Monday, September 9, 2013

Rinca Island

The Indonesian Navy had been practicing dropping frogmen overboard right in the area where the boats on the Sail Indonesia Rally were anchored. A big, black Zodiac would race through the fleet, dropping a wetsuit-clad diver about every 300 feet and an identical Zodia would follow, picking up the bobbing frogmen. It came as no surprise to any of us when we got the message that the Indonesian Navy wanted us to move to a different anchorage and we took that as our cue to leave Labuanbajo altogether.

The grapevine and cruising guides all recommended stopping at Rinca (or Rinja, depending on which chart you look at) Island before going to Komodo Island and since it was just a hop, skip and a jump away, we went there first. The well-protected anchorage was crowded with other cruising yachts so we were forced to anchor in the back of the pack in 80 feet of water, far deeper than I like to anchor. All of us piled into the dinghy and went ashore, tying up to a wooden pier and being greeted by park rangers. Rinca is in the Komodo National Park and you're not allowed to go exploring without a guide. The rangers told us it was too late in the day to take a trek but they did allow us to visit the park headquarters where we made arrangements for the following morning, bought t-shirts and drank a lukewarm beer. As we returned to the dinghy, we spotted several macac monkeys, the first time I had seen wild monkeys. I was a little disappointed when they showed not only no fear of humans but started to make pests of themselves, even hissing and baring their teeth at us.

We were only a little bit early when we showed up at the park headquarters the next morning despite the fact that we got up at 0530. After paying our fees, we were introduced to our guides (one guide for every five people and since there were six in our group, we got two guides. The straw-colored hills in the early morning light reminded me of the back country in Southern California during a heat wave - the temperature was tolerable at the time but promised to be oppressive as the day wore on. The trek is 10 kilometers and no sooner had we got started when we spotted our first dragon. Being cold-blooded, it stood stock still, it's head raised and gave the appearance that it was no more than a stuffed Komodo Dragon look-alike. Our guides cautioned us to stay at least 5 meters away as these giant lizards can move surprisingly quick if only for a short distance. Being carnivores, they can slice off a man's leg in the blink of an eye although there are relatively few accounts of them attacking people.

Both of our guides were very knowledgeable about the dragons and the flora of the island as well and their English was excellent. They pointed out plants with medicinal qualities and knew the scientific names of the plants, too. We even got to see a viper, coiled in the corner of the shed that houses the generator. As our trek continued, we saw less wildlife, save for a water buffalo that was bathing a wounded hoof. By now, the heat was building and none of us had walked that far in months. No one said anything but I think we were all a little relieved when we crossed the halfway mark, even though we were still climbing in elevation. A short time later we came to yet another pool of water with still another lone injured water buffalo trying to make itself comfortable. What this water buffalo didn't realize though was that there was a 3-meter dragon perched on the edge of the pool, just waiting to attack. It appeared to be a National Geographic moment unfolding in front of us, with the lizard's incredibly long forked tongue darting out and the water buffalo oblivious to the danger that was just a few feet away. We stood mesmerized for about an hour in the hot sun, waiting for something to happen but it never did. Our guides were equally mesmerized as they had never seen a scene quite like that but after a while they said that they had other treks to lead and we had to move on.

The rest of the trek was uneventful and it wasn't long after returning to the boat that we were underway again. We had heard of an anchorage further south on the island where people had spotted dragons on the beach. On our way there, we started to fight a vicious current, slowing Rutea down to less than 1 knot. We stopped at a non-descript spot, dropped the hook and jumped into some of the clearest water I have ever seen - from the deck of the boat, you could see every rock, every pebble and every grain of sand that was 20 feet down. Once the current turned favorable, we got underway again and as we approached the south end of Rinca Island, a huge expanse of water lay before us. Consulting our charts of the area, we learned that this body of water is called the Indian Ocean.
At 9/9/2013 11:43 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 08°44.87'S 119°36.67'E

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