We treaded along a dusty trail with the utmost quietness; climbing slowly up a hill, each step sending loose small rocks rolling behind us. What we’re on the lookout for, dragons. Not the mythical fire-breathing Targaryen types, but a smaller, more real one—the komodo kind. As we crested the hilltop, we couldn’t help but loudly marvel at the sight before us; the island’s verdant foliage meeting with the aquamarine sea, and beyond, brown rugged mountains dotted with sparse trees. “Shhhh,” our guide said.
|AN ADULT KOMODO DRAGON RESTING AFTER A MEAL|
We were at the Indonesia’s famed Komodo Island and we’re here to see the largest living reptile in the world, the komodo dragons. And even though these creatures are deaf towards very low and loud sounds, their sense of smell, which they utilize using their forked tongues like their reptilian kin, is extremely sensitive. With the searing weather, our sweat-drenched bodies were definitely a prime target.
|SCENIC SCENES ALONG THE FLORES SEA|
Labuan Bajo was our jump-off for our dragon adventure. From its dock, we rode a medium-sized speedboat and took in the sights of the Flores Sea. It has been said that dolphins and even whales abound along these waters, but we saw nothing during our two-day outing besides scenic brown island mountains contrasting with the blue of the sea.
|KOMODO ISLAND IS PART OF THE LARGER KOMODO NATIONAL PARK|
The Komodo National Park consists of three large islands, Komodo, Rinca and Padar Island, plus 26 smaller islets. While we were able to visit all three, only two of these actually have komodo dragons still crawling along its land, Padar having lost its last dragon in the seventies. The whole park is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
It took us a couple of hours to reach Komodo Island from the small port of Labuan Bajo. Our boat bobbed lightly above sparklingly emerald waters as we slowly alighted on a wooden causeway, one at a time. The view was amazing; blue green waters, white beach, and a heavily wooded area beyond. This place could stand on its own, even without the dragons.
|THE DOCK AT KOMODO ISLAND|
A guide soon greeted us as our feet touched land. The first thing he asked was if any of the girls have their monthly period on. Strange question, indeed. Still, two from our group hesitantly raised their arms. He then asked if they still wish to proceed, as komodo dragons, with their strong sense of smell, is attracted to blood, any kind of blood.
|KOMODO NATIONAL PARK IS A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE|
With that sorted out, he set us into smaller groups and proceeded towards the trail with nary any seconds wasted, armed with a wooden staff with a y-shaped end in his hand, his ultimate weapon in protecting us from these giant lizard.
|HIKING ALONG KOMODO ISLAND|
Komodo dragons are carnivorous beasts. They feed on animals, be it small or big, alive or dead, walking in fours or in twos; yes, they eat people. There’s an ongoing debate if they’re venomous since most of their victims seems stricken with paralysis when bitten, but once you see their set of sixty one-inch teeth, their enormous muscle and huge sharp claws, you won’t even think about if they have venom or not. You simply stay your distance. Period.
|FOOT DETAIL OF A KOMODO DRAGON|
|FACE TO FACE WITH 40-MILLION-YEAR SPECIES|
After rambling through dry landscapes, we finally chanced upon a dragon lazily sprawled under a tree and surrounded by tourists, gingerly walking a few meters behind it and having their Instagram photos taken. Well, who can blame them, really, it’s not everyday that you come across a six-foot dragon in the wild.
|SNAPPING AWAY AT A DRAGON|
A few of my friends squatted right in front of the monster lizard, their feet crossed, cameras right in their faces, snapping away with utter abandon. I thought then, what if the komodo suddenly burst running from its languid state and attacked them? Our guide said to run in zigzag, but how can you run with your feet crossed beneath you? These animals, heavy looking as they are, can sprint at 20 km/hour. How fast can you untangle your feet, my friend?
The next day, we visited Rinca Island. It is much closer than Komodo Island, but the ride was no less scenic. We docked on a cove surrounded by mangroves and proceeded on a worn path that winds between what seemed like limestone walls on our left, and more mangrove trees on our right.
|TRAIL ALONG RINCA ISLAND|
Eventually, the trail opened to a dried swamp where a torii-like gate with two giant komodo dragon statues on its pillars. We took shelter on a camp of elevated single-storey buildings some meters on and was served an excellent lunch consisting primarily of local Indonesian dishes.
|A CLUSTER OF BUILDINGS SERVES AS DINING AND LOUNGE HALLS|
As we were burping our way out of the dinner hall, we were asked what kind of tour we wanted, there’s the long route and there’s the short one. While the former was much more scenic, it involves a bit of a hike, and after our strenuous climb up and down Padar Island earlier that day, we wanted nothing more than to rest. So the short one it was!
|KOMODO DRAGONS ATTRACTED BY THE SMELL OF FOOD AT THE KITCHEN BUILDING|
Less than a minute into the trail, seven adult komodo dragons blocked our way, sprawled under and around the kitchen building. Again, they’re resting. These guys are lazy! On the defensive, our guide told us that they really don’t feed them; the reason they hang out right by the kitchen is the smell of food. Makes sense.
|NOT ONE, BUT SEVEN, KOMODO DRAGONS|
Two females started walking and everyone instinctively moved back, the guides on the ready with their sticks. Turns out they just wanted to have a quick fight, lashing with surprisingly agility and quickness with their heavy tails at each other. Each stroke evoking a massive whipping sound. We moved farther away. Indeed, nobody wants to get in the middle of a fight between girls; a komodo cat fight at that.
|THE SHORT TRAIL AT RINCA ISLAND|
|A TIMOR DEER ALONG RINCA, ONE OF THE MAIN SOURCES OF FOOD FOR KOMODO DRAGONS|
Winding along mildly sloping grounds, passing a lone deer and dodging hanging branches, we came upon a clearing with several holes in the ground; egg holes, our guide told us. Komodo dragons either use holes dug up by orange-footed scrubfowl bird or they dig their own to lay eggs. September was egg-laying season and each of these holes has up to twenty eggs inside. It takes quite a while for these to hatch though, taking all the way up to April the next year for the first baby komodo to come out.
|A BABY KOMODO DRAGON HIDING ON A TREE BRANCH|
It was just strange that we saw a small komodo dragon, just a few feet away from the site, hiding on the branches of a tree. These babies are defenseless from predators and they’re not even safe with their own kind, these dragons don’t only have people on their menu (when provoked), they’re also cannibalistic.
|KOMODO DRAGONS AT RINCA ISLAND|
Indonesia’s komodo dragons may not breathe fire and may not have huge leathery wings that would let them take flight, but still, being the largest of their kind and a walking prehistoric creature surviving 40 million years of earthly existence, they are both amazing and terrifying creatures to behold. Well, especially if you know that they can eat you alive and whole.
~ THE INDONESIA MINISTRY OF TOURISM INVITED ME AS A PART OF THE TRIP OF WONDERS TOUR. VIEWS, OPINIONS & BIASES, ALL MINE.