Robbie Leeson recalls
As a kid, I loved to watch Indiana Jones and used to imagine trekking through the jungle. After my adventures this summer, I can report that Harrison Ford definitely should have looked muddier!
Scrambling up a mudslide in the pouring rain on the seventh day of my trip was dirty work. The team and I were jungle training with the local guides; they were teaching us how to survive. They taught us how to test for poisonous fruit: cut it with a knife and then wait to see if there is any discolouration in the juice on the blade.
On the eighth day we summited a bare peak. This climb, which came right after several hours’ trek, may have seemed unappealing at best. However, in that mentality, it’s easy to reason with each other: we’ve walked so far already, let’s just keep going. The sun set made silhouettes of the surrounding islands whilst setting the sea ablaze with gold. Even if I could have taken a photo then, I would not have- some things are more precious as just memories, and I will never forget it.
On the eleventh day, some of the volunteers including myself attended a Canopy Access course. Now, I used to be scared of heights. In fact, I still am. But a mad little thought popped into my head: when else will you scale a forty metre tree and dangle upside down from it?
Riddles in Stone
As our work properly commenced, our jungle training became vital. On our first day alone in the jungle we hiked up and over two mountains— 13-16 km according to our GPS system. Whilst cresting the ridge of one such peak on the fifteenth day, we stumbled across a Pygmy burial mound. We did not know who lay there or what they represented save for this: fifty years ago, there was a thriving civilisation in this jungle. Now, nature shall keep it secret forever.
Beneath the Waves
On the twenty-seventh day of our adventure, its second half began- diving in the reefs surrounding Hoga. On-site at Hoga, they offer scuba diving courses for all levels of qualification. I signed up for Advanced Open Water (AOW), which involved a series of practical dives, several I covered with my work.
Buoyancy control – the ability to remain in the same position in the water without drifting – was one of the key skills we focused on. At first it was difficult, but part of the way through the training I knew I had it. I was able to hover upside down quite happily and manoeuvre around awkward obstacles without too much trouble. With this confidence behind me, I was ready for the last test – to swim through a narrow gap without touching it. I thought I was performing expertly; however, what I thought was casually finning through a PVC pipe frame was really me taking the top half of it clean off!
On the thirty-eighth day, I experienced what I consider one of my most special dives. We dived down to a depth of around 30m; in this underwater world, there was pure silence. There is no disturbance from the surface world – no noise save for your breathing, and practically no human disruption. I have a new definition for tranquillity.
Three days after the epic dive of Day 38, several of the volunteers – including myself – had the chance to stay and work on a liveaboard. Liveaboards are a type of ship with facilities to refill air tanks so they can dive in (and to) more remote locations. Thus, this was a perfect opportunity to visit far off reefs. Around a nearby island, called Wanci, the water was crystal clear. There was so much life. You could scarcely move a metre without seeing a different kind of fish or coral.
At night, this world would change entirely. The beams of light from our torches conjured up an image of something from War of The Worlds. Nocturnal creatures would watch us cautiously, curiosity piqued by the unexpected lights. Some of the corals were nocturnal, and would “flower” at night, their polyps beautiful in the dim light. The coolest of all was the bioluminescent phytoplankton- when splashing the water in front of our eyes, little buds of brilliant blue light lit up.
Even in such a tiny area such as South East Sulawesi, the world is positively bursting with diversity, and – as I said in my last article – I will definitely be back.
Photo credit: Robbie Leeson