17,508 Islands, and Not Enough Time

image

Taped to the wall above the couch where I place my students when they come to me for advice, homework help, and sometimes just to chat (when I’m alone in my room I’m usually either working at my desk or sitting on the tile floor… it’s cooler there), is a map of Indonesia I found in a tourist shop.  I’ve always had a love for maps (there is also a map of the U.S. and my trusty beach-ball globe in my living room, and I turn to both constantly when I’m sharing fun facts and stories about friends with my students), and this map of the incredible country in which I find myself is probably my favorite part of my décor.

It is also a constant reminder of how vast and diverse Indonesia is.  Though I want more than anything to be able to explore the far reaches of this country and find some way to piece together my understanding of its various complexities, there are not enough months in a lifetime, much less my grant period, to be able to do so.  However, I have been able to catch glimpses of others’ experiences in different parts of Indonesia, by reading blogs not unlike my own.

There are a total of thirty-five ETAs in my Indonesian Fulbright cohort, and many of them also keep blogs about their own experiences.  If you would like to check them out, I have listed them below, organized by the island on which these ETAs find themselves.

There is also a website, entitled Indonesiaful, that was started in 2012 and is maintained by current ETAs that includes articles of various kinds regarding our experience in Indonesia.  I highly recommend it, as some of the ETAs who do not keep personal blogs have submitted articles, and because Indonesiaful is an ongoing project, and will offer perspectives on Indonesia for years to come.

Java

Anna, Wonosari

Ben, Yogyakarta

Elisa, Semarang

Clare, Semarang

Lauren, Kendal 

Kalimantan

Chris, Benjarmasin

Sulawesi

Rebecca, Gorontalo

Emily, Gorontalo

Sumatra

Moniek, Pekanbaru

Stephanie, Pekanbaru

Laurien, Medan

Sarah, Medan

West Timor

Katy, Atambua

Raul, Atambua

Jay, Kupang

Josh, Kupang

Advertisements

Here There Be Dragons: Komodo Island

I have had an infatuation with animals since I was a little girl—I blame having been raised around more calves and chicks than human children—and here in Indonesia I am able to experience wildlife that is sometimes similar but often vastly different from what I am accustomed to at home.  During my holiday travel, I was able realize a childhood dream with a visit to Komodo Island, home of the famous Komodo Dragon.

The Komodo Dragon (varanus komodoensis), or Ora in the native language, is the largest reptile in the world, and it currently only lives on a handful of islands in the NTT (Nusa Tengarra Timur, or East Southeast Islands) region of Indonesia, the largest of which takes its name from these incredible creatures.  Getting to Pulau Komodo required a four hour boat trip from the small port town of Labuan Bajo, on the west coast of Flores, through sparkling green-blue water and past innumerable small islands that teased my curiosity with their alternatively lush and barren landscapes.

image

Tourists are not allowed to hike in Komodo without a guide, so once we put our lives in the hands of a friendly ­bapak armed only with a Y-shaped stick, trusting that we would not become an international delicacy for any dragons.  I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified to be there, a combination of feelings that was only heightened when our guide pointed out the first Komodo dragon resting under the very building where we had bought our entrance ticket to the park.

image

As we hiked through the arid forest that according to the signs posted along the trail was called Hutan Asam (Sour Jungle), a name which it acquired from one of the trees which is prevalent in the area, we came across the most impressive Komodo we would see all day.  Our guide estimated that he was at least three meters long, and said that he was probably somewhere between forty and fifty years old.  (As a side note, any information I have found online had claimed that Komodo Dragons generally peak at thirty years of age, but since I am not a reptilian expert, I will make no claims as to whether our guide or the interwebs was correct.)  Because we were on the island during siang (midday), the dragons we came across were all resting, and at first I thought this giant had passed away.  But when its eyes peeled open and I noted the slightest of movement in its chest, it became clear that we were standing not ten feet from a very alive, very deadly animal.

image

Komodo Dragons are far more likely to eat carrion than bring down live prey, but they will hunt, and are rather strategic in their methods, waiting patiently in shaded areas for unsuspecting deer to stumble upon them. Bacteria grow rapidly in the Komodo’s mouth, causing deadly infections in animals unfortunate enough to be bitten.

image

Komodo Dragons have killed humans in the past, and our guide did tell us a few horror stories while we hiked along the “Medium Trail,” of a German Tourist who was left behind by his group and left behind nothing more than his sunglasses and camera, and a local boy who was bitten while in the forest and who did not live long enough for his friends to carry him to the beach and get help.  When we came across a dragon which was slightly more alert than the others, I found myself thankful for the zoom function on my camera, because I could not bring myself to venture as close to the giant lizard as our guide invited us to.

image

When I told students and teachers at my school that I planned to go to Komodo Island as part of my holiday travels, most of them shuddered and called me either crazy or brave.  After seeing these colossal lizards that look more like an artist’s conception of prehistoric beasts than anything I would expect to find on earth, I can understand their fear.

image

Still, I would not have traded the opportunity to go to Komodo Island for anything.  Sometimes, I have to take a moment to remind myself that the life I am currently privileged to lead is real, and not just an extended wishful dream.  Finding myself in the presence of some of the most impressive and fascinating creatures Earth has to offer was most definitely one of those moments.