In the Land of Dragons: Komodo Island
When I was living in Indonesia I had the chance to fulfill several lifelong dreams. The first was to go to arrive in Bali to the sounds of Bali Hai' (to learn more about that check out the post I wrote: Bali Ha’i is Calling: Ubud, Monkey Forest, Jimbaran and the Dream of Bali) and the second was to walk with dragons. I'm not sure when I got the notion in my head that I wanted to see Komodo Dragons but it was strongly on my mind during my stay on the Indonesian archipelago.
My sister and I decided to celebrate the end of her teaching contract by doing a two week exploration of the smaller islands including the Flores and Komodo Islands. We started by flying into Flores, a small island to the east of Bali, and staying for a few days before booking or trip to Komodo. One of the great things about south east Asia is you don't have to plan to far ahead. It is completely reasonable to book a flight the day you want to fly out. There are no extra charges or inflated prices like you get in the US or Europe.
There are a ton of small shops set up that do tours to two of the four islands that are home to Komodo Dragons (you are only allowed to visit Komodo island and Rinca island). Most tours take you to Rinca as it closer to Flores and you are more likely to see the dragons walking about. Rinca can be done in a day whereas Komodo is a two day trip. I was very nervous to do the two day tour as I get seasickness very easily but there was no way I had traveled all this way and not set foot on Komodo Island.
So we bought our tickets for the overnight trip on a shared boat (you can rent your own private boat but we're cheap so we didn't.) packed our bags and off we went! I am so glad we did. It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. Our captain, while mute, was kind and funny, his young assistant was wonderful and a pretty good cook and our companions were excited and entertaining. We ended up being the only women on the boat but it never felt uncomfortable or awkward.
Our first stop was to Rinca, which felt very much like we were entering in Jurassic Park. Almost as soon as we got on the island we saw the dragons. Small young dragons walked along the outskirts of the bathrooms and park buildings. Later on we'd find out that these are the most deadly as they can't control the amount of venom they eject when they bite.
We were given two guides as our group was a little on the large size with 7 people. These guides are your protection as well while walking along the trails. By protection I mean that they each had a long stick with a forked end. That's all you get to fend off 10 foot long dragons with over 200 kinds of deadly bacteria as well as venom. Oh, and they don't store anti-venom on the island because there's no electricity. So yeah…have fun!
In truth it was way too hot for the Komodos to move. It was well into the 90s (around 35 Celsius), and most of the dragons we saw were much too busy laying in the shade to try and get a snack. There was one exception, a very determined dragon actually lead us down a big chunk of our trail for a while. It was a very cool to see these big guys in motion (from a safe distance of course). All in all we saw well over 20 dragons which our guides explained was pretty amazing.
On average you can expect to see 10-15 wondering around depending on the day. Don't forget to look up! Baby dragons live the first 5 years of their lives in the trees as adult dragons (including their own mothers) will try and eat them.
Our guide told us stories about tourists that try to sneak onto the island after hours (yes the park closes at sunset and you are not allowed on the island alone, EVER) and how it never ends up well. Bits of clothing or camera equipment are often times the only pieces of evidence that someone was ever there. So don't do it! Our guide also told us stories about his time hanging out with Steve Irwin, and how they camped out on Rinca for a special that Irwin was filming.
Overall, if you only have one day to spend chasing dragons Rinca is your best bet. It has the higher population of dragons than Komodo island so you're chances are much better.
That night we watched the sunset as large flying foxes flew overhead. If you've never heard of these guys before let me say that they a bats the size of children…and not small children. Up close they are a little terrifying but from our distance it was fine. Small boats will come by trying to sell you overpriced souvenirs and freshly caught fish. The fish is good for dinner but I'd say pass on the knickknacks. You can get the same stuff on land for half the price.
The next morning we kicked off the day by being surrounded by playful dolphins as the sun rose. It was beautiful and surreal. It's these moments why you need to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. If I had let my fear of seasickness win out I would have missed this and all the following moments. These are some of my favorite memories I've ever had while traveling.
Komodo island, while in name meant so much to me, didn't prove to be the treasure trove of dragons that Rinca did. We did however see a good amount of deer and wild boars…so that save feeling still wasn't really there. The dragons we did see were hanging out around the kitchen hoping for scraps instead of hunting.
Our two days were scattered throughout with snorkeling, eating and getting to know our fellow boat mates. It was a great experience that I am so glade I was able to take part of. If you are ever in the area it is a must see destination. If you only have one day Rinca is a great stop. You will see a good amount of dragons and get a good feel for how big and dangerous these creatures are.
But if you have the time, I say do the two day, no question. Along with added Komodo Island you get to go to Pink beach, which like it sounds has pink sand from the red coral that lives in the surrounding reefs. It is one of only 7 in the world.
Have you ever swam with giant mantas? I have! These beautiful creatures span 14 feet easily. It was shocking to see something that big that close up. I've been whale watching countless times but the size of the whales never really connected in my brain, I think because I never saw them in full. But these guys, they are massive. I definitely recommend this. You do need to be a strong swimmer as the water is very deep and the current can be strong.
If you do go please keep in mind that these animals need to be taken seriously. Just two years before my visit two park rangers were killed when a dragon wandered into the ticket building. At the same time don't let that stop you from visiting! It is actually rare for people to be killed if they are following the rules. If someone is bitten they are taken to the hospital on Bali where they are treated.
As long as you follow the rules and use common since you'll have one of the most unique and amazing experiences of your life!