Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chasing The Dragon (Be An Informed Traveler)

In July 2004 Jim and I sailed into an Indonesian Underwater National Park on our friend’s 40 ft. trimaran, specifically the islands of Komodo and Rinca (below). We had been becalmed at sea for three days (above) and decided to give up on winning the sail race from Darwin, Australia to Bali. It was more of a regatta, meaning flexible rules, so we decided the boat with the biggest engine would win. That would not be us, as trimaran owners rarely have more than a small outboard motor. We decided to walk on some land instead.

No sooner did we find and secure our boat to a mooring when Larry, the owner, tossed the dinghy overboard and away we went toward shore. He was eager and excited to see komodo dragons. Where else but on Komodo Island? It is one of the only places these ancient creatures live in the wild.

When I travel, I research the places I am going so I can be a reasonably smart traveler, and not a stupid tourist. Starting out with the disadvantage of being American, I try even harder to not appear self-serving, egotistical, demanding, and ignorant of my surroundings. Unfortunately Americans have this reputation worldwide.

On this trip we were visiting Sydney and Darwin, Australia, and Bali, Indonesia. Therefore I specifically brought travel guides and information on these three destinations.

My books only mentioned the komodo dragons found at the Bali Bird and Reptile Park. I was clueless when we landed on a remote island. I had not seen the National Geographic Specials, nor read Entertainment news (where Sharon Stone’s husband was bitten by one in the LA Zoo), nothing. Although I was hesitant to go running up the mountain seeking them out, I was also interested and blindly game to see them.

We landed the dinghy and walked around a beach. We saw faint animal tracks in the sand, but indistinct and not recent. There were no people or boats in sight.

“Maybe they’re up on the mountainside. Let’s climb up this dried river bed,” Larry said while charging uphill like a madman in his flip flops and short shorts, never looking back. Where the river was blocked with giant boulders and downed trees, he headed into the dry jungle in swift giant strides.

“Jim, will you wait for me?” I asked. “I don’t know why Larry is zooming up that hill like a dragon in heat but I think he’s crazy. He alone is making such a ruckus that if there were any komodos around he’d have already scared them away. I think we should go back down to the dinghy and head over to that other beach. There aren’t any signs of life at all here,” I insisted.

“I think you’re right. Why don’t you wait for me here? I’ll try to chase Larry down and tell him the plan. If he wants to climb to the top alone, well, good on him!” Jim responded.

Larry was agreeable to the alternate plan. On the way to the tree lined beach, he said “I think you guys are right. If I were a self-respecting komodo dragon I’d pick the longer beach with the shade trees.”

We beached the dinghy and started walking in the sand. Soon we spotted komodo tracks; two distinct sets of them, in fact. Giant lizard prints coming from one direction, the others from the opposite direction. Where their tracks met there were also deer hoof impressions in the sand. From there the footprints could be followed to the back of the forest. We stopped in our tracks. They were here, and they were hunting. In a few minutes we heard strange and haunting screeches from deep inside the trees. You’ll have to use your imagination on what exactly happened back there, but it didn’t sound pleasant.
We kept on walking. It was a fantastic beach and we got caught up in that – it’s not often you see red coral or nautilus shells washed ashore.

“Hey Jim, look at this!” I yelled. There two huge holes dug into the sand. They were big enough to bury two caskets. “Do you think these are their nests?”

We gave each other one of those looks…the simultaneous flash of eye and brain contact when suddenly we realized how insane we were. Trying to track down komodo dragons? WTF?

Larry was an impatient sort, and he was disappointed, so he’d already lost interest in the hunt. He was ready to head back to the boat. Only after we’d finished our crazy excursion did he break out some books he had onboard of OTHER Indonesian islands, such as Komodo and Rinca.

I learned about the size of these prehistoric monsters. They can be from 6-9 feet long. They can run 15 miles per hour and also swim. With one flick of their tail they can flatten you. Then with one flick of their forked tongue they can inflict a bacteria into you that causes sepsis, and they start eating you alive as you slowly die of their injected toxins.

The moral of the story is because of half-assed travel research we endangered our lives running around chasing aggressive and toxic creatures we didn’t know enough about. This behavior calls to my attention that the majority of tourists do not travel wisely.

My opinion is that to travel in today’s world you owe it to yourself, your travel companions, and especially to the people who live in your vacation or adventure destination to learn some information about where you are headed….before you get there.

People see TV ads or travel brochures and get a wild hair to seek out new places. It is imperative to read up on what there is to discover, enjoy, and avoid. Strange places and people have different customs, languages, currencies, food, acceptable dress and behavior. It is important that we know about these things and give due respect to the people and their environment when we are outside our own comfort zones.


Tom and Debi said...

So true, be aware of where you are going, e polite and respectful; but oh my gosh what an adventure. And those photos of the beach tracks are AWESOME!!!!

Linda Dorton said...

Thanks. It was really an amazing journey, stupidity and all! I also learned on that trip to carefully pick your travel companions!

Treacherousdslik said...

What an awesome post...The other day I saw a program about komodo dragons. Apparently the females can reproduce without males--a single one can repopulate an entire island 'cause her kids don't share DNA somehow. I feel like there's a feminist joke in there somewhere...

Anyway, I loved your photos and I especially loved your story.

Living in Hawaii, Florida and Texas, Next Yucatan!! said...

Thank you so much for your insight.
Makes you realize that you really
need to think and research before
enbarking in new adventures....

Linda Dorton said...

Thanks for the comment. There is a fun story about seahorses and their reproduction too! Another feminist joke in there somewhere. Maybe I can post about them one day.

Linda Dorton said...

Living in Hawaii...
you sound like me! Except I didn't sell real estate......when are you coming to the Yucatán?

Theresa in Mèrida said...

Here is a link to a special on Komodo dragons that I just ran across!


Anonymous said...

Great post. It seems to have been written by the Lin I know and love.

Bob S.