If you think Indonesia is all beaches, rice paddies and frangipani, then think again. As the world’s largest archipelago, with over 18,000 islands, Indonesia has a lot more to offer the intrepid explorer.
For one thing, where else in the world can you find real life dragons?!
Yep, you heard right: Indonesia is the only place in the world that you can see the legendary Komodo Dragon going about its sinister daily business.
How to train your komodo dragon (or not)
“Discovered” by Europeans in the early 1900s, the Komodo Dragon is a deadly reptilian predator with sharp teeth and poisonous saliva, now known to have killed water buffalos, wild deer and even humans. Having been obsessed with anything dragon or dinosaur related as a child (OK, and still now…) I was beyond excited to get the opportunity to come face to face with the legendary Komodo Dragon.
After a leisurely stay in Bali, we took a small propeller plane to the beautiful tropical island of Flores. From there, we hopped on a boat and jetted across the sea to the Komodo National Park. Komodo Dragons take their name from the island where they were first discovered, but they are also found on the neighbouring island of Rinca (Rinca dragon just doesn’t have the same ring to it).
As it turns out, the only non-scary thing about Komodo dragons is their choice of neighbourhood. Surrounded by lush green islands with deserted white beaches and the most stunning coral-filled waters I’ve ever snorkelled in, those Komodos sure picked an idyllic place to terrorise live.
Escorted by our two park rangers armed only with a large sticks, we set off across the dusty trail to catch a glimpse of a dragon.
Let’s get one thing straight: there are no fences here. There is no segregation between human and dragon. And after being told about their ability to run at a speed of up to 18 mph, I was practically treading on the ranger’s heels to keep close.
We didn’t have to wait long for our first encounter. We spotted our first dragon, camouflaged against the leafy terrain, lying quietly near a small herd of deer. I didn’t know how nervous I’d be until I felt my heart pounding in my chest. I couldn’t believe how close we were allowed to get – just three feet away from a deadly predator.
After taking a few snaps, we continued through the park, passing the huge skulls of water buffalo and wild horses. Komodo Dragons kill in a particularly insidious way. It only takes one bite to kill its prey as the bacteria from the saliva will slowly poison the animal over a few hours. Komodos often stalk and ambush their prey, then lye in wait for it to die before feasting.
As solitary animals, it’s quite rare to see more than two Komodos hanging out together, but it turned out to be our lucky day. As we went on throughout the day, we saw a whopping FIFTEEN dragons, including a baby *awwww* and a group of six fully grown Komodos lying together underneath the rangers’ living quarters. The rangers couldn’t believe how lucky we were. By the end of the trip we were so comfortable with the dragons that we were taking selfies and photos of each other from just three meters away….though it only took two of them to stand up and start moving towards each other for us all to freak out and run a mile.
Sailing away from Rinca, back to our peaceful beach side hotel in Flores, I looked back at the rugged island with rain clouds drawing in over it and couldn’t help but thinking it was a bit like Jurassic Park. Maybe you think I’m dorky, maybe I am, but there’s no denying that Komodo Dragons are seriously cool and they really put Indonesia on the map for me.