It feels weird to be in the speedboat without our scuba gear. Sadly, our Komodo diving is done. Amanda and I did 13 dives over four days, Emma and Lily a few less. We miss it already.
Today isn’t going to be boring though, in fact I expect it to be a highlight. We’re going on a 5 hour trek across a slice of Komodo Island, hopefully spotting one of the ~2000 eponymous dragons, or ‘Monitor Lizards’ that live on the Island. The dragons are wonders of the animal world and are on a lot of naturalist bucket-lists.
The speedboat drops us off at the ranger station at Loh Liang.
The reefs and the islands together are ‘protected’ by the National Park, although we have heard that things were better when the area was managed by the Nature Conservancy in years past. The government charges fees to access the park on land or water, but little of the money stays in the park. Most of it goes toward other government spending needs.
By regulation, and choice, we are paying for Ranger guides to go with us. It’s not cheap exactly, although little in Indonesia feels very expensive. They don’t speak English except a few words but they do know the trail! And they are armed with Y-shaped sticks that are used for defense if we get an aggressive lizard.
Lizards aren’t that dangerous. Mostly they are opportunistic killers, preferring wounded or old animals, even carrion. Only one person, years ago, has died from Komodo attack (they presume as he was never found). But several Rangers have been wounded. And they can be 10 feet, 150 lbs when really big. That’s twice the length and the same size as a small black bear.
They bite hard and are both mildly poisonous and radically infested with bacteria from the fetid water they drink. Komodo’s are known for some unusual behavior. They eat stuff whole, and have a breathing tube beneath their tongue while they are choking down carcases. They sometimes force carcasses further into their throat by ramming the carcass into a tree to push it further down its gullet. They also are cannibalistic and will eat their young. (Komodo poop, pictured, is full of ground up, digested bone.)
An hour into the trip, and I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll see one. I ask the ranger, and my heart sinks. “If we are lucky” he says. “They are in hiding right now. It’s mating season.”
Dammit. Why didn’t any of my research say that it was rare to see them in July? I had read that one could easily see them on a neighboring island Rinca (Rin-cha) at the ranger station. But they are really just pets, fed daily and slightly domesticated. I wanted the real thing in the wild. I found this route (labeled ‘Adventure’ on the map) and it was supposed to be beautiful and give a really good chance of seeing them.
And it is beautiful. There are beautiful vistas and some interesting wildlife including wild cockatoos, pigs, snakes and spiders. But we aren’t seeing any Komodos.
Amanda takes a bad fall and yelps. She has a bad knee that made it through Rinjani, but it’s bad enough that she bursts into tears on one particularly steep descent. Lily pouts. The trail is decent, but narrow and there is lots of underbrush. At her height, she gets hit with a lot of twiggy, sharp stuff.
Maybe it’s because we are dissapointed that the diving is over. Maybe it’s because the trekking is hard. Maybe it’s the injuries. The most likely reason we all get cranky is we are on a Komodo Safari and THERE AREN’T ANY FUCKING KOMODOS. I can’t help but think this would be awesome if we just got some sightings.
Four hours later, we are trudging into the far Ranger station at Loh Sabita. There isn’t much chatter, barely a word or two. The guides know we’re dissapointed and they again say ‘sorry, it’s not the right season.’ It certainly isn’t their fault.
As we approached the destination ranger station, which is a hut perched on wooden supports above a marshy mangrove swamp, the guide says ‘There’s a small one!’ And indeed, inside the wooden fence of the ranger station is a small K omodo. “It’s 1-2 years old’. Apparently it’s gotten itself trapped inside, and when it finds a way out scampers off.
It’s not great, but we’ll take it, I guess. No one is really happy, but at least we technically saw one. The speedboat picks us up and deposits us on the beautiful Wunderpus. We do some jumping into the ocean – our last time in the Java sea for what will be a very long time.