Day 127 - Dragon Hunting
Trip Start Jan 10, 2011
221Trip End Jan 08, 2012
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We did not wake up having travelled millions of years back in time…Let us back up.
An early breakfast and a short drive to the marina had us aboard our boat heading out on a 2-day tour of the world heritage site: Komodo National Park. Komodo Island along with Rinca Island and a few accompanying atolls are the only place in the world where the prehistoric monster known as the Komodo Dragon still walks the earth.
Rinca Island is about a 2hr ride from Labuan Bajo. When we stepped off the dock we immediately noticed a huge Komodo Dragon lounging in the sun about 10ft from us! We paid some nominal park fees and were lead past some outbuildings right into a colony of dragons! Growing up to 10ft in length and weighing up to 150kg these reptiles are impressive even when lying motionless (and thus almost hidden) on the ground – or in the bushes!
After pausing to stare in wonder at the world's largest lizards we were led down a narrow jungle path in search of 'wild’ dragons (they are all wild; some just choose to hang around the facilities) and their prey: water buffalo, deer, wild boar and the occasional farmer. Seriously, there are about 100 families who choose to continue inhabiting this island-prison with these deadly prehistoric monsters. And, SERIOUSLY, these "lizards" HAVE killed humans in the not too distant past.
Also known as the monitor lizard, they aren’t pursuant hunters rather they lie in camouflage, waiting for their prey to wander by. Then they lunge out, requiring only one bite to imbedtheir victim with a deadly bacterium. They simply ‘monitor’ their quarry for up to 3 days before they die and then feast.
Back to us walking in the jungle with the resident ‘lay and prey’ giant deadly bacteria biting lizards…. Every step seemed like it would lead to a startling standoff with a snarling Komodo. The island is home to a massive gecko population and as we walked by these would jump just enough to rustle the leaves on the jungle floor. Just as we were getting accustomed to these rustlings one such sound turned out NOT to be a gecko. Instead it was a 6ft female and an 8ft male lurking in the jungle undergrowth that impaired our vision which amplified our primal instincts (flight much more than fight!). After these two disappeared into the bush we continued on: our 19 year old guide, ‘safety stick’ in hand followed by Mia, camera poised at the ready and Eli bringing up the rear checking over his shoulder every other step expecting to see one of these massive creatures lumbering towards us on the path, forked tongue smacking with the scent of a meal.
This never happened but we did stop in our tracks at our guide’s silent direction then follow him directly into the brush swatting aside thorny bushes and spider webs to reveal a fully grown male. We all took a deep breath after realizing that we needed to keep breathing. After sizing us up he ambled past us,getting to within about 10ft, then continuing on into the bush while we scampered in jilted pursuit;pausing every time he turned to look at us.
Back on our boat we enjoyed the relaxing cruise past post card scenery: navy blue ocean surrounded the vibrant green volcanic hills jutting up from the transparent aqua marine shoreline.
The ‘hum’ of the boat was rather loud and if you sat in the right/wrong spot you could feel the engine’s shudder reverberate up into your jaw. The boat was far from luxury but perfect for our needs and an essential part of our experience in these remote islands. Presumably the further east one ventures, the more the 3rd world subsistence reality becomes more prevalent. We aren’t going further ourselves on this trip but hope to one day return to explore the vast and mysterious isolation that the region retains.
It is important to note that for the relatively limited number of people in these parts, there is a disturbing volume of garbage which along with the natural debris drifts in semi-static ‘floating puddles’ between the strong currents created by the ocean squeezing between the many narrow channels.
We moored at dusk in time to see the ‘flying fox fruit bats’ leave their resting place in a mangrove forest (these trees grow trunks in a tangled web up from below sea level in salt water) and flap their way across the dimly lit sky for an evening feed. These bats are one of the largest in the world and uniquely use eyesight, not sonar, to see. The wingspan on some of the eerie silhouettes looked to be close to the advertised 1.5 meters!
We spent the evening playing some cards and chatting with a few Vancouverites on the next boat. The Southern Cross constellation and also the Big Dipper (which was upside down!and hovering above the horizon since we are just south of the equator) were visible before the clouds rolled in playing hide and seek with the full moon. We fell asleep on the deck of our boat, with the fresh sea air mixing with our memories of monster lizards and thoughts of what tomorrow would bring.