Komodos and Cuttlefish
13 September 2012 | Gily Lawa Laut, INdonesia
Tuesday or Something:
Big day for us: Komodo Dragons. Monkeys. Water Buffalo poop. Gobs of fish. Fantastic scenery. Drift snorkeling. Marvelous dinner.
The island of Komodo is famous for the Komodo Dragon, a fierce, cannibalistic lizard that grows to over 3.5 meters and, when interested, can move really, really fast. It might also be famous for Starbucks Komodo Dragon coffee, my favorite even before coming to Indonesia, but I digress. Rinca Island is also famous for Komodos, and we chose it for our dragon viewing opportunity because both islands have the same number of Komodos, but Rinca is smaller, thereby mathematically increasing our odds of seeing them. We started our morning at 7am on shore, after picking up Megan from m/v Further. We had reservations for the “medium” hike, a 1.5-hour loop with an Indonesian guide to see the dragons, or, if they chose to remain in hiding, we might see deer, water buffalo, various birds, and monkeys as backup. Also, 3 kinds of poisonous snakes. But happily, we saw lots of dragons, lazing about in the dirt looking completely dull and non-threatening and apparently not interested in moving really, really fast. And we were glad of that because these slow, heavy, thick-skinned, lizards are deadly. Their deadliness comes from the 60 kinds of bacteria that live in their saliva, which, when injected into a victims’ skin via their sharp teeth, causes fatal infections. Not a fast death, but a slow, icky, painful one. But I love the way they walk: right-front, left-rear, left-front, right-rear, head lumbering left and right with each step, with that speedy forked tongue working constantly to smell out prey up to 5 kilometers away.
It’s been 4 months since this area has had rain, so things are dry and dusty, but our guide informed us that in the rainy season the hills and valleys on this small island are lush and green. To those of us from Southern California, it’s a familiar summer feel, rather like the Channel Islands or San Luis Obispo in mid-August. We didn’t see any deer, and the closest we got to water buffalo was giant piles of poop blocking the trail, into which someone had occasionally stuck a little leafy twig. We saw a few sweet looking squab-y birds that are reputed to nest with the carnivorous, cannibalistic Komodo Dragons, and who are always seen in pairs. Our other animal encounter was the little Macaque monkeys -- cute, fragile-looking critters who met us fearlessly on the dock when we first pulled up and appeared to be waiting for a handout. When Michael casually told one of them to “scat”, with a gentle wave of his hand, it went sort of monkey ballistic – hissing and baring it’s teeth, assuming a very threatening stance on the wooden dock, and finally clambering up to the top of a pole and shaking it violently in obvious anger. We decided he was overly sensitive and sidestepped the others on our way up the hill. We didn’t see any snakes.
After our hike we returned to Paikea Mist and readied for a move to the next anchorage for more diving. We had a smooth, comfortable sail at 7 knots with a steady following wind and only the genoa sail to move us along, sailing past brown and yellow islands with rings of lush, green mangrove at their bases, sitting placidly on the beautiful blue and turquoise water.
We picked up a mooring in the anchorage, ate lunch, and then loaded the dinghy for an afternoon dive. Since currents in this area are strong and unpredictable, one person needs to stay with the dinghy, constantly repositioning near the pick-up spot. Gloria drove us out to a rock pinnacle, where Michael led us on the most magical, beautiful dive I’ve ever had. Teeming with huge schools of large fish, small fish, dull fish, pretty fish. Spotted rays, white tipped sharks, nudibranchs, and a huge variety of soft corals. It was a slice of pure underwater heaven; I smiled the entire time. I told Michael and Gloria I could dive that pinnacle every day for the rest of my life, and they completely understood – they’ve already had about a number of dives there, and have been equally entranced each time.
Gloria had been the one to sacrifice a dive in order to be the dinghy attendant, baking in the hot sun for 45 minutes and constantly on the move to keep above the pinnacle area in the strong current and watching for us to come up from our dives, and now she needed a little refreshment. We zipped back to the boat, dropped Michael and most of the gear off, and Allan, Gloria and I went around the corner to a pass between two islands where the current can get quite strong, affording a nice drift dive. It’s fairly shallow, so we just had our snorkel gear. We moved to the up-current side of the pass and jumped overboard, holding on to the dinghy line and allowing it to gently follow along as we drifted through the pass. More beautiful underwater scenery unfolded beneath us, and at the other side of the pass we clambered back in, drove to the up-current side, and drifted through again. Sated, for the time being, we zoomed back to Paikea Mist and settled into a beautiful sunset with Fijian Lamb Curry, sautéed unidentified greens, rice, and Trader Joe’s Oatmeal Cranberry Dunkers. Another marvelous day in Indonesian waters, more to come.
The Day After the Day Before:
A day full of lots more underwater magnificence. We did another dive on the pinnacle, this time Michael was the dinghy guy while Gloria, Allan and I dove. The three of us tend to move slower, really looking at the little things – there’s so much to see in a 4 x 4’ area of these lush waters, you could pull up a chair and just stay there and never get bored. In fact, I often like to do something similar: if I can find a patch of sand or rock (not coral – fragile and easily damaged) I’ll let all the air out of my buoyancy compensator, and most of the air out of my lungs, and settle down to see what swims into view.
The fish here seem to be less skittish – we’ve all observed that often we can get quite close to them, or they wait a bit longer to swim away. The area we’re in is protected from fishing, so maybe this generation of fish doesn’t know to be scared of the big rubbery things that blow bubbles. And don’t get me started on Indonesian fishing techniques, in some cases, they’re so heinous it makes me want to never eat fish again. So I’m glad someone in Indonesia has the presence of mind to protect some of these reefs from destruction and overfishing.
The highlight of our day came in the second dive. We’d teamed up with a few New Zealand boats and dinghied up around the corner, where two people stayed with the anchored dinghies and snorkeled a bit and the rest of us suited up for a wall dive. It was lovely, but not quite as rich in fish as the previous few dives. On the way back toward the dinghies, Gloria swam after me and gave a mighty tug on my fin – I turned and saw her beckoning me back to a spot near the sand. And there it was: beautifully imitating the pure white sand beneath it was a large cuttlefish, about 15 or 18 inches long and half as wide, his eyes like little horizontal quarter moons, giving him a sleepy look. But he was intently active and aware of us as Allan, Gloria and I all huddled as close as we could, rapt with attention. As he moved slowly over the terrain, he instantly and perfectly matched what moved beneath him – taking on the mottled brown and gray of the rock, or the red or green of a coral. His underside was also changing colors, but with more intensity of color, it seemed. These are the most magnificent creatures in the sea in my mind, with octopus a close second -- a miracle of what I see as a photoelectric process, but according to the book Ocean by Fabian Cousteau, the color changes are due to skin cells called chromotophores.
We followed the poor guy for quite some time, while he tried in vain to elude us by continually altering his appearance. After a while Michael and Paul, who’d been ahead of us, became aware of our absence and swam back to join. I was willing to stay until the last sip of air was in my tank, but at last we all agreed we’d stressed the little creature enough and moved on, triumphant at the discovery. I told Gloria she’s my friend for life now.
Back on Paikea Mist, we hosed off gear, hung stuff to dry, showered off our salty selves, and enjoyed a cold drink, reveling in our discovery. We’d planned to meet the NZ boaters on the beach for sundowners, so at 5 we climbed in the dinghy with pretzels, nuts, apples and a pitcher of something yummy and headed for the coral beach to spend a little time with our newest sailing friends, who we’ll probably never see again. Or maybe we will – that’s the thing about cruising: you meet people, bond on the beach over a shared discovery or tales of adventures, part ways cheerfully and move on. If you see them again, the friendship has a chance to bloom, if not, you have great memories of a night on the beach with fascinating people.
We spent dinner on Paikea Mist in front of Gloria and Michael’s pull-down projector screen while Allan regaled us with photos and videos of the last 2 days of diving, including some wonderful footage of the cuttlefish in his kaleidoscopic regalia.
I can hardly imagine what tomorrow holds!
I really don’t know when I’ll be able to post this: our Internet connection is spotty and weak. Michael suggested we climb to the hilltop this morning with our laptops and the Telcel Internet thingy and see if we’re line-of-sight with a cell tower up there, so if you’re reading this, we must have succeeded.
We have another night in this anchorage and then head for somewhere else. I have to say: this is the best vacation I’ve ever had. I feel so relaxed, so filled-up, so amazed at this Earth and it’s inhabitants, and owe it all to Gloria and Michael’s graciousness. It’s nice to be on a boat and not be worrying about it all the time – being the boat owner is a lot more full-time-comprehensive than just being a guest in the aft stateroom.