Three particularly memorable days were spent actually living on the dive boat, basically a converted fishing boat (no luxury - just a blow up mattress on the sundeck under the stars - but no complaints, obviously)
. The group as a whole was pretty quirky--in addition to the dive and boat crew, we were joined by a chatty older German man, a professional underwater photographer from Holland with a $20,000 camera setup, the photographer's bored wife/assistant, and a highly tanned, chain-smoking Dutch woman who was just snorkelling and began cracking Bintang beers at 8:30 in the morning. Staying on the boat allowed us to head down to dive sites in the southern portion of the national park that are too far for day trips, and we were rewarded by pristine sites. Our group also had a lot of good laughs, and we can thank the photographer for giving us a few tips that paid off in some of the photos we've posted.
One afternoon while diving from Labuanbajo, we also stopped at large Rinca Island, one of the major homes of the dragons. Like much wildlife around the world, they are best spotted next to the camp kitchen. The park claims not to feed the dragons, and they probably don't, but the dragons seem to like spending lazy days around the smell of food. Although the dragons can be fierce predators and have been known to eat every bit of what they kill (humans included, from time to time), they only hunt about once a month and seem to spend much of the rest of the time laying around. Lazing dragons were what we saw, except for a glimpse of one comparatively "wild" dragon strolling down the beach from our dive boat while on our safari. Regardless, very memorable to see lizards over six feet long, no matter what they were doing.
From Bali, we took a short flight to the small fishing town of Labuanbajo, located on the island of Flores, three major islands to the east of Bali. Labuanbajo itself is not a major draw, but it provides access to Komodo National Park, home of the Komodo Dragon (the largest lizard in the world), innumerable volcanic islands covered in wild green foliage, and some of Indonesia's most incredible diving. Our week-long visit centered on the diving, which lived up to its reputation. The park is situated where a cool sea meets a warm sea, resulting in crazy currents around the islands that constantly change. As a result, diving Komodo is at times both incredibly strenous and a little terrifying, but the currents provide nutrients that support an amazing diversity of marine life, from corals to sharks. We saw the healthiest and most beautiful corals we've ever seen, as well as manta rays, reef sharks, beautiful shrimp and crabs, octopi, and tons of fish. Several times, dolphins showed up along side our dive boat while we were heading to dive sites.