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  RINCA AND KOMODO ISLAND - INDONESIA

August 27, 2006

Gili Lawa Laut

On our way to Rinca we investigated a little island where we snorkeled on a delightful reef. We went ashore and climbed a steep scrubby hill for a view of the anchorage. I walked the sandy beach and picked up a few shells.

Crocodile Bay, Rinca

We continued on to Crocodile Bay, where the Ranger Station at Rinca is located. Rinca is part of the Komodo National Park, home to the famous Komodo Dragon, which lured us to visit the area.



 

The muddy anchorage at the end of the finger in Crocodile Bay was smooth and protected, surrounded by mangroves and the familiar scorched grassy high hillsides with little vegetation.

Several live-aboard canoes were anchored nearby and an old couple soon paddled over to see us but we could not understand what they wanted (other than my sunglasses). Their tiny dugout with a plastic tarp for shelter, was complete with hanging pots, a firepit (!!) and all the worldly goods they had. It was really a very pathetic sight and I wished I could have done something to help them.

Dragon Sightings

We dinghied to a long dock that led to a small shelter with a raised platform on each side. As we walked up the dock it became apparent what the platforms were for. Several people were perched on the platforms as 4 huge Komodo Dragons lay motionless below. A young guide was primed with his “dragon stick” a long stick with a forked end.

We joined the group and observed these huge creatures, all females that seemed totally unfazed with our presence. They were about 2 ½ meters long and reminded me more of alligators than the large species of monitor lizards that they are.  I did get the distinct feeling that they were stock-still waiting to ambush their dinner. Not too far away, sitting quietly in the mangroves were some cute monkeys.
We were told that recently a guide was bitten on the hand by one of the dragons and he spent 3 months in Bali hospital recovering. The guide used his stick and stood between the dragons and a getaway path so we managed to skirt around to the trail that led to the ranger station.

A Close Encounter

After formalities paying the park fees, anchoring fees, guide fees and other charges, we were set to go for a tour the following morning. We headed back to the dock and found the dragons no longer sleepy but instead quite agitated about something. Just as we snuck around to the shelter, the biggest dragon lunged at one of the men on the platform.

This sent most of our group scrambling for the platform but Annie, Bob and I held our ground taking photos. Suddenly the dragon charged forward in our direction. He only took about six steps but it sent Bob, Annie and I running down the dock in retreat!
Now the dragon was on the dock, between us and the dinghy, and Becky and Tony that were stranded on the platform. The dragon did not look happy so we held our distance. The fellow with the stick was fairly ineffective now poking at the beast from the platform above and only succeeding in making him madder. Finally the handler managed to get the dragon turned around and Tony thought he could make a break for it by climbing around the outside of the shelter and lowering himself on the dock behind the dragon. As he gingerly put a foot down on the dock from his precarious perch, the dragon swung round and charged at Tony who straight away reeled himself back around to the platform as we howled with laughter.
 

August 28

We arrived early to the ranger station and met our guide, who spoke very good English and doubled as a policeman in Labuhanbajo when he wasn’t giving tours. Around the station were a number of male dragons just hanging out. They were much larger than the females, some 3 meters long. We were warned to keep our distance and there was an always present guide armed with his stick close by.

The Komodo Dragon, actually a monitor lizard, known as "Ora" to the locals, may grow to 10 ft and weight 100 kg  and can live for 50 years. They are predators; they lie and wait for their prey to stroll by and then bite. Many children in nearby villages have died as a result of the Komodo's bite and their houses are built on stilts to lessen the chance of an ambush.

 

Dragon Hunting

We began our 4 hour hike across the island in search of Rinca wildlife. We climbed and climbed, through the tall spiky grass stippled with the occasional palm tree or groves of eucalyptus. High above the parched arid volcanic terrain we could see our boats peacefully at anchor below.

Our guide explained the habits and way of life of the 1300 dragons that live on Rinca  

It wasn’t long before we spotted a komodo dragon waiting beside the path to ambush some prey that strolled by. They are almost impossible to see and blend in to their environment. The monstrous lizards can easily dine on water buffalo, deer, goats, pigs and monkeys. The bite from a komodo dragon does not immediately kill a large animal; it can take 2 months for the venom from the bite, which contains 70 poisons, to kill a water buffalo, although a small animal (or small child) would succumb to the bacteria in the saliva much sooner.

We hiked to the water hole and saw deer, huge water buffalo, monkeys and wild horses.

Got a Dragon by the Tail!

Although our guide was careful with most of the dragons we encountered, one was especially lethargic, perhaps he had just had a huge feast. It gave us an opportunity to feel the texture of his skin and as we became ever more daring, a poise for a picture “dragging a dragon!”

We walked for many hours in the scorching heat across the brittle rocky spiked grassland, seeing several sightings of the dragons along the way.

One very large dragon, caught by surprise, bounded away across the wasteland with remarkable speed and agility at a rate that amazed us!


Pink Beach, Komodo

That afternoon we sailed 12 miles to Pink Beach, a reputedly good dive site. However, after attempting to anchor in the pass with 4 knots of current shoving us around, we moved the boats to a quieter anchorage around the corner and took the dinghies to the snorkel/dive site.

The snorkeling proved wonderful with heaps of varieties of soft corals and plenty of very colorful fish. The sand on shore really was pink caused by red coral particles in the sand. The surrounding high mountainous landscape provided a stunning backdrop to the anchorage. On shore were numerous wild boars rooting around

The guys also did several dives in the area while Becky and I sat on the beach and got to know some local boys. I succumbed to their goods for sale and ended up with some little rays carved from shell and a wood carving of a komodo dragon. Later one of the young boys came to the boat and we gave him some antibiotic ear drops for his infected ears and pain pills. I also ended up giving his father a snorkel mask and the other boys some pens and a notebook. They had paddled for 2 hours from Komodo to reach Pink Beach to try and sell their wares. They had no food or water with them and remained until dusk before they finally paddled home. The people of these islands have a tough life and they are hard industrious workers. They are also hard bargainers and you need to develop quite a skill, with a lot of patience, to get a good deal!

Komodo Island

August 30

We left Ascension and GWTW at Pink Beach and sailed Stardust across the Bay to the Ranger Station on Komodo Island.

There were several large males hanging around the cook shack at the Ranger Station. The lizards were much larger and meatier than the ones we had seen on Rinca.



The Rangers insisted that they didn’t feed the dragons but they did tell us a story of how one had climbed the stairs into the kitchen and scared the cook enough that he jumped out the back window!

Perhaps all the boars on the beach were keeping the dragons fat and healthy!

Again, we were accompanied by a ranger with a big stick as these reptiles were fearless and aggressive.


There were some carvings, pearls, and other items for sale and I bargained for a few souvenirs that I took a liking to.

Before leaving we took a group photo of our gang at the Park Sign.

Later in the day we sailed to a protected bay and anchored over coral. The anchorage was peaceful enough though and only one fishing boat visited us. I ended up buying another mask, trading some items on board in addition to money.


Gili Lawa Laut

August 31

We sailed to a group of islands north of Komodo where snorkelling and diving was 5 star. Gord, Liam, Tony and Bob dove on a site called “Crystal Rock” and Annie, Gary and I snorkelled around the anchorage.

Because the anchorage was rolly we moved the boats back to the anchorage that had been so peaceful the night before.

We rafted to Stardust for the night on a mooring ball because the bottom was all coral. It was dinner on Stardust and an early night to bed.

Gili Banta

September 1

After breakfast on Ascension with Stardust, we headed back over to the dive site where GWTW and TD had spent the night rolling while we had a wonderful sleep. In the pass we saw 4 Manta Rays lined up one behind the other motionless in the current.

Gord and the dive group headed for an underwater shelf about 1 mile away and had a superb dive.

After lunch we motored to Gili Banta, about 12 miles away. We arrived late afternoon but Becky and I managed to get a snorkel in around the bay before the light faded. Becky saw a shark, the first one we had seen snorkelling in Indonesian waters.

Banta is a parched rocky volcanic island, lunar-like with very little vegetation and steep precipices emerging from the ocean. The water around the island was very clear and it was easy to see the surrounding reefs . Although there was a sandy beach, it was lined with garbage and there was nothing compelling us to venture ashore.

September 2   We left Ascension at anchor on the SE side of Banta and took GWTW to a nearby anchorage for some snorkelling and diving. The site was excellent and we enjoyed a great day in the bay.

The following morning we set sail for the Wera Bay on the Island of Sumbawa, where there is a boat building industry.