Since childhood, I have been fascinated by the largest lizards on earth, the Komodo dragons. They are named after the small island they were first discovered on, Komodo, which is off Flores Island in Indonesia.
To get there from Bali, we board a rotor-powered plane for 2 hours and arrive in Komodo Airport in Flores. Looking down at the lush green island and lack of cities, we thought we were going to land on a dirt runway. It turns out the runway is not all dirt, but not far from it as we can see a food vendor walking along the runway.
Outside the airport, we are offered a range of prices for transportation to our hotel in the village of Labuan Bajo. While the lowest price we get is 50,000 IDR ($5.5) per person, it doesn’t make sense, as the guesthouse is only a couple miles away. Next thing I know, MuiMui gets us on a bemo for 2,000 ($0.22) each.
We stay at the Golo Hilltop, which is run by 2 Dutch women that moved to Indonesia 10 years ago. It is a good 15 minutes walk to the town, but the view and quietness are priceless.
The next day we negotiate for a small wooden boat to Rinca (pronounced ‘Rincha’), find a French Canadian couple to share the costs with, and spend the day with Komodo dragons. Rinca is an island similar to Komodo, but it is more accessible from Flores (2 hours by boat versus 4 hours one-way for Komodo) and more dragons can be easily spotted here.
Upon our arrival, we see a small Komodo dragon walking freely next to the entrance. We keep walking cautiously and arrive face-to-face with a horde of 7 to 8 HUGE dragons. Our guide tells us that it is very uncommon to see more than 3 at the same time.
The dragons are 7 to 10 feet long, weighing around 150 pounds (the biggest ever found was 370 pounds) and usually live up to 50 years. Komodo dragons eat invertebrates, birds and mammals, sometimes turning to cannibalism and eating their own eggs or babies.
With our guide holding onto a y-shaped stick, we go on a one-hour hike into Jurassic Park. Early on, we get to observe a female dragon digging a 5 feet deep hole into the ground. She finally finds what she is looking for, which is bird eggs, and consumes it within seconds. It is an incredible moment for us to be able to see this just a few feet away. As we click away on our cameras, the noise seems to irritate her and she starts to come for us. With a very serious tone, our guide tells us to start moving. Without hesitation, we start to run!
For a long time, it was thought that Komodo dragons infect their prey by using high quantities of bacteria in their saliva. It’s been discovered in 2009 that it is actually a poison that slowly kills, resulting in a dead buffalo within a month.
In the middle of the dirt path, we run into a large pile of white droppings. We are told that the dragons can’t digest the calcium of the bones they ingest, so it comes out in their excrement.
The most incredible thing about Komodo dragons is that they are capable of parthenogenesis, which means that females can lay eggs without ever being in contact with a male. However, the offspring will always be male. This is a survival instinct that can have single female swimming to a nearby island and establishing a new population of dragons.
Our hike becomes very tiresome, as the sun gets more violent. We quickly take a few pictures of the landscape and monkeys hanging around and then head back to the boat.
As we make our way back to Labuan Bajo, we get caught up in a storm. It’s raining hard and it feels like pebbles are being thrown at us. The ocean starts to roar and we are caught in large waves. We are happy to arrive back onshore but we are all feeling a little sick.
|What We Paid:||IDR||USD||Euro|
|– Flight from Jakarta to Labuan Bajo on Merpati Airlines [layover in Bali]||884,000/pp||101||72|
|– Bemo from Labuan Bajo airport to Golo Hilltop hotel [Free airport pickup with advance hotel reservations]||2,000/pp||0.22||0.16|
|– Double room with private bath at Golo Hilltop [great view, clean rooms, nice staff, just sounds of waves, free complete breakfast, free wifi but was down during our visit]||200,000/double||22.80||16.25|
|– Boat rental with a captain to Rinca [max 5 people]||500,000/boat round-trip||57||40.65|
|– Komodo National Park Entrance fee||20,000/pp||2.30||1.60|
|– Rinca Island guide fee [required for each group]||40,000/group||4.60||3.20|
|– Rinca Island camera fee||50,000/camera||5.50||4.00|
|– Laundry in Labuan Bajo||10,000/kilo||1.10||0.80|
|– Bemo from Golo Hilltop to Gardena hotel (center)||1,000/pp||0.11||0.08|
|– Street Food||3,000/pp||0.33||0.24|
|– Lunch at The Lounge [great western food, free wifi, nice atmosphere for drinks]||60,000/pp||6.90||4.80|
|– Dinner at Paradise Restaurant with view and great live band||60,000/pp||6.90||4.80|
|– Private transportation from Golo Hilltop hotel to Labuan Bajo airport||30,000/ride||3.45||2.40|
|– Flight from Labuan Bajo to Bali||434,000/pp||49.50||35.30|