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Bali

We flew to Bali.
David Attenborough has said that Bali is the most beautiful place in the world, but he must have been there longer than we were, and seen different bits, because most of what we saw in the couple of days we were there sorting out our travel arrangements was awful. It was just the tourist area, i.e. that part of Bali which has been made almost exactly the same as everywhere else in the world for the sake of people who have come all this way to see Bali.
The narrow, muddy streets of Kuta were lined with gift shops and hamburger bars and populated with crowds of drunken, shouting tourists, kamikaze motorcyclists, counterfeit watch sellers and small dogs. The kamikaze motorcyclists tried to pick off the tourists and the small dogs, while the tiny minibus which we spent most of the evening in, shuttling our bags from one full hotel to another, hurtled through the motorcyclists and counterfeit watch sellers at video game speeds. Somewhere not too far from here, towards the middle of the island, there may have been heaven on earth, but hell had certainly set up business on its porch.
The tourists with their cans of lager and their "Fuck off" T-shirts were particularly familiar to anyone who has seen the English at play in Spain or Greece, but I suddenly realised as I watched this that for once I didn't need to hide myself away in embarrassment. They weren't English. They were Australian.
But they were otherwise so nearly identical that it started me thinking about convergent evolution, which I had better explain before I go on to say why they made me think of it.
In different parts of the world strikingly similar but completely unrelated forms of life will emerge in response to similar conditions and habitats. For instance, the aye-aye, the lemur Mark and I originally tracked down in Madagascar, has one particularly remarkable feature. Its third finger is much longer than its other fingers and is skeletally thin, almost like a twig. It uses this finger for poking around under the bark of the trees it lives in to dig out the grubs which it feeds on.
There is one other creature in the world which does this, and that is the long-fingered possum, which is found in New Guinea. It has a long and skeletally thin fourth finger, which it uses for precisely the same purpose. There is no family relationship between these two animals at all, and the only common factor between them is this: an absence of woodpeckers.
There are no woodpeckers in Madagascar, and no woodpeckers in Papua New Guinea. This means that there is a food source the grubs under the bark going free, and in these two cases it is a mammal which has developed a mechanism for getting at it. And the mechanism they both use is the same different finger, same idea. But it is purely the selection process of evolution which has created this similarity, because the animals themselves are not related.
Exactly the same behaviour pattern had emerged entirely independently on the other side of the world. As in the gift shop habitats of Spain or Greece, or indeed Hawaii, the local people cheerfully offer themselves up for insult and abuse in return for money which they then spend on further despoiling their habitat to attract more money-bearing predators.

"Right," said Mark, when we found some dinner that night in a tourist restaurant with plastic flowers and muzak and paper umbrellas in the drinks, "here's the picture. We have to get a goat."
"Here?"
"No. In Labuan Bajo. Labuan Bajo is on the island of Flores and is the nearest port to Komodo. It's a crossing of about twenty-two miles across some of the most treacherous seas in the East. This is where the South China Sea meets the Indian Ocean, and it's riddled with cross currents, rip tides and whirlpools. It's very dangerous and could take anything up to twenty hours."
"With a goat?"
"A dead goat."
I toyed with my food.
"It's best," continued Mark, "if the goat has been dead for about three days, so it's got a good smell going. That's more likely to attract the dragons."
"You're proposing twenty hours on a boat-"
"A small boat," added Mark.
"On violently heaving seas-"
"Probably."
"With a three-day-old dead goat."
"Yes."
"I hardly know what to say."
"There's one other thing that I should probably say, which is that I've no idea if any of this is true. There are wildly conflicting stories, and some are probably just out of date, or even completely made up. I hope we'll have a better idea of the situation when we get to Labuan Bajo tomorrow. We're flying tomorrow, via Bima, and we should be at Denpasar airport early. It was a nightmare getting these tickets and the connecting flight and we mustn't miss the plane."

We did.

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