This story picks up after an absolutely terrifying voyage from the Northern Coast of Sumbawa to the Komodo Islands. Our boat had barely cleared the storm when we arrived in Komodo. I staggered out onto the deck and I was surprised. It felt like we were in paradise. Did we sink and I made it to heaven?

The water was bright baby blue like you see on post cards and crystal clear. I could see the storm thundering off into the distance and in its place a light layer of clouds was slowly blowing away to make way for the early morning sunlight. The islands that surrounded us were mountainous and covered in bright green grass like a golf course. See for yourself:

But the real story here is what was happening under the water. I met almost the full cast of Finding Nemo in the first reef I swam down to. Among the marine life we saw were sea turtles, sharks and clown fish in their anemones. But the best part of all was still to come.

We sailed further into the islands to a place called ‘Manta Point.’ This place was famous amongst divers for, you guessed it, manta rays. As far as I could tell, Manta Point wasn’t really an actual ‘point’, rather just a large area of water in the middle of the Komodo Islands. Our boat slowed down as we approached Manta ‘area.’ The crew leaned off the deck, scouring the clear, blue water. Then there was a shout. Off in the distance what looked like a large fin broke the surface. As we continued I could see big dark patches moving around beneath the boat and obstructing the purity of the water's light blue coloring. These were manta rays. I was so jazzed that I jumped in with no sunscreen, which was a terrible decision, but I was busy swimming through this:

Fully grown manta rays can be 4 meters in length. To give you some perspective, I’m 6’4” which is roughly 2 meters tall. I’ve been considered a pretty big guy, but these things are twice my size. Luckily they are known to be friendly creatures so there was very little danger. At the end of this swim, I swam away from the group a little bit and found myself surrounded by 18 of them (I counted). It was pretty overwhelming but they were so nice, I didn’t feel scared at all. I just didn’t know where to point my GoPro. There was no way to get them all in one shot. But the best things in life can’t be done justice by a camera. If you really want to experience it, you’ll need to buy a plane ticket.

In The Shadow Of The Beast: Komodo Village

After swimming with the manta rays we went to swim at ‘Red Beach’, so named for the red tint of the sand. The sand was kind of red. Meh.

As we got our affairs in order to swim to this new beach a score of smaller boats came up on either side of our boat like pirates. But they weren’t trying to steal anything; they were trying to sell us things, including but not limited to rides to the beach. I think some people in our party felt threatened by them because they were blocking all the exits to the boat, harassing us to take their ‘taxi.’ We told the crew to ask them to chill out with the unwanted solicitations but they said that they were afraid ‘to have problems with these people.’ Whatever – we just jumped over their boats and swam to the beach.

But when it came time to leave it was starting to get very chilly. A few friends and I took boat taxi’s back to avoid jumping back into the cold water and I felt a bit guilty for being standoffish to them earlier.

Upon our return to the boat they asked if we would like a tour of their village. Well, why not? We piled back into their boats and they took us to Komodo Village. There is a small village on Komodo Island with a population of a few thousand. I was surprised at how big it was once we were there. It is my biggest regret of the entire trip to Indonesia that I didn’t bring my camera into this village.

It was very poor. Children ran after us on the street. Men played soccer in a giant dirt field. There was a schoolhouse that had 2 rooms and a hospital that looked about as abandoned and run down as a building can look. To its credit though, we all had to admit that it was the sturdiest looking structure in the village. There was a mosque with a tin minaret and dome that had been crudely pounded and patched together from scraps of steal. The call to prayer blasted through the town through speakers that had clearly long been blown out and gave the whole village quite an odd and out-of-place Islamic feel.

We got back to the boat around dusk and I am happy to report, we stayed anchored down that night. Which meant no storms.