Why ever would you go across the world to see the largest living lizards? Why not, says Matthew Reinhardus
Indonesia was a great place to visit because it was just so cheap and I could live like a king. Even so, I was living on a budget that was way too big for what I should have been spending, but I tend to do that. The first while when I didn’t know about laundry service I just bought a new shirt and shorts every day.
I flew to Bali from Darwin, Australia and spent the first few nights in Kuta Beach, drinking at the club where the Bali bombing happened and later driving a 4×4 vehicle all around the island.
Then I took a flight over to Flores and a boat to Komodo Island. I went there because I like wildlife and the Komodo dragon lives there. It is the world’s largest living lizard. There are about 2,000 of these dragons on the island. They can be as long as three metres and weigh 150 lbs. Their saliva is poisonous and there are stories about tourists that went missing there.
It’s a small island with some of the most dangerous animals in the world. That’s probably why the homes are on stilts. Aside from the dragons, there are water buffalo, palm vipers and spitting cobras. I took a picture of a palm viper from about three feet before I knew it was dangerous. The locals are all descendents of criminals because the island was a prison at one time so it’s an interesting place.
When I arrived I had dinner at this little restaurant, the kind that has a menu with 30 items and only three that are available. It was dark when I finished and I hadn’t seen a dragon yet. I didn’t have a flashlight so had to flick my lighter down this path about 150 feet to find my room. When I woke up the next morning the biggest lizard I saw my whole time there was on my steps.
The orangutans of Borneo
“Will they bite me?” Visiting a Sacred Monkey Forest in Bali
A day with elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Getting stuck in Alligator River, Australia
30 bears and counting in Canada’s North
I walked the whole island along the coast and then spent three days going around the nearby islands on this rickety boat with three Indonesians who didn’t speak English. At night they took down the tarps and used them to make me a bed. Life on the islands was very basic, the sort of places where the rice you order would have ants crawling through it. But I would have paid 10 cents for that bowl of rice and a coffee.
Some of the best photos I got in Indonesia were in Java as the sun was setting over a volcano. I’d met a bunch of tourists at a hostel and we agreed to meet in the morning for a hike up this dead volcano and across its crater. I woke up late and they had already left. So I had my fruit breakfast and coffee and went outside and caught this 50 cent cab ride up the hill as far as it could go. Then I saw this guy with two donkeys and I figured I’d rent one and the guy joined me on the other one. So there we were whipping across this crater, with me enjoying a smoke, when we came across my friends who had left the hostel four hours earlier and who were now all sweaty and dirty. I got my photos, got back on the donkey, and returned to the hostel the same way I had come up. We all had a good laugh about it afterwards.
My final stop in Indonesia was at an orangutan rehabilitation centre right in the jungle in northern Sumatra. I spent about six days there and this time actually hiked. So I saw lots of wildlife and beautiful scenery in Indonesia, which is what I travel for.
This interview was condensed and edited.
© Riding the buses 2011