Previous Page

We awoke early, cold and damp with the dew, but feeling safe. We rolled up our bags and made our way back along the rickety jetty and under the arch. Once again, as soon as we had passed through the arch the smell of the place assailed us and we were in that malign other world, Komodo.
This morning, we had been told, we would definitely see dragons. Big dragons. We didn't know precisely what it was we were in for, but clearly it was not what we had originally expected. It didn't look as if we would be pegging a dead goat out on the ground and then hiding up a tree all day.
The day was to consist almost entirely of things we had not been expecting, starting with the arrival of a group of about two dozen American tourists on a specially chartered boat. They were mostly of early retirement age, festooned with cameras, polyester leisure suits, gold-rimmed glasses and Mid-Western accents, and I didn't think that they would all be sitting up a tree all day either.
We were severely put out by their arrival and felt that the last vestige of any sense of intrepidness we were still trying to hold on to was finally slipping away.
We found a guard and asked what was going on. He said we could go on ahead now if we wanted to avoid the large party, so we set off with him immediately. We had a walk of about three or four miles through the forest along a path that was obviously well prepared and well trodden. The air was hot and dusty, and we walked with a sense of queasy uncertainty about how the day was going to go. After a while we became aware of the faint sound of a bell moving along ahead of us, and quickened our footsteps to find out what it was. We rounded a corner, and were confronted with some stomach-turning reality.
Up till now there had been something dreamlike about the whole experience. It was as if the action of walking through the archway and ingesting the musty odour of the island spirited you into an illusory world, in which words like "dragon" and "snake" and "goat" acquired fantastical meanings that had no analogue in the real one, and no consequence in it either. Now I had the feeling that the dream was slithering down the slope into nightmare, and that it was the sort of nightmare from which you would wake to discover that you had indeed wet the bed, that someone was indeed shaking you and shouting, and that the acrid smell of smoke was indeed your house incinerating itself.
Ahead of us on the path was a young goat. It had a bell and a rope around its neck and was being led unwillingly along the pathway by another guard. We followed it numbly. Occasionally it would trot along hesitantly for a few paces, and then an appalling dread would seem suddenly to seize it and it would push its forelegs into the ground, put its head down and struggle desperately against the tugging of the rope, bleating and crying. The guard would pull roughly on the rope, and swipe at the goat's hindquarters with a bunch of leafy twigs he was carrying in his other hand, and the goat would at last tumble forward and trot along a few more paces, light-headed with fear. There was nothing for the goat to see to make it so afraid, and nothing, so far as we could tell, to hear; but who knows what the goat could smell in that place towards which we all were moving.
Our deeply sinking spirits were next clouted sideways from a totally unexpected direction. We came across a circle of concrete set in the middle of a clearing. The circle was about twenty feet across, and had two parallel black stripes painted on it, with another black stripe at right angles to them, connecting their centres. It took us a few moments to work out what the symbol was and what it meant. Then we got it. It was just an "H". The circle was a helicopter pad. Whatever it was that was going to happen to this goat was something that people came by helicopter to see.

We trotted on, numb and light-headed, suddenly finding meaningless things to laugh wildly and hysterically at, as if we were walking wilfully towards something that would destroy us as well.
Leading from the helipad was a yet more formal pathway. It was a couple of yards wide with a stout wooden fence along either side about two feet high. We followed this along for a couple of hundred yards until we came at last to a wide gully, about ten feet deep, and here there were a number of things to see.
To our left was a kind of bandstand.
Several rows of bench seats were banked up behind each other, with a sloping wooden roof to protect them from the sun and other inclemencies in the weather. Tied to the front rail of the bandstand were both ends of a long piece of blue nylon rope which ran out and down into the gully, where it was slung over a pulley wheel which hung from the branches of a small bent tree. A small iron hook hung from the rope.

On to the next section