November 16, 2018 – Komodo Island, Indonesia
Enter the Dragon’s Lair! Komodo island, part of the Lesser Sunda chain of Indonesian islands, is the rugged habitat of the 3m-long Komodo dragon monitor lizard. Komodo National Park covers the entire region and is home to more than 4,000 dragons, and is made up of rusty-red volcanic hills, savanna and forests. Its surrounding waters of seagrass beds, mangrove shrublands and coral reefs are famous for diving.
Originally established to protect the giant lizards that share its name, today Komodo National Park preserves all species of vegetation and wildlife found on its 29 islands, where the biodiversity has earned it World Heritage Site status. On the rugged slopes and open savannas of the three largest islands, Komodo dragons live alongside buffalo, deer, monkeys, snakes, and many colorful species of birds. Many of the local islanders still live in traditional stilted dwellings, around which goats and chickens scratch.
We have a short stop on Komodo Island with the only purpose to see the Komodo Dragon. We anchor off shore and around the ship are several small “boats” manned by small boys who are supposed to be learning to be fishermen but are actually just begging.
The ship used some of the lifeboats to tender into shore arriving at a rickety, old wooden dock. Not sure how many people could be on the ramp at any one time, but it held. From here we met our guides, one of whom carried a long stick with a fork in it (see below). This was the protection from the Komodo Dragons. Apparently, they are very sensitive around the head area.
The weather was extremely hot and very humid, so hydration was key to staying upright. I had opted for the long trek around the island in search of the elusive lizards.
Known as oras to the roughly 2000 local Muslim Bugis fishermen, this prehistoric monitor lizard pretty much has the lay of the land. Because the locals don’t eat the abundant Timor pigs – the dragons’ main food source (alongside deer and water buffalo) – the reptiles have been left to flourish. It also helps that the Komodo dragon is enshrined in ancient folklore, stemming from an old legend that tells of a man falling in love with a dragon princess, who gives birth to twins: a human boy and a female komodo dragon. The story paints the animals and native humans as kindred spirits, and thus should live in harmony. The fact the Indonesian government banned hunting them in 1915 may have also had something to do with the reptile’s long-term survival
The island itself is very arid, almost desert like and we saw no dragons during the hike until we arrived at the man-made watering hole.
They pipe in water quite away for this. So, seeing the Komodo Dragons is really a staged event. However, even so, it was quite impressive to see these prehistoric animals.
Despite all the warnings to stay hydrated, there was one passenger that collapsed and had to be carried out on a stretcher. She was fine once she cooled down but it happens quite frequently on this tour.
Back to the rickety old dock, onto a tender and settled back aboard the ship.
That ends the “Asia” section of our cruise. Next stop is Darwin, Australia and the start of the “Pacific” segment.