Komodo Island, Indonesia
Today has turned out to be one of the best days we have had on board during this entire cruise. Even though the events of the day didn’t start until about 9 AM and ended about 3 PM, this was truly a full day. By 8 AM the ship had dropped anchor in the harbor of Komodo Island, and by 9 AM we were on a tender vessel to the island, where we were greeted by guides and rangers and given a quick “do’s-and-dont’s” orientation. Then – we were off on a short hike to see some of the remaining survivors from prehistoric times, the largest monitor lizards still walking the earth, the Komodo Dragons.
These giant lizards can grow to 10 feet long and weigh up to 300 lb. Depending on size and how hungry they are, they can also move at 12-18 km/hr, which is faster than a human can run and faster than the islands’ indigenous deer population, which constitutes a good portion of their diet, can run as well. It is amazing to look at these “”bad boys” and to think they can move that quickly. Komodo Dragons, as so other monitor lizards, send smell through their forked tongue. They are opportunistic hunters, which means that they don’t actively go out seeking food but rather wait until something comes within their range. If they are hungry, they bite their prey and then wait for it to die. Komodo dragons are not venomous, but their saliva contains bacteria that will kill what they bite (other dragons excepted) within 2-3 weeks, so the giant lizards wait until they smell the death of their prey, then they follow the scent and sit down to a buffet dinner (one course meal, whoever shows up eats). Komodos have an extremely sophisticated sense of smell, with the ability to smell blood from distances of 2-5 km, depending on which way the wind blows. Park Rangers warned us in advance not to bring sandwiches, especially those containing meats, onto the island, nor should menstruating women come onto the island, as the Komodo Dragons can smell each of these easily and would be drawn by the smells.
Baby Komodo.. A cutie pie until he nips your finger off!
Jim and Wools heading into the “Sunset”
Komodo Dragons are only found in Indonesia on a handful of islands, of which Komodo Island is the largest (Rinca and Pedar are two of the others, and there is one additional tiny island on which they are found). All told, on all islands and world zoos, less than 5,000 survive in the world today. They are protected as an endangered species by Indonesia, and Komodo National Park, which covers all the islands where the lizards are found, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. During our one-hour walk we came upon a group of 4 dragons, lazily lounging close to a water hole (they drink only small amounts of water) in the shade of tall trees. As cold-blooded animals, the lizards seek the sun in the early morning to “warm up” their blood, but as the heat of the day continues they seek the shade. The lizards apparently stay by the water hole to hunt deer when they come to drink, but the lizards we encountered apparently had eaten recently because 5-6 deer roamed around in the general vicinity but did not appear to attract any special attention from the lizards, except for one who at one point raised his head, stuck out his forked tongue a few times for a smell, and went back to lounging. As we finished the short trek and were heading back to a boat that would take us to the next part of the day, a number of guides, each carrying long poles with a “Y” configuration at the end (they accompany tourists on treks on the island and use the poles to ward off close approaches by the Komodo Dragons), ran toward us and warned us to get out of the way as a Komodo Dragon (they roam the islands freely) was heading toward us. When Mr. Lizard came to the area where we were all gathered, he stuck his tongue into a food bowl that one of the local guides had been eating from, passed by a case of Coca Colas and continued on his way toward an outhouse further down the path. (One of the guides ran ahead to make sure no humans were in the outhouse.) Then the lizard disappeared into the surrounding foliage, and that was that….
Our next portion of the day consisted of taking a local 9-passenger boat to one of the nearby outlying islands and to a beach named “Pink Beach” for an hour of snorkeling in the pristine waters around the Komodo islands. The beach is apparently called “Pink Beach” because tiny fragments of red coral may have mixed with the white sand to give this small strip of beach (not more than 50 yards wide) a pink hue. Be that as it may, this proved to be one of (if not THE) best snorkels I have had in many years. The water temperature was perfect, the sea bottom at the reef was about 20 feet down, and there were many fish both large and small, and schools of fish, that swam through us (I doubt that we swam through their schools). Of course they were beautifully multi-colored, and I even saw one fish with coloring so distinctive that I don’t believe I have seen anything like it before: a fish with a dark blue head, behind which was a baby-blue band about 2 inches thick that completely encircled the fish, behind which the rest of the fish was colored dark blue, except for its baby-blue tail. Simply beautiful….. The current was surprisingly strong in this reef, and I had to swim hard to return several times to the general vicinity of the boat, at which time I was able to “let go” and let the current carry me in a drift down current for 10-15 minutes or so, at which time I had to swim back to the area of the boat. After the second time, the third and last time I did this proved quite strenuous.
After a little over an hour snorkeling, we all returned to our boats. Here I had an experience that has made me consider the what I believe is my failing strength. The person ahead of me was wearing swim fins and had a very difficult time climbing a boat-side ladder and getting into the boat with the fins on. So I decided to remove mine before climbing the ladder in order to make the ladder climb easier. I removed the first fin with one hand, but then had a second fin to remove, which didn’t come off easily with one hand, so I let go of the side of the boat, floated on my back, put the one fin atop my belly and removed the second fin with both hands. When I finally got the second fin off, I discovered that the ctrong water current had carried me perhaps 10-15 yards away from the boat, and I needed to swim against the current in order to reach it. However, it quickly became clear to me that I would not be able to swim back to the boat as the current was too strong and I was too weak. If there had not been a couple of floating life-saver rings attached to the boat by long lines and floating in the water, I would have had to call for help or swim back to the beach; I never could have returned to the boat on my own. As it was, I grabbed onto a ring and someone on ship towed me back to the boarding ladder, and I got on board the boat. As I have always considered myself to be a strong swimmer, this incident made me realize that age (as well as my lack of physical conditioning) has begun its work on me that will gradually sap my strength in ever-increasing amounts in years to come. Not a pretty picture for me….
In any event, we returned to the boat in order to begin the 1/2 hour or so return sail to Komodo Island, and were served an outstanding lunch (outstanding for me, at least, in that I could eat EVERYTHING that was served) of snapper that had been broiled together with broiled vegetables, tempeh, rice, noodles, a vegetable ceviche with celery peppers and potatoes that had been boiled in a kind of curry sauce, bananas and bottled water and/or Coca Cola…the perfect meal to end a delightful day on land and in the ocean waters.
Disembarking from the local boat and onto the Komodo Island dock I had another incident that only served to remind me that I am getting older. The step-up from the boat to the dock was about 2 or 2-1/2 feet, and two of the locals were there to assist passengers by helping pull them up. When it came to my turn, I unloaded the backpack I was carrying, as well as camera and other things around my neck and in my hands. Before I could secure one foot on the dock, these guys tried to pull me up. The result was that although I got onto the dock, I did so by falling down and bruising my left knee. I was OK, but here it is now, nearly 24 hours later, and my knee still hurts. Part of what happened is probably also due to the fact that I feel heavier than I should be, but I have noticed that cuts, scrapes and bruises seem to give off pain longer and take longer to heal than they did when I was younger. I am not happy in contemplating the direction in which this seems to be going…..
In any event, after we returned to Komodo Island (the island is inhabited by a small population of who are directly involved in the upkeep and preservation of the island, and their families – somewhere a total population of about 1,800 sticks in my mind, but I think that’s too many – more like just a couple hundred) it was time to do some shopping, something we had done very little of in Indonesia. This consisted of bargaining in its most classic sense. You like something, ask “how much” and get quoted a ridiculously high price in return; so you come back with a price about 20% of the original quote and start dealing from there. Here the locals tell you to your face you can bargain with them; when you say, “That’s too much” they come back with “how much do you want to pay?” When you do this a few times you realize that the bargaining is part of the experience, but if you don’t bargain and pay what is originally asked, they local seller “wins”. However, it’s clear he doesn’t expect his first price to be the final price, and by doing this a bit it’s possible to guess what the real “final price” should be. Once I established this real “final price” I offered 20% under that and when it was turned down I returned the goods and walked away. In the perhaps 8 times I did this, NOBODY let me walk – they all agreed to accept my offer, which led me to wonder whether I had overestimated the real “final price” in the first place. The other thing I noticed is that these Indonesian people seem to be gentle spirits, and so when I offered them less than it seemed that they wanted, they would come back at me with, “Come, Papa, another 5 dollars, and make me happy too” or something similar. Turns out that when it came down to the bargaining, I and my white hair were always “Papa”. Long story short, according to Nina, Indonesia is THE place in the world to buy strings of pearls. They are not all perfectly round or perfectly size-matched, but they are real, they look really nice, the strands come in numerous colors (including white, black, pin and silver) and they are not, relative to state-side, expensive. So we got some necklaces and bracelets for family and for Nina. For ourselves, we bought two Indonesian masks that are hand-decorated and have hand-inlaid mother-of pearl – found in abundance here but really unique when taken out of the context of an Indonesian arts market. And finally, I bought a 12-inch carving of a Komodo Dragon with either tiny black pearls or something like tiny black pearls for eyes. I never buy this kind of thing as it will become a dust collector, but this trip to Komodo was so unusual for me that I really wanted something unique to remember it by. Nina keeps telling me that at my age I can indulge myself…..
Following the shopping venture, we returned to the dock on Komodo Island to catch the ship’s tender back to the Amsterdam. Nina and I were literally the last passengers back on the ship, immediately after which an announcement over the ship’s public address system announced that all passengers were now back on ship, none had become lunch for the dragons, and that we were preparing to hoist anchor and set sail for our next port of call – Darwin, Australia.