Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


 

 August 1 :

 

      The town of Kupang was ready for the arrival of our fleet.  Men with blue T-shirts were lined up on the beach to catch our dinghy and carry it up above the tide line.  Another old fellow came up to collect the $4/day fee for dinghy service.  A bit steep, but it was really nice to have someone else do the lifting...and the watching over it.  We then made our way to a nearby office where all the city officials were lined up in consecutive tables to complete our clearance formalities.  First came the Health Department officials who prepared, filled out and stamped about 5 different forms, then stapled them inside the cover of a thick green "Health Book".  Then it was on to the Quarantine table.  They confirmed that we had already completed their paperwork out on Uliad, so this was a quick stop.  Next came Customs...9 pages of paperwork were filled out and stuffed in a large brown folder titled "ULIAD Temporary Import Permit" on it.  They took a few more photocopies of our ships papers, crew list, etc. and appeared satisfied.  They were a bit disappointed that we didn't have an official ship's stamp to stamp our papers with here, so I made a mental note to have one made as soon as possble.  The next table was Immigration, where the visas we had obtained back at the Indonesian consulate in Darwin were reviewed and another entry stamp added to each of our passports.  Another printed crew list was passed over, stamped, signed, and given back to us.  Final stop, Port Captain's office.  A few more papers passed back and forth, and finally, Kathleen and I were each handed a gift bag full of tourist swag!  I didn't realize until a few hours later that nobody had collected any money for the whole clear-in process.

     At this point, I was sure that our entry fee had paid for itself.  Indonesia had at least double if not triple the amount of paperwork than any other country we've sailed into.  Without the rally organization, I probably would have spent at least a day or two wandering from one office to the next, greasing palms along the way. 

     We left the paperwork room behind to find Emmett and a few of his new boat kid friends being interviewed by a newspaper reporter.  She soon had more questions for Kathleen and I which, I'm afraid to say, I could not offer very insightful answers to:  Q.: How do you like Indonesia?  A: Well, the first three hours have been very nice, thanks. 

     By now, we were feeling ready to congratulate ourselves for a nice crossing and successfully running the paperwork gauntlet.  We flowed with the current of sailors streaming into the nearest bar and ordered up an ice cold Bintang beer or two before taking a wander around town.

     Everything seems shockingly inexpensive here...especially after Australia, and New Zealand...well, the whole South Pacific for that matter.  But the Indonesian unit of currency (the Ringit) is so worthless, that the prices always make me pause for a second.  $20,000 ringit seems like an awful lot for lunch until you realize that's actually two US dollars.  I think we'll be eating out a lot here.  Kathleen has been dreaming of Indonesian ikat and Balinese batik fabrics for months, so I expect she'll soon be off shopping for textiles to put in our future home.

 

August 3:

      We decided to learn a bit more about Indonesia by signing on for a tour that our new friend Mark (from the boat Relapse) was organizing.  The day started with us piling into our own "Bemo" that we'd rented for the day.  A bemo is a mini-van sized bus that holds 8 or 10 people.  When not hired by the hour for foreigners like us, bemos usually run set routes through the city in a sort of chaotic public transportation system.  They're usually manned by a driver and a second guy who hangs out the door hollering for business and collecting fares.  Bemo teams seem to almost always consist of young men, and it would appear that about 90% of their profits are routed back into the business in the way of lights, decals, custom paint jobs, loud subwoofers, and such.  It reminded me of the "red devil" busses in Panama on a smaller scale (but just as loud).  Emmett, and his new friends Ash and Cameron found it all pretty cool.

       The grown ups found it distressing.  After packing all 11 of us into this rolling coffin, we noticed that the driver's view out the windshield was almost completely blocked by stickers and cheap plush hearts dangling from suction cups inside.  I surmised that the second guy hanging out the side of the car was also there to call out directions to the blind driver.  We pulled away with the stereo at full volume--the driver doing his best to block out all external sensory input.  We would be navigating the crazy traffic entirely by The Force.  No simple feat for a city of 300,000 people, an equal number of scooters, and not a single traffic light.

Our youthful bemo driver with Ash, Emmett, and Cameron   Not sure how he sees out the window to drive!

      Somehow we made it to our first stop.  Being sailors, our tour guide Don must have figured that we'd like to see Kupang's shipyard, where 8 wooden boats were lined up on shore in various stages of construction.  It was pretty amazing to see how, with little more than hand tools, they were shaping raw timber into the large seaworthy fishing boats that we had seen on our way in.  There was some serious craftsmanship in the final product.

The wooden boat yard in Kupang  

      Soon we climbed into our little bemo and once again hoped for the best as we thumped down the road with the music at top volume.  We emerged in a quiet grove of palm trees, next to a thatch hut where a fire burned beneath a sort of concrete stovetop.  Don explained that this was where palm sugar was made.  A woman tended a pot of boiling palm sap, which would eventually thicked down to a syrup.  The syrup was then poured into palm frond molds on a woven palm mat into 2 inch disks (single serving size?)   After the demonstration, a man offered to climb a palm tree for us and show us how the sap was collected--all for the extra price of 20,000 rupiah.  We were all sort of staring at our shoes thinking "that seems a bit excessive" until we realized that he was asking for $2.  In other words, 20 cents per person.  We paid up and were led down the road to the gate of a small beach resort.  There it was explained that the particular tree he would climb was located on resort property, and we could go there for the price of 1000 rupiah.  Now I was REALLY feeling like I was getting fleeced...until I did the math and reminded myself that the guy was asking for 10 cents.  My indignation quickly faded and we watched said demonstration.

Making palm sugar     The sasando master and his funny hat

      Another bemo ride and the next stop was a non-descript building beside a dusty road.  Inside, a smiling elderly gentleman welcomed us to his home.  He was wearing a strange hat that looked like a combination of Stetson and the Pope's miter.  This elderly guy makes the traditional Indonesian instrument, the sasando.  This stringed instrument is sort of like a harp wrapped around a pole.  Our host was once a great master, with many trophies on his wall as proof, but now his sons play better, so we were given a demonstration on a presumably non-traditional electric sasando connected to some big speakers.  As the first song was played, another son came out to perform some crazy quick-step dance in the cowboy-pope hat, and a few other band members clinked away on some tin drums.  We toured the tiny workshop to see the sasando being made (and we could purchase a small souveneir sasando for only $15) and listened to a few more western tunes played sasando-style before our hunger got the best of us and we ordered Don to take us to the nearest Indonesian restaurant for lunch.

     Our final stop on the tour was, Don promised us, a beautiful waterfall where we could all go swimming.  This turned out to be a path of crumbling concrete steps, leading down to a garbage filled river.  Indeed there was a waterfall there, but nobody had much interest in swimming in puddles of litter.  So far the biggest disappointment with Indonesia has been the garbage.  Plastic bags float around everywhere in the ocean.  The beach where we come ashore is littered with broken glass.  When our bemo driver had finished his plastic water bottle today, he just tossed it out the window without a second thought. 

     I'm told that there was a time in America when we thoughtlessly tossed our rubbish out the car window, too.  And a time when our rivers were so polluted that they'd catch fire.  Eventually we looked around and thought, "Holy crap, we've got to change our ways!"  Hopefully the Indonesians will have that epiphany too. 

 

August 4:

     There's something about the chaotic vibe of a busy third world marketplace that always makes me smile.  It's great just to wander among the waterfront shops and see what you might find.  Today I set off in search of beer and Coca Cola, thinking that if I walked along this busy road, surely I'd come across a small market eventually.  Luggage, clothes, shoes...here's a shop that appears to sell nothing but 50 lb bags of rice... a fabric store but the owner apparently has two pet roosters tied to the lamp posts out front.  Later I come across a sidewalk display of bras and underwear and think, "Really?  Are ladies going to come by and shop for their undergarments right here on the sidewalk?  I pass a computer store called "Costly Laptop and Computer".  I'm disappointed that I didn't bring my camera, thinking that would be great for the Things That Didn't Translate Well Page.  There are lots of cheap computer stores, but this is the first that advertises itself as being Costly.

       Finally I find a little Chinese "we sell everything we can stuff into our store" shop that has Coke and buy a case.  No beer though.  I see another store with fishing gear next door and remember that I need some new fish hooks.  With hooks wrapped carefully in my pocket, I go back for the Coke.  By now, it's too far to keep going and lugging the sodas, so I head back.  Still no customers at the sidewalk bra vendor.  Go figure. 

 

August 8:

     We left Kupang and sailed overnight up to Lembada.  Two other boat kids were having birthdays in the coming days, so we all rendezvous-ed at a little sand spit on the north side.  Since then it has been a series of birthday parties, beach play dates, sleep-overs, knee boarding, and general kid-heaven.  We've been trying to throw in a little school as well, figuring that the children will all be extra-attentive to their lessons knowing they can go play with their friends as soon as they finish.

The boat Relapse bravely hosted all 11 kids for a birthday party after our arrival on Kroko Island.  This controlled chaos was followed by the olympics of pulling watersports: Wakeboards, kneeboards, waterskis, and inflatable tubes were pulled from lockers and the kids bounced from one dinghy to another all afternoon while the Dads drove back and forth across the anchorage.  I wonder what the Indonesian fishermen think of us?

Boat kids birthday party  The boat kids armada  

     Another young man aboard Utopia II was also due for a birthday in a few days, so that party was then tacked on to the day.  After months of abstinence in the croc infested waters of Australia, the kids are finally blowing off all the pent up demand for swimming these days.  After the kids have thoroughly exhausted themselves, the adults retreat to nightly sunset cocktails at one venue or another.  When we decided that it should be our turn to host the evening festivities, Emmett and I gathered up firewood from a nearby island and brought it out to the tiny sand spit near our anchorage.  We dug out some old paper lunch bags that had been in the bottom of the locker for years and Kathy & Emmett put sand and a tea light candle in each one, stretching them around the whole little island.  Just after sunset, we lit the little lanterns and welcomed the other yachts to our magically illuminated island.  Not to be outdone, nature provided her own island light show when the kids found an area of glowing sand where bioluminescent plankton had washed ashore leaving sparkling blue-green lights dotting the beach.  This was all so cool it temporarily distracted them from burning marshmallows so they could smear the glow on hands, faces and whatever.  Unfortunately I couldn't capture any photos of it...there are so many moments like this that you have to just capture the image in your memory, because no photo can compare.

Kath & Emmett prepare paper lanterns   Beach campfire at Kroko Island

      Some day I will really miss the sound of my son laughing with his friends as they splash in the water, or the sight of my beautiful wife wandering a powdery beach without a care in the world.  Let's hope I can hold on to the memory of days like these.

 

 

August 9:

 

      The water here is gorgeously clear, so I've been busy making water and doing laundry for the first time since entering Indonesia.  The watermaker pump plugged up on the first day and I thought, "oh boy, here we go with the plastic garbage in the water". But I ended up pulling some sea grass out of the pump where it had gotten sucked in.  Then the same thing has happened twice since then.  So it looks like it may not be the rubbish that gives me trouble here so much as the sea grass.  I watched it float by while giving the hull a scrub.  Some of it floats on the surface, but there's just as much drifting along with the current a foot under water--just at the level of our watermaker intake.  So now I'm pondering what sort of strainer I can fit so I don't have to keep unplugging the intake line every day.

     To continue my rant about the complete lack of concern for the environment here, we were sitting in the cockpit of another boat at sunset the other day, when we heard a big boom in the distance.  I looked up to see a plume of water shooting up near shore where a fisherman was using dynamite to catch fish.  I had heard of such destructive practices, but I had no idea that they still went on in this part of the world.  As a result, much of the coral around here is dead, and there aren't many fish on what reef is left.     My readings say that this is one of the richest areas of marine life in the world.  Indonesia itself has over 2500 native fish species--fully 25% of the entire world's fish.  So I suppose the native fishermen could be forgiven for having a traditional presumption that the ocean is limitless.  But I've seen a lot of ocean in my life and my gut tells me that this place is in trouble.  Only the sea grass seems to thrive.

 

August 12:

     Our travel plan is to start working our way west, across the top of Flores island, to the next island which is Komodo.  This is the home of the Komodo dragon--the world's largest lizard.  We started the process by sailing to the town of Larantuka which is on the Eastern tip of Flores.  This is a bustling little town on a narrow pass between two islands.  By now we had a big bag of garbage onboard so I started asking around as to where we could bring it.  Several people just pointed to the garbage strewn rocky beach.

     Eventually I found a guy who spoke good enough English to express our concerns.  We got into a long discussion where it evolved that he currently was without work.  I explained how there would soon be quite a few more yachts from the rally coming through, and how in Kupang, some men were making good money by guarding dinghys on the beach and taking their trash.  So after my 5 minute lesson in capitalism, he agreed to dispose of our garbage "properly", which here means taking it ashore and burning it down, then burying it somewhere.  Although I still have my suspicions that he could've just as easily tossed our bag on the beach and walked away as soon as we were out of sight. I paid him $2 to guard our dinghy while we went into town for dinner and was pleased to see when we returned that he was still there, faithfully guarding our dinghy.

     I think this new entrepreneur has a bright future.

     As we were walking toward our dinghy, the beam of my flashlight illuminated a large rat scurrying away.  And with that, Kathleen informed us that our time in Larantuka had come to a close. 

 

August 15:

      We sailed across the north coast of Flores, stopping in front of "Sea World Dive Resort".  There are no friendly dolphin shows at this Sea World, just a smattering of European and Asian tourists lounging on the beach and going out on daily dive excursions.  They share the beach with local fishermen in their dugout canoes who repair their nets in the shade of the trees.

A Flores fisherman tends his net

     As the anchor started to drop, we were immediately surrounded by several locals in dugout canoes wanting to sell us produce, seashells, and even diesel fuel.  We bought a few pineapples & bananas, and I arranged for a delivery of 40 gallons of diesel later in the day.  I didn't really need fuel yet, but the price was right.  Indonesia is one of those oil-producing countries that subsidizes the fuel prices to its citizens well below the world market price.  Officially, foreign yachts like us are supposed to pay a special international price, but there are always enterprising young guys like this who will go to the filling station, buy fuel at the local price, and deliver it for a small commission.  (In this case, it turned out to be only a few cents per liter above the price at the gas station in town!)  I was a little nervous to hand over the equivalent of $80 to some guy in a canoe I had just met, but sure enough, he reappeared a few hours later shuttling jerry jugs of good, clean diesel out from the beach in his little canoe. 

     The following day, Kathleen made arrangements for a few taxis to take us to the village of Sikka, which has two attractions.  The first is a large Catholic cathedral built by the Portugese in 1899.  Emmett demonstrated that he has been paying attention to his Art History/Architecture lessons in home school by pointing out to his friends the classic features of Romanesque cathedrals that were incorporated here.  The second attraction is the long tradition of Ikat weaving by the ladies of this village. 

     The taxi driver must have tipped them off that we were coming, because when our three cars arrived, the village ladies had already set up their ikat bazaar along both sides of the street.  We were led around by one lady who showed the kids the whole process, from the cotton and indigo plants they grow, to spinning the cotton into thread...

Spinning raw cotton into thread

to laying out the threads and tying traditional designs with little ribbons of palm leaf.  Then the thread is soaked in any of several natural dyes for as long as several years.  The cotton takes up the dye, except where the threads were tied (sort of like a tie-dye t-shirt)

Arranging patterns prior to dying the cotton   Dying the cotton threads (indigo on Left, some purple root on right)

After the thread is dried, the ties are removed and each thread is painstakingly lined up to preserve the pattern now dyed into the threads.  Then the weaving begins.

setting up the loom with dyed threads    A weaver works the hand loom

A tablecloth size piece of ikat takes several weeks for one woman to weave by hand working 10 hours a day (and then getting up to take care of the family after!)  Add the time it takes to grow and make the cotton thread, dye it, and set up the loom just right and it's no wonder that Kathleen could barely get some ladies to budge from their price.  She finally bought the two best large pieces of ikat that she could find in the village for the equivalent of about $45 each.  Not bad for close to a month's labor.  We rounded out the day with lunch at a local restaurant, a stop at the ATM, and a trip to the produce market in town before retiring to the beach bar at Seaworld for cold Bintang beers while enjoying the sunset.

Kathleen's prize ikat and its creator

 

August 16:

     Our friends Kathy, Alan, Morgan and Wyatt from Love Song finally caught up with us.  We had last seen them back in Solomon Islands when we were all having an amazing time with the villagers in Roderick Bay.  But we had to hurry on to Australia for me to fly home for the job interview while Love Song spent another month in the Solomons.

     By sheer coincidence, Mark on Relapse was having trouble with his freezer onboard.  His wife Kathy was spending the whole day cooking up many packages of meat to prevent spoilage.  So Mark was thrilled when I told him that Alan was a retired refrigeration technician.  By the following day, Alan had fixed the whole thing and Relapse's frozen meats were saved.

    Speaking of meat, Love Song arrived in Indonesia with a rather empty freezer aside from a few fish they had caught on the way.  So I offered to go to town with Kathy to find the butcher.  Here's how it typically works in a third world town:  As often as the market forces demand, a cow is led into the market in the predawn hours and slaughtered.  Large hunks of meat are laid out on a table as the tropical sun starts to shine and the butcher spends the next few hours alternately cutting off hunks the customer asks for and swishing away the flies.  In a system like this, it pays to get there early, both for purposes of selection of the better cuts as well as to minimize the amount of time the meat is exposed to the hot sun and flies.

     We came ashore at sunrise, walked out to the road and hailed two "ojeks", which are moped-taxis.  Kathy gave what she thought was the Indonesian word for "butcher shop" and the Ojek drivers smiled and nodded.  Luck was not with us on our meat hunt.  First, one of the ojeks got a flat tire a few blocks away from our destination.  We continued on foot, getting directions as we went, only to find that the storefront we were led to was closed.  Through elaborate pantomime, we learned from several passers-by that the shop opened at 8am.  I was reassured that since this was a store, and not an open air market that we'd find freezer cases behind that wooden door when it was finally flung open in 45 minutes.

     We wandered around and bought a few other things, only to return and discover that whatever Indonesian word that Kathy thought meant "butcher shop" in fact must sound a lot like "pharmacy".  With more gesticulation and a few words of Indonesian selected from my Lonely Planet guidebook, we were back on ojeks and racing to a different part of town.  When we arrived at the sprawling, dusty open air market around 8:30, we were led to a bloody wooden table with nothing left on it but entrails and 4 hooves.  And flies.

     "Now that we know where it is," I tried to suggest to Kathy, "we could come back at dawn tomorrow and probably come home with the tenderloins!"  But somehow she had lost her enthusiasm for the whole project.  The ojek driver suggested we check out the pork table, where there were in fact several hunks of flesh remaining that appeared to be about half fat/half pork.  But the smell was a bit too much and we rode back on our moped taxis with only bread, peanuts, and a new found appreciation for vegetarianism. 

      Sorry, but I forgot my camera on this adventure, but you might be glad I did. 

 

 

August 21:

     We've been hanging out for the last few days off the island of Tiga, which is part of a group of 17 islands set aside as a National Park.  There's a long sand beach with the softest, finest white sand you'll find anywhere.  The water is clean and relatively rubbish-free.  This is the kind of place where day after day seems to go by in a blur of snorkeling, beach bonfires, and afternoon naps to the distant sounds of kids playing on shore.  In fact, I have to stop and think for a minute to figure out how long we've been here.  The great thing about cruising is that when you find a spot like this, you just stay until some external force finally prods you to move on again.

     This time it was Love Song's turn to be prodded first.  They sailed on yesterday to get to Bali where they have friends flying in to visit soon.  With a 3G connection from a cell tower on the mainland, I can attend to a few items of business back home and spend the rest of my blissful day here doing very little. 

     Just as Love Song was pulling away, however, the other kid-boats in the rally caught up with us.  So now Emmett has his mates from Relapse, Miss Behaving, and Utopia II to hang out on the beach with.  We've managed to raise Emmett so far with relatively little exposure to violent movies, Ultimate Fighting, pro wrestling, or shoot-em up video games.  So why do these boys, when left to their own devices on an island all day, craft weapons out of sticks and stage elaborate sword fighting battles up and down the beach all day?  "This is just what boys do," I try to reassure Kathleen.  "At least they're getting exercise."

The boys and their toys

 

August 24:

The rest of the "kid boat" fleet left Tiga a day ahead of us.  Their plan was to sail/motor all day, then pull into a small bay visible on the chart, get a good night's sleep, then sail on to Lobanbajo the next day. I smiled and listened to their rationale ("my wife doesn't really like sailing at night...those Indonesian fishermen and their nets are hard to spot at night) before telling them that we'd see them at the next town.  Perhaps its our experience after sailing this far, or perhaps its just that two smart people can come up with different plans to tackle the same problem.  But we looked at the distance to be travelled and decided that an overnight, 16 hour sail was preferable to two 8-10 hour daylight sails.  First of all, you waste a certain amount of time coming in to harbor, anchoring, settling in, repacking, un-anchoring, etc.  Then there's the issue of coming into an unknown anchor at sunset...if it turns out to be a poor anchorage because of weather or sea bottom, then you're stuck having to settle for poor conditions, or go offshore and drift all night and this conundrum never makes for good decision making.  Better to arrive wherever you're going sometime between mid morning and early afternoon when the sun is high to see any shoal water and theres plenty of time to make other plans if your initial anchorage turns out to be a poor choice.

     But I'm not the type to lecture.  Each captain has to decide what's best for his boat.  So I had no problem breaking away from the pack.  We had a loveley motor/sail across calm waters overnight with Kathleen and I trading off watch.  We stayed far enough offshore that we could see all the fishing fleet inshore of us.  By 9am we were dropping anchor off of the town of Lobanbajo on the west end of Flores Island.

     After giving Emmett his school assignments for the day, Kath and I went to town, bought a few groceries, and ate lunch at a restaurant.  The harbor here is filled with wooden schooners and excursion boats.  In fact, the whole town seems to exist as a sort of launching point to take tourists out to the national park islands of Komodo and Rinca.  I asked our waitress where to find the market and we were directed down the street where several large supermarkets displayed their selection of cans and boxes.  Fresh produce was nowhere to be seen--this was at the opposite end of town where the locals shopped.  By the time we corrected the error, the produce selection seemed a bit sparse, but Lobanbajo has the largest assortment of dried fish at their market that I have ever seen.  If you can imagine the smell of a small auditorium stacked with fish slowly drying in the sun, that is the Lobanbajo market--the smelliest I have ever experienced in all our travels (which is sayin' something!).  No wonder the waitress pointed us whiteys in the other direction.

Stacks of dried fish in the Lobanbajo market

     We managed to find enough fruits and vegetables to last us for another week and happily, the fish odor has not permeated them.  As for lunch, the Indonesian cuisine has definitely been toned down to the point of bland here for the Western palate.  This might not be a bad thing, as I've had several experiences with Indonesian sambal (hot pepper condiment) that has brought actual pain to my mouth, but I wouldn't come here for the food.  After loading on the supplies we needed, we headed off the next day to Komodo Island.

 

August 26:

     Komodo is most famous for being the home of the Komodo dragon--the world's largest lizard.  It's also called the monitor lizard and it grows to 10 feet in length and, full grown, can kill large mammals such as deer, pigs, and even water buffalo.  Yes, they also have been known to eat people.

     So it was with more than a bit of trepidation that we anchored offshore of the Ranger Station of this island park.  That evening, we saw wild pigs rooting around in the sand and deer sitting placidly on the beach, knowing that something more sinister lurked in the underbrush.  The following morning, we ventured to shore.  Near the end of the dock was a trail leading to the ranger's office where a cluster of park guides sat around in the shade, and a stack of forked sticks leaned against a wall.  Nobody is allowed to visit Komodo National Park unless accompanied by a guide who, armed with the stick, will protect you from any hungry lizard who crosses your path.

     We paid our park entrance fee  (3 people for a 3 day pass--$31)  and were assigned Kaliman who would guide us on our hike.  He grabbed a forked stick from the pile and we started out.  The first thing I noticed was the number of wild deer who wandered around the camp, oblivious to people.  Much of the wildlife here seems unconcerned with people; very similar to what we saw in the Galapagos.  Or perhaps the deer have made the mental calculation and decided its safer near man than it is near the dragons...

    About 10 minutes into our hike, we spotted our first monitor lizard--a baby sitting high in a palm tree.  The Komodo dragons are cannibalistic, so the babies usually climb trees after they hatch and spend the first few years of their lives living off of insects up there until they are big enough to fend for themselves on land. 

    A few minutes later down the trail, we came to a small watering hole--a natural magnet for game in this dry environment.  There we saw quite a few more deer, and a few wild pigs coming in for a drink.  And nearby sat a huge male Komodo dragon basking in the sun, seemingly oblivious to the people and animals wandering around.  Our guide deemed him safe to approach (perhaps his stomach was full?) and we snapped a few family photos. 

Emmett approaches a Komodo dragon

    Then just as we finished that, I looked up and saw another large lizard lumbering out of the bush.  Kathleen was gripped with a fear that is usually associated with large groups of sharks.  I anxiously pointed out the new arrival to our guide and he wandered over with forked stick in hand to protect us.  The lizard crawled over to the watering hole, chasing away a few nervous deer, then laid down flicking his long yellow forked tongue.  Presumably, he planned to lie here and wait until his prey should carelessly wander within range of his sharp teeth and giant clawed feet.  It was explained to us that one bite from the monitor lizard has enough deadly bacteria in its mouth to slowly kill even a water buffalo within a week or so.  The smell of the festering wound attracts dragons from long distances and when the beast finally weakens enough to present no defense, they come in and tear it apart in a bloody feast.

     We were led further into the forest to a spot where, years ago, the rangers would provide a macabre show for the tourists by tying a goat to a tree every few days for the dragons to come and eat.  The feedings eventually stopped when more tourists complained about the gruesome spectacle than enjoyed the show.  We ended up seeing one more Komodo dragon on our 2 hour hike, followed by three hanging out near the camp kitchen where, we are told, there are usually a few lured in by the smell of food.  Our guide pointed out a whole number of less exciting plants & animals on our walk, and politely answered our sensationlistic questions.  (In case you were wondering:  a firm nudge with the long forked stick is usually enough to encourage the dragon to change his plans.  Also, the dragons see kids up to about age 8 as an easy meal and more than one has been attacked near a village on the island while squatting in the bush to go to the bathroom.  And with antibiotics and hospital care in Lobanbajo or Bali, most people will survive these days.)

    Some historians believe that Chinese traders saw these lizards centuries ago and brought back stories that led to the idea of the mythical dragon to that culture.  If you look at this giant reptile with a flicking, yellow forked tongue and add a little imagination, it's easy to see how someone could embellish it into a fire-breathing horrible beast.  Walking right up to them in their natural habitat was a bit like having the zookeeper unlock the cages and let you wander around a while.  Fascinating, amazing, memorable, and a bit freaky-scary at the same time! 

 

August 28:

 

 

The anchorage at the Komodo Island Ranger station was pretty exposed to the southerly winds that were blowing, so we moved teh next day to Rinca Island, Rinca is also part of the national park.  The Lonely Planet guide says that it is less crowded with tourists than Komodo and has more wildlife to see, but it appeared to me that everyone has been reading Lonely Planet because we found just as many if not more tour boats coming and going all day here.

     Nonetheless, the wildlife was still fantastic.  We took another early morning hike and saw a bunch more dragons, including 2 females sitting on their nests.  We also saw a water buffalo, and lots of monkeys.  Once again, there were a large number of dragons hanging around the stilts of the ranger houses, where they are lured in by the smell of food.  I don't think I'd sleep too well in those cabins, knowing what's lurking outside, but the families here seem pretty adapted to living around dangerous giant lizards. 

     There were a number of kids in a tour group standing around the village, and pretty soon one of the big male dragons got up and started walking purposefully toward some people.  The guides did a good job of stepping up with their forked sticks and bravely encouraging the beast to turn course, away from the little kids.  But yikes!  You wouldn't want the little ones running around in the back yard here without a constant guard.  It is just surreal to see the raised huts where the rangers and their families live and several giant lizards lurking beneath.  Apparently they tend to come in the mornings, lured by the smell of cooking, then they wander off in the afternoon.  I wonder if the children who live here still worry about monsters under their beds at night?

     So after several days of adventure here, we've decided to head back to town for a quick grocery run tomorrow.  Hopefully after that we can come back this way and find a nice quiet beach away from all the tour boats. 

       

 

 

                                                                                                                                   

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