Komodo Island, Indonesia
First & foremost, Happy Anniversary to our oldest daughter, Jennifer, & son-in-law, Nick! Celebrating their 11th year, Jenny is now pregnant with their 3rd, due in early June! Congrats on 11 wonderful years and the two beautiful grandkids you’ve given us! We love you both very much!!
I should have studied geography more intently when I was young – I didn’t realize that Indonesia occupies 1/8 of the world’s land mass – that there are over 17,000 islands, only 6,000 of which are occupied. Tiny Komodo Island is sandwiched between Sumbawa & Flores. Little grows on the island except for palms, a few other trees, and orchids, but unlike lush Flores, which can be seen in the distance, Komodo Island is known for its animal residents rather than its physical beauty. I will say however, as small as the island is, there are some dramatic landscapes of 2,000 foot mountains, deep arroyos, canyons, savannahs and monsoon rain forests. There’s no pier here – we had to take “tenders” to shore. The Indigenous Komodo Dragons are considered the last of their kind on earth. Known locally as Ora, the giant monitor lizards can grow more than 11 feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds. All monitor lizards, named because of their natural association (monitor in the sense of “detection”) with the presence of crocodiles, are pretty big, impressive animals! There are several passengers who have been here before and elected not to get off the ship in fear of these beasts. They all said…once is enough! Interestingly, because the dragons have such a keen sense of smell and can detect blood from a distance of 3 miles, passengers have been warned not to go to shore if they’ve cut their legs shaving or otherwise have open wounds. They have even cautioned women who may be in their “cycle” – how bizarre is that! No disrespect intended here – given the average age of the ladies on this cruise, I don’t believe the latter is an issue! In fact, I think they also stopped shaving their legs many years ago! Anyway…more important than their size, Komodo Dragon jaws are very powerful and both their teeth & talons (nails) are as sharp as razor blades. Their saliva has a deadly bacterium that quickly infects and disables their prey. They feed on sheep & deer carcasses, and will even eat their own babies if hungry enough. The guide said the oldest fossils date back 130 million years, but they have been extinct for millions of years except here on Komodo Island. There is a very small fishing village on the island, but the dragons are the main focus. When Komodo was opened in 1974, dead goats were used to lure the reptiles, but the practice was stopped when it was discovered that the unnatural food introduced disease. They now eat sheep, pigs, & deer raised strictly for the purpose of feeding. The dragon is obviously an endangered species, and carefully protected under Indonesian law. Although some may try (and did try) to dramatize their ferocity, they attack humans only if they sense a meal. That said, I’m still grateful we were accompanied by armed guards! They say they could gobble an adult in a matter of minutes and have been clocked at speeds of about 12 miles per hour – so we heeded their advice…STAY BACK! I failed to mention…the dragons are free to roam – they are not kept in fenced areas. As they told us, WE are entering THEIR island! Their jaws are hinged, much like those of a snake, so they are able to swallow large animals without having to chew much. We were told the dragons don’t normally attack unless provoked or again, unless they smell blood. They said the attack posture would be obvious – if the dragon crouches and holds its head low & cocked – worry – but do NOT run. We saw three of them in this distinct position…no one from our small group moved a muscle! The guards had their weapons in position just in case. It was thrilling! The dragon’s tail is also a weapon and were told it can deliver a strong blow. Adults are typically grayish-green while the younger animals are covered with multicolored spots. The young dragons are the most dangerous since they run the fastest and live in treetops – we didn’t see any. The widespread myth that the dragons are deaf is not true – they don’t hear well and usually ignore noises – but they are generally only concerned with smell or other sensory input that indicates a potential meal. The dragons can live as long as 50 years in the wild – there are approximately 2,700 living here on this island, which is only 60 square miles. The day was very steamy, hot, with intermittent rain showers. Tour groups were divided into groups of 20. Each group had a tour guide who spoke broken English, and 4 guards. One guard in front, 2 in the middle, and 1 in the rear. Once ashore, we met briefly in a grass hut and were given instructions, the most important being to stay in our group, not to do anything aggressive or run. I think the reality of the situation started to sink in – this was serious stuff – none of the guards were smiling. We started our 1 mile hike through the jungle and about 10 minutes in, we spotted our first dragon – right in the middle of the path in front of us. The lead guard stood his post at the front between the group & the dragon, and we were instructed to walk carefully to the back & left side of him, around the dragon. He was big & fierce looking, but didn’t move as we passed by & snapped pictures. I asked Cheryl if was nervous – she said she wasn’t…but I was sweating bullets about that time. We ventured another 10-15 minutes through mud and thick brush before we came to a clearing and there were 3 of them, all looking intently at our group. The guards surrounded them on all sides and when they were comfortable it was safe to approach, they motioned to our group to walk slowly toward them for pictures. Quite honestly, I couldn’t wait to get away – Cheryl was taking several pictures of me trying to get a smile – I finally forced one so we could leave. Toward the end of our hike, we came across our last dragon…he was lying in wait, staring at a nearby deer who was grazing, not suspecting the danger that was lurking. Our group made enough noise to scare the deer and once he darted into the jungle, the dragon looked at our group as though we were next! We walked slowly out of the jungle, grabbed a cold drink & cold towel the crew had waiting for us, and immediately went to dock to board the tender for the return to the ship, anchored about 300 yards off shore. We didn’t even stop to shop for small souvenirs the natives were offering from makeshift tables – we just wanted to get back someplace completely safe & air conditioned. This was an awesome experience but like our other shipmates who’ve been here before, I can now say (honestly) I wouldn’t do it again.
We were 90 minutes late departing Komodo Island - no explanation given publicly other than we were waiting for the last Tender with passengers to return to the ship. We finished dinner and were in bed by 7:00pm. This morning at breakfast, we learned that tour group #8 had been cornered by several dragons. We spoke with one member of the group (a retired dentist) who said it took 6 guards to ward off the dragons, & that the group members were simply told to scatter, which they did. It then took them the better part of an hour to find their way out of the jungle. We also learned this morning that 3 native children were attacked on the beach yesterday by a dragon & subsequently saved by an adult - Cheryl actually saw this happen. She now agrees with me - once is enough. I seriously now wonder why they are making these tours open to the public - it's not safe - one guard was fatally attacked earlier this year. We're now anchored in Lembar, 300 miles east of Komodo, waiting to go ashore. No dragons today!