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Komodo Island and the lizard ick

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My trip through Asia was mainly a combination of burn, sizzle, suffocate, drip... drench...drip, cough and the occasional mosquito bite. I can handle weather, and I can handle harsh climates, however, that theory was about to be tested when I ventured to the unusual island of Komodo. But first, let me give you some perspective in a nutshell about Komodo. Years ago, someone said.."Wow, there's like some really big lizards living on that island over there", and then someone else said, "Cool!, let's go look at them!". Our adventurous friends venture over to said island and spot large lizards. "Awesome, there's so many of them". said the first guy "Yeah, I think I'm going to touch one." Said the second guy.

Komodo Island, Indonesia

After burying the first guy, another group of guys said, "This place could use some homes, so let's live here". "But it's dangerous and these big lizards are everywhere, they could eat our children." said a few more guys. "Okay, let's just put our homes on stilts, what could go wrong?". After some rather shady and sketchy history of "Possible" deaths on the island, another guy said, "Dude, let's just charge money and bring tourist onto the island to see the big lizards." he grinned. "That can't be safe, couldn't they get hurt?" someone said in response. "Not if we charge enough and call it a 'destination'...", "Besides, we can just carry these long tree branches and it will make it look like we're protecting the tourists."

Komodo Island, Indonesia

Okay, here I go stepping onto a Tender and making my way towards shore. I am looking all around and Komodo looks absolutely nothing like Indonesia. In fact, as we approach, it looks like Palm Springs, California, with a splash of extra trees and all of it is sitting on various hillsides. I am furiously scanning the island as we get closer for any sign of the infamous Dragon. I recall reading the brochure and wondering if the trip to the island was a good idea. Here are the rules: 1. Women, if you're menstruating, you can't come onto the island, you will be hunted and eaten. (not making that up). 2.  If you cut or scrape yourself, you must flee, or you will be hunted and eaten. 3. Don't flee from the Dragons, you will be chased and eaten. 4. Stay with the Ranger at all times, he carries a long twig which might or might not be effective (we'll never tell you). 5. Don't run from the Dragon if he starts to chase you, trust in the stick. 6. Don't wander off on your own, we're not responsible for any extra meals that the Dragons may encounter.

Komodo Island 

Okay, so those are the basic rules. Sounds fun already? You can't...for any reason, go to the island unless you have a reservation with a Ranger. It's not like Komodo is the kind of place you would just show up to, but most people get there by boat, and if you're one of the people who thought you'd just "wing-it", without a guide or tour, then you're out of luck. After all, the Rangers only have so many sticks.

Komodo Island Ranger Guides 

Once I made it to shore, I walked over to the small holding area where the Rangers were waiting for eyes darting around on the ground. Then I noticed something's hot...where did the breeze go? After a few moments, an English girl with orange hair and a nose ring decided to gather us together and be our tour "Briefer". So, rules 1-6 were repeated with the ever so slightly condescending, but giggly "I'd rather be anywhere but here" tone and she then shuffled us off to our various Ranger guides. Was Komodo island sooo frightening that the only English speaking greeter outside of a Walmart that was available... happened to be "Britney"...a punk rocker from the bad side of London? Okay, so she was nice and did her job well, but could anything have been more out of place??

Komodo Island, Indonesia

Off we go, and I run to the front of the line. There's a line because it's a small trail which winds off into the woods. was so breezy on the boat, maybe the wind will pick up here in a moment. These trails are obviously man made, I guess they'd have to be. You wouldn't want various tourists wandering off into the woods, that would just add more rules. I'm behind our Ranger, he's kind of a small guy and I can tell he was very confident with his twig/stick/weapon that had some sort of strange Indonesian name that I'm sure translated to "Whackamadoodle" in English.

Komodo Island Ranger Guide

We were all quiet and looking everywhere. I swear I heard a Crow and kept thinking I was walking into a nightmarish version of an Edgar Alan Poe poem.....except with lizards. So, here I am with my camera..nothing but woods and more woods so far. I was anxious and trying not to trip up by the people behind me who kept scooting forward as if there was safety in numbers. I admit, I was a bit nervous, but it's not like we signed up for Jurassic Park or anything. Besides, there was an annoying little brat who was making a lot of noise as "Mummy" kept handing her chocolaty treats to satisfy her "I'm bored already"  whining. I figured one good push in a general lizard direction would buy the rest of us enough time to escape if necessary. So I let her remain to my right.

Komodo Island Cotton Tree

I couldn't figure out why there was so much water pouring down my body. Oh yeah, it was HOT. This is another warning people. Komodo island is really, really HOT. When you trot off into the woods to have your little lizard sighting...there's no breeze. None. This means that essentially, you're standing in the middle of an oven and there is no relief. The good news is that there's only an hour of walking through the woods left.

Komodo Island Trees

It was thoroughly emphasized to us by our Ranger guide that a "Sighting" was not guaranteed. Are we "Snipe" hunting now?? After all, it was wrong of me to assume that traveling all the way to Komodo island and paying money to see a Komodo Dragon...would actually yield...a Komodo Dragon. By now, I'm just hot, sweating and really curious. Alas! What's that our Ranger sees?? Just beyond our steps seems to be a sighting of KD's!! We all bristled with tension as our Ranger put his finger to his lips, indicating that we stand silently (slightly learning forward...except for Ethel in the back who was ready to run). After some hand signals to the Ranger who was further around the trail, our guide led us forward.

More Komodo Island woods...yeah, I know it's repetitive

THERE!! I see them now!! (I thought that quietly of course with camera poised in hand). Here's the part I don't quite understand. I began walking towards to the Dragons....yep, right up to them. There were say...four of them lying silently on the ground...and not moving. Well, I like to say that they were silently preparing their attack.

Wild Komodo Dragon on Komodo Island

I figured that if I was going to get eaten alive, that I should at least leave behind a "Discovery Channel Worthy" closeup of Komodo Dragon snout. We were motioned to began quietly circling around the KDs and stare silently. So, out comes Bob and Gwen's video camera, Rick's snazzy Nikon D and a host of other point and shoot devices (just more roughage for the lizards).

Wild Komodo Dragon on Komodo Island, Indonesia

Bravely, I squatted down a bit and took a number of photos. There seemed to be a man made watering hole that was dug just for this spot. Now, I really didn't notice this until I got back and checked my photos, but it was really clear that each KD had already eaten. You see, I worked in a hospital for years and I've seen some pretty graphic stuff, but having a high resolution close up of lizard slimly drool, mixed with blood and god knows just absolutely, 100% disgusting. Blaaahhhh!!! So, I thought I'd post the photos for your pleasure.

Wild Komodo Dragon (Blood all) on Komodo Island

This is where my mind started wondering if all of this was more than just coincidence. I started thinking back about how we were walking down the trail and a bird call would echo through the woods and then the Ranger would start his speech about the "such and such" bird. Then a baby KD would scuttle across the path with breakneck speed. Was someone, somewhere pushing a button and releasing these incidences one by one? Maybe I'm just a skeptic, but at one point a large Boar ran across our trail and stood off the side just long enough for us to star and get a lecture. I'm just saying. A side note for those who are squeamish: The baby KD's, when born, immediately run from their mother and high-tail it up a tree to keep from being eaten by their mother. There is no nurture process. Since they are in the trees, many of them actually fall down on occasion...right where you're walking...I'm just letting you know.

Wild Komodo Dragon on Komodo Island (They're way more snuggly than they look)

Anyway, so maybe four perfectly full and content man eating lizards just happen to be laying in this perfect clearing...supplied with all you can drink watering hole. None the less, I loved seeing these amazing creatures in real life, in their real environment. As we walked further down the trail, another group had landed at the same lizard viewing area and I watched from a distance. We had momentarily stopped for questions with another guide who happened along from out of the blue.

Wild Komodo Dragon on Komodo Island

As he chatted on, I watched as a lady with an umbrella decided that she was going to open it to protect herself from the sun coming down through the trees. However, who would have thought that the clicking sound of an umbrella opening up would cause a Komodo to jump up suddenly and charge her? Perfect Youtube moment, and me without my camera going. Well, don't worry, the Rangers jumped into action and held the lizard at bay. It turns out those Whackamadoodles really do work!!

Wild Komodo Dragons on Komodo Island

By the way, did you notice how dry the Ranger's Skin and hair are? Not a drop of sweat. If you would have seen how drenched and homely the rest of us were, you would have been surprised. I guess the locals get used to the weather. Just to let you know that I'm not exaggerating about the heat and lack of breeze, one of our group members had a heat stroke on the path and had to be taken to medical care.

Komodo Island in Indonesia

As we continued on our path, it was interesting to look around at the landscaped of hills and trees that you could see through the clearings.

Wild Orchids growing in a tree on Komodo Island

Our guide pointed out some wild Orchids that were growing on one of the trees. They were bunched up with some branches and twigs, so it was difficult to get a good shot of them. The species seems different than what I've normally seen.

Ranger leading us through the woods on Komodo Island

After we passed over a small bridge, we saw a large Buck sitting on the side and watching us. He was literally feet away. I'm not sure if you realize, but this is highly unusual behavior for a deer of any kind. I took a number of photos of him.

Wild Deer on Komodo Island

When we finally eded our walk through the woods, we came back out to the beach area and some booths that were set up. Some girls gave us a Komodo Dragon toy that was made out of Coconut shells....and a much needed bottle of water.

Komodo Island in Indonesia

There is a small cafe on the grounds, as well as a T-Shirt shop and an outdoor crafts setup. Yes, most things were very overpriced. Even a T-Shirt was $25 and up...pretty high for Indonesia. Granted, they do state that all the proceeds go to the families on the island. There is a small community that lives there and they make their living from the tourist industry. So, by all means, buy something to help them out.

Komodo Island in Indonesia

The small community of houses is actually on the other side of the hill, so you can't really get to it. However, you can see from this photo how many of the homes and buildings are up on the stilts to protect them from the Komodo Dragons.

Komodo Island Homes on Stilts

I did notice a bunch of children were living there. Can you imagine how nervous a parent would be having their kid running around this place? Komodo Island is pretty big, with a lot of remote areas and a lot of Dragons.

Komodo Island Local Children

In case you don't know, a Komodo Dragon can kill someone, but it really doesn't happen as often as you would think. In fact, it's quite rare due to the precautions that are taken. KDs have a large amount of bacteria and other goodies (such as Venom) in their saliva, which will kill animals and humans over time, if left untreated. A bite would inevitably cause lowered blood pressures, stop blood from coagulating and even cause paralysis. There is far mar detailed information on the internet about the history and habits of these creatures.

Typical House on Komodo Island (Stilts for protection from the Komodo Dragons)

Overall, I loved my visit to Komodo. The beach was nice, but the Komodos even wander out on the beach, so you have to be careful. As I explained ad nauseum, it is very hot there and it's vital to take bottled water with you on your hike.

Komodo Island local having a bite to eat (and keeping her feet from dangling over the edge)

The park offers several hikes through parts of the island that range from an hour long walk to one that is quite a few miles. Believe me, don't take the long hikes unless the weather is good and you are really up to it. We took the shortest one and we felt just about dead afterwards.

Komodo Island in Indonesia

The amazing thing is that Komodo island (and an adjacent small island) are the only places in the world where you can see Komodo Dragons in the wild. There are a few in zoos around the world, but that's it. Their size is quite impressive, as well as their presence. You can tell that they are very confident lizards. There are some more shots of Komodo island in my Flickr Site, which you can access HERE. However, keep in mind that most of them are simply shots of brown hills and trees, not much to photograph there. Also, if you want to read a bit more about Komodo Dragons, this site HERE has a good amount on information.

Komodo Island Boat


Lilian said...

That was so interesting!
Thanks Luther for all you do to share & update this marvelous, beautiful & humorous site.
I've already sent your address to many of our traveling friends.
Best to you,

Luther Bailey said...

Hi Lilian!

Thank you so much for your kind comments. I hope to begin more updates soon.


Anonymous said...

Hi Luther....
Amazing..... you have done an excellent job.... thank you for posting this
I'm a hobby photographer and I can't stop browsing your pictures on and on and on....
Thank you

Luther Bailey said...

Thank you Jimmy! Hopefully some day I'll have the time to start posting again. Thanks for reading.


emy said...

beautifull island

jipp said...

Nice! Happened to bump into your site while googling Komodo Island. I had expected some kind of free walk where you can just walk freely around the island and probably mingling with the local a bit. It's quite a disappointment then that we have to be closely guarded and all but if it is for safety that it is probably OK.

Tina Ryan said...

I just wonder what did they ate? They looks scary..

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