Indonesia presents itself to visitors as the country of the 17,000 islands, each of which seems to have something that makes it unique. The islands of Komodo and Rinca in the east of the archipelago are home to one of the region’s most extraordinary animals, the Komodo dragon. A close relative to the lizards, the enormous size of this species – up to 2-metres long – gives it the aspect of a relict from prehistoric eras.
We leave port Labuan Bajo and head for Rinca, somewhat baffled by the information we have been given and not knowing for how long we will be sailing or whether or not we will be able to see the dragons. The only thing certain is that we will drop anchor at dusk near Pulau Kalong, the island of the bats, where we will be able to watch the flying fox colony take to the air.
Still excited by having seeing the dragons, we reach Pulau Kalong along with four other ships full of tourists. Kamel, our guide, explains that some have come just to enjoy the spectacle of the flying foxes that we are about to witness.
The island is covered by an impenetrable mangrove forest and, according to Kamel, is a safe refuge for the bats, who rest unseen in the centre of the island by day. As dusk falls we are astonished by the sheer quantity of flying foxes that rise up into the sky to fly off across the sea to the neighbouring island of Flores, just 4 km away. The sky is flooded by their silhouettes, which look somewhat clumsy and slow moving from a distance.
The show lasts for almost an hour. We return to port when it is dark, accompanied by the final few bats to emerge, who fly over the water around our boat as if they were bidding us farewell. We wonder where they are going. In the end, we leave the island with a certain sense of satisfaction that in Indonesia the more modern ways of appreciating nature are beginning to include bats.