Posted by: Hendra Siry | 20 June, 2010

Touring The Land Of The Komodo Dragon

Some Komodo dragons assemble near a house in Rinca Island. As the only site representing Indonesia in the ongoing selection of the world’s seven wonders of nature, Komodo Island does not only need a wider publication to get more public support but also an infrastructure improvement to give tourists a fully treasured experience.

My first trip to Komodo Island recently revealed there was nothing wrong with the island. It looked perfect and as beautiful as the pictures I found on the Internet and travel guide books. However, it needs money and effort to get to know the jewel of the island. Like many other tourists, I had to stay a night in Denpasar, Bali, before departing to Labuan Bajo, the main gate to the Komodo Island National Park. Since all flights from Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali to the city are only available in the morning. It is a bit risky for tourists to book a flight on the same day as their arrival date. Around 55 minutes after takeoff from Denpasar, our plane landed smoothly at Labuan Bajo airport in West Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara. It was 9 a.m. but the heat of the sunlight seemed to be more than enough to help you fry an omelet on the airport’s runway.

The Labuan Bajo Port

Getting off the medium-sized British Aerospace propeller plane, the first scene I saw at Labuan Bajo Airport was an odd view of people taking their luggage from some tables. Instead of waiting for their luggage to appear on a conveyor belt, arriving passengers could see airport workers moving the luggage from beneath the plane’s cabin to trolleys before putting them on several wooden tables in the arrival hall. This scene reminded me of the fact that I had just come to a completely different world.

With dozens of passengers swarming the tables at the same time, some people had no option but wait patiently until there was enough room for them to locate and take away their luggage. One member in our group even needed some 30 minutes before finally securing his bag containing a camera tripod and video editing devices. When the two cars belonging to the Forestry Ministry, our trip’s sponsor, took us to the resort where we would stay for two days, the bumpy streets and large potholes — some inundated by rain water — were evidence that the city was far from ready to go international.

The street connecting the city’s center to Gorontalo, an area where the city’s best resorts and three-star hotels located, looked not much better. “But it is not the only problem here,” Heru Rudiharto, the Komodo Island National Park’s head of administration, said, “Local residents here are used to blackouts that occur almost every month and experience the clean water crisis from day to day.”

Two deers on a beach in the Komodo Island.

Established in 1980, Komodo National Park’s main purpose to conserve the unique Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) and protecting its entire biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine. The Park, which is geographically located in West Manggarai regency, features three major islands: Komodo, Rinca and Padar, as well as numerous smaller islands, which create a total land area of more than 1,800 square kilometers. In 1986, UNESCO declared the Park as a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve. Aside from seeing Komodo dragons in their natural habitat, visitors can also explore the beauty of fish and coral reef in the water around the island in more than 30 spots recommended for snorkeling or diving.

Back to Labuan Bajo, they can enjoy various options of seafood, which is mostly served hot and spicy. With its biological importance and highly valuable tourism features, the Komodo National Park has recently been named one of 28 finalists (from 440 nominees) for the world’s seven wonders by the New7Wonders Foundation. The finalists were selected through an online voting system that will continue until next year.

A main road in Labuan Bajo

Despite the nomination of Komodo park as one of the world’s seven natural wonders, local authorities, however, said they had to struggle with limited financial and technical capabilities in developing the park so that it could compete with other finalists. According to Heru, the park management only received around Rp 8 billion (US$872,000) each year from the Forestry Ministry, far lower than the ideal Rp 20 billion needed to run its entire conservation programs. “More than a half of the budget has been allocated for salary, so we spend the rest of the money to back up all of our field programs,” he said. To pay for their daily sea patrol, for example, park management needs at least Rp 1 billion only for fuel, not to mention budget needed to maintain their patrol boats.

Regent Fidelis Pranda, who has been just re-elected for his second term, admitted that the lack of infrastructure had become a major problem for West Manggarai to develop its tourism sector. He, however, said newly established regency West Manggarai, which separated from Manggarai regency in 2003, should make every improvement step by step.

According to Fidelis, his administration is now planning to extend the runway of the Labuan Bajo airport so that it could accommodate bigger planes. “We are expecting to complete the project by early next year,” he told The Jakarta Post. Last year, more than 30,000 visitors – most of whom are foreign visitors — landed in Labuan Bajo to visit Komodo National Park, generating Rp 700 million in ticketing revenue for the local administration. With the new runway, Fidelis said he expected to see up to 50,000 tourists visiting the regency in 2011.

Let’s put aside the plan first. Will tourists vote for Komodo Island based on their experience visiting the place? A group of four Polish tourists told the Post they were impressed by the beauty of Komodo Island and its surrounding waters. But they said they
were not sure about whether they would vote for the island as one of the new world’s seven natural wonders due to the limited tourism activities’ options.

“I just don’t know where else to go after trekking the [Komodo] Island and snorkeling in its waters,” one of the tourists said. Theodore, 70, a tourist from Miami expressed a different opinion, saying he would happily vote for Komodo for its natural wonder, no matter how undeveloped the infrastructure was. “Sometimes, people will just understand it,” he said. — Photos by JP/Hasyim Widhiarto

Source: The Jakarta Post – June 20, 2010
By Hasyim Widhiarto


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