Our port speaker’s next talk was about Komodo island, our next port of call in Indonesia. The huge Komodo dragons that live there are famously deadly, so you can imagine how our merchant of gloom-and-doom enjoyed telling us that, if you get bitten by one, the bacteria in their mouths will infect your wounds and you will probably die a horrible death. These monsters can smell blood from a five-mile radius, so you shouldn’t attempt to go on the island with any cuts, he also warned, to the point where I wondered if the drops from my scratched mosquito bite would start a stampede of these giant monitor lizard things as soon as I set foot on the island.
Of course, the reality was a lot less dramatic. Having pulled into the bay at the island, which is pretty spectacular to look at, with high, forested mountain, the creatures that besieged us most were the Indonesian children, clamouring for us to buy their wooden dragons or ropes of pearls. In groups of about 20 (you are not allowed to visit the island independently) we were shepherded by three locals with forked wooden sticks – which didn’t look that menacing considering that these were supposed to be deadly reptiles who could outrun and eat a deer. They led us through the Tamarind forest where the lizards mostly live, which was a lovely walk in itself, with orchids growing wild in the trees, lemon basil at the side of the path and huge orange butterflies flitting about the bushes. We had actually seen our first lizard lazing close to the jetty, but suddenly, after a walk of about half an hour, we came to a clearing with a pool where about five of the beasts were clustered (this apparently is where their prey come to drink).
Twenty cameras started clicking madly as the dragons looked lazily at us before going back to sleep. Suddenly a couple of them jumped up, started stomping about and hissing and everyone scattered while the guards advanced with the wooden prodders. But the spat was soon over and, with cameras full of them, rather than them with us, we resumed our march back to the beach where a small hamlet of souvenir shacks was waiting to accost us with their wares. On the way we spotted a baby dragon scurrying down a tree (if you hadn’t known it was a baby Komodo dragon it could just have been any other small lizard). Apparently the young make for the trees, where they live until they are quite big, as soon as they hatch otherwise their mothers or fathers will eat them. There were no cuddly toys of dragons for sale in the shacks.
What I was seriously beginning to suspect was confirmed on the next port talk, this time on Bali, tourist capital of the Far East where there are no lethal spiders, snakes, crocodiles, jellyfish or even dragons that the port speaker can frighten us with. No, but there is traffic. Lethal traffic. And just in case we don’t get the point, we are shown a slide of a dead motorcyclist. Oh, and also one of the many Balinese soldiers who died fighting for freedom against the Dutch at the end of the Second World War. And, of course, a slide of the aftermath of the nightclub bombings earlier this century. So, as we all troop miserably out of the lecture theatre wondering how we could ever have dreamt of going to see such a dreadful place, I realise it’s true: this man really is a Jonah, who can’t bear to see people enjoying themselves and that’s why he wangled himself a job as a port speaker.
So we decide at dinner that night that we have had enough and are going to make him walk the plank. Bet he didn’t see that one coming – the perils of being a port speaker.