I divided my southeast Asia trip into two parts; traveling Malaysian Borneo with my girlfriend and heading to Indonesia on my own. The main reason I wanted to see Indonesia - to capture a glimpse of the Komodo dragon.
The Indonesia segment got off to a rough start. I planned on spending the first week in Bali, making my way to the northern extent to climb the island's tallest mountain. Unfortunately, on my second day there, I suffered some pretty nasty food poisoning. Luckily I recovered in time for my flight to Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. From here, you can hire a boat that will take you to the islands of Komodo and Rinca (Komodo dragons inhabit both, but Rinca is better for viewing).
After my poor experience in Bali, I decided that I would spend a little extra money and use a reputable tour group just to make sure that everything went well. I booked a three day, two night boat trip through the lodge where I was staying the night before. Little did I know, by "spending a little extra" I was getting my own private boat tour accompanied with a guide and three crew members. The guide was the only one who spoke English, though we had troubles maintaining a conversation.
So there I was, on this small boat for three days with only myself for conversation.
Once we got to Rinca Island, a guide from the national park had been arranged to walk the trails with me. For obvious safety concerns, you must have a local guide with you at all times. Komodo dragons aren't venomous, but bacteria in their saliva can cause blood poisoning which can be fatal. They're also big and powerful with sharp teeth, so you know, watch out for that. Keep in mind, this is a remote location in Indonesia. For an island filled with 'dragons', medical help isn't as readily available as you'd like. How do you make sure these things don't attack you? A stick that forms a "Y" at the end. Should a dragon approach, the guide would simply put the "Y" on either side of it's head and direct it away (you just hide behind the guide).
I had one close call but it wasn't from a dragon. The local guide and myself came around a corner and startled a large water buffalo. Just like the cartoons, we hid behind a palm tree. My guide (about a foot shorter than me) peeking around one side and me looking around the other. From about 15ft away, it huffed and puffed at us. Eventually it decided we were sufficiently intimidated and went on it's own way.
After spending a day at Rinca, it was back on the boat to anchor for the night and watch fruit bats emerge from nearby mangroves. The trip continued with stops at multiple snorkeling locations and Komodo Island where the dragons were bigger but so were the (human) crowds.
The trip concluded a success, I had seen the komodo dragon. I also had the surreal experience of spending the better part of three days and two nights on a boat in virtual silence. It's amazing how your mind wanders when you have no one to talk to. It was a very introspective experience. You have the time to think about what you like about yourself, your life and what you want to change.
You also have time to think about how awesome those giant lizards were.