Komodo National Park: Home to the Dragons (and other stuff)
When most people think of Komodo national park, two words automatically spring to mind: Komodo Dragons! Yes, its true, the largest reptile in the world, the Komodo dragon, can be seen on the Komodo islands as well its next door neighbor, Rinca, and few other places. However the two words that come to mind should be Scuba Diving!!
The diving around Komodo is truly fantastic! There are tons of very good dive sites and a few spectacular ones. Originally I was hoping to do a live-aboard boat, but my timing wasn't too good as the dry season was just ending and the far south dive sites that are normally accessible by the live-aboard were no longer and option. I decided on doing day trips with Blue Marlin, and we had a fun group of divers as well as great instructors, which made the experience all the more enjoyable. During the week we saw plenty of sharks, massive wrasses and bumphead parrotfish, turtles of course, rays, sea snakes, eels, huge lobsters, I dunno, all sorts of shit. And then there's the color! The corals of the reef display a massive range of dizzyingly bright hues, which really is something to behold. If there's one thing I'll remember about Komodo, it's the colors. Well, and Manta Point...
Manta Point is basically a stretch of current in between reefs that acts a manta super highway as well as a good place to feed. It's a must do when diving at Komodo. You drop in the water and let the current take you along the bottom at around 13 or 14 meters and basically wait until you see some mantas gliding along. Once one is spotted you exhale to lose buoyancy and drop to the sea floor, hanging on to whatever you can get ahold of, so the current won't sweep you away. If you're lucky the mantas won't notice and will swim up close to your group. We got extremely lucky and saw something like 20 of them! It was a field day! As I'd never seen a manta before I got a real kick out finally being able to do the manta hand signal, which is flapping your arms at your sides when I spotted one. We even had one large black one stop and hover right in front of for a few minutes, like it was observing us just as we were observing it, before gracefully sailing away. Seeing the mantas move by you feel kind of like the slow unathletic kid (ie Brett Kotecki) at basketball tryouts. If only us divers could just glide through the currents like they do!
Komodo is renowned for some of its intense drift diving, where divers must battle heavy currents. These dives can be quite dangerous if you get sucked up or down quickly before realizing what is happening. We experienced a few strong currents here and there, but nothing wild like I expected. Theres a couple of dive sites called Castle Rock, Crystal Rock, and the Cauldron that are known for having some crazy drifts, but I went right after the full moon, which apparently is when the currents were at their lowest. No need for negative entries (diving off the boat and descending right away rather than meeting at the surface), which actually bummed me out a little bit because some of the stories I've heard made those dives sound pretty damn exciting. Oh Well. But overall I think Komodo is the best dive destination I've been to so far, really only being trumped by a few of the remarkable dive sites at Sipadan in Malaysia. I give it a big thumbs up!
Unfortunately because most of my time was spent underwater, and I don't have an UW casing, I don't have any dazzling sea life photos to share. I got the manta pic from one of the other divers in our group, and the other two are from the Gilis, when I rented a camera for one dive. Although most of those photos turned out like crap! I must say, photography is very difficult underwater. You've got to worry about keeping still, the white balance, fiddling with buttons on the awkward camera casing, as well as the other dive-related stuff, like running out of air and the like. But I know if I actually got into UW photography, eventually I'd have to get the big ole DSLR casing and externally mounted flash, as the extra lighting really helps bring out the colors that get filtered out of the UV spectrum underwater. Which is also why most amateur underwater photos you see often look dull and muted, and well kind of suck. And I hate taking sucky photos! But the casing is expensive and cumbersome, not exactly ideal for long term travel. Maybe some day...
But hey, you're probably wondering when I was going to get to those big stinking dragons! It is Komodo after all!
We went to Rinca island to check out these massive beasts. To be fair this was only like an hour of out my week in and around the Komodos. You get the island and a guide shows you to where the dragons hang out, which is mostly in the shade under trees or people's huts, because its hot as hell during the day. Then everyone says "oooh" and "aaahh" and takes their photos of these big scaly creatures, who aren't really doing much of anything. Then you go for a hike, but like I said, it's hot as hell, so before you know it you've had enough and you're back on the boat. And that's it! You've seen the dragons! Although I didn't really learn much about them from our guide, I did do a little research afterwards, and they really are interesting animals. Which leads to my next segment:
FUN KOMODO FACTS WITH ADAM
I didn't know shit about Komodo dragons before I came here, and I'm guessing neither do you, until now!
There are less than 5,000 dragons left in Indonesia, with the majority residing in the Komodo and Rinca island sanctuaries as well as a few other places. These carnivores have been around for millions of years and look the part! You notice that they are constantly flicking their tongues in and out, which they use to detect taste and smells, sometimes dead and rotting flesh up to a few miles away. Mating season begins in May, with the males fighting each other to win the females. Courtship involves several days of wrestling, with the female attempting to fight off the male with her teeth and claws. For intercourse the female must be fully subdued (rape?!), so that the male can insert one of his two penises into the female. Yes, you read that right, the male has what is known as a hemipene, which is sort of a double ended penis. Double the pleasure, double the fun! According to wiki the hemipene often has hooks or spines which help anchor it into the vagina. Sounds great, eh ladies?
After an incubation period of 7-8 months the newborns chip their way out of their egg with their eggtooth and eventually are forced to live up in the trees for the first few years of their lives, as they are quite defenceless and can fall prey to canniballistic older dragons. Once they get big enough they come down and enjoy their spot on land with their pals, where they can join in on the hunting trips. Supposedly the big lizards can eat 80% of their weight at a meal and can live off as little of 12 meals a year. Their appetite is voracious, similar to Ed's at 3 in the morning when some large pizzas are in the freezer. During one of these feasts they might even ram the animal carcass against a tree to force it down their throats faster. Later they lay in the sun to speed digestion of their meal, so it won't rot inside their stomach.
The dragons are slightly venomous, but this is believed by scientists to be overstated and misunderstood by the public.
Eventually, after living for up to 50 years, these killing, raping, cannibals die. The End