The quote “Here be Dragons!” hearkens back to the medieval practice of putting illustrations of dragons, sea monsters, and other mythological creatures on uncharted areas of maps where potential dangers were thought to exist. It seems particularly appropriate to use this phrase for this post for a couple of reasons. First, we visited Komodo, our first stop in Indonesia, to see the legendary dragons by the same name. The Indonesian public health officials required pre-visit temperature checks as a condition of entry for ALL passengers and crew before they would allow the ship to dock. In addition, Komodo was the first port to require all visitors to wear masks for the duration of our visit. We were willing to do just about whatever it took to visit this unique island, and so far this vigilance seems to be working, as all of the dragons we encountered seem to be in good health! Fortunately, all Viking Sun passengers and crew who wanted to go ashore were given the OK to go ashore. Later, we were informed that several tour groups before us were NOT permitted to visit. So although it was pretty steamy trekking through the tropical forest wearing a mask, with all that is unknown about the coronavirus, it can certainly be put into the category of other “uncharted areas where potential dangers are thought to exist!”
At just 150 square miles, the tiny island of Komodo is one of the 17,508 islands that comprise the Republic of Indonesia. Our approach provided stunning views of several of these islands, and our early morning arrival had an almost mystical feel to it. We learned that these waters are home to dolphins, whales, and over 1,000 species of fish.
Once we entered the Komodo National Park, we learned that it was initially established in 1980 to conserve the unique Komodo dragon, first discovered by the scientific world in 1912. Since then, the park’s conservation goals have expanded to include protecting the entire biodiversity of the region, both marine and terrestrial. It was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1991. We met our guide, Paul and our ranger, Abdullah, and we were given very specific instructions about staying close to them for the duration of our visit, keeping hydrated, staying with the group and on the path, and not littering. Given the choice of taking the short, medium, or long hike, we opted for the long hike and off we went. Our guides were very careful to tell anyone with an open cut or on her menstrual cycle to stay close to the stick-carrying ranger, because the dragons are very attracted to the smell of blood. Unfortunately, they didn’t mention the hungry mosquitos, and Denise learned that the lovely all-natural insecticide she brought is no match for Komodo’s tiniest beasts! She’ll be in search of DEET at our next stop!
The park is truly a magnificent menagerie of trees, plants, and other wildlife. In addition to the dragons, we came upon a small herd of Timor deer and heard the sounds of wild boar. We were told that special evening tours are offered for visitors interested in seeing some of the 28 varieties of snakes that call Komodo home. And because this is the wet season, the tropical forest was lush and green, with occasional flowers, fruits, berries, and even a tiny snail peeking through the leaves.
The dragons mate between May and August, and the females lay about 30 eggs that will hatch in March or April. They use three different nest types for their eggs: hillside nests, ground nests, and mound nests that are actually built by guinea fowl. Our park ranger, Abdullah, pointed out an active mound nest, and we were advised to be very quiet around the nest.
The dragons did not disappoint! As we approached their watering hole, we saw four large males lounging in the shade, and three youngsters running around. The largest lizard in the world, these breathtaking creatures can grow up to 10 feet long and usually weigh about 150 pounds. We were warned not to get too close to the dragons, as they are carnivores and can live off of one feed for a month. After two months of feasting on the incredible Viking Sun food, one of us could probably sustain an average dragon for longer than that! When one of the little guys got a bit too curious about Denise’s shoes, Abdullah used the forked end of his stick to re-direct him! We could show you literally hundreds of pictures, but here are a few of our favorites.
These are truly magnificent creatures, and we hope that the park remains open to visitors for many years to come. There are periodic discussions about restricting visitation to the park for a whole host of reasons, so it’s important for visitors to follow the rules…even if it means wearing a mask in the sweltering heat!