Jungle Joe's Indonesia Adventure
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We are staying at the Udayana "Kingfisher" Eco Lodge in Bali, the sister lodge of the Rimba "Orangutan" Eco Lodge we previously stayed at in Borneo. The wildlife surrounding the lodge is quite different from the Rimba Lodge. Instead of macaques hanging around there are many geckos, butterflies and a few birds. The geckoes and frogs are quite loud at night. The plant species also are varied with many flowered species such as orchids and Birds of Paradise. It is a rather unique lodge, as the restroom/shower is located outside of the room. The restroom doors are secured by a small wooden stick which slides between the two door handles. Hello Mother Nature.
Our day consisted of visiting the Bali Bird and Reptile Park where I got to see many of the species of birds and reptiles native to Indonesia. For the first time in my life I had the privilege of holding the rare and endangered Black Palm Cockatoo. What a beautiful and friendly bird. The park staff asked for my participation in their free flight bird show which consisted of a large hornbill flying to me and landing on my arm. I’m such a ham.
The traffic in Bali is very congested. There are very few traffic lights and even fewer traffic signs. It is a free-for-all on the highway with numerous motor scooters, cars and SUV’s fighting for the same lane. Sidewalks and no helmets are acceptable for motor scooter drivers. We even saw young teenagers operating scooters (illegally) without helmets. It is amazing to see how many goods can be stacked onto a motor scooter. We saw everything you could imagine bungee corded to the rear of a motor scooter; two cases of Bintang beer, several folded mattresses and pillows, four people sharing a seat, huge bags of rice and many other goods stacked high and wide on each side of the scooter. Fuel is sold in glass containers and can be purchased at just about every market or corner store.
Today we traveled around Bali to visit the different businesses which provide jobs and income for the local residents. We watched how the many different types of goods are handcrafted. This included wooden carvings and statutes, gold and silver jewelry, canvas paintings and clothing material. We also enjoyed a hand picked fresh seafood dinner at a fabulous restaurant on the beach as we watched the hand crafted wooden fisherman boats cruise by during the beautiful sunset. During the dinner we watched the Indonesian dancers dressed in exotic costumes as they performed to live music.
Another great day in the beautiful country of Indonesia. This morning we left the lodge at Bali and boarded a plane to the island of Flores. After landing in Labuan Bajo we met our guide who transported us to our vessel, the Sea Star. After a three hour tour the weather started getting rough and the tiny ship was lost….(oops, wrong script), we traveled to Rinca Island which is part of Komodo National Park. There is much more to see and do in the park then observing the famous Komodo Dragon, the largest lizard in the world. The park is considered one of the best dive destinations on the planet. It harbors more than 1,000 species of fish, many species of corals, ten dolphin species, six whale species, sea turtles, sharks and manta rays. There are also many species of birds, bats, monkeys, buffalo, deer and boar.
Less than 2500 of these giant lizards, which can reach lengths of ten feet, inhabit the park’s dramatic landscape. These lizards, which harbor approximately 60 different types of bacteria in their saliva, along with mild venom, have killed and eaten everything from deer, buffalo and boar to monkeys, wild horses and even humans on a few occasions.
In the two hours that we trekked around the island, accompanied by a park ranger, we saw 15-20 of these cold blooded creatures, most of which were resting in shade to avoid the heat of the sun. We even saw a female dragon guarding her nest. Since the dragons are endangered, they are protected by park officials and the nesting areas are roped off to prevent anyone from disturbing the mother as she protects her eggs for about three months. Once the eggs hatch the babies will spend the first three years of their lives living in trees to avoid falling prey to predators, including larger dragons. The Komodo Dragon is not only a carnivore, it is also a cannibal!
After leaving Rinca Island we watched the sunset over the horizon as we headed to a mangrove swamp called "Bat Island" by the locals. The area is home to thousands of flying foxes (giant fruit bats) which roost in the swamp during the day and head towards land at dusk in search for food. These large bats have a wingspan of several feet and are frugiverous (fruit eaters). We got to see some bats as they passed by our boat but, unfortunately, we were a bit late in our arrival to see the thousands of bats emerge from the swamp to fly across the Flores Sea to the mainland. We set anchor adjacent to the mangrove, ate a delicious meal and slept under the magnificent star-lit sky.
The boat engine was our early morning wake up call at 5:00 a.m. to begin our voyage to Komodo Island, the largest island in the National Park boundaries, in search of more Komodo dragons. The dragons are only found on three islands in this part of the world, with the largest dragons being found on Komodo. Upon exiting our boat we walked down a long pier and observed fresh dragon tracks in the sand on the beach below. We trekked throughout the island and about a dozen dragons of various sizes. The adults were larger than the adults we saw on Rinca Island. We saw two smaller dragons which were about 4-5 years old cruising across the grass near the ranger station. They were certainly more shy of people, as opposed to the adults who appeared oblivious to human presence. Just prior to boarding our boat Clyde Peeling requested to see the green tree pit viper which I, and some of the others, had seen at the end of our trek. While filming and photographing the snake, which was camouflaged high in a tree, we observed a large dragon had climbed the stairs to the ranger station. Fortunately we saw the animal just in time so the guide was able to run up the stairs to close the front door to prevent the deadly predator from entering the station. He then chased the humongous lizard off the porch and down the stairs. The lizard then wondered off to a shaded area.
After our trek on Komodo Island we went for a well needed swim on "Pink Beach". It is called this because the sand has pink particles of coral mixed in it. The clear blue water was much cooler then expected and was certainly refreshing. Later we traveled back to the island of Flores to spend the night at the Bajo Komodo Eco Lodge. The lodge is similar to its sister lodges, the Udayana "Kingfisher" Eco Lodge in Jimbaron, Bali, and the Rimba Orangutan Eco Lodge in Kumai, Borneo. It is nice to be able to enjoy the luxury of air conditioning, electricity (to recharge our equipment and batteries), bathrooms (toilets and showers) and beds covered by mosquito nets (malaria is a concern in certain areas). I also appreciate the freshly prepared cultural meals (mom would be proud of all the veggies I ate!) and bottled water (not a good idea to drink tap water in certain foreign countries). Some of the lodges had swimming pools which was a nice way to cool down after a typical hot and humid day. But, most importantly, the Eco Lodges, help to make a difference living by the principles they practice and teach to the locals through education about conservation and pollution prevention. They store rainwater, use solar energy and recycle all waste water and waste and make compost. By staying at eco friendly lodges and visiting National Parks we contribute to conservation awareness.
Our 6:00 a.m. wake up call never came. Fortunately our neighbor’s loud voices awoke me at 6:15 a.m., just enough time to enjoy a quick breakfast and then six of us jumped into two mini-vans to travel to Snake Cave, AKA Snake Palace, in Istana Ular, a remote and rarely visited area on the western side of the Island of Flores. The cave is a shared home to a large number of bats and snakes. We spent two hours in air-conditioned Toyota mini-vans until we reached the village of Lambor. Along the way we saw many rice, corn and soybean fields. The villagers burn their land prior to planting crops and we saw a good bit of burnt land and fields of crops. Then we climbed onto a Lorrie (transport truck) to drive another two hours bouncing up and down as we traveled across the bumpy off-roads, which were made of rock and/or dirt. The truck is designed to transport goods and/or people. We started the journey with six members from our group in addition to two guides and two drivers. As we proceeded towards our destination we gathered locals from the villages along the way. It reminded me of a taxi or bus transportation service in the big city back in the states. The further we traveled the more locals we gathered as we got closer to Snake Cave. At first the villagers climbed onto the truck and worked their way onto the bed of the truck which consisted of six bench seats. The seats were wooden boards, about 10 inches wide and were very uncomfortable. As we proceeded towards the cave more and more of the local villagers jumped onto and clung to the sides and the roof of the vehicle. Occasionally a few were knocked off the sides from the thick brush on the sides of the off-road trails.
Once we reached the village near snake cave our guides made contact with the leaders of the local villages to get permission to travel across their territory for us to get to the cave and also to enter the cave. Apparently the leaders had to be compensated prior to our arrival, which appears to be typical for any outsiders who wish to enter the mystical cave. Everyone from our group was overjoyed to finally get off the truck and stretch. Then we followed the villagers down the mountain for another 45 minutes to reach the cave as the leader used his machete a clear a path. Once we reached the bottom of the mountain we followed the river upstream, observing a magnificent waterfall since it was the middle of the rainy season. Upon encountering the cave the tribal leaders gathered at the entrance to perform a traditional ceremony wishing us luck. They believe that the snakes are their ancestors and will bring anyone who enters the cave good luck. On the other hand if someone were to take a snake from the cave the penalty was death. Yikes!
After the brief ceremony was completed we entered the cave. I slowly worked my way into the cave, using a large stick for support and balance as I carefully tried to avoid falling on the slippery floor made of rock and muck. My headlamp provided light as I made my way around the crowded cave to see a reticulated python which those ahead of me had discovered. There were numerous fruit bats hanging from the ceiling and flying around. This was truly “The Bat Cave”! I decided to remove my sandals since the muck mixed with bat guano was knee high and I was afraid to lose a sandal, or both, to the suction of the muck. It was rather uncomfortable walking barefoot in the muck and I had a hard time keeping my balance. With my camera around my neck, video camera in one hand and walking stick in the other I worked my way to the rear of the cave were I filmed numerous bats as they flew around inside of the cave. It was very stuffy and the flying insects, which were attracted to our headlamps, were getting around the cloth breathing masks we had worn to protect ourselves against the bat guano. I began to feel somewhat claustrophobic and had a hard time catching my breath. At this point I decided to turn around since everyone else had already begun heading back towards the entrance of the cave. As I began making my way back to the entrance of the cave a fruit bat suddenly fell from above and landed several feet in front of me. For a brief moment I thought the bat was stuck in the muck, then I realized it was being constricted by a baby reticulated python, maybe 2-2.5 feet in length. As the bat flapped its wings in an attempt to escape, the python continued to constrict its prey until it finally expired. The bat was going to be a challenge for this rather small snake to swallow. I filmed and photographed this rarely seen event using a small flashlight and headlamp to illuminate the area.
Upon exiting the cave I realized most of the group had made its way down to the river, including the unknown villager who had carried my sandals. Now I truly felt like Tarzan as I worked my way barefoot down the long muddy path to a ten foot drop which I carefully climbed down using vines and branches. Once I reached the water I embraced my shoes (knowing they would be required for the journey back to the vehicle). After rinsing off the muck and bat guano in the river we trekked back up the mountain in the blistering hot sun to our vehicle. One by one the villagers peeled off of our Lorrie as we headed back through the villages. It was truly exciting to see the children who gathered in crowds to greet us earlier in the day and again to say good-bye as we passed through a second time. In fact I hoped to see the dozens of school children who had ran after our vehicle earlier in the day to greet us with their cheerful hellos and good-byes but it appeared school had already let out.
Today we left Labuan Bajo to return to Bali. I was reminded of yesterdays visit to” Snake Palace” every time I sat down. My entire body ached, most especially my gluteus maximus, but it was well worth the trip. We returned to the Bajo Komodo Eco Lodge and I immediately went to the pool to relax. Fortunately there was enough shade to be comfortable since I had enough sun. After a delicious dinner at the lodge I turned in early for a good night’s rest as I was feeling exhausted.
Today our entire group loaded onto a small bus around 7:30 a.m. to travel to see the Batur volcano, Bali’s most active volcano which last erupted in 2000. Our trip today would have a guide on board who loved to talk. Although he was knowledgeable he did ramble on a bit much. Nonetheless he was entertaining. Along the way we stopped at Butterfly Park where we saw many beautiful butterflies and flowering plants. We also saw many interesting arachnids such as the giant rhinoceros beetle, scorpions and other native species. The highlight of the park were the giant stick bugs and leaf insect which I had the privilege of holding. I hadn’t noticed them at first since they are experts in the art of camouflage. Later we enjoyed a wonderful buffet style lunch at a Chinese restaurant on the top of a mountain which overlooks the Batur volcano and lake. What a magnificent view we enjoyed as dined. As we returned to our bus we were swarmed by locals trying to sell goods such as T-shirts, carvings, jewelry and other interesting things.
We worked our way back down the mountain and stopped at Trisna Bali Agrowisata, a plantation which produces and sells produce, spices, coffee and cocoa. One of their specialties is an unusual and rare delicacy called Kopi Luwak coffee which comes from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It is made from coffee beans which are eaten and excreted by a small mammal called a civet. The still-intact beans are collected from the forest floor, and are cleaned, then roasted and ground just like any other coffee. Since the total annual production is only around 500 pounds of beans it makes the coffee quite rare and thus expensive, around $500.00 or more per pound. During a smell comparison I noticed it did smell much better then the other coffees, however I am not a big coffee drinker so I passed on the taste test!
We made one more stop at an art gallery in Ubud where I purchased two spectacular tiger paintings, one white tiger and one orange tiger. Then we went back to lodge for quick dip in the pool before our guide returned to take us to dinner on the beach of Bali where we enjoyed our very last sunset.
This is our last day in the tropical paradise of Indonesia. Since our flight was later in the day a bunch of us decided to get a few last hours of sunshine at the pool before departing for our long journey back to the United States. Our first flight was from Bali to Jakarta. Then from Jakarta we flew to Seoul Korea and finally home to JFK airport in New York. I was glad to return home to see my wife and two children and collapse into my own comfortable bed.
The next several days will be spent reviewing thousands of photographs and dozens of hours of video to post on my S.P.O.T. blog and website (www.BucksCountyZoo.org). Much of the photos and video will be incorporated into future educational programs. I am looking forward to next years adventure travel and will keep you posted on the destination which could be anywhere in the world. Maybe the Amazon in South America, or the outback in Australia, or even a trip to Africa to see the gorillas.