A dark shadow glides underwater, barely skimming the ocean surface. The mysterious silhouette is huge, definitely beyond my 5’2” frame. It dances gracefully through the clear aqua waters, teasing and proud. I creep towards the edge of the boat. Each step is laden with curiosity. Suddenly, the black shape pierces the water surface! Somebody shouts…
It’s a liveaboard life…
It’s been 2 days since Zel, Gloria, Yeng (new friend!) and I boarded the Andalusia- a liveaboard boat equipped with bathrooms, bedrooms and everything necessary for residence while sailing the vast oceans.
We are in Komodo National Park, situated west of Flores, where the azure waters gleam with fervent brilliance. Slight waves bobble gently. Troughs reflect the sun, a facade of glistering lights. The waters are so clear its practically transparent. October’s scorching heat renders vegetation minimal, giving birth to blocks of barren land mass, standing proud in random succession, oblivious to our humble existence.
If the surface is a picture of artistry, the underwater world is beyond comeliness. Strapping on scuba tanks, we leap into the underseas at Tatawa Besar, Pink beach, Padar…
The sea is teeming with marine life. From colourful corals to black tip reef sharks, puffer fishes and Crush the turtle from Finding Nemo, it is a sight for sore eyes.
“You never really know, but when they know, you know, y’know?” –Crush, Finding Nemo.
But all is not smooth swimming. At Batu Bolong (also known as Current City), we hit a bump, or rather, waves of powerful currents. Tagging close to the dive master, we descend near a coral reef with plans to circumnavigate it. On the boat, he mentioned that the currents are strong. Instead, he should have said the currents will crush your body and soul.
Undersea, we dive (pun intended) head first into the man-eating tides. I paddle, the fins giving me traction against the water. It starts with a light calf workout, my lower legs fluttering slightly.
I paddle along. Paddle. Paddle… Currents are staring to build up, and I’m still paddling, but I’m slowing down. I’m losing speed, going slower. Slower. And sslllooowweerr…
Suddenly, I stop moving. I mean, my legs are still flapping vigorously, but I’m not advancing. It’s like I’m on a treadmill.
I increase the power in my kicks. Is this merely an illusion? Am I really stationary?
To gauge, I glance to my right. Taking an enormous gulp of air, I add a sting to my propel and observe my position relative to the adjacent coral reefs.
It’s confirmed- I’m. Not. Moving. No matter the power in my kicks, I’ve got nothing on mother nature and her underwater currents.
I notice my friends have met a similar peril. We’re all flapping like ants struggling to surface in a draining sink. The dive master collect my friends and instruct them to hold on to the coral reef. One by one, they disappear around the huge reef boulder. For a few terrorising moments, I’m alone, fighting the opposing forces. I can’t move. I shout for their attention but the sound is stuck behind my regulator. I wave my arms but my companions are around the bend from me.
I reason that the currents propagate at intervals. All I need is a window of weaker tides so I can charge towards the reef-rock, grab hold of it, and inch my way towards safety. At this point, the coral reef is perhaps 6 or 7 feet away from me. I lapse a little- 9 feet now.
I spent a few seconds wondering if this is how I die.
Later, it was revealed that if I drifted further left, the local topography is such that stronger currents might have seized yours truly, entrapping me in nature’s prison, flushed out to sea, lost to the world, spending eternity with Mermen.
Which would tally the numbers on the scoreboard to: Mankind- 0, Mermen- 100.
But Mermen will have to wait, because the currents do die down just as the dive master peeps around the coral reef and offer me his hand.
Not long later, we ascend through the waters, me still dreaming of Mermen.
I live to tell the tale.
What’s amazing about living aboard is the easy commute to various diving and hiking spots. We spent a night next to Padar Island. In the morning, after running a toothbrush over our teeth and squeezing out whatever is weighing our rectums down, we hop out for a easy hike on Padar Island.
Swimming with Manta Rays
The black shadow bobbles above the ocean surface, appearing right next to our liveaboard boat. I note a broad head and triangular pectoral fins. Somebody shouts: “it’s a manta ray!”
We are at Manta Point in Komodo National Park where the sea is swarming with Manta Rays. I try to count them with my naked eyes but quickly give up. They are gliding next to us, in front of us, behind us…
So what do we do? Well, jump into the waters, of course.
I eventually learn that these babies can grow up to 23 ft. Despite their ginormous breadths, Manta Rays are actually harmless and will not hurt a human being. Swimming among them bring forth an unparalleled rush of felicity.
Spotting Komodo Dragons
A trip to Komodo National Park isn’t complete without a Komodo Dragon sighting, so we proceed to Loh Buaya Komodo National Park to befriend a couple of reptiles.
We are assigned a guide, an elderly local man who gives us the tour across plots of barren, dry land. Fate doesn’t disappoint! We spot male and female dragons, lying under trees, behind bushes, and at one point, below a stilted office building.
Now, these Komodo Dragons are dangerous. When approaching one, the guide draws a line in the sand with a stick, warning us never to cross the line.
Having already had one brush with death this trip, I obediently comply.
Not far from where we disembark the liveaboard boat at Labuan Bajo is a cave, Rangko Cave. We hire a local boat to chauffeur us to this secret hideout. Stalactites and stalagmites tangle into a beautiful mess of lofty elegance. Buried behind the limestone features is a cenote- enticing, blue and welcoming.
We slip into the cenote. Floating on my back, the ambiance is so relaxing. Unfortunately, a few tourists climb the limestone rocks to cannonball from, interrupting my tranquility.
We journey across the island via Labuan Bajo, Ruteng, Bajawa and Ende…
Our trip doesn’t end at Labuan Bajo. A hired driver already in place, we adventure east across Flores island, traveling along windy mountains roads and scenic ocean trails. We overnight in different towns (more like villages, really), from Labuan Bajo to Ruteng, Bajawa and Ende.
We gaze at paddy fields. We visit charming little villages. We also hunt for an obscured waterfall near a graveyard where we make friends with random wildlife (a horse).
Many mornings, we wake up early in pursue of elevated grounds. One day, we travel to Kelimutu in hopes of catching the sunrise. Of course, we lug in our wake bottles of treasured alcohol. At Kelimutu, we gawk at monkeys and their body parts.
Mountains are the masochist’s mecca.
The grinding. The breathless travail. The self-loathing. The regret. Each step brings a shot of fresh agony.
Yet, you revel in the pain. And riding that wave of self-perseverenace, you emerge victorious at the summit- gasping, limping, and occasionally, cursing.
You ravel your negative emotions. Staggering from the heap that is your body, your vigour soars like a phoenix from the ashes.
The view is breathtaking. From this vantage point, life is simple. Contended. Enough.
And then you do it all over again.
Our hike up Mt. Inerie in Bajawa was my favourite moment on Flores Island. We enlist the services of mountain guide, Lorenzo to assist our endeavour.
The journey begins in the dead of night. The mountain is starve of artificial lights. No streetlamp, no strategically placed fluorescent tubes. Other than our torches, the stars overhead play sole light source to our wayfarer’s jaunt.
I’m thankful for the dark, because it shields me from the reality of the (literal) upslope task ahead. Sight messes with our psychology in bounds and leaps. What I can’t see, I can’t fear, right? And without fear weighing me down, all I have to do is concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.
Our journey up takes slightly below 3 and half hours. Soil and solid rocks pad the early paths, making the hike conducive. However, the challenge presents itself during the final 300 metres.
Here, the terrain consist of loose rocks propped at a 45 degrees angle, not unlike Steve Austin’s heartbreak hill obstacle on the Broken Skull Challenge. Once again, the night sheltered me from the arduousness of this task. We scamper up, one hand gripping a staff, the other our light source. The ascend was actually tolerable.
But descend down the very same hill? Nightmarish of epic proportions. By now, the sun has risen and I have full visuals of the insanely steep drop before me. Our sense of sight really do lend gravitas to our psychology. Death feels like an inch away.
I slide on my backside some way, only to be rewarded with a tear in my track bottom. So I rotate between a bent-knees duck walk and a sideway skiing motion. Finally, I strike gold and settle for a backwards slide with my chest towards the ground and the staff as brakes.
With that, I slide the remaining portion, thanking God I’m alive.
Because, there was the Batu Bolong scare, and I like to keep my near-death encounters to one per trip.