Armada jiggles, wobbles and makes sounds, which normally come from the big cars speeding up and down the highways. She moves slowly and elegant and slightly sways from the wadeable movement of the Indian Ocean. This is what she calls home for the next three days. Armada is a small fisherboat, originating from the indonesian island Flores, where she takes regular trips with her small, double-headed crew: two men, called Ayo and Edo. The combination of both names resembles the title of a reality show, some kind of dream team, that knows each other back to front. And the good vibes and entertainment don’t stop there, as they keep their guest laughing throughout their evening spent on Armada.Together they make up a combination, that fits to the rough beauty Armada: The captain and his young boy. Ayo is 18 years old and looks a little like the Indonesian version of Christiano Ronaldo – gel in his hair, mischievous smile, toned body. Edo on the other hand is 62, apathetically smokes one cigarette after the other, is proud of his well-achieved Bintang-beer-belly and has spent his entire life on Armada. Both of them know this boat inside out, as if it were their life partner, making it all the more special.
A faithful partner: Taking the Armada to the Komodo dragons on Rinca and Komodo
All do not have the luck of keeping Armada for so long, so she becomes a short (but sweet) term partner for tourist groups, who are eager to explore the islands of Komodo and Rinca. A maximum of eight passengers can fit on this small, renovated and traditionally Indonesian fisherboat: two on the inside, four on the deck, and two on the roof of the captain’s cabin where there is no fence, no door, no nothing -just a wooden roof with the best view to get! Where Ayo and Edo might be sleeping, well, this is something that only Armada knows. All of the eight passengers sit on wooden benches in the main area of the boat – shy and quiet. This main area functions as the heart of the Armada. It’s the cozy room, where people meet to talk, to eat, to play or even sleep. Yet, it is nothing like a typical living room: it is more of an open plan, window-less central point for the guests next days spent on board this small fisherboat.
Every year, a vast number of tourists make their way to Flores, in the Southeast of Indonesia, to explore the protected islands of Komodo and Rinca. Neither of the islands attract tourists because of their paradise-like lush landscape, with crystal-clear blue ocean water and white sand beaches. Quite the opposite. Dry, colourless and extremely hot areas are what tourists are to expect from their trip here. Furthermore, he mysterious travellers will look for the Komodo dragons, that have been crawling their way up and down this islands each day and for years.. Today, Komodo dragons only live at one specific spot in this world, and this spot lies somewhere in the Indian Ocean, nestled in between an area that hasn’t yet reached the status of being a mass tourism destination.
While Armada chugs her way into the open sea, the harbour of Flores is getting smaller and smaller. Edo and Ayo are in their element and do what they love to do while the passengers do what they do best: take photos! For the next two days, all of them can call Armada their temporary (and very cozy) home with all inclusive catering and by far, the best view of East Indonesia.
Music starts playing, once Armada is fully surrounded by the crystal-clear water of the Indian Ocean. Edo steps out of the captain’s cabin with a smile so wide, reminding us of tooth-paste advertisements from times gone by. Mumming to the sound of the music, he decorates the table with fresh fruit, ginger tea and coffee – only the beginning of the culinary expertise, that Edo and Ayo will show off with in the next two days.
An untouched paradise: The quietest place in Indonesia
Armada is surrounded by a landscape resembling a mix of Robinson Crusoe and Lord of the Rings. Green hills, that stretch their peak up in the air, pure sunshine and a sky that fights off every single cloud. It seems as if Armada was alone in the ocean. The silence feels good in a country like Indonesia, where tourism catches every single piece of serenity within seconds, replacing it with blocks of hotel buildings.
Edo casts anchor. It is the first stop on the journey towards Komodo dragons and it is also, which nobody knows about until now, the stop that will be the least demanding of them all. Armada rests, slightly moved by the movement of the sea, in front of an island that hosts nothing but one homestay, one lonely pier and a few hammocks. All of which are transiting visitors to have a quick relaxation in the shade of the bamboo roofs. Welcome to Kanawa Island – an island, that has so far succeeded in preventing Bintang-beer-shirt-wearing tourists. As well as the hippies that stay in Bali’s areas Canggu and Ubud, who wish to make their way to the East of the country and then visit this small piece of paradise for reason. This being to make the first jump into the mildly warm water of the Indian Ocean a very special one.
Colours. Colours everywhere. The corals shine in rosé, yellow and orange. Schools of fish surround the snorklers and swimmers. It seems, as if the time just stopped running. As if Kanawa island has never heard of tourism before. And as if there was some secret escort, making their way to the coral reefs every night to decorate them with some fresh colours.
Jurassic Park light at the Rinca national park
The Armada start moving again. She wants to get to the island of Rinca today. The first proper stop on the Komodo safari in Flores. Rinca belongs to the Komodo national park. The island is 25 kilometre long and 15 kilometre in width – a proper challenge for every single tourists, that decides to come here. Rinca seems to be a savanna, located in the middle of the ocean. The heat is pressing and shade is properly scarce. No wonder, that every group will be asked before the tour starts whether they opt for the long or the short walk. Long walk. Obviously.
Lead by a ranger who happens to be armed with a long stick, the group makes their way through Rinca. Nobody is allowed to explore Rinca without a ranger, who like to entertain their sweaty guests with fun stories about the Komodo dragons. Just like once, when a Swiss tourists got eaten by the animals and only the glasses were found afterwards. The moment, when the sweat pearls just became a sweat waterfall.
Rain? Not on Rinca. Well, at least not within the last couple of weeks. The area is dry, rarely green and completely empty. No wonder, that even tourists adopt their pace to the speed of the island, and continue to get slower and slower. Even the Komodo dragons seem as if they basically just wanting to sleep. Every visitor needs a certain level of patience to spot the dragons. Mostly they lie under trees or under houses, that are built on stilts, protecting the locals from spontaneous and potentially deadly dragon visits in their living room. Can these animals really do something to humans? Doubtful, given the presence of them at the very moment. They seem to have lost their entire adrenaline, their pace and their motivation to actually make a move out of the very few shady spots, they secured for themselves. And still, walking through Rinca island feels like walking through a light version of Jurassic Park. It is a piece of dinosaur history, that is so close on Rinca, closer than Spielberg would have ever gotten it.
Night on the Armada
It’s cooking time on the Armada. The boat is ready for the sweaty and exhausted group and so are Edo and Ayo, who somehow had created an entire feast in the meantime. Rice, tofu, tempe (soy bean cake), cap cay (steamed vegetables) and fish are decoratively put on the floor of the Armada, bringing all eight passengers together. Shy and quiet? Not anymore. Walking through the heat really turns a group of strangers quickly into a temporary family.
Armada slowly moves towards sunset and towards Edo’s favourite spot, as he explained earlier with this memorable large smile. He is proud of knowing something, that is only given in Flores: a pink beach. Pink because it is coloured by the colourful coral reefs, that are living here in the Indian Ocean. The perfect spot to snorkel, to float and to get the heat off after a long walk through Rinca island. Also the perfect spot to end the day, the way it started: in turquoise, crystal-clear water.
The Armada has dropped anchor – finally, for today. This is where she stays overnight. Edo and Ayo love this spot! It is nestled in between the hills in the ocean, that rise in front of Flores and that function also as natural race track for Flying Foxes, megabats, that leave their homes in the evening to fly through the night and catch food.
The fisherboat is even beautiful at night. Especially, when the new-formed family meets for a game of cards. And when locals on small boats, that look like nutshells, appear out of the dark to sell ice-cold Bintang beer. Or when the sun sets slowly behind the hills and the Flying Foxes soar through the dark-blue sky. Romantic? Something that Armada really got – but she had numerous years of practicing.
>The night on the fisherboat is best spent on top of the roof of the captain’s cabin – under the sky, without fence on the left or the right. But what could potentially happen, except for a spontaneous dip into the warm sea? Or the slight tickle from the sun that rises in the early morning? It is actually the best way to wake up: warming sunbeams, the view on green hills and surrounded by the ocean, that already glitters – even though it is only six in the morning.
Between snorkel and dragon: The Komodo national park
Edo and Ayo are already awake. It smells of coffee and pancakes. “Selamat paaaagi!”, they shout. Good morning! A shout directed towards the Armada and the eight passengers that slowly, and slightly sleepy, make their way to the ‘living room’. A new day on the Armada begins. The sun is shining, the ocean is calm and only the sound of the engine can disturb the morning hush. The fisherboat sets sails – in the direction of Komodo island.
Komodo island is 390 square kilometres big and, thus, a lot larger than its small sister Rinca. Hence, walking tours on the island become even longer and more exhausting. Two hours will the large walk take. Yet again, searching for the biggest lizards in the world. Yet again, through the broiling heat. And yet again via sandy roads. Still, Komodo island seems to be greener and livelier than Rinca. More people, more tourists, but still, it seems as the protection of the natural habitat would work here. Nothing is destroyed, trampled or broken. It is still a spot that is well-appreciated by tourists and that should still be protected as such – for the Komodo dragons and for the 2000 people that live on the island.
The fisherboat is waiting – ready for its return to Flores. The adventure Komodo islands is over, but the paradise Flores has still a lot of things to offer. Ayo and Edo make their way through the ocean, as Komodo is getting smaller at the horizon. Time to snorkel for one last time. The ocean is shining in its best variety of blue tones. The colours of the coral reefs can already be seen from the surface of the sea, just within one’s grasp. Armada stops at the Manta spot, which is popular for the underwater-birds, that swim through the sea – with dedication, shallow and smooth.
The Armada drifts into the sea. For one last time, the entire fisherboard is vibrating from the heavy sound of the engine. For one last time, Edo and Ayo present a feast. Just until the harbour of Labuan Bajo is getting closer. The anchor is dropped.