Kissing Komodos: a date with Indonesia's prehistoric creature

Ever since I watched a documentary on komodo dragons, I’ve wanted to see one in real life. Partly because they are just so impressive: massive ugly lizards that look like they’ve just crawled out of Prehistoric times; and partly because they’re such fearsome predators. What seems to me even more impressive is that they kill their prey in such a nonchalant way. Rather than suffering the indignation of having to run after their prey, all the komodo has to do is give it a little bite and then let it go.

komodo island

Komodos have such deadly bacteria in their saliva that once they’ve bitten their prey, death is a certainty. The only unknown is how long it will take. And the komodo dragon is nothing if not patient. It will track its injured prey for days, while the toxins slowly make their way through the animal’s system, until it just lies down and dies. Then the komodo can just saunter up to it and breakfast is served! 

So naturally, after learning all this, I was super keen to go and meet a komodo for myself. I booked myself on a Perama Tours boat leaving from the Indonesian island of Lombok and off we motored.

komodo island

The trip was a three day adventure. We stopped at several small islands on the way, swimming in the blue waters and basking on the sand. The snorkeling around these islands is some of the best in Indonesia, and even though komodos are excellent swimmers, we were assured they didn’t swim to that side of those islands. In hindsight, we were very trusting!

komodo island

On the second day, we reached Komodo Island and met the tour guide who was going to take us on a trek to search out the island’s namesakes. I was a little perplexed that the only weapon he seemed to have to protect us from these fearsome, lethal creatures was a stick. Even though it was quite a big stick, it still offered me little comfort, and I spent a great deal of time looking over my shoulder.

It wasn’t until right at the end of the trek that we finally spotted what we’d come to see: a huge komodo basking in the sun. It didn’t seem to want to rush over and poison us with its saliva, although it did have a serious drooling problem and I wasn’t convinced that it wasn’t drooling because we looked a bit like lunch.

komodo island

It was doing its best impression of a komodo statue and rarely moved, which gave us a really good chance to check it out. This thing was seriously massive, and it just looked so...ancient. It had long talons and tiny eyes, and would stick its tongue out to taste the air occasionally. Luckily it didn’t seem to like the way I smelled and didn’t move a muscle toward me. (I doubt it was deterred by the guy with the big stick).

komodo island

After arriving back at the tea house, we saw several more big komodos. They appeared pretty tame, and didn’t have a drooling problem, so it seemed appropriate to lean down and give one of them a little kiss!

Note: this photo may contain trick photography

Note: this photo may contain trick photography

After leaving Komodo Island behind and pottering around some more islands, the tour ended the next day on the Indonesian island of Flores. Seeking more adventure, my friend and I trekked into the middle of the island to see a three tiered waterfall we’d been told about. As we started off, the rain began to come down. Heavily. Our local guide warned us it might be a little risky, but we persisted anyway. It wasn’t until we’d crossed the river and were standing in the middle of the gushing water that we turned back and realised the water had risen at an alarming pace. We were stuck in the middle of the river and it was becoming harder and harder to hold our footing.

Doesn't look much like a crossing, does it?

Doesn't look much like a crossing, does it?

Luckily, our guide was able to make it to the bank and found a big tree branch for us to hold onto to get us safely back to dry land. Wet, muddy, but grateful to be OK, we trekked back in the pouring rain through several villages and back to the safety of the van.

Taken before the rain started!

Taken before the rain started!

It wasn’t a pleasant experience at the time, but later, as we were watching the sun slide down behind the neighbouring islands with a beer in our hands, it gave us a good laugh at our own stupidity.

komodo island

And as for our date with the komodo dragons, it's one I will never forget.

komodo island

Notes: the best time to visit Indonesia is in the drier months of June, July and August (which I read is also breeding season for komodos).