Labuan Bajo


An hour or two later, bleary and rattled, we stood on the waterfront surrounded by our piles of expeditionary baggage and gazed as intrepidly as we could across twenty miles of the roughest, most turbulent seas in the East the wild and dangerous meeting point of two immense opposing bodies of water, a roiling turmoil of vortices and riptides.
It was like a millpond.
Ripples from distant fishing boats spread out across the wide sea towards the shore. The early sun shone across it like a sheet. Lesser frigatebirds and white-bellied sea eagles wheeled serenely above us, according to Mark. They looked like black specks to me.
We were there but Mr Condo was not. After about an hour, however, Kiri turned up to fulfil his regular role of explaining that Mr Condo was not coming, but that he, Kiri, was coming instead, and so was his guitar. And the captain wasn't the actual captain, but was the captain's father. And we were going in a different boat. The good news was that it was definitely Komodo we would be going to and the trip should only take about four hours.
The boat was quite a smart 23 ft fishing vessel called the Raodah, and the entire complement, once we were all loaded and under way, consisted of the three of us, Kiri, the captain's father, two small boys aged about twelve who ran the boat, and four chickens.
The day was calm and delightful.The two boys scampered about the boat like cats, rapidly unfurling and raising the sails whenever there was a whisper of wind, then lowering them again, starting the engine and falling asleep whenever the wind died. For once there was nothing we had to do and nothing we could do, so we lounged around on the deck watching the sea go by, watching the crested terns and sea eagles that flew over us, and watching the flying fish that swarmed occasionally round the boat.
The four chickens sat in the prow of the boat and watched us.
One of the more disturbing aspects of travel in remote areas is the necessity of taking your food with you in non-perishable form. For Westerners who are used to getting their chickens wrapped in polythene from the supermarket it is an uncomfortable experience to share a long ride on a small boat with three live chickens who are eyeing you with a deep and dreadful suspicion which you are in no position to allay.
Despite the fact that an Indonesian island chicken has probably had a much more natural and pleasant life than one raised on a battery farm in England, people who wouldn't think twice about buying something oven-ready become much more upset about a chicken that they've been on a boat with, so there is probably buried in the Western psyche a deep taboo about eating anything you've been introduced to socially.
As it happened we would not be eating all three of them ourselves. Whichever god it is in the complicated Hindu pantheon who has the lowly task of determining the fate of chickens was obviously in a rumbustious mood that day and was planning a little havoc of his own.
And then at last the island of Komodo was ahead of us, creeping slowly towards us from the horizon. The colour of the sea around the boat was changing from the heavy, inky black it had been for the last few hours to a much lighter, translucent blue, but the island itself seemed, perhaps to our impressionable senses, to be a dark and sombre mass looming over the water.

Next Page