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A phone call and her fluent English opened up the world to Getrudis Naus and brought her closer to the world famous dragon. She recalled that at the time, back in 1999, a phone call from a Swedish photojournalist named Hans Arpan reached a restaurant in which she worked at Komodo National Park, home of the largest lizard on Earth. The photojournalist, she said, wanted to request data and early information on the Komodo dragon. They ended up talking, thanks to her fluent English.

Several months later, when the photojournalist arrived in Labuan Bajo, the main gateway to the national park, to see the dragon up close, he looked for her, and asked her to guide him around the national park. Impressed with her skills, the photojournalist later encouraged her to open up a tour and travel agency. He even promoted her to his media readers back home. She followed his advice and became the first woman tour guide in Manggarai. She now has her own tour agency based in Labuan Bajo, the capital of West Manggarai regency.

‘€œI’€™m grateful to God for giving Manggarai a unique landscape and home for the Komodo dragon,’€ said the 42-year-old.

Established in 1980, the national park’€™s main purpose is to conserve the unique dragon and protect its entire biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine. Apart from seeing the Komodo dragons in their natural habitat, visitors can also explore the beauty of marine life in the water around the island, with more than 30 diving and snorkeling spots. In 1986, UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve. Last year, the park was named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature by the New 7 Wonders Foundation.

Unlike most people from her home village in Ranamese district, East Manggarai regency, Getrudis attended a tourism vocational school in Manggarai regency. Her decision was against the will of her parents ‘€” Markus Tekong and Hendrika Jehina ‘€” who had enrolled her in regular school. Upset, she decided not to attend the school until her brother backed her decision.

‘€œI have to become the light of my family, I have to be successful for my own sake,’€ said the fifth of eight siblings. I became a tour guide and run this agency at my own will, with courage and passion,’€ she says.

West Manggarai, she said, was not only home to the Komodo dragon but also renowned for Sano Nggoang Lake, where two hot springs can be found.

‘€œManggarai’€™s tourism potential is there, maybe even richer than Bali. It’€™s one of the reasons why I dare to work in Labuan Bajo in the first place,’€ she says.

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry failed to discourage her.

‘€œWomen can make money and help the family. In terms of experience and knowledge, men and women are equal,’€ she says.

‘€œI disagree that women should be considered second-class members of a family or society because women can work hard ‘€” even on farms, in companies or in the government ‘€” and be responsible.’€

The job, she said, had helped expand her knowledge, not only in tourism and popular tourist sites but had also sharpened her business sense, such as by learning how to promote the region’€™s beauty to the world through the Internet. She said that Manggarai’€™s tourist industry had rapidly developed since she became a tour guide 11 years ago, and even more so since she opened her agency in 2004 with the help of her former teacher.

‘€œI am personally involved in the agency, from taking around regular guests to groups,’€ she says.

She has now started to enjoy the fruits of her hard work. Her agency has bought land near Komodo Airport and has collaborated with other agencies in Bali. She has also purchased a boat to accommodate four to six tourists at a time for tours around Komodo National Park and has opened up an inn. Getrudis could not be more grateful with the world’€™s recognition of the dragon, allowing her to continue guiding tourists, including those coming in yachts, with each carrying some 1,000 to 1,500 guests on board.

‘€œTourists, both local and foreign, keep coming and that is a really good thing,’€ Getrudis said.

(Jakarta Post – 2014)