How to Tame Your Komodo Dragon

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I never do anything the easy way.  If I did, then I would have been content with seeing a live Komodo dragon living a mere three miles from my house, safely enclosed, at the Fort Worth Zoo.

But no.  I have to do things the hard way.

And thus one of the major draws of the Gems of the Java Sea cruise was the port stop at Komodo Island where I could see Komodo dragons (a type of monitor lizard) in their natural habitat.

And by natural habitat I mean out in the open.  Without barriers or glass.  In a place where they could actually attack and kill me if provoked.  Protected only by men with pointy sticks.

Yes, I never do things the easy way.

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Komodo isn’t the easiest place to visit.  There is no airport.  There is really no port.  And there are no hotels.  Visitors come for the day and then leave.  The park rangers who stay on the island sleep in huts on stilts.

You see, the Komodo dragons will kill you.  A mere bite spreads a poison through your body.  They leave their prey to die and then come back for them later.  It’s a brutal way to die… and not how I wanted my vacation to go.

Still, it was one of the things I had to do.

I’m not a big fan of taking ship-offered organized tours.  And I hate the planning part of travel.  But here my choice was easy – we would only be allowed to leave the ship if we opted into one of the three Seabourn-offered tours.

Seabourn offered two different Komodo Island treks (the short trek and the long trek) and then a combined trek/snorkel expedition that included time at Pink Beach.  After reading up on all three – and making a couple of calls to Seabourn’s Seattle corporate office to talk to the tour desk to ask very specific schedule questions – it appeared that the short trek would meet all the requirements I had:  set foot on the island, see the Komodo dragons, spend as little time buying bric-a-brac as possible, get safely back on the ship without being eaten by a Komodo dragon.

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On the morning of our arrival, the ship anchored about a mile off the island.  This would be a tender port – good in my book as I didn’t want any Komodo dragons sneaking onto the ship.  (Yes, I had been having nightmares about the critters after doing too much reading about them!)

We assembled in the ships theatre to be assigned into our trek group.  Our group was on the second tender to the island.  We were divided into groups of around 15.  Each group had one local guide armed only with a long pointy stick.  If a Komodo dragon were to get too close to us, the stick would be the sole defense.  That or running.  Since Komodo dragons can outrun humans, the tactic of last resort is to run in a zigzag pattern, as while they are fast they are not nimble.  We were also asked to get all of our camera gear at the ready – once we saw the dragons, it would be important to have no sudden movements – so no digging in bags or maneuvering to get a better shot.

My advance reading prepared me for the prospect of mud, oppressive heat, and mosquitos.  As such, my hair was piled up under a baseball cap, my Canon Rebel was slung over one shoulder, my GoPro was clipped on to me, and my iPhone was in my hand.  I wore my tennis shoes and two layers of mosquito repellent.

The air on Komodo Island is sticky and thick.  Oppressive.  And the scenery is fairly bland – sand, dirt, grass, trees – its far from the scenic land one sees across the rest of Indonesia.

When we arrived on the pier and disembarked the tenders, we were immediately assigned a guide and given a safety briefing and orientation to the island.

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Our group set out on what would be a little longer than a one mile loop, walking on mostly flat ground down a dirt trail.  Our guide shared facts about the creatures (like that baby Komodo dragons live in hollowed out trees) and what types of other animals live on the island as prey for the Komodo dragons.

Eventually we made it to the watering hole to see the Komodo dragons, but not before one elderly member of our group complained of overexertion and hip pain, insisting he needed to return to the ship.  Alas, at that point we were closer to the end than the beginning so the guide urged him on despite his complaints.

At a clearing , I was initially disappointed to see no dragons, just several groups ahead of us standing in small clusters further up the track.  Then I had the sudden realization that the Komodo dragons were right in front of me!  What I had assumed to be fallen trees were in fact fallen trees mixed with Komodo dragons laying quietly and camouflaged, waiting for their next meal to walk by.  The creatures seemed amused by the groups of people watching them.  One decided to come closer to check our group out, hissing at us in warning.

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I snapped several photos and then was ready to get away from the clearing – but we spent at least 20 minutes there taking photos and watching the dragons wander about, spotting a few during the duration we were there.

We made it back to the beach area, ending our tour in a small day market set up just for our benefit (remember, no one lives on the island!) with vendors selling the usual Indonesian handicrafts along with t-shirts and other Komodo themed items.

Individuals on the longer trek reported that they also visited another clearing further inland and saw several more dragons there.  The longer trek was 30 minutes longer than ours.  Those who took the Pink Beach adventure completed the same short trek that we did.

Overall the tours were very well organized by Seabourn and the guide group on the island.  I never questioned my own safety.

Now that I’ve been to Komodo Island, I can check trying to tame a Komodo dragon off my list of things to do.  Next time, I will enjoy this as a pseudo sea day and enjoy cocktails by the pool while others tempt fate!

Read more about my Indonesian adventures via the links on this page.


Here are details and prices from November 2014 for Seabourn’s shore excursions.  Other cruise line tours may vary.

Short Trek on Komodo Island – 90 minutes – $129

  • 15 minute information briefing about the island & safety
  • 60 minutes of watching dragons at the watering hole (the walk there and back is about 15 minutes each way)
  • 15 minutes of shopping in the souvenir market

Komodo National Park Hike – 2 hours – $154

  • 15 minute information briefing about the island & safety
  • 90 minutes of walking on a loop around the island including the watering hole and other places dragons might be out in the open
  • 15 minutes of shopping at the souvenir market

Komodo Island Trek & Pink Beach – 4 hours – $204

  • 15 minute information briefing about the island & safety
  • 60 minutes of walking around the island including the watering hole and other places dragons might be out in the open
  • 45 minutes of shopping at the souvenir market and “free time” (you can purchase refreshments or change into your swimsuit)
  • 30 minutes by boat to Pink Beach
  • 60 minutes on Pink Beach to snorkel or swim (no changing or lounging facilities, bring a towel and wear swimsuit under clothes)
  • 30 minutes by boat back to the pier to catch the tender

 

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last eighteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 47.5 US states. Although she averages 200 days a year on the road, she loves to return to “the homestead” in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and cocktail mixology.

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