Wednesday, July 02, 2008

More Komodo Dragons! Wednesday June 25th

More Komodo Dragons! Wednesday June 25th

I would love to write that I wake to a glorious sunrise, but in fact I wake to the sound of water sloshing, tooth brushing and spitting. A cool grey dawn is breaking as I lie quietly on my mat and listen to our crew of three prepare for the day. I take comfort that they are washing up before preparing our breakfast. Art wakes beside me and we watch the grey light turn pink and blossom into a spectacular sunrise. I went to bed without brushing my teeth last night because I didn't know the protocol. I pay attention to the crew this morning, gather up my toothbrush and toothpaste go to the front of the boat where a 50 gallon plastic barrel is secured to a wooden strut and half filled with what I now surmise to be fresh non potable water. A quart sized plastic scoop is tied to the barrel by a long light rope, and floats within. I fill the scoop with the fresh water, and with water filled scoop in hand, lean over the side of our boat and proceed to brush my teeth. It somehow seems wrong to spit over the edge of the boat, but I follow the example of our crew. I slip on my sandles and walk the short distance to the bathroom at the back of the boat. Three sets of eyes follow me and I close the warped wooden door behind me, and survey the toilet situation once again. The bathroom is wet, but seemingly clean enough. A large bucket filled with fresh water sits beside the seat-less toilet. A plastic scoop floats within the bucket and I now understand that this water is for "flushing." I peer into the toilet and see the ocean below and silently multiply our tiny boat, times millions of tiny boats, and worry about the health of our oceans.

The crew slept on a raised platform within the enclosed steering room and through the window I can see our captain make our morning coffee. He fills glass mugs with large scoops of ground coffee and adds hot water from a thermos. The coffee is strong and grainy but when I add sugar, it is delicious. He sets a large plate of a fried starchy vegetable on the rickety table before us. The slightly sweet fried discs are good, tasting like a blend between banana and potato. Komodo Village is just off shore and we motor slowly towards the National Park Pier arriving at the dock around 8:00 A.M. Again, there are two boats tied to the dock, both similar to ours, one with several American's onboard and the other with a small group of Europeans. Although we saw the Komodo Dragon on Rinca Island yesterday, we have been told that seeing the dragons on Komodo is difficult and we are again reminded that it is their mating season. Having already paid our conservation fee on Rinca Island we are assigned a ranger with forked dragon stick and we set out for the long trail loop around the island. Mansor, suggested the medium loop, but I want to spend as much time as possible exploring the island so I push for the longer trek. We follow our ranger along the trail and notice that the vegetation here is more lush than on Rinca. I am the only one wearing sandals and there are poisons snakes on these islands and I wish that I had brought enclosed shoes along on our trip, but our quest for dragons takes my mind off of the snakes. We hike along a dry river bed and our guide points out dragon nests dug into the soft river banks of along the wash. We hike for nearly two hours and on the return loop we spot a young dragon ahead in the curve of the trail. I focus my camera and take a couple of long distance shots when our guide motions me to hurry on ahead. I begin to fast walk and the dragon speeds up, in a comical undulating run. When we return to the park center the other two Americans have spotted a large dragon in the brush. The dragon begins to lumber off into the thicket, but our guide circles around him, urging him back in our direction and we are able to observe and take pictures of this impressive Komodo Dragon.

We sip cold drinks at the visitor center, buy John an over priced T shirt and return to our boat via a string of local vendors selling their wares. I regret that I didn't buy another carved Komodo dragon last night when our boat was visited by the local men and now is my chance. I am deluged with aggressive dragon pushers and I quickly survey my two dozen options, and choose two dragons from the first vendor. Although the overall quality of carvings is not high, there are some that

better than others and John helps me choose. We make our escape to our boat past shouts and waving arms clutching pearl strands and carved abalone amulets.

It is nearly 3:00 P.M. when we start back and we have a 2 hour ride back to the Labuan Bajo Harbor. Art stretches out on the deck, John lounges on the wooden bench and I sit on the deck, leaning on the low edge of the boat watching islands float by in the late afternoon light with visions of dragons spinning in my head. The serenity of the return trip is cut short when we enter open water, cutting across the waves at an oblique angle. Ocean spray rouses Art and John and we are all soon drenched. My initial amusement quickly turns to a gut wrenching worry as the boat bounces and tilts with every wave. Although I can see Islands in the distance, the current is swift and I know that should we capsize, we would not be able to swim ashore. Tied above us to the wooded struts supporting the roof of our small craft are 5 tattered life vests and there are 7 of us onboard. I note that the knots tying the vests to the struts are tight and grimy, most likely having been put there some years ago. I wonder how we would get them untied in an emergency without a knife. Art unzips his backpack and hands me his yellow wind breaker and I slip it on and pull the hood up over my windblown, wet and tangled hair. I try to take comfort that the crew is unconcerned with the choppy waves and the bouncing of the boat and I ride out the hour of angst. The ocean calms as we near land and in the late afternoon sunlight the islands are a golden glow, carpeted with Savannah grass, palm trees dotting the hillsides and mangrove swamps outlining the shoreline.

Our itinerary states that we are to spend tonight in Ruteng, but Mansor explains that the drive to Ruteng is three hours and asks if we might prefer to spend the night here? He suggests that instead of driving through much of the scenery tonight in the dark that we make an early start in the morning so that we will be able to see the spider web rice paddies. We agree to his suggestion and spend the night in Labaun Bajo in a very simple room with three saggy beds. Our hotels open air restaurant overlooks the harbor below, but the sunset is just out of sight, so we walk up the road to watch the sunset, hearing the evening call to prayer. We watch Muslim women and children, heads modestly covered with the hijab, descend the uneven pathway below us heading to their evening prayer. We eat a simple dinner at our hotel's restaurant, take cold showers in our minimal bathroom and fall into bed.

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