"Arctracer" Letters

There be Dragons! Sept 2005

We arrived at Rindja (sometimes spelled "Rinca") Island on the 18th of September in the afternoon, after a 680 mile trip from Banda which took seven days. That was slow, due to very little wind. We didn't mind a relaxing passage, and took the opportunity to do email and work on our photos. The new shroud worked well, and we hope our rigging troubles are over. The southeast trade winds in this part of the world become weak every year before the northwest monsoon winds set in from the opposite direction. We want to make our westing now, before we get strong headwinds, so we'll be moving right along.

After we were at anchor in Rindja for a few hours and the tide went out 6-8 feet we found ourselves very close to a mud bank - in fact too close for Jerry's comfort. He was afraid that one of the approximately 1500 huge monitor lizards would climb onto the boat. They are good swimmers, but there was no need to make it easy for them. Actually we've never heard of them being a problem on boats, but there's always the possibility of a first time. The last time they ate a person was in 1998 on Komodo Island, as far as we know. All the people's houses in dragon areas are on stilts to deter attacks. Here we saw dragons in the shade underneath the ranger's office and the other buildings. The people keep an eye open, and apparently don't worry too much, but it seemed dangerous to us.

On the 19th we braved the heat about 3 pm and took a 5 km walking tour. While Jerry was tying the dinghy to the dock, Nina went to an enclosure nearby to read the rules of the park. When Jerry arrived he was shocked to see two huge lizards right there! Nina hadn't noticed them resting peacefully in the shade. She nearly stepped on one. The National Park was established in 1980, and all visitors are required to pay for guided tours. What a deal it is to visit this National Park! We paid at the ranger's office $2 each for the park fee, a $3 guide fee, $2.50 to take photos and $1 to anchor. The best tours are at about 7 am and 3 pm, when the dragons are moving around in the cooler parts of the day to get food and water.

Komodo Dragons only live here and on a couple of adjacent islands, of which the biggest is Komodo. The dragons have evolved into giants on these isolated islands, and our Britannica says they can live up to 100 years. It appears that they once ate pygmy elephants, now extinct. They have a forked yellow tongue that they use to "smell" their prey. We saw many, ranging in size from about 4' to 10' long and weighing up to 300 pounds. Three researchers from the San Diego Zoo are doing a dragon census, so many had yellow numbers and letters painted on their tails. Our guide carried only a forked stick as a weapon, which doesn't seem like much to deter a really determined large predator. He chased one dragon to show how it could sprint 15-20 miles per hour. Most of the time they lie motionless in the shade, blending right in to the landscape like big rocks. Often we didn't see them until our sharp-eyed guide pointed them out. No wonder they require all tourists to have a local guide.

We saw many water buffalo, three of which were bleeding from dragon bites. The bites looked minor, but dragon saliva is full of bacteria which causes serious infections which can kill a bitten buffalo in a few days. Once a buffalo is weak enough, the dragons gang up for a feast. Besides water buffalo, they also eat the other wild life on the island, including other dragons. They eat every part, including fur and bones, and big ones can apparently swallow a goat whole. Their hunting technique usually involves ambush, or "lurk and lurch." Most of the dragons and water buffalo we saw were at the only water hole in the area. It was amazing to see them drinking in the small amount of mud that was available. This is the dry season. When the wet season arrives late in November or early December the dry stream beds that we crossed will be filled with water and the totally brown landscape on all the high hills will turn green.

We saw several dragon nests. Each nest is a cluster of holes perhaps six feet deep in the ground with side tunnels of several more feet. Each cluster is dug by one female, and most of the holes are decoys since she lays all (about 30) of her eggs in just one hole. She spends several months guarding her nest until the eggs hatch. We saw one female watching as we walked over her nest, but she apparently didn't see us as a threat to her eggs. The baby dragons climb trees and stay out of the reach of their bigger, carnivorous relatives until they grow up. We saw long-tailed Macaque monkeys foraging on the beach at low tide for crabs and eating fruit in Arrak (?) Palm Trees and Tamarind Trees. White- bellied Sea Eagles, Brahminy Kites, and various herons also entertained us at low tide. There are also brumbies (wild horses), cobras and other snakes, and wild pigs on the island, but we didn't see any of those.We saw two deer during our walk, and our guide seemed to be amazed at the numbers of animals we saw, noting that some tourists don't see even one dragon. Ours was a very good trip, and we got some good photos.

A small boat from Komodo Village followed us in to the anchorage, and immediately came alongside to sell souvenirs. Nina bargained for over an hour, avoided their poor pearls and finally bought a carved wooden dragon, a carved mask that was painted well, and a manta ray pendant carved from pearl shell. Many tourist boats came into our anchorage, since this one of the "must" stops in Indonesia. Some were simple wooden skiffs with outboards, but some were luxurious enough to have air-conditioned cabins. Six other yachts came and went during our visit, including our friends Warren and Robbin on "Cuchara." Most are headed towards Bali now, like us. It is only about 300 miles away, but with the light breezes it could take us a while. We'll go along the north coast of Sumbawa Island and if we get tired of drifting we can always anchor for a night.

(view Rindja overview photos)

(view more dragon photos)

(view more buffalo photos)