More than Dragons

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Komodo Island in Indonesia last week, and what a fantastic trip that was – simply amazing! I did get to see the famous dragons, however for me the standout highlight was visiting isolated Komodo village and spending time with the local residents there. I am still sorting through all my images as I went a bit nuts and took a ridiculous number of shots – but for me it was that kind of place where I was seeing photographic opportunities everywhere I looked, and the locals were incredibly friendly and in almost all cases welcomed being photographed. Of course once I have had a chance to process my images I will be sending back printed copies of the photographs to the village via my contacts based in Indonesia. And hopefully I will also have some pleasing shots to share on this site….

Small Komodo village has a population of approximately 1380 residents and, according to the village headman Haji Adam, the village is 100% Muslim. This isolated community predominately relies on fishing for income and survival, with some limited extra income received from selling souvenirs to tourists who visit the National Park headquarters located further around the island to see the Komodo Dragons. In fact it seems that most tourists who visit Komodo Island do not even visit the village at all, and so it most definately has an ‘un-spoilt’ and ‘un-touristy’ feel.  There is a small elementary and secondary school in the village, and a health care clinic funded by the government.  Conditions in the village are quite basic – there is no telephone or internet, no running water (water supply is from a couple of pumps in the village) nor electricity (although power from generators is supplied for a few hours each evening). As the entire island is protected as part of the National Park, the villagers are evidently not allowed to cultivate any crops or plant any vegetation that is not native to the island. This means that fruit and vegetables are very scarce to non-existant there, as they must be purchased from Labuan Bajo – about 4-5 hours away by boat, and the staple diet of the locals is rice and fish only. The community nurse I spoke with advised that TB is a particular problem for the village residents (she estimated that 80% are affected by TB), as well as Cholera and Malaria at certain times of the year.

To access Komodo I flew from Bali to Labuan Bajo on West Flores Island, and then took a converted fishing type boat across to Komodo Island (4 hours on the way there, and 5 hours on the return journey). The boat trip is very relaxing and incredibly scenic, passing by many small islands – if you are lucky you may even spot dolphins during the boat journey like I did! There is no accommodation in Komodo Village, so it is necessary to sleep overnight on-board the boat, and then return to Labuan Bajo the following day. All food should be bought along from Labuan Bajo with you as well, as there are very limited supplies in the village. While the village warmly welcomes visitors, Haji Adam did request that tourists please keep in mind that it is a Muslim village and to dress respectfully – to not wear revealing clothing (t-shirts with short sleeves and knee length trousers or skirts are acceptable). Also a good idea to refrain from giving sweets, money or gifts to the children directly as this can create a ‘begging mentality’ and can also lead to disagreements, resentment or fights as some receive while others do not. A better idea for visitors wishing to assist the local residents is to pass any donations via the health care clinic or via the school, who will then distribute to those villagers who are most in need.

Komodo Island is one of those places that it feels like I can’t wait to visit again, but for now its time for me to get back to work with sorting through and processing my photographs from this trip….