South Pacific Seas: Papua New Guinea & Indonesia travel blog

Komodo sighting

Komodo tourists

Tongue flicking

Shipside hawkers

Boys in canoe

Trying to make one last sale

Green island

We arrived at Komodo Island at the crack of dawn, and by 7:30 am the first tender had taken passengers ashore. Komodo Island is a national park of Indonesia, established in 1980. The island and their giant lizard denizens weren't discovered by the Dutch until 1910 and by 1915 the Dutch government declared Komodo Dragons an endangered species, protecting them from otherwise certain extinction.

Brad's lecture on Komodo Dragons was brimming with wonderful facts. They are reptiles which evolved about 15 million years ago (much more recently than their crocodilian ancestors who evolved 240 million years ago) and probably originated from a species that grew with the megafauna in north eastern Australia. As there was a continuous land mass bridging Australia with New Guinea and half the Malay Archipelago, it's reas onable to believe that the Komodos once ranged over a large area.

Komodos lay eggs either in burrows that they dig or in an already existing nest built by the megapode bird. Hatchlings and young dragons are vulnerable to being cannibalized by their parents or any other large Komodos, so they live safely out of reach in trees until they are several years years old. With weak vision and unremarkable hearing, the Komodo's sharpest sense is its forked tongue, constantly flicking as he lumbers from side to side, which can pick up chemical scents from as far as four km away. In killing its prey, the Komodo attacks with a mouthful of 60 teeth and infects its victim with mucus laden with lethal bacteria and anticoagulants. The animal may take a few days to bleed out and die, but the Komodos take their time following the carrion scent, and then several dragons move in for a feast.

We were warned to wear closed-toe shoes and cautioned against having any wounds that might give off the scent of blood. So prepared, we disembarked in pouring rain. Rangers took us in groups of a dozen or so and right away we saw a Komodo following a ranger who was dangling some kind of carcas at the end of a long pole. We all got some photos before our cameras drowned in the rain and then our group continued along the path. At certain intervals, our guide stopped to show us lemongrass or orchids. And we came across more Komodos who were walking along on their own.

Before we could leave the island, we had to go to a market where vendors were aggressively hawking their carved Komodos, t-shirts, strands of pearls, etc. We found a teak bowl decorated with dragons and a shell necklace, then headed back to wait for our tender. Souvenir hawkers were really persistent and followed us onto the pier. Even when we arrived at the ship, vendors were alongside calling to us from their canoes; one stood on a tiny styrofoam raft that somehow floated under his weight.

The rain abated somewhat and the ship moved along the coast to the Pink Beach, where Brad led some snorkelers onto the coral reef. From the ship decks, we watched the hillsides turn brighter and brighter green as the morning lengthened. Unfortunately, my camera was too water-logged to get a good shot.We heard later that the pearl hawkers pursued the passengers onto Pink Beach and would have started diving to sell their pearls underwater, like mermen, but Suzanne prevented them.

Tonight is our last dinner on the Sea Dream, and tomorrow morning we arrive in Bali. Barry and I have a car and driver for the day and hope to find someplace that will ship the tribal mask from Papua New Guinea, the woven material from Flores, and the carved Komodo we bought - not from the vendors on shore, but from the Sea Dream's catering officer. We only have a few hours in Bali, and then we fly to Hong Kong for several days before returning home.

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