As a traveler and nature-lover, I’ve had one thing on my life-list for years. I wanted to go to see the largest lizard in the world, the famous Komodo Dragons. They are found on only five small islands in Indonesia; Komodo, Rinca, Gili Motang, Nusa Kode, and yes… the inhabited island of Flores. Dragons are listed as a vulnerable species as there are only a few thousand of them and they are susceptible to various diseases in captivity. I was extremely lucky to step into a friend’s vacation plans and visit the Islands in his place. I can tell you the Dragons are everything I expected and more.
The first stop was the obligatory Komodo National Park to which you arrive by dinghy to a small dock. You walk around and up some rocky hills and into a camp with several buildings. We were greeted at the first outcropping with a small, seven-foot-long Dragon sunning himself. Being within a few feet of these amazing creatures is inspiring and they have an aura of quiet power around them. You can tell they are observing you just as you are them.
We arranged for a guide and two additional rangers. The guide discussed the history of people with Dragons, their population, their behaviors and the protective measures currently employed. The rangers carry forked sticks with which they can push the Dragons. I doubt that the sticks would stop a hungry dragon but the locals are quite concerned for the safety of the Dragons. There is a legend that the Dragons are actually people that have been transformed so they treat the Dragons with great respect as if they were relatives.
The park is huge and there are many trails for hiking. We did not see Dragons on the hike but we did see Dragon nests. Dragons will dig nests for their eggs and then excavate many other holes all around to fool predators. Only a few Dragons will survive to adulthood. Juvenile Dragons live in trees mostly and hunt smaller creatures; snakes and birds. Two interesting facts about Dragons are that they often form pair bonds (strange for reptiles) and that females can lay viable eggs without males around (normal for isolated species). We saw were several water buffalo and monkeys, which are principal food sources for large dragons.
There were several large Dragons at the camp when we returned from hiking. They stay mostly because the camp is in the lowlands and there are rivers and other animals around. The camp also offers a small store which supplied me with my much-valued “I was there” T-shirt.
The next stop was a beach on Rinja Island. The crew had filled a bucket with raw chicken parts. I am undecided about whether we should feed wild animals but the tourist dollar is paying for their conservation, which is a good thing. We again used dinghies and rode up onto the beach. There was already one small, eight-foot, Dragon on the beach. The guide assured me that the Dragons could smell the bucket of chicken. I believe that the Dragons knew the sound of the boats and came to the beach but they preferentially chose to go to the one boat with the chicken (and me) in it.
The Dragons were salivating and encroaching on the food. While the most daring passengers, like me, were on the beach initially, there were soon five hungry Dragons there and we were forced to return to the boats. The largest Dragon appeared to be around fifteen feet long and could have weighed several hundred pounds. Dragons are venomous and their bite can cause excruciating pain. In addition, they seem to have no fear of anything; either man or animal. The guide assured us that they were afraid of one other animal, the wild pig. I found that hard to believe being close to these monsters. They are huge, mean and totally awesome up close. After we returned to the boats, we learned the bad news… Dragons can swim. Very exciting for all of us!
With that, our Komodo Island trip was over and we left the land of the Dragons. This ranks as one of the most exciting and rewarding trips I’ve been on and one of the best experiences of my life. I have some amazing photos and some great memories from the Komodo trip.
There are many amazing things to see in the area; the sights of Bali which is the portal to the Komodo Islands, the exotic people and culture, and, of course, the amazing Dragons. The trip doesn’t come cheap though. The flight for me was USD 2,000. While inexpensive hotels can be found easily in Bali, the trip to Komodo can be expensive as you need to travel to an area without any conveniences.