Life Amongst the Dragons

Life amongst the dragons

This is my third visit to Komodo, it is clearly one of the great cruising destinations of the world. The Komodo National Park is a refuge of wildlife protected by the residents and government. It is the home of exotic animals both below and above the sea.

There is a concentrated effort to protect this jewel by the people who live and work here. Coral reefs are delicate things and the simple act of anchoring can do severe damage, so the rule here is no anchoring in anything less than 20 meters, this usually puts you below the coral line. Some moorings are in place also to discourage anchoring, and more coming we hope. I have been told twice not to anchor in certain areas by locals, not park rangers, but local guys who protect their waters.

There is a growing awareness of the value of cruising yachts to the local economies. Indonesia, in the past, has been rather unfriendly to yachties, simply by its regulations and immigration practices; I have seen a shift just in two years to a more friendly state for us. To bring your boat into the country you must acquire a “CAIT” which is a temporary import document. In the past this was expensive and complicated, now it is rather easy. The visa situation is still a pain but I hear they are coming up with a longer cruising visa.

Most of this progress is a result of the Sail Indonesia and now Sail Komodo Rallies. We came into the country two years ago with the rally and over one hundred yachts. Each year the rally brings in a fleet of boats, most love it here and want to return. We are looking forward participating in the rally as it ends here in Komodo this year. A gala event is planned and even a visit from the President I hear. Meanwhile we have the country pretty much to ourselves as the only cruising boat in the area.

So why the big draw to Komodo? First the landscape is breathtaking, it is a dry area and the arid climate makes for desert looking landscape. I have described it as cruising through Eastern Washington or Northern New Mexico. The grass covered islands have rigid peaks and cascading ravines. Now it is still raining a bit so the grass is green, by June is will be desert brown. This barren landscape meets the crystal clear blue water and green coral reefs in a dramatic fashion. The colors are spellbinding.

It is below the water where the magic begins. Komodo is a world class dive destination. Clear warm water, and I mean warm no wetsuits needed, combined with dramatic coral reefs and strong current flow have produced an cornucopia of sea life. This is the place to see both the big and the small; Manta Rays regularly patrol the anchorages, reef sharks, turtles, humpback parrot fish, Napoleon Fish, and other large critters are regular sights on any Komodo dive. For those who like to seek out the small and strange there are a variety of sea horse, odd shrimp, frog fish and there “muck divers” delights. Massive schools of small fish form tornado like balls and cloud the sunlight above. They always have an entourage of predators awaiting them, Torelles, Reef Sharks and others follow along. Diving gives the best look but much can be seen with simple snorkeling. We have had Manta Rays swim right up the boat at the surface and turtles regularly come up for a peak.

The most common access to the diving here is the livaboard dive boat, many classic wooden “pirate ship” looking vessels take guests around the islands diving. We have befriended several of the crews; they are always friendly and helpful. There are day trips available here to but that involves a three hour put put in the Indonesian boats, could be fun.

The unique wildlife is not limited to below the sea. Komodo is the home of some incredible wildlife, some only found here. The sky is often dotted with huge eagles swooping about, riding thermals and diving at fish. This really reminds me of home as these birds are very similar to our Bald Eagles. Long necked cranes also patrol the coast hunting along the water’s edge.

Once on land wild goats dot the barren hillside, a rare breed of dear, quizzical monkeys and the massive water buffalo all walk the beaches. You can see them most morning strolling along the beaches. Recently we had a monstrous water buffalo wading in the mangroves 50 meters from Furthur, now how many times does that happen?

Komodo has many exotic species but none as unique, mystifying or terrifying as the Komodo Dragon. This glimpse into a time of dinosaurs and the time before man is only found here in this area. There are several thousand Komodo Dragons in the park, the last of their species. At over ten feet long and weighing in at nearly 200 pounds they are a formidable sight. Experiencing these mangiest critters in the wild is so unique an experience that it will haunt you.

Peering into their beady eyes is like looking into a window to the past, a time where man’s greatest fear was being eaten. Knowing that the docile lizard can actually out run you and would love to eat you if he is hungry is a chilling experience. Recently the girls went ashore and for a walk and when they returned saw Komodo tracks over their footprints in the sand, yikes. The dragon is a diabolical beast, they can out run a man, snatch a jumping deer in mid leap and stalk their prey for days. The saliva of the dragon is so toxic that all it has to do is bite its favorite prey, the water buffalo, and let the poison do the work. The patient dragon will follow the bitten water buffalo for a week until the toxins finally bring the beast down and an easy kill for the dragon.

We get our view into this bizarre world at the Rinca Island ranger station. There are several other ranger stations but we like this one, it is accessed from a peaceful anchorage from a small dock so easy for yachts. Once ashore we are always greeted by a group of local boys, they now know us. Last year one of the boys had a Deep Purple t shirt on and I started thumping on a log and singing Smoke on the Water, instantly being joined by the group of boys. Well, that stuck and every time I take guests hear them singing, da da da , dadadada daaa daaa. The last visit we hit the same time as a couple of larger tour groups, our connection paid off, we were whisked past the crowd and given our own two private guides, one of which is now a great friend, Adi.

Like most of my experiences in SE Asia, the nature and beasts are amazing and the diving sublime but it is the people who carve their way into your heart. Indonesian people are simply life changing, their openness, kindness and love of fun is contagious, so be ware. This being my third visit here I have made some friends and I expected to see a couple of people, I did not expect the welcome we got! No sooner had the anchor hit the (over 20 meter) bottom than a parade of put putting small Indo boats came by, first some guys who cleaned my bottom last year, then some others we knew, then my good friend Dona who was told we had arrived and sped out to greet us. We were also greeted by one of the liveaboard dive boats we dove with last year; I was home.

Often it is difficult for us westerners to grasp the immediate and deep connections the Indo people make. It can be off putting, “what does he want?” “Why is he so friendly?” “What is the real game?” all cross our cynical minds. The idea of unabashed friendship and kindness escapes us or even causes fear.

Music has been my bonding agent with the Indo boys, they love music! Guitar pickers dot any street you walk along. The muddled groups of guys, usually kinfolk, come up with the most inoculating rhythms. They are always eager to have me join them and that has created the most memorable of all my traveling experiences.

As Sam and I pulled up the crowded wharf in the dinghy, a group of boys take our line, big smiles greet us and a few even know our names. We leave the dinghy with them knowing it will be safe with them and walk along the wharf, again greeting at every step with gleaming smiles and open hearts. Sam, who loves Thailand even more than I, swooshes her long golden hair to the side and says, “I did not think there could be people more open than Thai’s but these people really are”.