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As Long as We Remember...

November 6, 2013

The Komodo Dragons

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching Malaysian Borneo – I had always wanted to see the infamous Komodo dragons. These were huge lizards, a time warp back to the dinosaur era that had evolved on two Indonesian Islands. They are very deadly as their saliva contains hundreds of different lethal bacteria. They would bite a deer or wild boar and wait for it to weaken from the infection and then attack. Humans have also been their victims.


We landed in our small prop plane at Labuan Bajo, a small town whose main street is lined with dive shops, a few tourist stalls selling boardwalk-type junk and merchants peddling the local batik cloth. We stayed in a three star hotel located outside of town with a nice pool and beach – but filthy sea water.


We hired a boat to motor us to Rinca Island, one of the two that houses the beasts. The two-hour trip was beyond spectacular. Hundreds of volcanic cones rose from the crystal clear water lending a prehistoric feel to the journey. We identified each volcano as new, medium or ancient depending on the cone shape. Some of the cones were small and only came up to my knees out of the water, while others were sky scraper size with hardened lava flows racing down to the water.


We came in the dry season and everything was brown. Dead grass covered the volcanoes with only a few trees popping up here and there. We understood there was a severe drought in progress, a product attributed to global warming. The rainy season, which would come in late October, would turn everything green, I was assured; but travel to the islands would be difficult because of the strong winds, currents and heavy rains.


We docked and followed a path to the ranger station where we registered. He informed us he spoke English even though we understood Indonesian. He said he needed practice. He held a prong to keep the lizards away.


He showed us a map of the trails. We chose the hour-long walk on a flat surface and in the shade. The longer ones rose up on a volcanic ridge and provided views of the harbors, but with my two year old son in tow we chose the easier trail.


At the beginning of the walk, we were directed to look under the cook house, a cabin like structure about five feet high on stilts. There lay two dragons taking a snooze. The rangers fed them because they had been injured in a fight, one with a broken forelimb. Everybody who arrived at the island was assured the opportunity to see these two dragons and the guides encouraged us to take their pictures.


We walked into the scrub. Trees were sparse and most of the vegetations were no higher than six or seven feet. The first thing I noticed was the fossils. Hundreds and hundreds of them were kicked up by our feet. I bent down and examined many sharing them with my wife. Most were of a marine nature as the island had been thrust up from the sea by volcanic action. Dzul, my son, had fallen asleep unimpressed by the lizards.


We continued our walk and came across three large deer lying down chewing their cud. They were used to humans and gave us no notice. They didn’t seem to be too concerned with the lizards either as they were not alert for them.


Half way into the walk, I brushed against some green areas and hundreds of butterflies emerged and fluttered around us. An amazing experience, as clouds of yellow and multi-colored insects quivered around and landed. This happened twice; a real surreal experience.


We then came across two female dragons near a nesting site. They were having a dispute about which large hole to claim for their egg laying venture. These girls were impressive as they seemed to wrestle in slow motion. The guide kept us at bay as we watched in marvel at these very dangerous creatures.


Also of interest was the bird life. We noticed many different species including wild chickens, parrots, bustards and what westerners would call doves.


Finally, emerging from our walk, which was supposed to take one hour but I stretched it into two half with my fossil searches, tree identifications, watching the dragons longer than a quick glance, observing the butterflies and birds and photography.


Then, out of nowhere, a small two year old (according to the guide) lizard sprang up and ran across our path into the brush and then emerged ambling along the shore line. We stared in amazement and wonder.


The trip back to the hotel was a two-hour boat ride, but with the sun setting behind us it provided a dazzling back drop to the volcanoes and their cones. We drank water, ate fresh fruit and became enthralled with the haunted prehistoric beauty of our surroundings.


…life is good. . . . .


Travelers Advisory: The Wings Airline prop plane may have to make two or three passes to land at Labuan Bajo as there is a crosswind problem. We succeeded after a diversion to another airport and on our third attempt; a very bumpy landing.


Before you hire a boat make sure you look at the vessel. Many are far from seaworthy, yet look safe in Internet photos. Check and count the number of life vests. Most will want you to stay two or three or more days exploring the islands and snorkeling. Don’t do it. The diesel fumes coupled with the vibrations will keep you awake all night. From Labuan Bajo you can make the trip in a day.


Dive shops charge $80 or $100 per day if you stay for a couple of nights on the boat. Again beware and interview the owners to make sure things are as they should be.


For further information:


Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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