Monday, January 31, 2011

Thar be Dragons: Cruising Komodo & Rinca Islands










I've never been the girl who is squeamish about snakes and frogs. In fact, I'm crazy about all critters scaly and slimy I own 2 dinosaur t-shirts.That's a pretty high number for an adult. So, when I realized how close Komodo Island was to Bali, which is a budget flight away from Singapore, I had to go see the dragons.
 

Most visits to Komodo National Park depart from Labuanbajo, a small town in eastern Flores, as it has an airport with regular flights to Denpasar and Ende.

Development has not kept pace with Flores' newfound popularity as a pristine diving destination. There are a handful of accommodations on the hills which fill up quickly during the high season of July/August.

We did not have a booking and, after visiting every guesthouse mentioned in the guidebook and discovering they were full, ended up in this pink palace for 300,000 IDR (USD35). The extra mattress on the floor was for sharing the last available "budget" room in town with a French guy we met on the plane.

Tour operators in Labuanbajo offer day trips or diving trips with a 1-hour hike at Komodo National Park, but that was not nearly enough dragon time. After some negotiations, we paid 3,000,000IDR (USD350) to charter a boat and captain for 3 days. This also included a staff of 2 teenage boys who chain-smoked and prepared our meals.
First stop Rinca Island, the easiest place to see Komodo dragons and the most-visited of the park's islands.

Komodo National Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007. The park fee is $15 USD per person plus guide fees if you want to go on a hike. For obvious reasons, visitors are not allowed to explore the island unaccompanied.

There were lots of Komodo dragons hanging around the guides' living quarters.

Komodo dragons are the largest living species of reptile. An adult dragon averages a weight of 70kg and a length of 2.5 meters.

 All of the park guides carry a big stick in case of aggressive dragons.

Unless you're a meal or a threat, Komodo dragons would rather save their energy.

Remnants of dragon meals hung from a tree.

Our guide Bruno and the surreal landscape of Rinca, a volcanic island.

There are no visitor accommodations on Rica Island, but apparently we convinced the guides that we were die-hard dragon fans (maybe it's because Dale went hiking with a walking cast, or maybe it's because I picked up Komodo dragon poop), but we were allowed to spend the night in the guide quarters
 

 Not the nicest place I've ever stayed, but the park rangers were kind enough to check it for snakes before we moved in!


Komodo dragon in the outdoor bathroom.

We chatted with the park guides until the generator went out, being privy to stories about stepping on dragon tails and the one time their boss shot a poacher. I also got a peek at the official Komodo National Park guide training manual.

Good morning Komodo! No wonder we were warned not to sit with our legs dangling off the porch!

The park guide who was attacked by a Komodo dragon in 2009 while doing paperwork in his office. He showed me the book he was writing in at the time -- the bloodstains are still there. He has since moved his desk to the corner so he always has a view of the doorway.

Back on the boat. Next stop -- Komodo Island.

 The indigenous people of the archipelago have a taboo against hurting the dragons. Maybe it's because of folklore that the dragons are half-human, or maybe it's because they can kill you.

For a long time scientists thought bacteria gave the dragons their deadly bite, 
but it turns out they really are venomous.

 We saw fewer dragons on Komodo Island itself, but the ones we did see were larger than Rinca.

The spiders weren't so small either.

Timor Deer -- one of the dragons' prey.
The mangrove forests bordering Komodo Island are home to huge colonies of flying foxes - the world's largest bat species.

Sunset from our boat just off Komodo Island.

53 comments:

  1. Beautiful photos.

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  2. Hey Tanya!

    The children have been interested in dragons at work. Originally it was of the winged variety but I showed them the photo you sent me of the dragon and the sandals and they LOVED it. We are now working on a six foot Paper Mache Komodo Dragon. I'll try to remember to email you some photos of the dragon, it's going to be epic. So far we have built the body out of recycled cardboard, they are psyched.

    Erin

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  3. Hi Erin. Wow, now I want to make a 6-foot paper mache dragon too! That's awesome! I'd love to see pics when it's done.

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