the superstitious breed and perhaps imagined giant flying fire breathing creatures lurking in the shadows of the dark volcanoes.

Mythology aside – and yes I’m sorry to confirm that the flying fire breathing creatures known as dragons are definitely safely categorised as myth (this is just a little nod to someone I met in the past six months who truly believed they are real). Anyway, mythology aside, there does exist an extremely large species of monitor lizard with the thrilling name, Komodo dragon. They are the largest living species of lizard on Earth; growing up to a length of 10 feet (3 metres) and weighing as much as an average man - a slight upgrade from the common newt-sized lizards that you normally see.

I’ve known about the Komodo dragons for as long as I can remember; it’s not the kind of animal a young boy forgets once he’s seen it, even on a documentary. As a child I loved animals, and I loved dinosaurs, so Komodo dragons naturally fit the bill for one of the coolest animal alive.

Fast forward to today and I’m pretty much just a 6foot2 version of that same child; I still love animals and dinosaurs and so Komodo dragons were definitely on my list of things to see in South East Asia. Indonesia is the only place in the world to find them in the wild, and more specifically, only a handful of small islands in Indonesia. Some online research resulted in Komodo and Rinca Islands being our two destinations to hopefully catch a glimpse of the beasts.

The trip didn’t look amazingly easy from what I read. Firstly, the only two airlines that could take us from Bali to the port town of Labuan Bajo were very unreliable. And two, the ocean waters that the boat trips go through to Komodo can be treacherous and have resulted in numerous accidents.

We looked into some package tours with the hope that they could offer us some security with the flights and provide us with a professional boat crew. Unfortunately the $500 price tag for a one night two day tour was too high for us and so we sat slumped in Bali deciding whether to try to plan the trip ourselves or give it a miss. It came down to our last night in our current hotel and we needed to decide whether to risk the trip, or make other plans. I rang the airport to see how much the flights were for the following day. The flights were affordable but the last possible time to book for the following day was in person, at the airport, in an hour’s time. The airport was an hour away in good traffic. A last minute spontaneous decision saw us racing to the hotel’s taxi stand. We told the driver we had to be there in forty-five minutes.

What followed was like a Hollywood car-chase scene. We raced through the tiny Balinese streets, overtaking cars, buses, bikes… weaving in and out of lanes. The Balinese driving is mental already, with the streets filled with scooters and seemingly no rules, but this was even crazier. We slalomed our way to the airport, being thrown around the insides of the car, and then ran to the flight office, barging in through the door. “Anthony?” The woman from the phone was expecting us. We had about three minutes to spare. We booked the flights. To celebrate we picked up some KFC and enjoyed a normal paced taxi drive back to the hotel.

We fired off an email reservation to a hotel in Labuan Bajo and the next morning we were boarding a little plane to go see some dragons.

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The plan was a bit of a gamble as we had booked the flight with no boat trip organised and so we hoped to find ourselves a tour whilst there. I had read online that you can directly approach the boat captains at the harbour and haggle for prices, so that was our plan.

We arrived in Labuan Bajo ‘airport’ (it was just a room) and watched people get harassed by taxi drivers for a while whilst we adjusted to the heat and prepared for the coming price-haggle. All the drivers were charging well over what you would expect to pay for the 10 minute drive to the harbour. I scanned the room to see if any other travellers roughly fit into our backpacker demographic and I hit upon a tanned couple, with backpacks on, looking in their Lonely Planet book. Bingo. Within a few minutes we were all acquainted and in a taxi together with our taxi costs cut in half.

Vicky and Álvaro are from Spain and they were here in Labuan Bajo looking for an ad-hoc boat trip as well. We all arrived at the harbour and began our search for tours. There were a few more shops set up with packaged tours than our online research led us to believe. The town itself was small and dirty and it looked like it surely wouldn’t have any tourists if not for it being a base for Komodo Island etc.

Laura and I clocked a few advertised prices and then headed to the main harbour to see if the whole haggling with captains’ thing could work out. We only spoke to one ‘captain’ and he offered us an okay price. We told him we’d be back. Our plan was to just get an idea of the prices, then go to our hotel, and then return with a plan of attack price-wise the next day when we were rested and without our heavy bags.

One initial concern that crept up was the fact that a lot of people stopped us on the street saying “You want to see dragons? I have boat, I am captain.” Far too many people seemed to be captains. This made us slightly wary over who to trust; even the guys at the harbour standing in front of boats could be anybody. Nobody looked official enough for us to be sure. There weren’t enough boats in the whole of Indonesia for all these men to claim. The guy on the harbour we actually spoke to wasn’t the most convincing either, he pointed lazily to a random boat declaring it was his; but we wouldn’t know until we left on it with him, and even then, how would we know that he would keep us safe, or that we hadn’t all just become boat-thieves… that would technically make us pirates though, which would make for an interesting story.

We had these seeds of doubt in our heads as we left the harbour. We didn’t mind too much as our immediate plan was to go rest, speak to the staff at our hotel and figure out a strategy, rather than to just say yes to a random person at the harbour. At this moment we bumped into the Spanish couple again and they had received a good quote for a trip, and an even better price could be offered if we all went together. It was organised through a proper tour agency in a hotel (Gardenia Hotel). It was very well run, names taken and sent to the harbour master etc. and plus it was a great price. The Spanish couple also had two nights’ accommodation booked so it all worked out perfectly, we all booked for a tour for two days’ time.

I’ll keep our hotel stay short; just to say that the island and its surrounds were beautiful. We had a bungalow on the side of a hill, and the most amazing views of the surrounding ocean and islands.

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Cut to two days later and we were on our official dragon boat. It was a small simple boat. We had a weathered-looking captain, two younger crew, and our own little cabin with two double bunk beds… we were all happy. The captain and crew busied themselves with boat stuff whilst the four of us chatted away about travel stories.

Our agreed itinerary: First thing on day one we would try to spot manta rays, then we would go to ‘Pink Beach’ to snorkel, after that we would reach Komodo Island for the dragons, and finally anchor up to sleep near where a bunch of flying foxes hang out. Day two we were finish off at Rinca Island for more dragons and a bit more snorkelling.

A little while into our journey I decided it was time to tell Laura some small facts about the islands and dragons. Laura was fully up for the trip from the first moments, but really on no other information than that the Komodo dragons are pretty awesome. I had a little more of an involved interest for the trip and thus I was more read up on the situation and I had perhaps held back a few tiny facts from her that I thought may endanger the trip itself if she knew… and I really wanted to go. You have to be careful when you suggest a trip like this to a partner or friends, especially ones who may scare easily. Now that there was no going back though, I thought I should give her the full sales pitch.

For instance, I now mentioned the fact that this is an animal bigger and heavier than herself, an animal whose diet consists entirely of meat, and one that will eat almost anything; from their own young to deer to buffalo. This is an animal that can swallow a goat whole, using their loosely articulated jaws and expandable stomachs. An animal with a mouth full of bacteria-ridden saliva that basically forms venom to infect and slowly kill their prey... and we will have nothing but a ranger with a long stick to protect us.

Laura sat there wide-eyed looking at me, but I continued on and tried to calmly slide in a few other facts to make the dragons seem like less of a worry, such as Komodo island having more snakes per square metre than anywhere else on the planet and that the ocean here is potentially very dangerous; the islands being in the region where the Pacific and Indian oceans collide, causing strong currents and whirlpools.

After some laughter (from me) and fretting (from her) I downplayed it by comparing it with the fact that we’d just lived, and even camped, in Australia for a whole year; the home to some of the world’s most dangerous snakes, spiders, sharks, and jellyfish, and we’d come away completely unharmed. I told her we’d be fine. Our biggest danger was probably severe sunburn. Probably.

After an hour of chat we spotted some boats ahead with people in the water snorkelling, this apparently meant that there were manta rays in the area. The two crew boys jumped high up on our boat and started to try spot the rays. We all strained to see any dark blobs under the surface but unfortunately nothing was spotted in the area and we left a little disappointed.

The crew stayed vigilant however and about ten minutes later one of the guys spotted something far off into the distance. It took a further five minutes of closing in on the manta ray before any of the rest of us actually saw it too. A big black blob gliding near the surface of the water, it looked to be around 5 feet wide, a baby in manta ray terms. The Spanish couple were prepared with snorkels on and flippers attached, and they dived in instantly. Laura and I didn’t have our own equipment so we used the ones provided by the boat crew; just a mask and snorkel. We got prepared and waited a few more minutes as we coasted alongside the manta ray and the Spanish couple.

Laura kindly offered that I went first, and so I did. I jumped in and was immediately swept alongside the boat; this seemed a lot harder than it appeared when the Spanish couple entered the water. When they entered they gathered their own speed and kept a steady path parallel to the boat. I on the other hand was behind the boat within about ten seconds. A couple of things happened here: Huge waves battered my face every few seconds, and my mask seemed to do absolutely nothing; I snorted salty water up into my nostrils, which when combined with the fact that I haven’t swam in the ocean, or even swam in general, for years, entailed a mild flapping panic on my behalf.
I could see the boat advancing ahead of me with Laura happily still sat on the edge of the boat looking at the manta ray, unaware of my predicament.

I had my mask on but water was still somehow getting up my nose so I tried to keep my head above the water, which was hard with the constant waves bashing into me, and I swam full pelt front crawl for around thirty seconds to catch the boat (or so I thought). Now combine the initial snorting oxygen-gasping panic with the shock to every muscle in my body from this sprint after no warm up (not to mention an awful current level of fitness) and you have a very tired backpacker. I stopped after what felt like an age and looked at where the boat was. I was no closer! The crew finally realised that I looked like I was dying and they threw an inflatable thing attached to a rope and slowed the boat down. I still had to swim for another thirty seconds or so to grab the thing but I made it and they pulled me in, like the frail old lady that I seemed to be.

I reached the boat to hear the crew shouting to everybody to get back aboard. Apparently there were some strong currents here and we should get out…
I’m glad my flailing attempt to keep alive made them aware of the menacing current in the area. The whole thing only lasted about three or four minutes but my body felt like the ocean had just abused me for hours.

Laura and the Spanish couple seemed totally unaware of my slight ordeal. Vicky and Álvaro were obviously swimming way up ahead and had no idea, and Laura just didn’t see what happened; she was only in the water for about a minute herself before she was told to get back out. Anyway all three of them were fortunate enough to swim close to the manta ray and they were overjoyed chatting about it on the boat. Meanwhile my body seemed to go in to a mild shock for ten minutes; my legs and arms were jelly, with a banging headache and I felt like I was going to throw up. I was really happy for them though, really I was.

The 30+ degree heat was attacking us from all angles as we chatted for the next hour or so. We approached our next destination, pink beach. The Spanish couple shared a brilliant recent travel story. Only a week earlier Vicky had found a small book in her bag that wasn’t her own. Álvaro apparently teased her saying it wasn’t her bag, but it turned out it was indeed her own bag – but the book was not. Was this just an accident…?

Vicky got the book out to show us and she pointed to the book’s main title, which seemed to be brilliantly relevant; “How did it get here?”

I could leave it at that and it would be a nice little story, a strange coincidence or perhaps a funny prank by a fellow backpacker, but a few more details reveal a more calculated cause of events. The funny title was a word longer upon closer inspection, “Life - How did it get here?” Our eyes narrowed as we looked over the rest of the cover: the subtitle in smaller letters “By evolution or creation?”

A brief flick through the pages saw this old and colour-faded book try to argue that evolution is a lie created by Satan and that the only other answer to life must be the magic snapping of fingers by a God. This was a sneaky Jehovah’s Witness book-plant! Some sneaky little faithster had moved on from door-knocking and turned to leaving religious booby traps in the bags of backpackers.

What a brilliant story to have, I wish it were my own. If I can spare the money and identify any Jehovah’s Witnesses I intend to buy a few copies of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and return the favour – one day my friends, one day. I wonder if they would also tell the story with some of their friends and laugh about it as Vicky and Alvaro did. One can only hope they would find the humour in it all but I am highly doubtful.

We arrived at Pink beach and moored to a buoy away from the shore. We didn’t know what to expect but the sand didn’t look very pink from the distance. I stood up and looked gingerly at the ocean to see if it was mocking me post-abuse. I had spent the last twenty minutes being laughed at by Laura after I told her what happened; it was already just a funny mishap so we donned our snorkels and entered the water. I still didn’t actually know at this point that my mask was faulty; the early part of this blog only knows of that fact with hindsight helping out.

We were about a five to ten minute swim away from the shore and we heard there were some amazing coral and fish to see so we slowly headed out into the water. I immediately struggled again as I snorted up some water. I was confused as I didn’t know if it was my own fault (mask not tight enough or breathing wrong?) or if it was the mask itself. With the waters being a bit calmer and the fact that I wasn’t being swept away in a current, I had time to tread water and actually think of what to do. I decided to make it to the beach first; on the way spotting a huge turtle swimming below Laura and I. The turtle effortlessly glided past us, Laura swam after it for a closer view as I headed for the shore.

I was joined by Laura five minutes later after she’d swam with the turtle for a bit longer. We led on the beach for a while and talked about the amazing sea life here, it was full of all kinds of different colourful fish. On closer inspection the sand was actually sprinkled with red bits, I guess just not enough to look red from a distance, but it did appear pink up close. I was annoyed at only being able to get short glimpses before my mask filled with water.

A speedboat brought some elderly tourists from their main boat right up to the sand. They all stumbled out and immediately took the only shade offered on the beach under a tree. The temperature was intense; we couldn’t stay on the beach very long. Laura suggested we swap masks and she ventured into the water. She came back up gasping for air herself. The surprise of water slowly leaking in the mask to then be ingested up the nose proved to be as much as a shock to her as it was for me. I was able to regain a fraction of my ego by telling her to imagine that feeling combined with being completely exhausted and in the throes of a strong current trying to kidnap her.

Back on our boat we dried off and discussed the stunning sea life. Our excitement levels started to rise; this was the final stretch of sailing before we reached the reason why we were all here. We were here to see the prehistoric-looking Komodo dragons in the wild.

A little word on how they look… Along with crocodiles, the dragons are perhaps the closest looking thing to dinosaurs, and this excites people, including us, into thinking they are some kind of leftover survivor of the dinosaurs. This fantasy is to be short-lived however once you look at the science. The Komodo dragons are but a cousin of the dinosaurs, having evolved down a separate path. Crocodiles are also just cousins of the extinct monsters (closer cousins than the dragons). Against our all intuitive protests, today’s birds are decidedly the direct descendants of the dinosaurs and the closest related thing to that big tyrannosaurs rex you saw in Jurassic Park. But still… birds are a bit of a let-down when compared to the idea of dinosaurs, and Komodo dragons do still look like dinosaurs, and that is still good enough to get us excited.

I don’t apologise for sneaking in bits of education, but let’s get back to the actual adventure. We approached Komodo Island. All we could see in the foreground was a small deserted wooden pier. The bigger picture saw large ominous looking hills sprawl out to either side of us. We pulled up to the pier, our captain informed us that we had two hours and we left the boat. We found the small registration office and paid our fees for the national park entry and ranger guide. Our ranger was a small skinny Indonesian guy armed with a 6 foot stick. He briefly showed us a map of the walking route we’d be taking and we headed straight off into the dragon’s homeland.

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Posted by Explorer_T 08:11 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia komodo rinca komodo_dragons Comments (0)

Finding oneself - a blog from within

Have I 'found myself' yet?

Have I ‘found myself’ yet?

People in movies often throw out the cliché that they’re going travelling to ‘find themselves’. It’s usually said by someone in a midlife crisis; when they think they have nowhere else to turn or they are completely sick of their life. In my own experience so far I’d say that the vast majority of backpackers are below thirty years old and therefore not old enough and disappointed enough with their life yet, to need to find themselves in that sense. Hollywood aside, I think that a lot of these young real life wanderers do have a sense of wanting to find themselves. They haven’t had a midlife crisis but they are indeed often looking to find something. I don’t know if many of them travel with the idea specifically in mind or what exactly it is that they are looking for, but most are out to see new places and have new experiences.

As a disclaimer I should point out that I am still in the midst of my travelling period so this will change and evolve as my travels continue, but I thought a mid-point blog on the subject would be interesting to read back in the months/years to come.

I was aware of the phrase and I never really thought much of it, it sounded almost cryptic. I’ve been away from home for over a year but I’ve only really travelled ‘easy countries’ up to now; most speaking English and most highly developed. The next part of my trip will see this flipped on its head. I foresee more challenges, more culture shock, and more life lessons with each new Asian country than all of my travelling thus far put together. With over eight Asian countries lined up at this point, that’s a lot of lessons and challenges to be had!

Having said that, I have learned a few things up to now, and I thought it would be a good idea to share what I feel I’ve learnt up till this point.

I think it’s very important to do things that you wouldn’t normally do; the ‘get out of your comfort zone’, another cliché I admit. It’s part of the finding oneself idea and it does make sense. If you live all your life in your comfort zone without ever testing yourself, you could become so comfortable that you end up having a deluded view of yourself. How do you know if you could or could not climb that mountain? How do you know that you would cope or not cope with camping out in the freezing cold whilst huge grizzly bears are stalking the surrounding area? How do you know that meeting new, seemingly odd, people out in the country won’t open your eyes to other views that change your life?

Even if you think you have no interest in climbing a mountain or meeting strange new people, I would urge everyone to give it all a go. You will learn that you are just an observer to your actions. You don’t know how you will react in a new situation, assuming you can’t do something is the wrong attitude to have. You will surprise yourself. You will surprise yourself in pleasant ways and maybe in negative ways. It's all 'finding yourself'. I never really knew that I had developed a slight fear of heights. I’d been in my comfort zone for so long I didn’t even know; I seemed to be okay with heights as a child… so I had just assumed that I was still okay with heights now. This was unexpectedly revealed to me when I was on a hike in the US. I got up to a certain height, on a narrow ledge with huge drops on each side before it hit me. It gave me a shock, my legs felt shaky, I froze. I felt the need to crouch down into the fetal position and suck my thumb.

I was on a two week long tour with these kinds of hikes and climbs every other day, and a week later I had conquered my newly found shaky legs and I was climbing to scary heights with confidence. It’s a small example but it is a window into the idea that I’m talking about.

Maybe you get stranded somewhere with no obvious way out of a potentially dangerous situation, but you do get out of it, you use your intelligence and wits to figure out the problem – whether it’s navigating your way through a dark scary town when you are lost, or keeping enough strength and motivation to climb that mountain – you really won’t know if you are capable or not, until you try it.

The second thing I have learned is to be willing to talk to anyone and everyone, and not judge them because they look or act different to yourself. How do you know that your views and opinions are the best ones? It may sound weird but if you are never challenged by new, interesting, and odd ideas and opinions, you will miss out.

Even if you never have a ‘born again’ moment with any of your ideals or values, you will one hundred per cent still meet a whole manner of interesting and wonderful people. I’ve met scientists on their phd research, tv show actors, people who were certain that aliens built the great pyramids, people that have been travelling for over ten years solid, a guy that had written, filmed and directed his own tv series built from the ground up, circus performers, an eleven year old kid that wanted to be a stem-cell scientist when he grows up…

…this doesn’t even touch on all the young people that I’ve met that are each full of their own aspirations and life plans. Each and every conversation has the potential to open one’s own eyes to a new idea, path in life, or simply an interesting conversation.

The two things I’ve hit on up to now – getting out of your comfort zone and being open to talk to anyone – are given extra weight with all the time a traveller gets to reflect. There are many long moments of solitude, if you so wish. Long plane and bus journeys, a week relaxing by a beach; these opportunities are plentiful if you want them, especially as a solo traveller. You get time to review how you acted in that situation, or about what that guy said, or how great that new bizarre dish tasted. The more you reflect the easier it is to feel yourself changing.

The term finding yourself is perhaps more accurate expressed as ‘creating yourself’, though not as pleasing a phrase. That is what’s happening, you might not suddenly have a light bulb moment in the middle of a jungle and be completely transformed forever (possible but not for me yet) but it’s like small pieces of a jigsaw are being added all the time. Some pieces don’t fit and are discarded, some struggle to fit and wiggle in, and others are massive and fit right in the middle and you wonder how you had never seen the piece before.

Posted by Explorer_T 02:24 Comments (1)

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