Gili and Komodo

After a solid week or R and R on Gili T, I was ready to move on. The area had the party vibe, but I didn’t, particularly – I’d committed to keeping a bead on my work over the course of this holiday, and it kept me from switching off completely. There were more than a few hours spent poolside or beachfront working through some of the lit I’d brought along, but the huge nights that would have dominated was I five years youngers were absent.

I can’t work, write, or think properly on a hangover these days, no matter how mindless my work can be. Days on the beers will stack up a hangover until all I can do is sleep, chug Hydralyte, and pray for death. I suppose I could have confined it to the weekends, but taking days off is still a concept I’m working on.

This was combined with the girl developing a solid case of Gili Belly. Eventually, we realised that this was due to our occasional use of tap water tooth-brushing reasons, a dumb oversight on my part that was due to a lack of third-world practice. It’s been too long, and the girl – and the toilet – paid the price, and cost her a chance to finish her dive license. Nevertheless, we were tanned and relaxed after this stretch, and after the inevitable transfer through Bali, we flew to western Flores, for a trip I’d been dying to do for over half a decade.

Komodo National Park lies between Sumbawa and Flores, and incorporates both Komodo Island and Rinca Island – both supporting populations of the infamous dragons. But it’s the underwater life that brought me there. This stretch of water, constantly swept by tidal currents running between the Indian and South Pacific, hosts some of the most diverse and well-protected reefs in the world. We spent four days and three nights on the Neren liveaboard, amid a diverse international cast, spending hours under the surface amid some of the best diving in the world.

Each day, the turn of the tide brought the cooler water from the Pacific back in to the archipelago, lowering the temp enough to necessitate a 4mm wetsuit. It played some havoc with your buoyancy, and the constant currents kept you checking your oxygen usage. But the constant wash created a plankton supply that fed a stunning array of corals, an incredible variety of reef fish, and encouraged pelagic species to come inshore, as well. From five-metre manta rays, to black and white-tip reef sharks, more turtles than I could count, eagle rays, enormous Giant Travelly, green and giant Moray eels, dolphins, banded sea snakes, and even whales, we were spoiled for diversity. We slept on the rooftop of the boat, a converted fishing boat replete with scant beam and high prow, amid the desert-island scenery.

The visibility was less than Caribbean quality, the result of the nutrient-richness of the water. The water held more of a light green than blue siren, and making out sea life more than ten metres away was a struggle. I’ve still never seen a whale shark in the flesh, and although they are present here, you would need to be very close by to make one out in the murk.

We made use of the tidal currents to perform some drift dives, where you essentially make yourself neutrally buoyant and slide past reef edges or feeding flats. If the sea floor was clear of coral, you would wait until you came across something worth a look – perhaps a manta ray in it’s cleaning station, where dozens of small fish picked the parasites off of it for a meal – and deflate your BCD, anchoring yourself to the ocean floor with your L-hook or just your hands, to take in the view. Along with some night dives, which came replete with ample lion fish sightings and some late nights, we were completely flogged by nightfall, and slept heavily.

We made it ashore on Komodo to take in the dragons, which lounged around the scrub and underbrush here for the occasional meal. They are essentially glorified monitor lizards,albeit closer to dinosaur than pet. Their bite isn’t venomous, but their saliva is so septic that one bite kills their deer prey within a week. With two guards keeping close eye on them, we snapped some shots.

These far-flung spots always give rise to interesting dive groups, and this liveaboard was no exception. We had a Czech polyglot, teaching in Rome, fluent in ten tongues. A Madrid firefighter, a devoted polyamorist and member of the United Nations Rescue Team. An english couple, who had recently ridden an 80 year old tandem bicycle through the Caucasus. I love being a transplant, but it reminded me how the combination of school, work restrictions, and my rent bill had made This Australian Life a somewhat singular pursuit. Once docked back in Labuan Bajo, we toasted to thrills and new friendships, and parted ways.

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