by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, and her dogs.
Giant lizards, giant slobbering lizards! That’s what I wanted to see.
We were living in Thailand for awhile on our around the world trip on a small pension. It turns out Asia has a number of budget airlines, each competing for passengers, so they offer incredibly cheap flights. We booked a flight from Bangkok to Bali, planning on island jumping to the Island of Flores, the one with the tours to Komodo. After several adventures and one misadventure when my husband fell off of a boat and broke his arm, we made it to Flores.
Indonesia has over thirteen thousand islands and one hundred forty-seven active volcanoes, plus one of the most densely populated islands in the world, Java. Bali turned out to be one of the most beautiful spots in the world that we visited. After the bombings in Bali a few years earlier, tourism was at an all time low. We found lovely bed and breakfast accommodations for as little as twenty dollars a night on several of the islands. We made it to Flores.
There are very few accommodations on Flores, and even fewer working banks with only two ATM’s, and they were both ‘out of service’. We found a decent room and began to inquire about the tour to Komodo and its sister island of Rinca, the two isles where tourists can walk around and see the large animals. The boats that take tourists from Flores to Komodo are designed to carry twelve to sixteen passengers for the two day, round trip. At the time of our landing, we were the only two tourists wanting to go. At any other time, the cost of the trip would have been divided between all the passengers. The boat captain, desperate to have some income rather than none, offered us a deal, one hundred dollars for both of us and we would have the boat to ourselves. We jumped at the chance.
Leaving the isle of Flores, we traveled a few miles on crystal clear water to another island where a lunch spread, made to feed ten plus people, was laid out on mats on the deck of the boat. As we ate, the captain explained that this island was home to several million fruit bats and they would be leaving at dusk. In some parts they are called ‘Flying Foxes” and they are the largest bats in the world. Their bodies are as soft as velvet and the wings are very thin; with a face that looks like a fox, the name fits. We watched the sky turn dark with the big bats flying out for their nightly activity. Finally, when it got too dark to see anything, we stopped.
Most of the islands of Indonesia are small and uninhabited and our captain pointed out the few where there were villages. For dinner we had another giant meal and it was delicious. With night the crew was preparing our beds on the cabin roof, but we chose to sleep down on the deck. Neither of us wanted to be climbing a rickety ladder in the middle of the night if nature called. We chose, instead to sleep on the soft mats laid on the deck.
Early the next morning we landed first on the Island of Rinca, the second small island where the Komodo Dragons live. The sign at the entrance of the park assured me that in case we were killed by the dragons, we were insured. After seeing Rinca, we proceeded to Komodo. Our boat pulled up to the dock and we could see several dragons by the path. Our captain explained that they were recently fed and we would be safe.
After buying a ticket at the entrance, we walked around the small cluster of buildings where we saw several more lizards sleeping in the shade. The guide showed us the body of a dragon that had died. Every dead one is sent to a laboratory to investigate the cause of death. He explained that the park used to kill a deer and set it out for the dragons to feed when tourists were there to film it, but that practice has been discontinued. The most interesting thing about the trip was the fact that on both islands, there are small villages with populations living with the dangerous animals. And at both islands, the dragons hang out among the buildings of the entrance with guides, tourists, and residents walking around.
We had come more than half way around the world to see wild dragons and we hired a guide to show us some. Every step we took was excruciating for Ted, trying to support his arm. We climbed up hills, down ravines, up and over and no dragons. After spending a couple of hours searching and only seeing a few water buffalo, we returned to the entrance camp.
There the dragons were accommodating and let us take pictures. We did maintain our distance.
Everything I had always heard was how dangerous they are. But under buildings and next to visitors, they seemed strangely calm. It had taken two days to reach Komodo and we’d seen many wonderful vistas, but it only took one day to return to Flores. Our dragon trip over, we flew back to Bali and returned home to Thailand.
Check out more of Maria’s travel and history articles here in KRL.