Monday, March 5, 2012:
Having crossed the Arafura Sea and latterly, the Timor sea, we arrive off Komodo Island. We have had glorious weather since leaving the Great Barrier Reef, reasonably calm seas and mainly sun, with the occasional heavy downpour, which is to be expected in this region.
We don’t see another ship until we near the vessels which are used as drill rigs and are part of a joint operation between Australia and Indonesia. They operate over a shallow bank and rather than use ‘fixed’ rigs, these specialised ships serve the same purpose, pumping the oil up from below and then by pipeline to the Australian coast, near Darwin. As a safety measure, they have stand-by support vessels nearby and we must not pass closer than 5 miles from them.
The island of Komodo is lush and verdant as we approach in the early morning. The charts and the GPS positions do not agree, unsurprising considering that the last chart for the area was published in 1909. Instead we use P.I. lines, or parallel indexing, instead of GPS positions; Using P.I.s is a technique which allows one to monitor one’s position or track by using one or more ‘lines’, electronically superimposed on a radar screen.
We find our anchorage spot at the head of a deep bay, Slawi Bay to be precise, about 0.4 of a mile from the tender pier. There are no signs to announce “here be dragons”, however, this is what we have come here for, the famous Komodo dragon, a carnivorous ‘lizard’, growing up to 3 metres long, which can move fast enough to bite a deer, (or human) and can smell blood from afar.
I am fortunate enough to manage to land on the island and be conducted on a Komodo Island Trek tour through the jungle, by a tour-guide, Richard. He starts the proceedings by telling us what we mustn’t do, such as have any meat on us, no cuts or sores which may ooze blood; he tells us about the speed that the ‘dragons’ can move and that they have taken and killed men regularly over the years. They don’t so much as ‘kill’ them, rather ‘bite’ them, their teeth and claws being so infested with bacteria that any animal, even with a ‘nip’, will die from blood poisoning within a few days or weeks and then be devoured.
With this in mind, (gulp), we set off through the jungle trail. Within a few minutes we spot our first dragon, slowly gliding through the undergrowth, this one making for a small stream, where it needs to drink. We follow at a reasonable distance, Richard’s words are foremost in my mind, however they actually look so ponderous that it’s hard to believe that one of them could be fast enough to catch man or beast unawares.
The camera is by now ‘de-fogged’, having left the air-conditioned confines of the ship, in these temperatures and humidity it takes 20 minutes or so to acclimatise to the ambient temperature and is useless until it does so.
Hungry for me, we continue our trek through a path hewn through the surrounding jungle; it is stifling in the heat, however we don’t notice, the excitement of further ‘sightings’ drives us on and sure enough, in a clearing, composed of dry mud, there they are, 3 of them. I’m not sure who is watching who and our guide stands ready with a long, forked stick, ready for any foray towards us. We need to move quickly at one point, one large male makes a move towards us and (relatively speaking), seems to go quite fast, our legs however give us some room and once again we can stop and admire these amazing creatures.
Our trek takes us in a large circle, until we eventually return to the beach and the tender pier area. Well, what a surprise, market stalls block our path, festooned with T- shirts, wooden carvings of the Komodo dragon, sea pearls, batik; you name it, they had it, let the bartering begin………
Back to the cool comfort of the “Amsterdam”, muddy boots an’ all, but with wonderful memories and the knowledge that once again, this voyage never ceases to enthrall me.