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A Close Encounter with Dragons

Dirk Vander Ploeg's picture

By Barry O'Brien

A TOUR of Indonesia's spice islands brings a close encounter with a reptilian giant.

A BIG beady eye fixed its gaze on me. Suddenly the long, powerful tail started to twitch and the monstrous beast lifted to its full height on razor-sharp, clawed feet. I was sitting on the ground near a water hole trying to get a low-angle close-up shot of two Komodo dragons, side by side in the wild.


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"I'd get up now sir," our guide pleaded with a hint of trepidation in his voice as he readied his stick to counter a possible attack. When one of the reptiles moved towards me, its long, white, forked tongue darting in and out, I didn't drag my feet in heeding his earnest warning.

Earlier we'd been told how a bite from these 3m monsters causes a painful death to their prey by infecting them with poison. Only a couple of years ago a child was taken from a village by a dragon.

We were on the island of Komodo, a port of call on a cruise of the spice islands of Indonesia on the luxury ship Orion.

There are about 2000 dragons living on Komodo and two other islands, Rinca and Padar, which make up the Komodo National Park, a World Heritage-listed area. Feeding the dragons is not allowed, so there is no guarantee of a sighting and it is quite a special moment to see these amazing creatures that can grow to more than 100kg.

The exotic cruise through islands rarely visited in the Indonesian archipelago just north of Australia produced a variety of welcomes, from enthusiastic ceremonies in spectacular costumes and nose-touching greetings to menacing spear wielding with grotesque spirit-scaring faces.

The ever present betel nut and lime was offered, with its risk of red teeth and lips. Wherever we went, the locals were delighted to see us.

Planking was taken to a whole new level at the mountain top village of Dokar, on the island of Flores. In a ceremony to celebrate the success of the harvest, one of the male dancers climbed a bamboo pole, horizontally twirling and spinning as the dancers below increased the tempo of the dance.

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