Being in the Komodo islands, it would be silly not to try to see the Komodo dragons. And if you are going to bother travelling to see the dragons, you might as well go in the early morning when they are feeling frisky.
We anchored off Rinca, and headed off bright and early to the ranger's station to pay and collect a guide. The guides are there not only as experts, but for protection. Not only are the dragons huge, their saliva carries all sorts of horrible bacteria and they have venom glands under their teeth to inhibit coagulation. They bite their prey (deer, buffalo - little things like that), hang around for a couple of weeks waiting for it to die a horrible death, then they eat it it. Charming. So I was expecting our walk would be rather like it is on a Kruger National Park walk: a couple of rangers with big guns in front and running sweep, and tourists in the middle.
A friendly young ranger named Idris picked us up at the entrance. We were lucky - it is the off season, so we had him all to ourselves. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. Our guide picked up a long, forked stick, and off we went.
I took a long look at said stick. It was perhaps as tall as Idris, and as big around as my thumb. The fork was maybe six inches per side. In short, it was a walking stick. Not the most deadly-looking piece of equipment.
We saw some little dragons wandering around the station. "They normally stay in the trees," said Idris. "The adults eat them. They are all cannibals." I nodded to myself. Of course they are. "The dragons like to hang around the kitchens," he continued. "They smell the fresh meat from about 5km away. They also like to sleep in the toilets in the afternoons; we'll often have 15 or 20 of them in there after lunch. Lucky you're here in the morning!"
As my bladder sent me a quiet message that it would prevent me from using the toilet ever again if need be, we reached the kitchens. Sure enough, five monstrous dragons were under the building. If they hadn't reached the 3m of a full-grown adult, they weren't far off the mark.
Idris continued providing important (read: gory) dragon facts. As the group snapped photos, I sidled over to him.
"So," I said, "your stick. That's really enough to protect us from the dragons?"
"Oh, no," he said cheerfully. "Definitely not. They are strong and really fast. Plus, see here." He pointed to the crook of his stick, where an eight inch split travelled down from the V. "A few months ago, there was a lady in my group who was menstruating. The dragons attacked her, and one of them cracked my stick. I put in a nail here--" he pointed to a tiny penny nail at the crook, "--but that won't hold anything back." He smiled at me, as though this weren't a completely crazy thing to say.
"Hmm," was all I managed.
To back up my crazy claims, I took a photo of Idris and his stick.
|Kind of on the flimsy side, isn't it?|
And yet: off we went into the jungle.
By unspoken agreement, Erik and I kept Mom and the girls between us. We walked through the woods, looking for Komodo dragons, when: "There's one."
Not five feet in front of us lay an adult dragon. It was camouflaged perfectly by the rocks and leaves around it, and I have no doubt I could have stepped on it had Idris not pointed it out.
|Don't run in the woods; you'll step on a dragon and get septacaemia.|
"So. Do many people get attacked?"
Idris' smile faded a little as he considered. "Well, let me think. Not so many. A friend of mine, another ranger got bitten. And a tourist. But we flew them to Bali for the special antibiotics, so they survived."
I frowned. "Bali. You don't have the special antibiotics here?"
The happy laugh was back. "No, no. Not here."
Right. Because having the special anti-dragon meds in the place where you actually, you know, have dragons wouldn't make any sense.
We saw more dragons, and finished out the 3km walk without incident. I breathed a sigh of relief as we reached the dinghy dock. Safe for another day.
"Mom, look." The girls were pointing to a sign in the mangroves: "Warning: crocodile in area."
I looked to Idris. He nodded. "It's just one, though. About 5m long. But I've only seen it twice in the last five years."
That's it. Untie the dinghy from the dock and get me out of here. I'm going back to the reef.