As if our fatigue and hunger were not enough, the local guide tried to aggravate our predicament by calling out to the ladies in our group and asking if any of them were having their period. The strange query brought embarrassed giggles to some members of our party, until our guide warned that those in that stage of the female cycle were not allowed to set foot on our destination, Rincah, one of the three large islands comprising the Komodo National Park in Indonesia.
The reason, we soon learned, is that the object of our long journey, the Komodo dragon, has an acute sense of smell for blood, which could provoke it to attack us.
The travel warning, of course, only heightened our lust for adventure for now there was the almost delicious perception of peril to flavor our expedition. As I surveyed the lush foliage and vast spaces around us, I thought of the hour-long boat ride we had after a 90-minute flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo, the nearest airport to Rincah, and reckoned that this long, tiring trip would probably be worth it.
As we were hiking, a cheerful lady in our group intimated to me that she was, as a matter of fact, having her period. Oh well. But just to make sure I would be able to brag about my latest adventure later, I stayed close to the armed rangers accompanying our group. I also tried hard to stop scratching my itchy leg lest it started bleeding.
And there they were, those ancient, lumbering creatures, descendants of the mighty reptiles that ruled the earth millions of years ago. There are about 5,000 of them on these islands, some measuring as long as 10 feet and weighing as much as 70 kilograms.
They looked annoyed, agitated. They were probably wondering what pleasure we humans could derive from surrounding them and snapping away with our phone cameras: “Perhaps if they came a bit closer, then they could provide us with a hearty lunch.”
Ah, those claws, limbs, the dusty, scaly skin, those beady eyes that seemed to be measuring disinterestedly the limits of our courage, and those long, forked tongues that lunged to and fro: reminders of a long-forgotten world that has survived to the present.
Someone in our group remarked that he would like to domesticate one of those Komodo dragons, but the guide cut him short and told him that he would not want one for a pet, especially when it was hungry. These unusually large lizards are famous for their venomous bite; they have two glands in their jaws that secrete toxic proteins that could easily make a deer, or even one of their offspring, a part of their diet.
We were told not to feed the animals for they might get used to it and eventually rely on humans for their survival. The one thing we should always remember when encountering these creatures is that they are not tame.
But the sad part is that despite their tenacity, they live in a world that is increasingly hostile and inimical to their survival. They are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Very few Chinese had gone to this place until about a couple of years ago, I was told, and one reason was its remoteness. But thanks to the relative ease of getting visas and the availability of low-cost flights, the Chinese now outnumber the Australians and Europeans who used to dominate the tours to these islands.
The Chinese have another reason to be fascinated by these giant lizards. The Komodo monitor, as it is also called, could remind them – in living flesh – of the legendary creature that has long been a part of their culture and mythology, the dragon.
On a normal day, more than a hundred people visit the Komodo National Park, and local authorities are hoping for a 100 percent increase in the number of tourists while, at the same time, praying that their influx would not upset the ecology of this place that has been the sanctuary of these awesome specimens of nature and evolution.
Such is the dilemma of nations and regions that have relied on tourism as a major source of revenue.
We were all exhausted when we returned to our boats, but our visit to Indonesia’s Jurassic Park was fascinating and mind-broadening indeed.