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Sailing, storms and the dragons of Rinca: my adventures on the Flores Sea, Indonesia were something to behold – I was scared for my life...

Blonde girl with sunglasses and blue top doing thumbs up by Komodo National Park Indonesia sign

As I lay on my thin, slippery blue plastic sun lounger cushion on the floor of the top deck, I thought:

This is it. We’re going to sink in the middle of the Flores Sea. Cast adrift with little hope of survival.

Hips bruising with every rock 'n' roll lash of the waves on the wooden boat, I was then slammed onto my back and scrabbled for my tiny phone-sized dri-bag in the pitch dark, but what to take?

My mind rushed through survival programs I’d seen; the numerous ‘What 5 Things Would You Take To A Desert Island?’ survival games I’d played with fellow travellers… I couldn’t think straight. 

The wind was howling, flying through the top deck and making the ‘roof’ tarps flap and snap like wild, wicked whips.

The boat was pitching like crazy and I could barely sit up straight or grab my things. The darkness was thick and despite the open sides of the boat, there was no moonlight.

I truly thought that this was it and prepared to enter the black dark ocean… at night. 

Feeling for my penknife, mobile phone – in case someone picks up a random signal from the middle of the ocean (clutching at straws I know) – I then lay back on my flat, spongy, sun lounger mattress, tossed around in the maelstrom, waiting for the black raging sea to claim us as her own.

Backpacking South East Asia

Backpacking through South East Asia took me to the tiny, gorgeous fried-egg islands of the Gilis.

After relaxing for two weeks on beautiful Gili Trawangan, getting some travel writing, sunbathing and relaxing under my belt, I decided I needed an adventure and booked a four-day sea trip to Flores, in the Komodo National Park.

The next day, we arrived at the jetty and looked agog at the two vessels to transport us over the open ocean.

Nothing more than simple two-storey wooden boats and zero frills (or lifeboats for that matter).

White powerboat on green sea surrounded by green hills

But hey, all part of the adventure!

We boarded and found our sleeping quarters, about 20 sun lounger mattresses scattered over the top deck, with a few large blue tarps roped to the sunburnt wooden rails of the platform. 

A Dutch/Finnish couple – Tee and Angel – and I shotgunned the three flattened blue cushions at the stern, affording us a spectacular view of the big blue beyond and a plentiful supply of oxygen – I assumed with 20 of us crammed in there, in the central region of the deck, there would be a dearth of fresh air after a few Bintangs of an evening!

Interior of passenger boat

Island hopping in Indonesia

Off on our island hopping in Indonesia, we sailed into the Balinese horizon and witnessed the stunning sunset from the boat.

We cracked open said Bintangs and toasted our voyage, excited to make new friends and embrace our freedom.

We were from all walks of life: Tee and Angel, four Irish girls on a short vacation, an Aussie hippie couple in their 60s – all with one thing in common: serious wanderlust.

Day one was flat-out sailing, passing mountainous emerald islets, watching the liquid-gold sunsets melt into the horizon and powering on into the black night.

Sparkling constellations appeared in the night sky and the Milky Way lived up to its name – a creamy dash across the darkness. 

We stargazed from the deck, Bintangs in hand, picking out the Southern Cross and Pointers, and a massive full moon beamed down, lighting our way.

Orange gold sunset over the sea

Stopping off at uninhabited pink-sand islands on day two was the order of the day, discovering waterfalls, lakes and strolling through the jungles.

Visiting the Komodo Dragons was planned for day three and with Rinca Island in our sights, we set sail again – another night of voyaging ahead of us. 

With no idea what time it was, my mattress called and I was rocked to sleep by the motion of the ocean.

Riding the storm

3.30AM: Suddenly, I felt my body crash into the wall, then I was flung back onto my mattress, a rude awakening.

Howling wind, every fibre of the boat creaking and the entire vessel rolling violently from side to side… a massive storm had blown up and it was pitch black, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, the light of the moon obscured by enormous black thunderheads.

I could hear the boat crew shouting over the wind and peered out into the furore over the open stern of the boat. No windows here... 

Huge black swells undulated, turning our little boat into a Lego-sized toy, being chucked every which way.

Cold rain and swash splattered my face, and I ducked back in, scrabbling for my dri-bag in the dark.

I heard nothing from my sleeping neighbours, Tee and Angel, so I lay down, eyes wide in the pitch dark, thinking about survival techniques and bodily swinging madly from side-to-side until, despite the shrieking storm, I somehow managed to drift off again. 

Trip to the Komodo Islands from Bali, Indonesia

5.30AM: Dawn. We weren’t moving. Did we get lost and run aground somewhere random?!

Flat, glass-like seas and a stunning sunrise greeted me, worlds away from the rage of last night. 

Did I dream our super-stormy trip to the Komodo Islands from Bali?

Blinking madly from the salt in my eyes from a few hours before, I heard gentle chatter from the lower deck, I was amazed to hear no-one was seasick, washed overboard etc and we were still on course.

Guess that's the bonus you get from sleeping in the middle of a rocking vessel!

Everyone was talking about the storm, but thankfully few were ready to bail...

And for those who needed to feel Mother Earth beneath their feet, there was a hill to be hiked. Soon to become Insta-famous!

Girl on hill overlooking bay with white boats

The Dragons of Rinca

That afternoon, we reached the island of Rinca.

The searing heat on Rinca Island had the dragons sheltering so, with a guide, we went off in search of these prehistoric beasts. 

Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island can run, climb, they’re amazingly well-camouflaged and their bite is deadly, full of poison.

We were told to stick together and not to go off alone.

(Fine by me as one of the smallest in the group!) 

As we re-traced David Attenborough’s footsteps on Rinca Island, the stunning scenery reminded me of ‘Jurassic Park’ which was pretty apt.

The dragons of Rinca were there in abundance, despite the heat. Lounging in trees, sunning their dusty, brown, scaly bodies, still like statues, except for the flicking of long, pink, slimy, forked tongues. 

Komodo dragon resting in the sun

Their slow, swinging walk gave me the creeps and the eerie feeling increased as we walked past stripped deer skulls, and warning signs nailed to trees – these creatures even eat their own young. Shudder. 

Rinca Island is beautiful, unspoilt, undeveloped and a haven for these terrifying creatures.

Lesser-known than its sister island, Komodo, Rinca Island National Park status thankfully protects these awesome dragons.

Flores Island, Indonesia

A day later, we pulled into Labuan Bajo port in Flores, salty, sandy, sunburnt and windswept, and headed to the nearest bar.

As we toasted the voyage and looked back on the incredible things we’d been lucky enough to experience, we all agreed that Mother Nature truly delivers the best shows on Earth.

Did you enjoy this account of my adventures on the waves of Indo? Click here if you're looking for an adventure travel writer to immortalise your epic experiences.

© Images Katehammaren.com

Cover photo by Fajruddin Mudzakkir



Author: Kate Hammaren, Freelance Writer & Editor

Get to know Kate here

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