Sharks and Dragons and Unicorns, Oh My!

Sharks and Dragons and Unicorns, Oh My!

[Miss me, folks? I’m a little behind on blog posts, so I hope you’ll forgive the late catchup entry. Falling behind is tough – I’ve had so much fun in Vietnam that it’s tricky to put myself back in the Indonesia mindset, but I’m going to give it my best shot…]

I’m a pretty organized guy. I like to plan. When I decide on a destination and a gameplan with which to tackle it, I’ve inevitably devoted countless hours of careful consideration and online research – which I like to call ‘homework’ – to the cause. Generally, I stick to my plan, and I like it that way. Sometimes, though, the best thing you can do – especially for someone like me, with those very inclinations – is to abandon your plan at the last minute and go a completely different direction. That’s exactly what happened when Sarah, Kenzie, and I decided to leave Bali and head to the diminutive little island of Gilli Air.
We’d planned to leave Mount Batur and Northern Bali (where this blog last left off) for the island of Java, where we’d scale a few more volcanoes during two more sunrises – the picturesque Mt. Bromo and the otherworldly Mt. Ijen. But when we learned that Ijen – a sulphuric volcano that spouts hypnotic blue flames in the dark of night – had recently experienced a dangerous gaseous explosion and had restricted access conditions for tourists, we started to question our plan. We’d have to dedicate three full travel days for one volcano hike, given the Ijen audible, and we weren’t sure if that one activity was worth foregoing so much itinerary time – especially when Java offers so much more that we’d like to explore on a subsequent trip, like the incredible Prambanan and Brodobur temples. 
What could have been
It felt like we’d be selling Java short, and having completed one volcano sunrise trek already, we wondered if it wouldn’t feel a bit redundant. Since we knew Indonesia has such a diverse array of landscapes and owed it to ourselves to experience as many of them as we could, we figured ‘screw it’ – let’s drop everything for a sleepy little island getaway. Enter Gilli Air.

The Gillis are a trio of incredibly tiny islands off the Western coast of Lombok. When I say tiny, I really mean it – at 15 km², our island of choice made even Koh Tao – the tiny Thai island getaway I wrote about back in February – seem bloated and overdeveloped. There are some parallels between these two islands, as well – there are no cars, scuba diving represents a large part of the local business economy, and they’re both popular backpacker hotspots – but unlike Koh Tao, even motorbikes are forbidden on Gilli Air, leaving only beachgoing pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages to meander through its few quiet roads. 
I told you there'd be unicorns
The resulting atmosphere is generally much quieter all around, in fact – Gilli Air is surmised of gorgeous beaches that play host to watercolor sunsets, and not a whole lot else, save for a smattering of restaurants, bars, and scuba shops. 

As a backpacker hotspot, though, the island still attracts a young, adventurous crowd – so ultimately the ‘thing to do’ on Gilli Air is to meet fellow travelers, relax beyond the reach of the blazing hot mid-day sun, and ultimately enjoy the magnificent daily showing of its departure behind the vast volcanic horizon – a truly incredible show that’s always followed by an encore of brilliant twinkling stars, devoid of light pollution (particularly during the island’s so-regular-as-to-be-nearly-predictable power outages) So that’s exactly what we did: we relaxed, hung out with some cool new friends, and watched the sun set every night.
One of our new travel buddies had a drone, and he captured this badass overhead shot of our hostel accommodation.
Quite a pool, huh? That’s an homage to one of the island’s more controversial specialties: psychotropic fruit shakes. All-natural and organic, indeed!

Like most of Indonesia, but unlike Bali, Gilli Air is a predominately Muslim island – and there’s something hauntingly beautiful about hearing the Islamic call for prayer broadcasted across the island throughout the day. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, that of tropical Asia and islamic culture and dress – and it really created an otherworldly feel.
After wrapping up our time in Gilli Air, we took a ferry back to Bali – where we encountered dozens of dolphins in the water, who were happy to chaperone us back with a theatrical display of acrobatics along the way. I didn’t capture any photos, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. 
Artists' interpretation
After a quick decompression rest (and some wild Cinco de Mayo celebrations) on Bali, it was time for Kenzie and I to start the next leg of our journey – but not before we had to bid adieu to Sarah, who was wrapping up more than a year and a half abroad to head back home to North Carolina (and is probably enjoying this post with a Catawba beer in-hand right now). 
 
After saying our goodbyes, Kenzie and I were headed to Flores and Komodo National Park, a much less populous locale renowned for two things: gorgeous scuba diving and ferocious dragons. We’ll tackle these one at a time, though. As for the diving, we’d be doing a 4-day/3-night liveaboard journey with Wicked Diving, the nice folks who I met in Thailand to dive at Richelieu Rock. (Though we wouldn’t embark on that trip before enjoying this SPECTACULAR sunset from the rooftop bar of our $11 hostel – definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment)!
Our dive itinerary would take us to some truly spectacular sites, known for rapid currents and exotic marine life. While we thankfully didn’t experience too much current-related drama, we were indeed treated with some exotic animal spottings. Amongst other delights, we encountered an Eagle Ray, a bizarre little octopus-like creature called a Wonderpus, and several breeds of shark. I decided to give the GoPro a rest for this trip in favor of merely enjoying it – but a fellow diver on our boat captured some great shots.

Kenzie snagged a shot of us on her GoPro!

This moment that Fredrik captured on video was truly spectacular: [Check it out on his Flickr!]

Another amazing moment still was captured by my new Dutch friend Sarah, who caught a group of bottlenose dolphins as we took our speedboat to a dive site. This time, you don’t have to take my word for it (thanks to her Instagram)!

Even still, the most memorable moment of our oceanic excursion occurred when Tanwir – a hilarious Indian-Australian fella who I immediately took a liking to (pictured below with his brother Jawid)- scared all of us half to death by falling overboard in the dead of night, in the middle of the vast and unforgiving Indian ocean. The boat had woefully inadequate barriers along the sides (an issue we’re told was immediately subsequently rectified, to the credit of the folks at Wicked), and the captain had killed all the ambient lighting on the boat for navigational purposes – so when we hit a particularly tough patch of ocean, disaster struck and Tanwir was launched over the boat’s side in the inky pitch black of night.

I cannot express enough how incredibly disastrous this could have been. Fortunately, the crew was hyper-vigilant and all hands immediately went into crisis management mode, whereupon Tanwir was quickly spotlit, located, and pulled to safety – but had he not been spotted tumbling into the sea, had the current been particularly strong (as is common), or had any one variable gone south, we might have easily found ourselves mourning the tragic death of an incredibly bright and caring young man (whose brother would have been left on board with us to deliver the bad news back home).

Quick, professional crisis management really saved the day here, and turned this from a potential tragedy into something we could all nervously laugh about a few days later – but all of us were struck with a poignant reminder of just how brief and precious life is. What an adrenaline rush it was! Glad to have Tanwir still walking amongst us!

Wicked's awesome team, like Savri, were instrumental in preventing disaster
When we weren’t underwater or narrowly avoiding disaster, we were enjoying absolutely stunning landscapes as we sailed through Indonesia’s gorgeous waters. It wasn’t a bad place to call home for a few nights!

At the conclusion of our dive excursion, we made one last stop on Rinca – notorious for its status as home to over a thousand savage komodo dragons. These monsters are thought to have potentially been around for nearly 4 million years (!!), and can exceed 10 feet long and hundreds of pounds. They’re absolutely massive, and it’s difficult to describe just how terrifying it is to look one in the eyes from just a few feet away. 

They actually don’t hunt or feed particularly often – so during most days, they merely laze in the sun, content to do nothing at all. But when they do hunt – watch out. They can run at up to 13 miles per hour, and their razor-sharp bite packs a venomous punch, allowing them to watch their prey bleed out and slowly die before stripping them to the bone and devouring them whole. Ruthless! 

They’ve even been known to occasionally kill and eat humans – though it doesn’t happen often. 😉
We were under the watchful protection of park rangers, who told us about these prehistoric beasts and kept vigilant watch – I kid you not – with long sticks for protection. It was a pretty surreal experience, getting up close and personal with the near-extinct descendants of dinosaurs – and the perfect way to close out an absolutely magical experience of traveling through Indonesia.
 
In the blink of an eye, my time in the stunning Indonesian archipelago had come to a close, and it was time to say farewell to Kenzie as well. I was bound for Vietnam, and at the time, I thought there was no way that my time in that country would come anywhere close to capturing the magic of Indonesia – but I’d quickly come to learn that I was wrong. Very wrong. Fortunately. you won’t have to wait long to hear about it… stay tuned.

5 thoughts on “Sharks and Dragons and Unicorns, Oh My!

  1. Omg how did we not hear about this guy falling off the boat until Now?? 😧
    So glad this turned out how it did.

    Great post – the adventures just seem to get better and better.

    We miss you – time to catch up soon.

    1. Only because I haven’t had calling capabilities in Vietnam… Heading to Seoul tomorrow where my regular Project Fi SIM will work again, so we can catch up soon! And yes… We were all extremely relieved to say the least!

      1. Lord help me – I can’t even imagine that. Call soon please. We need to hear your voice. ❤️❤️❤️

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