Part one of the Komodo Dragon Adventure

Trip Start Jul 29, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Saturday, January 24, 2009

  he trip started out normal enough.  I went to the airport and was upgraded to executive class.  My seats didn't change.   However,   I was invited into the executive lounge.  I took a seat in the lounge and was just about to get some food and drinks, when they kicked me out because it was closing time.  The plane was late.  This is due to two factors:  1. the later in the day that you take the plane, the later the plane becomes.  2.  Indonesian airlines had 3 crashes in one year, two years ago.  European and American travel agents refused to put people on the planes.  This helped the Indonesian airlines to start doing safety inspections.  (I am thankful for every delay, if it means my airplane is safer.)  I get to the hotel late and just try and get some sleep before my big day.
I wake up to a text message from the travel agency asking me if I got the fax from the previous night.  No fax had come in for me and no idea of what time they were picking me up.  Finally, I got hold of someone and people should be coming to pick me up in 20 minutes.  I got picked up about 2 hours later.  I was really stressing at this point.   I make it to the airport fine.  I get on my little propeller plane, that is filled with expats.   We fly over the little islands that make up Indonesia.  I understand how people could take years discovering the 15,000 different islands.  I finally feel like I am in a tropical paradise.  I am so excited for this trip!
I get off the plane and we are gathered into the only room of the airport.  The doors are chained locked from the inside.  All the travel agents/guides are pressing against the window with their signs of people's name.     There are great pictures of both these scenarios.  I can't believe what I have gotten myself into.  At this moment this looks like the shadiest place.  Why would the doors be locked?  After the second plane lands, they unlock the chain and release us into the guides.  My guide is a short young Indonesian guy.  He seems nice.  But, the first thing he asks me for is my plane ticket home.  I know that the airport is strange and you have to verify your ticket the day before or they will cancel your ticket.  (Other teachers at my school learned this lesson the hard way.)       We drive just down a street and I am amazed of the beauty of Flores Island.  You see the pier with the boat and other little islands.  The island next to the pier is actually called Monkey Island.  No people live on the island just monkeys.  How cool is that?  (There is a nice picture of that as well.)  I board my boat.  There are only 5 of us on this wooded boat: myself, another older expat man, my guide, a cook and the driver.  There is only one "cabin," which thankfully is offered to me.  The other man will be sleeping on the deck with the Indonesians.   
  The first stop on the agenda is Rinca Island.  Rinca Island is about a two hour boat ride from Flores and is the only other island that you can find Komodo dragons.   The first thing, they do is serve us a yummy lunch of chicken, fried noodles, stir fried veggies, rice, cucumber and pineapple.  I didn't have high expectations for the food.   But, the food was great!  I am happy as a clam sailing to Rinca Island.   I start to feel like I am in a twilight zone.  I feel like I am in the middle of a tropical paradise.  The currents are so crazy in this part of the sea, that you can see whirlpools and mini waves.   I spot some dolphins.  Life is good!
After two hours, we get off the boat to Rinca Island.  Currently, they are working on the pier and it is in shambles.  This does not look good.   On the way to the guide station, I see my first Komodo dragon.  It is about the size that I expected   it looks like a big lizard.  The guide explains that the komodo is less than 5 years old.   At this time, it does not really occur to me that they get much larger.  I have decided to do the 5 km hike and not the 3 km hike.  If I am going to hike through dragon infested areas, I want to make sure that I get my money's worth.    We pass under the kitchen and that's when the dragons became monsters.   Komodo dragons can live for 50-60 years and get to be about 3 meters long.  That is bigger than alligators.   There under the cabin are the largest reptiles that I have ever seen in real life.  Thankfully, it is in the afternoon and they look like they can't be bothered.  Komodo dragons' active time is in the morning.  They seem to be walking pretty lazily about.  The guide explains to me that they can run up 18 km/hour.  I have been running in the gym on the treadmill and I only turn the speed up to 13 km/hour.  The only thing that saves you from Komodo dragons are climbing up trees.  I took note of this fact. 
We start the hike and the first wildlife that we see is a wild chicken.  Pretty cool!  Since it is rainy season, I think the path was wiped out and we are really walking over muddy branches and grass.  I am not quite sure there is a path.  I only concerned with keeping my eyes out for dragons!  When I spot one is a tree!  I thought the trees were my only safe spot.  Well, it turns out Komodo dragons are cannibals.  The young dragons spend their first two years in tress.  The guide told me that no one ever sees this and I am really lucky.    I can't lie that makes me feel pretty cool.  The next dragon we find is mamma dragon.   She is guarding her nest.   The nests are just holes in the ground.  She is laying around 6 holes.  I asked the guide if all the holes had eggs in them.  Turns out the other holes are diversion holes from the real nest.  She will guard each hole equally so that the other animals can't find her eggs.  The female dragon lays about 30 eggs and only 8 dragons survive from that.  The incubation period for dragons is about 8 to 9 months.    (there is a picture of mamma dragon.) 
We hike through a swampy area and then finally we start making the climb in the long grass up the hill.  I look around and think it looks just like Jurassic Park.  It has that wild untouched island feel.    I am in awe of it.  What makes it feel more authentic is the lack of paths and us winding in and out the grasses.  We see 3 or 4 more dragons on rocks.  One of them is hiding in the grass!  I don't like this fellow on bit.  Our only protection is a big stick that is forked on one side.  This is supposed to scare away the dragons because the stick tongue is bigger than theirs.  I ask the guide if anyone has ever been killed/attacked by animals on the route.  He says that three years ago was the last death.   But, there was an incident last summer.  He says during dry season the animals get crazy with hunger.   He tells me of his adventures of being chased by a water buffalo with two American women.   He has been bite before.  But said not worry about the bites, you just go to Bali and everything will be fine.    He takes most of the pictures on this island.  I can't bring myself to get very close to the dragons.  You can see my fear and nervousness with all of my pictures near dragons. 
People are much luckier than the other wildlife for dragon attacks.   For small prey like a wild boar and chicken, the dragons will either cut the muscle in the prey's leg with its tail or huge claws.  The tail is just as deadly as the claws on the dragon.  The tails are huge!  Sometimes, the dragon will attack the prey's neck and just hold on to it, until it bleeds to death.  If the prey is large like a buffalo, the dragon will attack the buffalo and wait for the buffalo.  The poor buffalo probably thinks it has escaped death.  When really after three weeks, the buffalo will die from infection because the salvia is rich with bacteria.  
There were only two surprises in the hike, the little dragon hiding in the grass and a buffalo hanging out in a water hole.  It was a nice 2 hour hike!  I couldn't imagine doing it in the summer.  It was hot and this is the coolest time of the year.  I would guess Rinca is about 10 degrees hotter than Surabaya.   We board the boat and ride another two hours to Komodo Island.   We have another amazing dinner and just hang out and watch the stars.  It was a perfect day! 
Rinca island pictures will be posted tonight on shutterfly!  
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