Robbie Leeson looks back on working in Indonesia. This article is the third part in a series about travelling in Indonesia; part 3 focuses on the natural environment and Robbie’s scientific work in Indonesia.
In the Mighty Jungle
Whilst there were no lions in Lambusango Forest, there was by no means a lack of exciting creatures. For starters, just about every animal we stumbled across was endemic to the region. Most commonly, we found insects in our mosquito nets. I will admit I did freak out when I woke up to a dirty great scorpion sitting in my boot; a couple of yelps throughout the morning told me that I was not the only one. Eventually the team and I became accustomed, but the guides still loved to tease us! Every now and again, we’d find something really special. For instance, during jungle training we saw a pair of Serpent Eagles circling overhead, their shrill cries pierced the canopy.
Even more extraordinary was one occasion when we heard an Anoa. These are a form of dwarf buffalo and only 1’000-3’000 remain thanks to overhunting – as such they are incredibly elusive. Our researchers were ecstatic, and for the rest of our trip they talked in circles around how lucky we were to have been given such a present.
In my final week of jungle work, I was working with a team of herpetologists. This included handling snakes – one of my childhood fears. However, when I realised that most of the ones we caught were non-poisonous and often weighed little more than a gram, you couldn’t help but develop a soft spot for them! So it came to pass that I had a wee snake sitting on my clipboard helping me with my notes.
If I could have stayed longer I would have. Waking up immersed in the rainforest, birds singing and the mist burning off and the sun shining down off the mountains, hell, I would stay for that alone!
However, I did move on and headed to a tropical island to scuba dive and work in some of the most bio-diverse coral reefs in the world for three weeks. Not a bad change then! Stepping off of the ship onto the pier really hammered home the notion of “walking into a paradise.” There were butterflies flitting everywhere, the sea was as turquoise, and everyone there looked relaxed and hale.
I thought that I’d seen loads in the jungle, but after diving in Wakatobi, I redefined “seeing a lot.” Even on my first snorkel I saw five lionfish and a mantis shrimp. Mantis shrimps incidentally are one of the coolest creatures in the ocean – they are stunningly vibrant, have thirteen more optic nerves than humans do and so can see innumerable colours, but they are also quite deadly.
At greater depths, I beheld entirely different scenes of waterlife. The worst perhaps to see were the areas of blast fishing, where the corals had been blown up in an attempt to catch more fish and there was little regeneration. On the other end of the spectrum, some of the reefs were so well kept that we managed to spot Nemo, his Dad, Dory, and Gill in one dive! To top it off, we even saw a fully grown sea turtle (in light of the previous dive we duly named him Crush!)
As cliché as it sounds, it was the people more than anything else that shaped my experience. Without the locals guides, for one, we would not have achieved as much as we did, and the experience would not have been as special. There would not have been that same immersion, understanding, and respect for another culture. There is only so much that I can convey in these few articles but, as my final words, I urge you with a friendly smile – GO TRAVEL!
Photo credit: Robbie Leeson