We three decided that the first Zodiac was the one to be on and I was deputised to get our names down as soon as the sign on sheets were available after last night’s briefing. With that mission accomplished another early night was in order as breakfast started at 5:45 for us with a departure of 6:30.
Awakening pre dawn we could see we were in a very rugged ex caldera of a bay with a wharf and peeking through some trees and palms, low buildings were visible. We knew we were at the island of Komodo as per the previous evenings brief. The recon team had established that the wharf was suitable for Zodiacs to do a dry landing. We were prepared for a couple of hours on the track and along with the other 14 for this sortie we were soon being given the “what to do when a dragon runs at you” by the park ranger assigned to our group. Basically, do nothing while the ranger pushes the dragon off you with a big forked stick. Komodo and surrounding islands were World Heritage listed in 1980 and over the years this had been extended to the marine environment surrounding these islands too. There is money in these dragons as the buildings and paths are all well maintained and everyone involved is very capable at their jobs. Apparently, you can only get a job as a park ranger if you are from Komodo (police in evidence would probably be an exception) and they get some pretty extensive training and education in both flora and fauna, as these guys knew there stuff.
Off we set along one of the standard paths and within 50 paces our first dragon crossed the groups bow. Shutters firing at high speed the Komodo boy (bigger than 2 meters) continued in his direction without so much as a look at us. I was with one of the Orion people and he was excited and worried that we had maybe peaked too quickly and at the same time that might be our only sighting of the estimated 2000 dragons on an island of around 1000 sq km. Our two ranger guides took it in turns to give us information about dragon habitat and life cycle along with other bits about the flora and fauna evident.
The well trodden path we were on was mostly shaded but the heat was rising and I was certainly a sweat ringing damp rag already. 30 minutes into our 2 hours on the track our tail end Charlie guide spotted another big one acting like a log about 20 paces from the track. The group concentrated into the smallest area on the track possible but due to the amount of vines hanging and thin weedy growth it was almost impossible to get a clear picture of him (these big ones are the males). And then when our front ranger headed off track toward the beast it took off up the hill. We continued walking.
With less than 30 minutes to go and after many more stops to point out dragon features such as sleeping holes in the side of a river bank and the location where the pre park ranger days the locals would come down to feed the dragons for the tourists (banned since about 1995) we rounded a bush corner to be confronted by dragons either side of the track, 5 in total. These bad boys were at the only watering hole in the general region and once again cameras went on to high frame rate and all you could hear was the staccato tap of cameras going gang busters.
After we had tried every angle known and got as close as we dared, remembering that the smaller ones can motor along at over 18kph, we formed up again for the final leg of the trek.
At which point and only after a few paces disaster hit my camera gear. I had chosen to use my big telephoto zoom lens, which is normally my bird lens. This lens is heavy and comes with its own strap attached to the lens. I also have a strap for the body and the lens also has a handle. For the walk so far I had used the handle or some other way of holding both straps together that gave me redundancy in case of strap failure. You guessed it … After mere seconds and without realizing I had a grip of only the lens strap, it slipped out of its buckle and the lens/flash/camera combo hit the dirt. Flash and lens kaput. But thankfully this happened after, I hope, I got some great shots of these prehistoric beasts.
The final stop was at the market place where several people took away carved versions of what we had just witnessed. I stayed away from the market and took in a liter plus of aqua to replace the sweat. Heather got her “garden gnome” komodo and it was all back to the ship.
Back on board there was champagne and some snacks and then it was time for lunch followed by a swim/snorkel at Pink Beach. Apink because of the red corals lying off the beach. The day finished with an Asian feast buffet served on the aft Leda deck followed by the Orion crew doing their thing in song and skit. A very funny evening was had by all. We are all in agreement that the hard woorking crew of the Orion have delivered exactly, if not more than what the brochure(s) promise. It will be interesting to see what changes are wrought by the new management of the ship in the form of Linblad Expeditions and National Geographic.
Complete exhaustion saw us once again wracking up ZZZZs once the show was over.
We have two more days before arriving in Bali 😦