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KOMODO DRAGONS ON RINCA ISLAND

Departure from Denpasar airport, Bali. Running out of time I decided to skip an overland journey through Sumbawa since I was running out of time. It does not make much sense to me to be on the road through the island traveling from the west to the east without the time to branch off or to do something else. Climbing Tambora volcano is definitely tempting but in the face of its remoteness and lacking infrastructure it would be very time consuming. I did not like to take  a cruiser along the coasts for three or four days before reaching Labuanbajo on Flores, either. For one thing it is well known that the tours are sometimes done differently than advertised, and for another thing I am reluctant to start performing local dances or something similar by command of a host. Since there are no scheduled flights from Lombok to Labuanbajo, I decided to return to Bali

I had the perfect seating, window seat at the left. One after the other I passed by Gunung Agung, Rinjani and Tambora. Sometimes later we passed offshore islands which were all covered with grassland. One of them presumably was Komodo, another one Rinca.

Gunung Agung

Rinjani

Tambora

In Labuanbajo, Flores

Once arriving on Labuanbajo airport you are welcomed with tour adverts for both islands however, I myself decided to watch for some general information first. Besides all those tour operators in town there is also an office of the Komodo National Park administration near the harbour. I went there and after I had explained my wishes to the ranger he offered to connect me with a fisherman. I prefered to visit Rinca island, because it is much less touristy than Komodo and more untouched. It is also smaller and therefore offers more opportunities in regards to locating and watching various species of animals.

A Swedish guy who had undertaken a Komodo tour reported the following:

They were guided in the area around the camp in a group of 16 people, in the meantime they saw a Komodo dragon with a GPS fixed on its back (obviously for the main reason to research the wandering habits, but of course it may also help to guarantee the sighting of these majestic animals). At the same time there was a movie team from National Geographic and the rangers thought it was a good idea to hang up goats on trees with the intent to attract the dragons. The movie team of course did not appreciate this advance.

The ranger assured to me that something like that would not happen on Rinca island. So I met the fisherman and with the ranger's help Im explained to him what I intended to do. I planned to visit Rinca village during the first day hoping to find Komodo dragons in a nearby bat cave. Afterwards we would go on to the national park camp and stay there for the night. The next morning I would go for an extensive walk across the island, and we would eventually return to Labuanbajo sometime in the afternoon. We concluded our business with a charge of IDR 500,000 (at that time 50,00). Because of the tides he could not guarantee that a visit to the village was possible, but promised to do his best.

The Rinca island village

The next morning I went to the market first to get some food supplies. In the island camp there was not much more available than instant noodle dishes. I bought different kinds of vegetable, enough to cater for all rangers as well, I knew they would appreciate to receive a change in their diet. Then we headed for Rinca, later went through shallow water for a while and arrived at the village after two hours. My captain, called "Papa Bu", asked for the the village head and explained to him why we were here.

The island village Rinca

Papa Bu, with his boat behind him

A young man was appointed to accompany me to the cave. It was on top of a small hill, and he went ahead with a long stick examining the high grass. We then descended to the cave and the bats immediately started flying , I could feel the draft from their flap. We cautiously looked around, there was no komodo dragon inside, so we ascended. Arriving outside I turned around and saw a young exemplar just five meters away, about one meter in length. It obviously got as terrified as I did, and it fled into the scrub. We tried to follow but had no chance to see it again. 

Salt pan

Sea cucumbers layed out for drying

Back on the boat I reported to Papa Bu what had happened, naturally I gesticulated a lot as a result of my very limited knowledge of Indonesian language. It seemed to me that he was worried about something. I learnt that we were at the lowest ebb, and it was impossible to leave this place now. So we relaxed a little bit on the boat, I alternated between snoozing and reading, and from time to time we tried to bring our boat back into navigable waters. About two hours later we managed to push it into a water lane, and then we went further to the camp.

In the camp

At about 4.30 pm, after the last guests (usually day-trippers) had left we arrived, received by the rangers who stood on the jetty trying to catch fish. Once in the camp I could see the first  dragons, gorgeous exemplars of three meters lengh, lingering around the main building. The guest lodge was not really welcoming, for the simple reason that they were not occupied very often. At least my bed was prepared with a fresh bed sheet.

The jetty

The rangers invited me to eat with them, some of my food supply was prepared, enriched with dried fish and accompanied by rice. When the dragons left into the forest at dusk , wild pig and barking deer showed up. They were attracted by the smell from the kitchen, too, and tried to find some left-overs. I sat on the veranda observing them, and also those creatures which quickly bustled around in the dark: omnipresent rats.

The next morning I woke up before 6.00 am. I heard some noise outside, so I got up from bed and pushed the little curtain to the side. What I then saw was absolutely fantastic: a komodo dragon tried to attack a wild buffalo however, the buffalo defended itself with its horns, the dragon fled the scene and vanished under my stilt house.

Meanwhile, we took some breakfast. More dragons showed up, but they did not worry about us, they were only interested in catching the first sun-rays. From time to time they forcefully jostled for position, and their hissing was awesome.

Safari on the island

Later I went still hunting together with a ranger. We saw a lot of barking deer, some wild pig, wild chicken and buffaloes, which are quite dangerous. We met a small herd with their offspring at a waterhole and decided that it was better for us to quietly draw back and ascend to the top of a small hill. Unfortunately none of the rare wild horses were visible. Of course we also found some dragons. The ranger had a long stick in his hand to defend us against possible attacks. I need to point out that very often victims are ambushed by them but that human beings are not on top of their menu. Nevertheless, the safari was thrilling. The landscape was absolutely beautiful, the time I spent on the safari rushed away. We walked through the area for three hours, but since  the animals seek shelter against the heat later in the morning, it was then ok for me to return to the camp.

View down to the jetty

A big one ...

... and a small one

... and this was once part of a horse

Early in the afternoon we started our way back to Labuanbajo, accompanied by a ranger who went on blightly leave. We certainly stopped at a tiny island on our way , we went snorkeling while Papa Bu was digging in the sand nearby the beach. Mussels! I decided to help and all of a sudden I had a strange critter in my hand. White coloured, littered with pox,  two antennas (eyes or palps?). With galvanic motion like an opening and closing mussel it vanished into the sand.

For the evening he had invited me to his house where we then ate noodles with mussels, delicious.

 

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Updated: 19.07.09