It was early morning when we dropped anchor near the tiny Medang Island. I don’t think they were used to having many visitors because people flocked onto the beach when we came ashore in the little zodiacs. Young children came swimming towards us, stark naked, and the young girls had their faces pained white with some kind of rice paint. Medang had, at that time, a population of 1300 of mixed origin. These villagers were all muslims. There was a mosque on the island and one school with four teachers. Chickens and goats were the main source of meat, and coconuts were an essential ingredient of their lives. We saw television masts in various places and realised they were not totally isolated. The main activity on the island was the collection of Agar-Agar. This algor algae was collected by boat, brought ashore, dried on the beach and split into piles by colour. It was sold to local traders who again sold to companies producing pharmaceutical gel-caps.
I sometimes wonder what it is like there now – I bet many of the children have gone elsewhere and life is very different. It seemed such a remote island, but the modern world is catching up with everybody these days. For us it was a fascinating stopover, and the children were keen to show the visitors their homes and beach – all white and sandy and pristine.
We left Medang and sailed to a nearby island named Satonda. It is un-inhabited and there is a brackish lake there which was formed in 1815 when the nearby Tambora volcano on Sumbawa island exploded. The lake is said to have ‘rejuvinating’ powers, and will take ten years off a person’s age. Well, you can imagine we all wanted to have a go, but were sorely disappointed – we looked just as old after the swim as we did before!!
Something rather extraordinarily happened just before the tropical darkness descended . We were anchored near Satonda Island and looked towards land, and saw a large colony of fruit bats (flying foxes) taking off from the island. They have a wing span of 5.6 feet. They roost here during the day and fly across to the nearby Sumbawa island where they feast on the fruit trees. These bats are reddish-brown in colour and are said to be not true bats, but primates that have developed the ability to fly. Their sense of smell and eye sight are well-developed, and they use sonar to navigate and hunt their prey.
After a swim or snorkel in the warm blue waters, it was time to meet the captain and crew during the evening’s cocktail party, and a chance to dress up and ‘look pretty’.
Friday 22nd of November: This was the main highlight for many of the passengers! We arrived at Komodo Island – famed for its giant beasts – the Komodo Dragons! This monitor lizard can grow up to eight feet in length, is exceedingly ferocious and will eat anything it can get hold of. This particular type is found only on Komodo and a near-by island. Their main preys are deer, goats and ground nesting birds. But they are known to eat a straying person or two as well! People live in a few small villages on the island and have to be on the look-out because the Dragons come very close to their houses looking for food – and a small straying child!
A native guide came to the ship and led the 45 minute walk to the viewing platform, where we could safely observe the dragons. It was a very hot and humid morning, I remember. We saw interesting birds and nervous-looking deer as we trotted along. Poor things, they come at the top of the dragon’s gourmet menu. What a precarious existence. The viewing platform has been erected for the visiting tourists, and a small lake created in order to attract the Rusa deer, which the dragons prefer to eat. The way it is done is to bite the deer with their bacterial-filled mouth. This will poison the poor creatures and they die a slow and horrible death. That’s when the dragons come to enjoy their dinner! Not a very endearing animal I must say, but it was a fascinating visit. The guide carried a ‘forked tool’ in case a straying dragon came across our path. No-one appeared, fortunately, but we did see the tail end of some as they rested in a hole (lair) under a shady tree.
After a delicious lunch onboard some of us went snorkelling in the afternoon. The sea was lovely, warm and blue. It was a great place to see the coral reef and the colourful fish beneath us. Next stop: Kakabia Island.
This is Komodo Island as seen from the ship.