Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dragon Tails

Blog Location: Rinca Island, Indonesia
Blog position: 8 39.11 S 119 42.82 E

Current Location: Lovina - Bali, Indonesia
Current Location: 8 09.69 S 115 01.18 E
Next Destination: Kumai - Borneo, Indonesia

KT and I had both read a little about the Komodo Dragons and we were very much looking forward to the experience. We left Labuan Bajo for the quick motor-sail to Rinca (only Rinca and Komodo have easily accessible dragons). We anchored in the narrow bay off the park headquarters and decided to stumble ashore to arrange our dragon trip the next morning. As we got out of the dinghy I noticed a large dragon sitting under the entrance sign trying to get some shade. At first KT couldn't believe it was real because it was so perfectly situated, almost like a carving. After we cautiously passed the dragon we had a bit of a walk to get to the headquarters. We passed hundreds of monkeys on the way. They were a little skittish and had a well defined buffer zone (of how near they would let us get to them before running off), but they were fun to watch.

We talked to a guide and got some information about the available morning trips, and then he pointed us towards the ranger cabins and the dragons just hanging around the place. We got a chance to follow a HUGE 3+ meter (10 feet) dragon down a trail. Their walk is very macho; they swagger with leg muscles flexed and sway their entire body, easily taking up the walking trail designed for two people walking side by side. They are awesome.. this is not just a little gecko steroids. They have massive claws and large teeth but the scary thing is their saliva. A Komodo can easily kill a small deer or pig in one fight, but a huge water buffalo is a different story. They bite the water buffalo, usually in low hanging places like the bits, and then come back later. The bacteria is so septic it causes blood poisoning and kills the buffalo in a couple of days. The rangers told us a story of another guide who fell asleep and let his arm droop down. A dragon took a bite and it took two trips to the hospital including a one month stay to get him right again... YIKES. Needless to say we were excited for our trip.

We started early at 7:00 to stay out of the heat of the day. From the start the inland of Rinca has a very Jurassic feel to it; High volcanic mountains, fossil cliffs, dry plains and watering holes. We spotted our first dragon in the "Dragons Nest", where we came upon a female tending to the various holes/caves they the lay their eggs in. They only have one which they actually use and the others are used as decoys to keep the cannibalistic elders from eating the young. The female lays 15-30 eggs and they hatch in 8-9 months. Once born the young dragons spend their first years living in the trees (eating bugs and geckos for food) because the larger adults can't climb them. This female was doing a lot of digging as were a number of nearby, strange looking flightless birds ... both were kicking up a huge cloud of dust.

We walked through a thick blanket of trees, filled with monkeys and smaller lizards. The lighting and sounds of various animals created a very eerie uneasy feeling. As we were walking across the savanna we came across numerous water buffalo skulls, propped up on stones by the guides. It literally looked like we were walking into the Jurassic wild. Dragons hunt by waiting next to game trails and pouncing on the unsuspecting prey. A single 50kg Dragon can eat a 40kg deer. As we walked through the knee high dry grass, guarded only by a guide with a stick, I wondered if we were next. As we neared the watering hole our guide suggested that this was a VERY dangerous place and we must be on constant lookout. Just moments after his warning we noticed a 2+ meter dragon bulldozing through the grass up a hill five meters away (a smaller dragon can run faster than a human)! The dragons we found we pretty relaxed, in fact our guide even suggested we touch their tail ... "Dragging the dragon". He also gave us a few suggestions; "If their head is down, OK. If their head comes up and they start licking (smelling), be on the look out. If they get the smell of meat (blood), nothing will slow them down!" Having properly prepared us he said, "Okay, now you touch". As I was the last (of four) to touch the dragon's tail, I felt a little like the movie "Wild Hogs" where they are smacking the bull on the butt ... all is good for the first guy, but as the second gets ready a local mentions "nobody has ever done it twice in a row" ... and then all hell breaks loose!!! Luckily our dragon wasn't as sensitive as the bull in the movie. His tail was REALLY heavy, and I just couldn't let it go ... I had to give it a shake!!

We continued up the hills, through taller grass, until we reached a huge plain where we came across a couple of wild horses (last year there was three but the dragons got one). I can't imagine one of these huge dragons chasing down a horse. No wonder the horse were so skittish. Our guide also was kind enough to show us the various types of dragon poo. There is the pile of white, which is the bones, teeth, and hooves of whatever they have eaten. He even picked up a small deer hoof off the top of a dried turd and handed it to KT, who handled it quite inquisitively until she realized it had just come from Dragon poo. Then there was the fur ball poo. If you think Bill the cat coughed up a lot of fur balls, imagine the dragons ACKKKKK after a 40kg deer. He even showed us "the rest" poo, which is just what you'd expect.. only a little bigger. Since a dragon eats the whole lot, its digestive system compartmentalizes the various portions to get the most efficient use of each bit.

We continued our beautiful walk, with panoramic views into the valleys below, stopping for water breaks and long stories from our guide. He started out rather slowly but seemed to pick up the pace as the morning wore on. During one long quiet break I heard a rustle in the bush and watched as a dragon came out of its hiding place a short distance away. We had no idea it was even there. Our four hour hike ended with a nice cold beer surrounded by more dragons in the cabin area. I guess you can even rent one of the rooms, although make sure you get a good nights sleep BEFORE you see the dragons. I don't think you'd sleep very well AFTER the tour ... not with all those dragons hanging around while you slept (talk about a new type of anchor watch).

After a hot hike we couldn't think of anything better than a nice cold ocean dip.. but Dragons CAN swim. We moved outside the lagoon and rafted up with Island Sonata on a mooring ball. We watched the monkeys and deer raid the beach as the sun set.

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