Our 7-day Indonesian sailing adventure and additional 10 days visiting southeast Asian countries produced some life lessons about human nature and the difficulties we all face in simply trying to remain safe amid serious threats.
Our clipper ship sailed to within a mile of Komodo Island in Indonesia before anchoring. Briefings by the ship’s officer the night before warned us of the dangers of Komodo Dragons.
“You can’t out-run them; they can chase down a deer. And guess what? You can’t out-climb them because they are excellent climbers. If you think you can head to water and outswim them, think again. They are excellent swimmers.”
After a nightmare-ish discussion about how they kill using anti-coagulating venom and super-deadly flesh-eating bacteria, we were, to say the least, a bit anxious about our excursion onto Komodo Island, home to approximately 3,000 deadly dinosaur-era leftovers. These 10-foot long creatures are called “perfect killing machines” by some. According to our cruise director, if you are bitten and can get medical help within two hours you have “a chance” at survival.
“The problem,” he explained in his thick German accent, is that “getting medical attention ees difficult because ze island ees wery remote.”
Our plan was to get onto the island early in the day because the dragons are more active in the cool of the morning. We also learned it was mating season and dragons would be busy and unlikely to be as visible to us along the pathways through the forest. We would be traveling in groups of 10-12, guarded by “armed” park rangers and we were warned to stay close to them (I didn’t think that would be a problem for any of us. I was wrong).
Landing on Komodo Island was a “dry landing” as compared to the “wet landings” we had experienced. There was a well-built dock, welcoming visitors to Komodo National Park. We were anxious and nervous to begin our trek through the flora and fauna of the park, home to numerous birds, snakes, wild boar, fruit bats, deer, and of course—dragons!
Our “armed guards” consisted of three young men holding long forked sticks. They again briefed us in broken English about what to expect and how to stay safe by staying behind the guide. The quote of the day came after one woman in our group asked, “Could dragons sneak up from behind our group and attack?”
The guide’s answer: “Yes, of course. That’s why it’s important to stay behind your guide.”
The implications of that uncorrected answer echoed in our skulls as we moved forward along the narrow dirt path. But thankfully, one of the guards (or guides) positioned himself behind our group, one in the middle and one in front. As long as we stayed with the group and with these local experts who knew the disposition of the dragons and how to deal with them, we would be safe.
Our 90-minute walk began quietly, as we were urged to keep our voices low. Occasionally, the lead guide would stop and point out a tree or animal. We soon saw a wild boar, dangerous in its own right, rummaging in the trees to our right. It seemed uninterested in us. There were occasional deer sightings, but no dragons. Eventually, however, our lead guide whispered quietly, “dragon!” and we all scampered ahead to join him, both to see what he was looking at and to take advantage of his superior dragon-fighting skills.
Coming straight towards us was a 6-foot female in search of water, and we were standing next to a watering hole. The creature seemed deceptively slow and plodding, it’s long forked tongue periodically “sniffing” the air for our scent. It seemed oblivious to the gawking tourists respectfully clearing the path ahead of it. Its manner of movement seemed odd: right front paw and left rear paw moving first in unison, then left front paw and right front paw moving together to catch up. This gave it a strange waddling gait that seemed alien. Clearly, it was not searching for prey, but only for water, so we did not see it shift into running, hunting mode, which would have been a frightening prospect.
Having sighted our first dragon, we were all more at ease. After all, these animals didn’t always have food on their minds. In fact, they seemed pretty harmless. In fact, after our group stopped a short distance away to look at a poisonous snake, one young mother and her two small children continued walking the path ahead, in front of the lead guide.
After snapping pictures of the snake, we were shocked to look up and see this mother continuing ahead with her children. We yelled to her and fortunately the mother realized what she had done and returned to the group. She and her youngsters were fortunate. With thousands of unseen dragons in the area, however, we couldn’t understand what had happened in her mind to think it was safe to proceed without a guide. It could have been a deadly choice.
The next dragon was much larger, but nearly motionless. This 10-foot male was basking in the sun and made very little movement to show it was aware of us. The rising heat probably had an impact on the dragon’s activity level.
As we concluded our trek, unharmed, we couldn’t help but recall the young mother and her children. How often do we ignorantly wade through dangers, naively thinking, “I’ve made it this far; certainly nothing bad could happen”? With some dangers there are no second chances. As parents living in the modern world, we are aware of this when it comes to playing on busy streets. When it comes to other, less obvious or foreign dangers, however, we can be just as naïve as our children.
It was a lesson in humility. We need to admit that we don’t know much about most of the world. There are those, however, who have specialized knowledge and expertise . . particularly those who have lived and survived dangers we can’t imagine. Each of us has a piece of the puzzle and we need to share our piece to help others navigate the world more safely. As we get ready to launch our new book about surviving and thriving in turbulent times, we recognize the fact that others are much more knowledgeable than we are, but we have had a unique set of experiences we hope to share with the world.