Spiders Scorpions&Dragons Oh My!
on Solo Diaries (Indonesia), 11/Jul/2009 10:34, 34 days ago
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I have just returned from a fantastic vacation to the rugged landscape and white sandy beaches of Flores and Komodo National Park. My time in Indonesia has been spent learning and working, and this was my first actual vacation since arriving, and will be my last before returning home.It began in Bali; I arrived late Friday night. Disembarking from the plane, I immediately felt the endorphin rush from the unique sounds and smells that are Bali. I had forgotten, having been in Solo for 4 months, what Bali can do. I arrived at Yulia Homestay (where I stayed on my first days in Bali way back in February, a lifetime ago) and was immediately told that unfortunately there was no room available, despite the fact I had reconfirmed earlier that day. But Made, the manager of the homestay, tries to be accommodating whenever possible (it’s nearly impossible for an Indonesian to say no) so I ended up in a room that was occupied by a long-term resident who just happened to be away. So her things were throughout the room, her cosmetics, her books, her dvd’s, her photos. I felt weird for all of thirty seconds before relenting as always to the powerful philosophy of ‘this is Indonesia.’ I slept like a baby.The next day we attended an international kite festival on one of Bali’s beaches. The kites were not the standard run-of-the-mill diamond shaped variety I expected, but giant elaborate pieces of art, some of them 7 metres long, with 50-metre tails. At one point the sky was blanketed by them, I counted more than 30. These kites were controlled by hundreds of people on the ground, and these peoples’ attention was always skyward. As a result, when they tried to control their giant kites, chaos ensued, and there were several near misses and collisions on the ground as they ran back and forth.Sunday morning Jenny and I left for Labuan Bajo to begin our adventure to Komodo National Park. We landed in Labuan Bajo and were met by our guide Maksim (“as in Maxim-um,” he told us) and were on our way to the harbour. As tourismis down this year, Jenny and I managed to end up on a private tour, it was just the two of us– and there was plenty of room on the boat. We were off for our 2½ hour trip to the island of Rinca in Komodo National Park. We had lunch onboard as we sailed and arrived mid-afternoon. The dry season has been firmly in control in the region for some time and the windswept islands surrounding uswere all the pale yellow colour of mustard. It was scenery unlike any I had seen before.We arrived at the pier on Rinca and disembarked for our adventure. Very shortly I was within 10 feet of two massive Komodo Dragons, a male and a female, who were hanging around the kitchen at the ranger station. The male to female ratio is about 3:1, so the males have to fight in order to mate. This particular male had broken his front leg last mating season and when he walked in a lumbering yet menacing way, he actually used the top of his right front foot. Our two-hour trek through the forest revealed about 10 more dragons, along with countless water buffalo, one of the dragons’ main sources of prey. One of these dragons was actually hunting us, his forked tongue darting in and out as he approached us ever more boldly. The dragons appear docile as they are often lying down in an attempt to remain cool, but when they walk it is in such as way that betrays the power in their limbs. They can run at up to 30 km per hour for a short distance. Komodo dragons generally hunt by biting their prey, and patiently waiting nearby as the 50 deadly bacteria they carry in their saliva to do their work to kill the victim through infection. The guide always tried to be between us and the dragons. After a two-hour trek to the interior of the island (which, fittingly, resembles the scenery from the movie Jurassic Park, by the way) we were exhausted from the heat and returned to the pier.Our tour included one night accommodation onboard the boat, but not in a cabin; we slept on deck. Maksim called it‘thousand-star accommodation’ and for good reason. At one point during the night I woke up to a full moon. It was so bright that I could see the silhouettes of all of the islands surrounding us. The water was dead calm, the world completely silent. No one else was awake and I felt that the wholebeautiful scene was just for me. I sat up and just – watched – for about 15 minutes before sleep overtook me again.The next day we sailed to Komodo Island, which unfortunately, due to its topography, is not a good place to actually see Komodo dragons. We satisfied ourselves again by the beautiful scenery and views, and the Timor deer hanging around near the beach. Our trek was shorter here and we were soon off for an afternoon of snorkelling. Saying good-bye to the Park, we headed off for a 3-hour sail to an unnamed island near Labuan Bajo that has the most beautiful beach and best snorkelling I have ever experienced. It had the finest, whitest sand I have ever seen. Jenny and I were in awe of the coral reef below us; it was like a giant botanical garden with colours, textures, and features that were so unique they actually didn’t seem natural, like clamshells that glowed bright turquoise& purple in the sunlight, small white fish that rammed us relentlessly if we approached their nests, sea urchins and anemone, and countless other wonders. We didn’t want to leave here but soon it was time to return to port.The next morning we traveled to the Stone Mirror Cave, so named because there is a narrow passage within it that has stone walls about 50 feet high. At the top of this passage is a small hole that allows a beam of sunlight to enter. At approximately 1:00pm the beam of sun is such that is comes straight down and makes the two stone walls appear to be a mirror image of one another. Unfortunately we were there early in the morning so were unable to experience this particular sight. What we did see, however, were countless stalactites and stalagmites, crystals embedded into stone walls, a fossil of an ancient sea turtle, the biggest cricket I have ever seen, several bats, and in an isolated, cold, black cavern– to his credit the guide did warn meabout this– giant hideous black spiders, larger than my nemesis from Ubud. I could not get out of this cavern quickly enough, but the guide suggested we turn off our flashlights to feel the darkness. I admit I could only do it for about 5 seconds, and also admit that I turned my light back on before Jenny.I am not sure I have ever experienced blackness so total, with no ambient light whatsoever. Later, when I had internet access, I discovered that these are actually not spiders at all, but Whip Scorpions that live in that black black cave. They are venomous and deadly to man. And yet Ipaidto be there among them.Jenny and I returned to Bali later that day, and I discovered that our office was going to be closed for an extra day after the presidential elections. I almost immediately began the process of changing my flight and extending my stay in Bali, which, by the way, meant actually going to the airport, as you must do it in person at the airline’s airport office. The airline informed me that due to the restrictions on my ticket I was unable to change my flight and if I wanted to stay the extra day I needed to buy a new ticket. This had been a fantastic vacation, and a wise man who knows who he is but shall remain nameless, often says tome that one should ‘take advantage of the opportunities that life presents.’ Truer words were never spoken, and today my wallet is a little thinner. Worth every penny.______________________________________________There are only about 2700 Komodo Dragons alive in the wild and Komodo National Park, a United Nations World Heritage Site, is under constant danger from poachers, human encroachment, unsustainable tourism and climate change. You can help preserve this amazing corner of the world by donating to the Nature Conservancy, which funds the parks’ rangers and guides in partnership with the Indonesian government. Please visit www.nature.org to make a donation. You may also vote for Komodo National Park to be included in the new 7 Wonders of the Natural World at www.new7wonders.com.