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Old Wednesday 8th September 2010, 06:19   #1
Chlidonias
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The Malay Archipelago, 2009

This is the story of my wanderings around Indonesia and Malaysian Borneo by myself for five and a half months in 2009 (29 May to 13 November). I had never been to either destination before (although I had been to mainland southeast Asia in 2006) and I sort of just fumbled my way along making a fool of myself whilst trying to uncover the amazing avifauna of the region. I hope you all have fun reading about my many failings and the lucky successes. This is a report on how not to go birding!

Initially the plan was to start in Darwin (with a side-trip to Kakadu) because there is a regular Air North flight from Darwin to West Timor but unfortunately the rumour in 2008 was that that flight was going to be canned just a couple of months before I was due to set out [this rumour proved to be unfounded], so I changed the plans slightly. Instead of going from Darwin to West Timor and then working my way westwards towards Bali, I got a cheap flight from Christchurch to Bali, from where I would make my way eastwards through the Lesser Sundas (namely Lombok, Sumbawa, Sumba, Flores, Komodo, Rinca and West Timor; not necessarily in that order), and then fly back to Bali for the next leg of the tour, Sulawesi. After Sulawesi I would head to Malaysian Borneo (Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah) looking for proboscis monkeys, orangutans and rhinos, then head back to Bali from where I would progress in a westerly direction through Java and Sumatra, and then set course up to Thailand because my plane home was leaving from Bangkok.
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Old Wednesday 8th September 2010, 06:20   #2
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BALI AND JAVA, 29 May to 4 June; Failed beginnings

Not a good start to the trip but I hate Bali. Apologies to anybody who likes it but I loathed the place. I arrived after midnight after not having had any sleep in something like 26 hours. I still don't know how it happened because I was in zombie-mode but even before I'd left the airport I'd been scammed into somehow giving AU$25 to a guy for nicking off with my bag; needless to say I was extremely annoyed with myself but what's done is done. I found a cheap hotel in some alleyway in Kuta and because I still couldn't sleep (different time-zones and all that) I decided to take a wander round the streets in the dark. That's when I discovered the motorbike-riding prostitues. I was of course the only person stupid enough to be out in the street at 3am in the morning so they fixed their attentions on me like piranhas smelling blood. It was like a very cheaply-made porn version of the chase scene in Mad Max II. I managed to escape back to the hotel, but one particularly persistant individual sat outside yelling at me to come back out until the hotel night person went out and told her to clear off. Once the sun came up, even though I was still in the land of the living dead, I found my way to Sanur to see if I could get across to Nusa Penida, an island off the coast where Bali mynahs have been reintroduced to the wild, but discovered that the boats from there didn't allow enough time for a day-trip, so I changed tack and headed by bus to Ubud where I unsuccessfully tried to find the field that Larry Wheatland had said I could find Java sparrows at and where a couple of dogs tried unsuccessfully to bite me. I then visited the Monkey Forest, more by accident than through any plan, which was pretty much the only "highlight" of my first day, even if one big male crab-eating macaque did pickpocket me and then threw his stolen booty off a bridge when I tried to grab it back, before charging me with teeth bared to show me who was boss. I did find a little rice field just nearby where I saw some nice birds such as streaked weaver and Javan munia - both new for me. Other birds for the day were cave swiftlet (again new), tree sparrow, spot-necked dove, yellow-vented bulbul, scaly-breasted munia and olive-backed sunbird. So I saw a lot of macaques, a couple of plantain squirrels and a few birds, but everything else was going wrong - transport, money, rip-offs, dogs, drunken Australians, you name it, it was just one of those days! - and I had a splitting headache from not having had any sleep for almost 48 hours and hardly any food, coupled with walking around in the tropical heat all day. I won't go into everything because it would go on for paragraphs and I'd sound like a right whiney tosser, but basically everything that could go wrong did go wrong and by the end of the day I'd had enough.

To save myself from just throwing it all in and going back to New Zealand to spend the next five months watching tv, on just my second day in Indonesia I fled to Baluran National Park in eastern Java. Getting there entailed a tortuous three hours crammed into an Indonesian-sized space on an overcrowded local bus - although I did see a Javan kingfisher on the way - and then a short ferry ride to Ketapang. I had then been anticipating another bus ride followed by a 15km walk to Bekol, the accommodation within the National Park, but I came across a tourist office right outside the ferry terminal and instead managed to get a ride in a car all the way there for 150,000 rupiah (about NZ$26, which is all right as it saved me the walk).

Baluran is quite a nice place. Most people I'm told just go there on day trips for a couple of hours duration, but the rooms are really cheap (35,000 per night), albeit with no electricty so no relief from the million-degree heat. You need to take in all your own food and water so your stay is limited by how much you can carry. Due to lack of variety in the local shops I was subsisting almost entirely on dried noodles and tins of cat food (actually tins of corned beef, but it was much the same thing). Bekol is surrounded by savannah, although scrub has encroached upon it so much that its very hard to see any of the wildlife and what is there all seems very wary. The banteng (a type of wild cattle) were absent, apparently all up in the hills at this time of year, but there were lots of rusa deer, small Asian mongooses, plantain squirrels and the ubiquitous crab-eating macaques, as well as Javan langurs which are quite bizarre-looking with a big boofy hairstyle surrounding a very human-like face. Outside my room on the first night a common palm civet came visiting. I've only seen civets asleep in zoos before so it was very interesting seeing how it slithered across the ground and up into the trees like a great furry snake. Green junglefowl crowed constantly from the scrub and there were green peafowl all over the show as well, although they were too skittish to get any photos of. I was surprised how readily they took flight when flushed from the sides of the roads; I would have expected them to run for cover but they always shot up into the air and flapped unconvincingly away across the bush. Other nice new birds I happened across included edible-nest swiftlets, bar-winged and plain prinias, island collared dove, fulvous-breasted woodpecker, white-shouldered triller, small minivet and blue-breasted quail (and various other species I'd seen elsewhere in Asia or Australia; Oriental pied hornbills were particularly common).

I stayed at Baluran for two nights, then went back to Kuta where I booked a flight to Sumba for the closest free date. I did try to get out and enjoy Bali but the mindless greed and avarice beat me back to my room where I hid for two days, cramming my mind with images of birds from the Wallacea field guide.
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Old Wednesday 8th September 2010, 14:38   #3
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Well this promises to be an interesting five months - very happy to enjoy your pain with a few birds chucked in for good measure.

Actually I have a good Kuta story. My mate Norm and I stayed for a few days' break in birding between Java and Lombok in 1989. Norm went skinny dipping with a Danish girl and they had their jeans stolen while they were in the sea. When they went to the police station to report it Norm was ejected because he was wearing shorts and his uncovered legs were considered disrespectful to the local constabulary!

I did also see a few birds here on a short visit in 2006, so for those who do end up here and don't hate it as much as Chlidonias there are a few places to go.

Keep it coming - I'll share my own misery from Indonesia wherever appropriate.

Cheers
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Old Wednesday 8th September 2010, 20:45   #4
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"interesting" certainly describes the trip. It does get a lot better of course, then takes a dip, then rises up again...a bit like a marshmallow bobbing up and down in a cup of hot cocoa before finally just disintegrating and falling apart completely at the end.

I did feel bad about loathing Bali so much because everyone else seems to adore it. I know Kuta is probably the worst place to stay there but I chose it for the simple reasons of cheapness of accommodation and closeness to the airport. Also I had no real wish to spend too long on the island as apart for the Bali mynah (which I never ended up seeing anyway) all the birds could be seen on Java or the islands to the east in Nusa Tenggara.
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Old Thursday 9th September 2010, 06:58   #5
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SUMBA, 5 - 9 June

I set off for Sumba with excitement and a little concern. The plan seemed easy enough - catch a plane to Waikelo, take a bus to Waikabubak and get a National Park permit, then another bus to Lewa where I look for birds - but I didn't know how it would go in practice given that my fluency in Indonesian didn't extend much beyond "punya pacar?" (do you have a boyfriend?) and "umur anda berapa?" (how old are you?). I got lots of small bills changed at a bank in Kuta because the ATMs give the cash out in 100,000s which are of absolutely no use in the eastern islands (or pretty much anywhere else for that matter). Getting the money from the ATMs was a mission in itself actually, with the first three machines that I tried all rejecting me. The first said "cannot comply" or words to that effect; the second said to contact my bank (eep!); the third just spat the card back out at me, which is at least better than swallowing it completely I guess. Pretty worried by now - and after checking my online banking to make sure all my money was in fact still in there - I finally found a machine that didn't want to test me any further. Anyway, the upshot of all that was that I was now walking around with three million rupiah in small unmarked bills. Anyone want to paint a bulls-eye on my back?

The flight to Sumba was delayed by over an hour, and seeing as I'd just been talking to a Hawaiian family who's Merpati flight had been cancelled three days running I was a little apprehensive as to whether I'd even reach Sumba. Once off the plane at Tambulaka Airport some guy hurriedly rounded up the six or seven foreigners disembarking and herded us off to a side building -- but when he found out I wasn't bound for whatever resort he was pimping, instead being some rare independant traveller, he lost all interest and abandoned me without a second word. And rare I appeared to be! On the bus trip to Waikabubak every single person along the road stared almost open-mouthed, and in the town itself kids followed me around yelling "hello mister!" and giggling when I said hello back. The downside of being a rarity is of course that precious few people speak more than two words of English. I had been going to stay at the Hotel Arta which is apparently quite nice but its also more on the outskirts of town so I went instead to the Hotel Pelita, chosen for its relative closeness to the bus station, but also because its basically right opposite the police station and post office, both places which I figured would be likely points of enquiry as to the whereabouts of the parks office, which I had to find to get a permit for the Langgaliru National Park near Lewa where most of the endemic birds are found. It was easier said than done to find this office. I had "PHKA - Perlindungan Hutan dan Konservasi Alam" written on a piece of paper because everything I'd read called all the parks offices around Indonesia "PHKA offices". Turns out that (apparently) the PHKA office is in Jakarta and all the other regional offices are just called Departemen Kehutenan ("Forest Department"), so my little note got me absolutely nowhere. But here's where blind chance came into play, because at the Hotel Pelita there was staying a chap from Ruteng in Flores who spoke perfect English, who went out of his way to help me out of pure kindness, driving me all round town on his motorbike and translating everything as we tracked down the elusive office. Of course I had to ask him about the Flores giant rat in case he knew of any localities but he'd never heard of it which was a bit unsettling. My initial plan for tracking down the giant rat when I get to Flores was to begin by asking the locals if they know where they are found. I figured that if there were rats the size of house-cats living in your area you'd probably know about it. I'll just have to hope for a better reaction once there. Later it transpired that I hadn't even needed to waste all that time looking for the office in Waikabubak because I could have arranged the permit with much less hassle once at Lewa. It would have been cheaper too, because at the Waikabubak office I had to pay 25,000 rupiah for each of my cameras, 10,000 for the permit itself, and another 10,000 for something additional that I didn’t understand.

The cats round Waikububak are all docked and invariably only have one eye. Docking the cats' tails is supposed to bring good luck. I'm not sure about the eye. The drug of choice round here, coming in second after cigarettes, is betel-nut. Apart from being addictive and carcinogenic, long-term use rots away the teeth and gums and stains the mouth bright red from the juice. Not only do betel-nut chewers look like they've just been smacked in the mouth with a baseball bat, but because it increases saliva production they are also constantly spitting streams of blood-red saliva into the street. The bus station-slash-marketplace, which is the main meeting point, as a consequence looks like a set from a zombie movie.

The next morning I went to the zombie bus station. All I had to do was catch a bus to Lewa and once there find what had been described on an internet bird-trip report as a "basic losmen owned by Cornelius and Katy Hary" (sic) who were used to the strange ways of birders. I figured that Lewa would have to be just a small town so it shouldn't be hard to track the place down. The guy in the Forestry Department had also said that lots of foreigners stay at a place called Mamariwu House, which I thought would likely be the same place. So, I go to the bus station and they tell me the bus is full (even though its empty) and I end up paying 50,000 rupiah to some guy with a car that he uses as a bus. I was pretty sure I was getting ripped-off judging by the way they were all laughing about it, but it was the same price as all the other passengers (locals) were paying and apparently it is a fair price, so I guess they were just laughing because I was a wierd tourist -- I was the only one in the whole town after all. We leave at eight, I'm told, but because its Indonesian time I sit around till ten then we drive round town a couple of times picking up and dropping off various other people, then sit at the station for a while longer. Eventually the guy comes up again and yells "go, go, go, now we go!"...in another half an hour apparently. There's all sorts of interesting sights along the roadside in Sumba, from the semi-skeletal colts tethered to trees to the millions of dogs roaming everywhere (except for the ones trussed up in the marketplace next to the goats and chickens of course). At one point two half-naked men charged past the car wielding seven-foot metal spears, obviously hunting something for the dinner pot, possibly a small foreign child. Once in Lewa the driver asked a few people for directions then dropped me right at the door of Mamariwu House which was indeed the guesthose owned by Cornelis and Kati Hary (and which is alternatively known as Hary Homestay). In days gone past, any birders coming to Sumba had to stay in the main eastern town of Waingapu and hire a taxi and driver for the day to visit the forests around Lewa, but not any longer fortunately. I'm not sure what sort of luxury accommodation the writer of the aforementioned trip report was used to, but Mamariwu isn't what I would call "a basic losmen"; I found it to be very pleasant and comfortable, and the Harys were perfect hosts. They speak some English reasonably well (better than they think they do), and they also have a close friend called Budiyanto Karwelo who lives nearby and speaks both English and German fluently. Most people who stay there simply turn up on the doorstep unannounced like I did, but you can also email Budi at b_karwelo@yahoo.de to let them know you’re coming and he can arrange the stay.

Once settled into the most excellent surroundings of Mamariwu House - where there were pale-headed munias nesting in the tree by the house - I headed out to the forest via a short motorbike ride. Really all the forest birds of Sumba are doomed. The forest is being destroyed left right and centre, its over-run with introduced macaques, and poaching is rampant. Even protected areas like the Langgaliru National Park at Lewa are in reality composed of little more than isolated degraded patches of trees dotted about like islands in a sea of man-made grasslands. Even the biggest remaining stretches are just thick wedges either side of the main Waikabubak-Waingapu highway. The localities that birders visit are generally referenced by the kilometre posts of that highway. The one I went to on that first afternoon was km 51 (although I kept inadvertantly calling it Area 51!). Here I spotted blood-breasted flowerpecker, rainbow bee-eater, dollarbird, collared kingfisher, helmeted friarbird, brown quail, brown goshawk, Wallacean drongo, yellow-spectacled white-eye, Asian paradise flycatcher and large-billed crow. I stayed inside the forest till after dark hoping to spot the small Sumba hawk-owl which was only discovered in 1991. I heard some owls calling -- along with the calls of great multitudes of the introduced tokay geckoes -- but none of them appeared within my torch beam.

The next morning I went on a longer motorbike ride, 45 minutes or so on what could only graciously be called a roughly-sealed road, to a place called Watumbelar in search of the citron-crested cockatoo, probably the most endangered bird on the island. Everyone I talked to about parrots said that maybe ten or fifteen years ago they were commonplace, in gardens and even coming into kitchens to steal food, but now they are rarely seen by anyone because they have all been hunted out for the international and domestic pet trade, a situation that goes not just for the cockatoo but for all five species of parrots on Sumba. The requisite National Park and local guides led me from isolated forest patch to isolated forest patch trying to find the cockatoos which remained unseen as did the Sumba hornbills, but I was still perfectly happy to see a whole lot of other birds, including savannah nightjar, short-tailed starling, apricot-breasted sunbird, red-naped fruit dove, pale-shouldered cicadabird, thick-billed flowerpecker and pied chat (I saw 20 species of bird in all at Watumbelar)

In the afternoon it was off to another highway site, km 69. The National Park guide took me into the forest -- and got us lost! I was not impressed. I mean, I can quite adequately get lost all by myself for free! What was even funnier was that after an hour he finally admitted he had no idea where he was, and I had to lead us back to where we started from. Once back at the road he wanted to go straight back to town, but if I was having to pay to have him there then he was jolly well going to stay there till after dark so I could look for owls! At about km 69.5 there’s a small now-overgrown clearing next to a sharp right turn with a crash barrier. The recently-described Mees’ nightjar comes out here a few minutes past 6pm and does several fly-bys so I saw that well. Apparently its also good for both of the endemic boobooks but I didn’t even hear them here.

The next day was more of the same, along the road at km 69 to 71 (where the forest ended) looking unsuccessfully for the hoped-for Sumba hornbill - although ashy-bellied white-eye, brown-throated sunbird, Arafura fantail, green imperial pigeon and black-naped fruit dove were new for the trip list, then back to km 51 in the late afternoon where I again saw no owls but did see a ricefield rat (and got my fingers filled with thorns struggling back through the scrub in the dark). In the morning I gave the hornbills one last try, once again without success, then had to give up on them and head off to Waingapu to make my way to West Timor (but I did find Horsfield's bronze-cuckoo, rusty-breasted cuckoo and Sumba flycatcher). I only had very average success with birds on Sumba, missing out on almost all the main species I was hoping for (the hornbill, cockatoo, green pigeon, both owls, jungle-flycatcher....) although some other endemics sort of made up for that (especially the absolutely fantastic red-naped fruit dove). The fault was partly my own, trying to keep to something resembling a schedule, and partly simple bad luck. The hornbills will probably be extinct before I ever make it back to Sumba again, but being at Lewa was really the first time I've properly enjoyed myself on this trip, simply because I was out there looking for birds, doing what I came here to do, instead of just struggling to actually get anywhere. I've said it before but I hate the travelling part of travelling -- I like the bits in between the travelling.

Between the Merpati and Transnusa airline companies, planes leave Waingapu (Sumba) for Kupang (West Timor) every day of the week. But as I found out, they're all fully-booked days in advance which was a bit of a surprise. I went on the waiting list for the next day but there wasn't much hope of getting to Kupang before the end of the week. I had inadvertently found myself staying at the Hotel Elvin which was 275,000 rupiah per night (the cheaper fan rooms all being already occupied) so I was going to have to move to a much much cheaper place if I was in Waingapu for more than one night. However there was a surprise cancellation about quarter of an hour after going on the Transnusa waiting list and by a fluke I got on it, possibly at the expense of the locals who'd already been on the list before me. I had no time to go in search of the endemic Sumba buttonquail, so I really do need to come back to Sumba one day to see the birds I missed -- before they all become extinct -- but I doubt I'll ever be able to do so.

Because the Hotel Elvin is an expensive upmarket-type place -- marble floors, chandeliers, toilets -- they give you a free breakfast consisting of coffee, two pieces of toast and a boiled egg. And here's where I came across the most bizarre thing yet. When you travel in a foreign country you are constantly seeing things strange and new every day, but truly the wierdest thing so far was the green toast. Not green with mould, just entirely lime green, like white bread with food colouring added. Never before have I seen such a thing.

After breakfast I headed to the airport to go to my next port of call, West Timor.
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Last edited by Chlidonias : Thursday 9th September 2010 at 18:14.
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Old Thursday 9th September 2010, 13:01   #6
Larry Sweetland
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Great to read your Sumba story properly Chlid (and thanks again for sending us the logistical stuff for when we nearly went there!). It was a tough choice to miss Sumba for us, but time was so limited as we were determined to travel by boats. It's infuriatingly crazy that you only get 2 months max visa for Indonesia, when it can take you that long to find a cashpoint.

Very sad about the likely imminent demise of Sumba's endemics. I hope you get another go at them, but I somehow doubt I will.
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Old Thursday 9th September 2010, 18:13   #7
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I'm aiming to go back next year now...re-do the Lesser Sundas to try once more for the Sunda endemics that I missed and the ones on Timor and Flores, and hopefully get in a bit more of Sulawesi and a return visit to Gede-Pangrango on Java. I'll see how things go.
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Old Friday 10th September 2010, 07:13   #8
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WEST TIMOR, Camplong and Gunung Mutis, 10 - 14 June

Check-in for the flight to Kupang was at 11.30am, but at that time the airport was literally deserted. There wasn't a single other person there except for me. At 11.45 some security guards turned up to turn on the lights and X-ray machines and so on. That's Indonesia for you. The check-in formalities seemed to be just that -- formalities -- because nobody paid any attention to the beeping as I went through the metal detector. They did strictly enforce the 5kg carry-on rule though, which left me desperately trying to get my bag down in weight, something I only just managed to do and still keep my essential breakable items (binoculars, cameras, etc).

Waingapu, as the major city of Sumba, was full of dogs and goats. Kupang is full of bemos, which are mini-vans painted all the colours of the rainbow and emblazoned with baffling slogans such as "Weekend", "Rambo", "Only One Hit", "Fist Me Good" and "Black Woman Ride Cowboy". They are everywhere acting as taxis because the town is so spread-out. The traffic is completely insane.

On my first full day in West Timor I caught the bus eastwards to a little town called Camplong which has a bit of the last remaining lowland forest beside it. The bus on the way there cost me 20,000 rupiah, the one on the way back 5000. Figure that one out. (After a couple of trips I did figure it out - the real price was 5000). On arrival I had a bit of trouble with three guys who took it upon themselves to act as guides for me -- and by acting as guides I mean one walked in front of me pointing at the all-too-obvious trail and the other two walked behind me, all of them talking loudly to each other and basically doing everything possible that could be guaranteed to scare any nearby birds away. Then after a few minutes they demanded 50,000 rupiah each for their unwanted "services". There was a big argument and I ended up telling them less-than-politely to go away and leave me alone. Once free of them I started seeing some nice birds in the forest, most of them species I hadn't seen before (several of them being endemic to Timor). The Camplong forest is dry - very dry - and the ground is covered in crunchy dead leaves which make walking quietly impossible but this didn't appear to impede the birding at all. Plain gerygone, yellow-eared and streak-breasted honeyeaters, northern and Arafura fantails, Timor blue flycatcher, Black-chested myzomela, flame-breasted sunbird, ashy-bellied white-eye, golden whistler, red-chested flowerpecker, spectacled monarch.... need I say more? So it was a good first day and it got even better the next day when I set off for Gunung Mutis, a forest-covered mountain about four hours or more from Kupang.

Gunung Mutis, if I may say so, is FANTASTIC!!! Getting there was a bit of a laugh though. First was a three hour bus trip from Kupang to Soe which wasn't bad because the bus was only half-full (the buses aren't really buses either, they're like bigger versions of mini-vans). Then a quick motorbike ride to where the bemos to Kapan leave from. I had been given to understand that I had to take a bemo half-an-hour to Kapan and then another bemo another half-an-hour to Fatumenasi where I would be trying to track down what was described on an internet trip report as a "basic losmen" owned by Mateos Anin (yes the same internet source that called the delightful Mamariwu House a basic losmen too, so I wasn't worried). A bemo is a small mini-van in which instead of having rows of seats there is just a bench along either side, while the aisle in the middle is used for cargo, in the case of the Kapan bemo the cargo being sacks of rice and flour, boxes and baskets of indeterminate goods, a puppy, several chickens and a stereo system. The major drawback of bemos is that they are small. Really really small. The floor to ceiling height can't be more than four feet. The Indonesians slip in and out of them with graceful ease whereas I have to almost bend double just to get through the door, and then when I'm sitting on the bench I have to scrunch right down forwards to fit under the roof. I must look absolutely ridiculous in them amongst the Indonesians, like a gorilla sitting in a row of gibbons, because the tops of their heads barely reach to my shoulders when we're all seated and I take up the seat space that would fit two or three of them. The bemos aren't the only area where I am too large. Many of the doorways in hotels and houses are little more than five-and-a-half feet high so I always have to watch my head, and going on the backs of motorbikes is always a trial because I weigh something like twice as much as their usual passengers. I'm always worried they're going to lose control going round corners, and any time the bike is going up-hill you can tell its struggling with me on the back. In fact during my time at Gunung Mutis one of the bikes actually did stall on a particularly steep stretch and I had to jump off and run up the hill on foot.

Anyway, the bemo pulled into Kapan and I hopped out and asked where I could get a bemo to Fatumenasi. This bemo does continue on to Fatumenasi I'm told. Excellent. I hop back in again and wait for it to load up with more passengers. The entire town, it seems, appears and crowds round the vehicle, peering in all the windows to see the oddity of a white man here in the middle of their town. After ten minutes or so of saying hello and telling people where I'm from and where I'm going, etc etc etc, a man comes wandering past dressed in full hill-tribe gear -- robes, sashes, head-gear, gold bracelets and necklaces, ornamentations galore, big old knife stuck through the belt, all-in-all looking extremely resplendant, and at the same time curiously out of place amongst his own countrymen in their T-shirts and trousers. He comes over to the bemo and puts his hand through the window to shake my hand. The conversation then went something like this (except partly in Indonesian and partly in English):
"Hello, where are you from?"
"New Zealand"
"Ah, New Zealand. And where are you going to?"
"To Fatumenasi"
"Ah, where will you be staying in Fatumenasi?"
"With Mateos Anin" (I say, hoping I can find him when I get there)
"My name is Mateos!"
"Your name is Mateos too?"
"Yes"
"Oh that's nice"
"You come on ojek to Fatumenasi" (an ojek being a motorbike)
"No, no, I go in this bemo"
"No, no, come on ojek. My son, he take you"
"No, I don't like ojek, I go in bemo"
"Ah..." he disappears for a minute then comes back and says "This bemo doesn't go to Fatumenasi. It goes to another village"
"This bemo not go to Fatumenasi?" I say to the guy who had told me that it did. He asks the driver who says that no the bemo does not go to Fatumenasi.
"You come on ojek. We go to my house," says the man.

Realisation suddenly dawned on me like a hand slapping me across the back of my head. This man WAS Mateos Anin! How random is that? The very person I would be looking for just happens to come up to the bemo I was in in entirely another town to the one in which he lived!! That evening Mateos recounted the entire episode to his whole extended family, taking particular delight in miming the way I was hunched up to fit inside the bemo and the way I said in utter surprise "Oh, YOU'RE Mateos Anin!!??". In Kapan Mateos had got his friend Yanto to take me to Fatumenasi on his motorbike while he himself was driven by his son. Yanto had a hole in the back of his head from the Bali bombing which probably explained his irregularities. He didn't really want to take me on his bike because I was too heavy, but more importantly he also housed grave suspicions as to my military affiliations. I had come across this before a little in Thailand and Cambodia where people somehow thought I was in the army, apparently in part because of the black bag I carried there which was similar to the bags the military had, and in part because of me wearing jungle boots, cargo pants and a khaki shirt instead of regular tourist gear (and probably very little to do with my rows of ear-rings, tattoos and waist-length hair). In Fatumenasi however it was extreme, and here it seemed to be largely due to my build. With me being rather more muscular than most tourists and so much larger than the Indonesians, Yanto was convinced I was there for covert military reasons (because of course I blended in so well!) and by the end of my stay half the men in the village were looking sideways at me, everyone seemed to think I was in the army, and there were even whispers of "CIA" and "FBI"!!! It may have been my overactive imagination but the atmosphere was getting a bit tense and I was half expecting to wake up with a gun to my head. It might just be a Timor thing because of the conflict in the east, but at the same time I was thinking my apparent army look may make things very interesting when I got to Sulawesi! This story caused a great deal of merriment amongst the people back home, simply from the idea of me being some sort of surveillance operative going undercover as a bird-watcher, because as was pointed out if you had to pick out the bird-watcher from a line-up of random people I would be the absolute last to be picked. Drug-dealer maybe, but not bird-watcher.

Mateos' homestay is in a traditional hill village, and rustic would be a real-estate's way of describing it. I slept in the same room as the extended family, which given they were all couples was, well, a bit uncomfortable for me. The floors in the houses were just packed earth. Didn't want some item of food? Throw it on the floor for the dogs and chickens that roamed in and out constantly. Needed somewhere to throw your cigarette butts? On the floor. Needed to spit out your betel-nut juice? That's right, on the floor!

The evening meal on that first night was rice and fried dog meat.

When I first arrived at Mateos' homestay we went to the round smoke-filled building that would be called a lounge in a Western house. We sat in there for quite a while, not really doing anything and me feeling a bit wierd because I didn't know if there was some sort of traditional thing I should be doing. Then he says "now we go to my office", which I assumed meant to fill out a check-in form or something. Instead we went to the village office where a lot of people sat at desks, wrote on hand-made charts on the wall, stuck signs onto polystyrene backings, and other things like that. It looked remarkably similar to one of the military HQ scenes in a 1970s Dr Who programme. I had absolutely no clue what was going on, but I ended up spending most of the rest of the afternoon in there, and then an hour or so watching the village kids playing volleyball. It was all very confusing and I really just wanted to head off to the forest to look for birds, but at the same time this did appear to be some sort of admitting-the-guest-to-the-village-type thing.

It got very cold in the Timorese mountains at night. I was sleeping in two layers of clothes, gloves on my hands, and was wrapped in two blankets and was still shivering. In the winter it is apparently REALLY cold!

The next day I spent from dawn to dusk on Gunung Mutis, the highest mountain in Timor at 2427 metres. Mateos' son dropped me off at the start of the track, after a horrendous 9km motorbike ride over a roller-coaster road composed almost solely of rocks. The forest here is made up of an endemic species of Eucalyptus, and the scene is very reminiscent of an Australian forest, complete with screeching flocks of lorikeets. Here they are the endemic olive-headed lorikeets. They are everywhere, can't possibly miss them if you go there. Yellow-eared honeyeaters and mountain white-eyes were also all through the trees, and after only a few minutes I found a pair of iris lorikeets which was one of the birds I most wanted to see in Timor. After an hour's walk I came out of the forest (which had been swarming with island thrushes by the way) to a stretch of hills covered in grass grazed ultra-short by roving groups of domestic banteng and horses. A spotted kestrel sat on a dead tree to the right scanning for prey. Mateos had drawn me a rough map of the route to the top of Gunung Mutis. There was supposed to be an obvious track over the grassy hills and then a track through more forest, then more grassland and then more forest all the way to the top. Only problem was, there was no track across the grasslands. I scouted around, following what could possibly have been a faint trail over the hills and eventually found another obvious trail through another patch of forest. I was a bit unclear if this was in fact the right trail, given that it was heading downhill and in the wrong direction but I perservered for a while in case it doubled back on itself, but it didn't, so I returned to the start of the grass. Gunung Mutis rose into the sky off to the left, so I decided to just walk towards it. Sure enough, once I hit the forest again I found the right track and started pulling birds out of the trees, figuratively speaking. Timor imperial pigeons, Timor leaf-warblers, Timor crimson-wing parrots, Timor friarbirds -- all endemics in case their common names didn't give the game away -- as well as the awesomely-cute yellow-breasted warbler which is like a tiny bright yellow golf ball with an orange head. Rather to my surprise I pretty much found all the birds I was expecting to find there, including all the higher-altitude endemics, on that single day. So the next day I returned to Kupang to see about finding some more of the lower-altitude ones. Absolutely loved Gunung Mutis, military suspicions not-withstanding. Hands-down, it was my favourite place of the trip so far.
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Old Friday 10th September 2010, 08:30   #9
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Loving this report - keep it coming
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Old Friday 10th September 2010, 09:00   #10
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I'm just hoping its going to be birdy enough to keep people interested. I go for the birds but I prefer to write about the experience as a whole, which often means the trials and tribulations rather than the birds themselves. (And I always find the hardships more interesting to write about because they're funnier, so in my narratives it often seems like every trip is just one long fight to survive lol)
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Old Friday 10th September 2010, 09:27   #11
Jos Stratford
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chlidonias View Post
I'm just hoping its going to be birdy enough to keep people interested. I go for the birds but I prefer to write about the experience as a whole, which often means the trials and tribulations rather than the birds themselves.
Na, keep it going exactly as you're doing it - frequenty birding reports to parts of the globe I have (strangely) little interest will get a mere passing read - but your style make this great reading (given the number of slum holes I've ended up, I can well picture half the stuff you write).
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Old Friday 10th September 2010, 11:07   #12
Larry Sweetland
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This story caused a great deal of merriment amongst the people back home, simply from the idea of me being some sort of surveillance operative going undercover as a bird-watcher, because as was pointed out if you had to pick out the bird-watcher from a line-up of random people I would be the absolute last to be picked. Drug-dealer maybe, but not bird-watcher.
.[/quote]

LOL! I remember now that when we first hooked up with you in Christchurch, our first thoughts were obviously " Who's this ex-Special Forces biker gang druglord that's hacked into our BF PMs, intercepted our meeting, and done away with the real Chlidonias-the-birdwatcher?"

Nice taste of Timor Chlid, keep it coming
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Old Friday 10th September 2010, 17:08   #13
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Please keep writing the report as you have been doing. Not only is it very entertaining but it gives people a good idea of what to expect overall.
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Old Friday 10th September 2010, 20:43   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Larry Wheatland
LOL! I remember now that when we first hooked up with you in Christchurch, our first thoughts were obviously " Who's this ex-Special Forces biker gang druglord that's hacked into our BF PMs, intercepted our meeting, and done away with the real Chlidonias-the-birdwatcher?"
haha I'm sure that's exactly what you thought

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Great to read your Sumba story properly Chlid (and thanks again for sending us the logistical stuff for when we nearly went there!).
my pleasure. If anyone else out there is planning to go into the depths of Indonesia and wants any more specific information about the things I've written about (eg, accommodation, prices, etc) feel free to ask
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Old Saturday 11th September 2010, 07:13   #15
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WEST TIMOR, Camplong and Bipolo, 15 - 17 June

I arranged my flight onwards to Ruteng in Flores (home of the giant rat....hopefully) for Thursday, at the unusual hour for Indonesia of 6am. With three days to utilise I chose to go to Bipolo on the first and third days and back to Camplong on the second, to attempt to try and find the remaining endemic birds of the island. Bipolo was remarkably easy to get to, simply bus to the whistle-stop town of Oelmasi and then take a motorbike to the forest at Bipolo about 15km further on up a sideroad. I was going to just bird along the road, which runs right through the middle, but I found a dirt trail heading into the trees so I took that instead and in a couple of minutes came across a fruiting fig tree. These are great for attracting wildlife. In the Greater Sundas (eg, Borneo, Java, Sumatra) you might see monkeys and gibbons and hornbills, but in the Lesser Sundas there are just birds (I mean, "just" birds). All the forests in Timor had fruiting trees when I was there and it made finding a lot of the species much easier than it might have otherwise been. Best-looking bird in the tree was the black-banded fruit dove but there were also fabulous endemic species such as the Timor figbird and fawn-breasted whistler. This latter bird really looks nothing like its picture in the field-guide. There's only one bird book for the region, "The Birds Of Wallacea", which covers the Lesser Sundas, the Moluccas and Sulawesi. Its not really great as a field-guide because it weighs about 2.5kg! I did the sneaky thing and made up my own annotated checklists of the birds found on each island, so I just have to take the relevant list with me into the field and consult the book for the identification of the trickier species when back at the hotel at night. The pictures of the birds look good but as I found out they don't always accurately depict the species. In fact sometimes they are completely innacurate, the fawn-breasted whistler being just such a one - in fact the whole whistler page is rubbish. The only reason I managed to identify it from the book at all was because it was obviously a whistler of some sort so I used a process of elimination. It proved endlessly frustrating seeing a bird really well and then not being able to identify it from the book! The northern fantail was another bird that had me going for a while. I couldn't work out what it was at first because it was bigger than other fantail species I've seen and acted completely differently (speaking of which, the Arafura fantails here have a weird habit of scuttling about on the ground!).

After a while the trail came out onto a dirt road and I followed that until it hit the rice fields. Around here was where I was hoping to find the Timor sparrow, which is related to the Java sparrow commonly seen in pet shops. I wandered round and round and up and down for hours under the blazing sun but narry a Timor sparrow did I spy. I was however excited to find my first Timor zebra finches and barred doves, which of course then turned out to be exceedingly common.

The next day it was a return trip to the forest at Camplong, where I discovered that you actually need a permit to enter the forest (15,000 rupiah). It turned out you're also supposed to have a guide but I pretended I didn't understand what the guards were telling me so they just let me go on my way alone. Camplong and Bipolo are both excellent forests, but somewhat different from one another. Bipolo is moist lowland forest (although as its the dry season, not as moist as the name might suggest) while Camplong is dry lowland forest. The ground is completely carpeted in bone-dry leaves making walking silently impossible. Camplong is the best spot to find some interesting endemic species including one I was particularly keen on seeing, the Timor stubtail. It looks almost exactly like a tesia which for those not familiar looks something like a tail-less feathered mouse (or, for New Zealanders, like a smaller not-so-round rifleman). The stubtails live on the ground in dense undergrowth and are very secretive, so while I was hoping to get lucky I wasn't overly confident, but no sooner had I entered the forest at Camplong than a stubtail goes hopping across the forest floor about ten metres away and proceeded to start foraging right out in the open. Really nice little bird. I ended up seeing three in total during the day. Two other endemic skulkers refused to show themselves however, namely the buff-banded thicket-warbler and the black-banded flycatcher. I did manage to successfully track down the white-bellied chat (finally -- I had been thinking it would have been larger) and the very attractive orange-sided thrush.

My second visit to Bipolo was completely different to the first. Birds that had been dripping out of the trees in their dozens were now missing entirely. The forest seemed deserted. But that's the way it is in birding, one day there's birds and another day there's not, even in exactly the same place. Giving up on the forest I made my way to the rice fields to have another crack at the Timor sparrow. Once again I wandered gormlessly across the fields seeing every sort of finch in the entire world except for the Timor sparrow. To your non-birding relatives and friends it probably seems a strange way to spend a holiday in Indonesia, traipsing round a rice field for hours in forty degree heat looking for a sparrow, but that's the way we roll in the bird nerd world. On the way back I tried the forest again for a last shot at the remaining endemics, like the Timor black pigeon or the spot-breasted dark-eye, but of them there wasn't a sign.

So that was my West Timor dash done. I was very pleased with the birding outcome. I saw heaps of nice birds and the only endemics I missed out on were the apparently-almost-gone Timor green pigeon, the two awful skulkers (buff-banded thicket-warbler and black-banded flycatcher), the devilish Timor sparrow, and the spot-breasted dark-eye, Timor oriole and Timor black pigeon. Actually that's quite a few misses but never mind (the number of Timor endemics and regional endemics that I did find was a much higher total so its all good). I was hoping - nay, expecting - to get the last four species but the first three I wasn't really expecting to see.

Kupang was very very hot and congested and noisy, but apart from that I liked West Timor quite a lot. It was very easy to get to the birding sites so long as you didn't want an early start. Birding is of course best first thing in the morning before it gets too hot, but in Indonesia you can't rush anywhere. On my first day on the island, going to Camplong, the first bus didn't leave till 7; on the next day to Oelmasi (which is right before Camplong) the first bus didn't leave till 8; the next day not till 8.30; and the next not till 9. Basically the buses just sit there until they have enough passengers and then they leave (or just sit there some more) -- and then they stop at what appears to be a secondary terminal about four minutes away and sit there for half an hour for no discernible reason. Its all a bit frustrating but there's nothing you can do about it. Before coming to West Timor I had really assumed that there would be more people than in Sumba that spoke English because of the troops going through and the flights that come in from Darwin (which apparently are still going despite what I had been informed prior to the trip), but the ratio is about the same. Its funny where English-speaking locals turn up though. Most people know a couple of words (usually "hello Mister") but you just randomly come across others, maybe in the depths of a rice paddy or in some remote roadside rumah makan, that speak better English than some people who have English as their native tongue. Apart for five or six at the airport when I first arrived I didn't see a single non-Indonesian the whole time I was in Timor, which was also a bit of a surprise. I thought there would have been at least a few around Kupang.

So now I will finally be heading off to Flores, the place I was most looking forward to in the Lesser Sundas. The information I had was that there was no internet in Ruteng. But hopefully there would be giant rats.
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Old Sunday 12th September 2010, 08:13   #16
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FLORES, Danau Ranamese, Ruteng, 18 - 19 June

Something funny happened on the way to Flores - I discovered that the flight to Ruteng was actually going to Labuanbajo from which they would then take the passengers by bus to Ruteng. I wasnít particularly impressed by this. The whole point of flying straight to Ruteng was to avoid the four hour bus trip there in the first place. You have to go with the flow when in Indonesia but sometimes they really do make it difficult. The first grueling forty minutes of the bus trip were through what appeared to be one continuous roadwork. And because it was largely being accomplished through the use of wheelbarrow and shovel, I think itís a fair bet to say there wonít be a whole lot of progress made over the next hundred-odd years. Once past that the road was actually very good but awfully narrow with LOTS of blind corners, and it twisted and swirled through the mountains so much that I started feeling seasick. We stopped halfway for a goat curry lunch-break then it was back to the buttock-numbing test of endurance. In Ruteng I stayed at the Hotel Rima, which has excellent internet (the fastest I had yet come across in Indonesia) and where the owner speaks perfect English and is very helpful. The rooms are like tiny closets but they're only for sleeping in so who cares right?

Ruteng sits at 1177 metres so the climate is relatively cool and the nights are a bit nippy (blankets needed). The locals here seem as surprised by the presence of a foreigner as everywhere else in the Lesser Sundas that Iíve been, even though Iím hardly the first to pass through this way. There have even been white folk living in town for extended periods during archaeological digs. There were three places I wanted to visit when in Ruteng, and all of them are easy to get to. Two are birding spots - Danau Ranamese and Gunung Ranaka (danau means ďlakeĒ and gunung means ďmountainĒ) -- and the third is the aforementioned archaeological site Liang Bua (bua means ďcaveĒ in the local dialect).

Danau Ranamese was the first on the agenda. Ranamese means ďbig lakeĒ in the local language (in the official language of Indonesia, bahasa Indonesia, that would be ďdanau besarĒ). It is about 22km out of Ruteng, about 40 minutes by bus. Just before you get to the big archway entrance there is a stretch of high concrete wall, apparently built there to block the view down to the lake from the road! I had been imagining it to be a circular crater-lake with a trail running through forest around the circumference, which as it happens is exactly what it is. I randomly selected left and headed off round the west side of the lake. After an easy start over concrete steps the trail suddenly changed into the work of the devil. Its no exaggeration to say that parts of it were easily the most treacherous trail I have ever been on. In many places it was only the width of my foot, with on one side a ten metre drop straight down to the water below and on the other a near-vertical forested slope. On the downward bits you couldnít just plonk your foot down as you went because you didnít know if the ground would hold or even if there was ground underneath the overhanging grasses and ferns. Some lower sections were so close to the waterís surface that they must surely be submerged in the rainy season. At times the trail just petered out altogether and I had to bush-bash to try and find it again, and there were little side-shoots that looked like they might be trails but quickly ended in masses of vines. Where-ever the track came out of the trees into the open there grew head-height tangles of a fern that was similar to bracken but covered in little spines, another thing like blackberry but with even more thorns, and various other prickly triffidy herbiage. I cut my arms and hands up something fierce forcing my way through these patches.

The area is supposed to be brilliant for birdlife but I saw almost nothing in the four hours it took me to make my way halfway round the only-average-sized lake. It may have been just one of the dead periods you get when birding, or it may have been because I was having to watch my feet for the entire time! Ironically the last quarter of the lakeís trail was easy, wide and obvious, exactly how Iíd imagined the whole trail would be before getting there. And it was in this section that I saw most of the birds, although all three of the dark-eyes eluded me (I couldnít find the spot-breasted dark-eye in Timor either, so I decided that dark-eyes must be my new nemesis bird). Apparently bird waves are common at Lake Ranamese but on the western side Iíd seen only one and it had been made of just a whole lot of mountain white-eyes, one brown-capped fantail and a superb male bare-throated whistler, so I was feeling a little put-out. But on the easy eastern side I found three waves, the best of which contained brown-capped fantails, little minivets, Flores leaf warblers, a female bare-throated whistler, scaly-crowned honeyeaters, yellow-breasted warblers, a Sunda pigmy woodpecker and various other flitty things that I couldnít pin down. Other birds of the day were Wallacean drongo, russet-capped tesia, white-browed shortwing, rufous-chested flycatcher, Wallacean cuckoo-shrike, helmeted friarbird and on the lake itself common moorhen and Eurasian little grebe.

So in summary, bad bad start at Lake Ranamese and a good short ending, but overall a rather uncomfortable day. Iím not sure if thereís supposed to be an entrance fee to go see the lake. Thereís a big entranceway on the road and a bunch of official-looking if slightly derelict-ish buildings, but apart for a couple of fishermen on the lake there wasnít a single other person there when I arrived nor when I left. The trail is completely unmaintained. Iím told that it all used to be upkept but money was squandered here and there and now no-one bothers with the place anymore.

Back in Ruteng I met a girl called Nona in a warung and went to a wedding, possibly my own, I wasnít entirely clear on that. But it was interesting and I got free food. The next day I learned that two of the guests from the wedding had been killed in a motorbike accident on their way home.
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Old Monday 13th September 2010, 10:18   #17
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FLORES, Liang Bua, Ruteng, 20 June

A long time ago when the world was young, there was an island. On the island there were many wonderful animals: a monstrously large lizard, a giant rat, a giant tortoise, and a pigmy elephant. And there was also a little man who walked amongst the animals and every so often stabbed them with his little spear and ate their flesh. Still, he was only a little man and his stomach wasn't very big so it all worked out all right. But then there arrived on the island a bigger man and he had a big appetite, and he ate all the little elephants and all the big tortoises and he drove the little man into the hills where he hid.

That sounds like a Just So story, but the island was Flores and the little man was a diminutive hominid called Homo floresiensis, nicknamed "the Hobbit". The skeletal remains of floresiensis were first discovered in October 2004 in a cave called Liang Bua just out of Ruteng. The original specimen was actually a female who lived only about 18,000 years ago. She was probably about thirty years old when she died and stood just one metre tall. More remains were found in further digs at the cave, some younger in geological age and some older, but all of a similar height and with the same anatomical characteristics distinguishing them from being just small Homo sapiens. The discovery caused a sensation, not just in the scientific world but also amongst the general populace who generally don't give a toss about scientific discoveries. This was another species of human who lived alongside us not in the dim distant past but just 12,000 years ago (to put it into context, the pyramids were constructed just under 5000 years ago, and the famous cave paintings at Lascaux in France are about 16,000 years old). There's a very good book all about the amazing finds and the ensuing disputes and debates, including the rather questionable behaviour of Professors Teuku Jacob and Raden Pandji Soejono which I won't go into (read the book: its called "The Discovery Of The Hobbit" by Mike Morwood and Penny van Oosterzee). Suffice to say that the recovered skeletons span a period of 80,000 years and exhibit extremely distinctive and sometimes primitive characteristics that set them well apart from any modern human, and they are certainly not just microcephalic Homo sapiens as some detractors would suggest. I think Mike Morwood put it best when he wrote that the people claiming the floresiensis skeletons are just microcephalic sapiens are basically saying that modern humans arrived on Flores 95,000 years ago but they were all retarded -- and then kept going as an entirely retarded population for the next 80,000 years!

One further very interesting piece of information that came out when floresiensis was discovered was that the local people on Flores had always had stories in their folklore about tiny wild people called Ebo Gogo, which translates as "the grandmother who eats anything raw". The Ebo Gogo were said to be about a metre tall, to have pot bellies, long hair and proportionately long limbs, and to walk with an awkward gait: which is pretty much a perfect description of what Homo floresiensis probably looked like in life. The last Ebo Gogo were supposedly seen at the time of the Dutch occupation of Flores in the 19th century. Were the Ebo Gogo stories just folk-memories of floresiensis or did floresiensis actually survive right up to the modern day? Are they still out there, hiding in the hills?

On the morning that Nona and I went to see Liang Bua there wasnít a bemo heading that way for another two hours apparently so we took motorbikes instead. I had been on more motorbikes than I cared to recall since getting to Indonesia but often theyíre the only way to get anywhere. There was a live hen hanging by its feet from the handlebars of my one, possibly as some sort of good-luck charm, although obviously not from the henís point of view.

The latest edition of Lonely Planet says that Liang Bua is reached via 14km of very rough dirt track that is often impassable after rain, and also that the cave is considered sacred by the locals so you need a guide to visit. Both are rubbish and I suspect the writer never even went there. The road is a perfectly adequate sealed road and there are transport vehicles (bemos and trucks) going past on a regular basis on their way to various villages. Thereís a big archway over the road just before the cave saying ďWelcome to Liang BuaĒ and another smaller one right at the cave entrance in front of a barbed wire fence, but neither of the latter two are as obtrusive as I thought theyíd be and the gate in the fence isnít locked as Iíd heard it might be. In the middle of the cave is a table where some kids hang out to take your 5000 rupiah entry fee (less than NZ$1) and theyíll also take you inside the narrow tunnels that burrow into the deep recesses of the earth, supposedly for many kilometres. Thereís not much to see at the cave nowadays of course. There are some squares marked out on the ground where the digs took place and some nice stalactite action going on, but otherwise thatís about it. But I knew that before going there, I really just wanted to see the cave where (pre)history was made.

A few minutes back down the road and up a hill is another large cave where there is an interesting formation like raised pools known in local lore as the mandi (bath) of the king and queen and their babies.

Liang Bua is quite a bit lower down the mountains than Ruteng is, and so itís a lot hotter there. Although I wasnít actively bird-watching whilst there I did still see a few species in the vicinity such as the very pretty black-fronted flowerpecker and the yellow-spectacled white-eye. I convinced myself that I'd finally found a male flame-breasted sunbird as well, but it turned out to be an olive-backed sunbird. I had seen flame-breasted sunbirds on Timor but annoyingly only the females which are basically brown and yellow and sort of dull; the males blaze like the sun, as I found out when I did really see my first male at Potawangka Road a number of days later..... but before that moment I had been inspecting every olive-backed sunbird I saw due to the grossly-inadequate depiction of the species in the Wallacea field-guide.

Subfossil bones of the Flores giant rat have been found in the cave deposits at Liang Bua but the closest I came to finding a live one was seeing a Javanese shrew at Danau Ranamese. I know they used to be found in the area but absolutely nobody here has any clue what Iím talking about. Maybe I can find some somewhere at lower altitude round Labuanbajo.

When I got back into Ruteng I found the owner of the Hotel Rima was having a celebration for his brother who was getting married, so I got another free wedding feast. I do like Ruteng!!
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Old Monday 13th September 2010, 10:19   #18
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FLORES, Gunung Ranaka, Ruteng, 21 June

On Timor I made my way up that islandís highest mountain, Gunung Mutis, and now Iíve also stood on top of Floresí highest mountain, Gunung Ranaka. Its not really as great a feat as it may sound - thereís a paved road all the way to the top! Still it was a hard slog and took about five hours, including numerous birding stops as well as for second breakfast and elevenses. The entrance road isn't far from Ruteng, maybe eight kilometres or so, about four bends past where the road has obviously fairly recently been completely taken out by a landslide and re-cut (apparently this section gets wiped out every winter). Its rather inconspicuous if you're trying to find it, just a modest arch labelled "Taman Wisata Alam Ruteng" set back from the main road. The situation seemed the same as at Danau Ranamese -- it looked like you should be paying a permit fee but the buildings are deserted. Iíd heard that the road was all overgrown and pretty much impassable in the higher reaches but it turned out that someone had been up there recently, probably in the last week or two, and cut back all the canes that would have previously blocked it and also chopped up and moved any fallen trees. You could go from the main road all the way to the top by motorbike although its quite steep in places so you wouldnít want to be too heavy a passenger and youíd also risk scrambling your kidneys on the last few kilometres where the road is made up solely of broken rocks. A four-wheel drive could make it easily - I know because one passed me when I was about three kilometres from the top. They asked if I wanted a lift but I said Iíd rather walk it. The pain lets me know Iím still alive, and you canít look for birds in the trees unless youíre on foot. Plus it was good for my calves.

The birding was pretty good up to a certain point but in the higher regions the numbers declined, probably simply because it was getting into the afternoon when the birds are less active anyway. For most of the way the road is edged with the canes so youíre not actually birding in forest edge, but here and there are a few tracks leading off the road which are worth exploring. I was pleased to come across two of the three dark-eyes that Iíd failed to see at Danau Ranamese the other day (the crested and yellow-browed), as well as the Sunda pigmy woodpeckers that I never get tired of, golden-rumped and blood-breasted flowerpeckers, chestnut-backed thrush, oriental cuckoo, dark-backed imperial pigeon and others. Once at the top thereís not much to see because youíre surrounded by scrub, so if youíre just after birds there isnít much point heading all the way up except to say youíve been there. Gunung Ranaka is actually a volcano. It hasnít erupted for at least a couple of decades but when youíre near the top you can see smoke rising from behind the rise. Unfortunately when right at the summit where the road ends any view of the crater is completely obscured. The four-wheel drive occupants were workers for Motorola there to fix the radio transmitter which had been broken for the last six months (and hence the reason the road had been cleared). Halfway down the mountain - it was quicker going downhill but harder on the legs! - they passed by again and this time I accepted the lift because it meant that I didnít have to pay for a bemo back to the hotel when I reached the main road. We surprised a green junglefowl on the track on the way down which was a bonus.

Somewhat in contrast to what I wrote in an earlier post about the Rutenginites (Rutengians? Rutengorians? Rutengers? Rutengerines?) appearing not to be used to foreigners, there has been a steady stream of them through the Rima Hotel while Iíve been here. I have therefore come to the conclusion that the reason I am regarded as such a curiosity is because Iím travelling alone. Most foreigners come in small groups on tours - Labuanbajo to Ruteng to Bajawa to Ende, that sort of thing - so you wouldnít normally see them wandering alone around the fish market for example. And walking in the forest by oneself is just plain bizarre behaviour. Maybe theyíre all so friendly towards me because they think Iím touched in the head.
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Old Monday 13th September 2010, 18:57   #19
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Very interesting stuff about the hobbits Chlid. I'd heard only the briefest story about the discovery of a small hominid on Flores.

Did you actually get to see an Oriental (presumably Sunda?) Cuckoo up the mountain? I just got driven nuts by hidden singing ones.
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Old Monday 13th September 2010, 19:19   #20
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of interest to birders, there was also an endemic giant Marabou stork on Flores that the hobbits might have also had to reckon with...
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Old Monday 13th September 2010, 19:35   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Larry Wheatland
Did you actually get to see an Oriental (presumably Sunda?) Cuckoo up the mountain? I just got driven nuts by hidden singing ones.
one landed in a tree about twenty feet away and sat there posing for me. Was very nice of him, especially as I find cuckoos to be a devil to find normally. Sometimes I just get lucky with them. I list it as Cuculus saturatus lepidus, so either Oriental or Sunda depending on how you want to split it
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Old Tuesday 14th September 2010, 01:41   #22
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FLORES, Labuanbajo and Rinca, 23 - 24 June

The bus from Ruteng took an hour less to Labuanbajo than it had on the trip up. I’m not sure if it was better to get the ride over with faster so it would just be over, or if longer would have been better as it would have been somewhat less nauseating and we wouldn’t have almost been taken out by trucks on two of the blind hairpin bends. The chap in the seat in front of me threw up four times during the trip!

In Labuanbajo I stayed at the Gardena Hotel which is where most tourists stay - and there are a lot of tourists in this town (it being the gateway to Komodo). At this time of year, at least, its advisable to arrange your hotel ahead of arrival as everywhere seems to be fully booked (I just got a room on lucky chance). Labuanbajo is stinking hot and it didn’t strike me as a very friendly place. Its very different to the other places I’ve been in Sumba, Timor or Flores. In fact it reminded me of a smaller dirtier version of Kuta on Bali, where everyone is just out to get as much money from the tourists as they can. In the main the only people who show smiles are those working in the tourist industry piling people onto Komodo and Rinca. I had sort of expected that as a town heavily frequented by tourists (it being the gateway to Komodo), the town would be more....um, "polished", but its just the same as every other Indonesian town, looking like an earthquake has just hit and nobody's bothered to clean up yet. There was a pothole in the main road through town that seriously was about six foot deep and something like eight foot across. Should we fill that in? Nah, just throw the rubbish in there. As far as I could tell there were only two ATMs in Labuanbajo, inconveniently located at the opposite ends of town to my hotel, but contrary to what I had heard pre-arrival they don’t only take local cards so that was a relief. There are mosquitoes everywhere; on my first night I neglected to utilise a mosquito net and got bitten 21 times, and not little bites either, great big welt-like bites. Nasty. Blackouts seem to be regular. And there was a mosque right next door to the hotel which broadcast ultra-loud chanting through speakers, starting at 4.30am! On the plus side there was a tokay gecko living in my bathroom. In Labuanbajo I also saw the first feral pigeons of the trip: not exactly a thing of earth-shatteringness but its just interesting because usually you see them in every single town you go to anywhere on the planet.

I didn’t do much the first day in town, just went for a short walk in the late afternoon to see if I could see any birds south of town. I had a trip report that said a dirt track leading to the New Bajo Beach Hotel is good for elegant pittas and Moluccan scops owl. The hotel has a different name now and I couldn’t find the mentioned track. I did find what appeared to have once been some sort of beachside park but which is now neglected and overgrown and inhabited by some rather unpleasant-looking feral dogs. Not many birds to speak of and nothing I hadn't seen before although black-naped monarch and golden-bellied gerygone were new for the trip list. At the hotel I sorted out a boat to the island of Rinca for the next day. Most of the town is geared towards getting tourists out to see the Komodo dragons; there are tour operators every few metres down the main road. At the hotel three guests had already organised a boat to take them over to Rinca and then to the resort island of Seraya Island, so another girl and I both joined in the Rinca section of the trip. With the five of us the price per person was only 140,000 rupiah (about NZ$25 or so). To that has to be added the National Park permit fee of US$15 for 1-3 days (US$25 for 4-8 days which is what I got because I was intending to go to Komodo as well in a few days), 20,000 rupiah for the entry fee to the park and another 20,000 rupiah "retribution fee" whatever that means (both doubled to 40,000 if getting a 4-8 day ticket). However there wasn’t a camera fee which I had read there was, so that’s something. Of course the boat operators don't tell the tourists about all the permit fees - the tourists understandably enough think that the the cost of the boat ride is the only outlay - so it was left to me to inform the others, half of whom then had to rush back to the hotel to get their wallets. I'm really not sure what happens to those tourists who get to the island and then have no money on them to pay for entry.

The boat ride (on the “Prima Dona”) took just two hours to Rinca. You can stay overnight on Rinca in the park accommodation for 30,000 rupiah -- or for just a little bit more on Komodo for a whopping US$40 per night! I had originally been planning on staying overnight on Rinca, but it was easier to just come back the same day. I was running a bit over-schedule on this leg of my trip and the longer I spent in the Lesser Sundas the shorter the length of time I would have in Sulawesi, due to having to be out of Indonesia on a specific date for visa reasons. So therefore I did Rinca as a day trip which worked out quite well. You only get about three hours on the island but the dragons are easy to see in that time and there is little birdlife there. The only reason I wanted to stay overnight was to try and search out a little rat called Komodomys which was only discovered in 1981 and as yet has (I think) only been found on Rinca, but the likelihood is that I wouldn’t be able to find it anyway so it was a small sacrifice.

Douglas Adams in his book “Last Chance To See” made the observation that the landscape of Komodo is reminiscent of the Komodo dragons themselves, in the way the brown barren hills are all rounded and pleated like the bodies and limbs of the dragons, and he is absolutely right. All the islands around the area look the same, and it takes very little imagination to see the dragon characteristics of the land-forms. The dragons of course are really giant monitor lizards which subsist on buffaloes, deer and pigs. On Rinca you walk up to the reception area where you get the permits and a room if you’re staying overnight, and there are Komodo dragons lying all around the huts like big scaly dogs. Its sort of like seeing them in a zoo in-as-much as they aren’t doing anything at all, just lying there in the shade, relaxing, gloomily watching the barred doves pecking around in the sand by their heads. Oh look another lot of tourists, they think, opening an eye to take a quick look then back to sleep again. You are required to have a National Park guide with you any time you are walking on Rinca or Komodo. There are a couple of trails near the “settlement” at Loh Buaya so the group of us went for a two hour ramble along a well-prescribed track, passing other lots of tourist groups with irritating regularity. The Komodo dragon has a lot of mystique about it but it is really very easy to get to the islands (just a short inexpensive flight from Bali to Labuanbajo then a short boat trip) and probably thousands of tourists do it every year. Yet this sort of cheapens the experience. Seeing the dragons should be an awe-inspiring experience but the island is so thick with tourists that it becomes a rather pedestrian thing walking there with everyone else, pointing at a dragon, pointing at a macaque, pointing at a buffalo. I’m very glad I went and I did enjoy it a lot but it wasn’t the way I would have liked the moment to be. Apart for seeing the dragons sleeping round the huts, we also saw quite a few “in the wild” as it were, out in the bush, including a group languidly surrounding a buffalo with a great rip in its hindquarters where a dragon had nailed it. The buffalo was taking its stand in the middle of a waterhole while the dragons basically just sat around on the banks looking at it, waiting for it to die. Like a tourist in Labuanbajo surrounded by tour operators.

After we left Rinca we stopped off for snorkelling on a tiny island called Pulau Kelor where I went for a walk in the forlorn hope there might be Nicobar pigeons somewhere on there (but I did see yellow-bellied white-eyes, pied chats, collared kingfishers and barred doves). Turned out the island was privately owned and regular people were only allowed on the beach which measured all of fifty metres in length. I found a path leading off the beach but someone came along and told me to leave because only guests of Reefseekers Bungalows were allowed up there (even though he also admitted the bungalows were still being built and the place wouldn’t be open till next year). Then we dropped off the others at Seraya lsland and I travelled back to Labuanbajo on the Prima Dona in the dark through the disappointingly non-phosphorescent sea, half-expecting to run aground in the maze of islands and reefs and have to spend the night on a sinking boat. Once back at the harbour I had a fun obstacle course jumping from my boat to another one, climbing through that to its front, then jumping to another boat and then another, and then shinning up a too-delicate ladder to get onto the wharf, all in the dark.
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Old Tuesday 14th September 2010, 15:48   #23
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Enjoying this immensely and looking forward to the rest of the story!
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Old Tuesday 14th September 2010, 23:53   #24
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stay tuned because there will even be a little bit about a couple of days I spent in Singapore later on....
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Old Tuesday 14th September 2010, 23:53   #25
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FLORES, 25 - 28 June: Tiny parrots and giant rats, part I

I guess I should start this entry by contradicting what I wrote in the last entry, about Labuanbajo being an unfriendly town. After spending a number of days there the locals became used to me walking back and forth around the streets looking for food and water, and soon they were smiling and saying hello and asking how I was. So I decided that its not an unfriendly town but rather a town full of unfriendly tourists. That may sound weird, me being a tourist myself, but Iíve watched the way most of them interact with the locals and they are just downright rude. Not all of them of course but a good percentage. If I was a local Iíd be a bit sick of it all too.

Its so flaming hot in Labuanbajo that you canít do anything for most of the day. Even just walking down the road to get food or internet leaves you as drenched as if youíve fallen in a swimming pool. Basically I went out early in the morning if I could muster the gumption, look for birds for a couple of hours until the heat started building up (at say 8 or 9am), then I went and lay down somewhere in a congealing pool of sweat and dirt until evening. How the British and Dutch managed to survive in Indonesia without electricity for fans is beyond me.

The two days after the Rinca visit were a complete bust as far as finding wildlife was concerned. There were two birdy spots I wanted to visit, Potawangka Road and Puarlolo, both fairly close to Labuanbajo and both technically easy to reach. The problem was that it is impossible to get anywhere very early by using the local buses, and hiring someone to take me places would cost more than I was willing to pay (I guess Iím just not a very dedicated birder!). I tried going to Puarlolo first, which is where the endemic Flores monarch flycatcher lives. I had been told I could just wait at the crossroads at the end of town and hitch a lift but the only people who stopped wanted exhorbitant amounts in the region of 300,000 rupiah (about NZ$50). So I went back to the hotel and discovered that by then there were a whole row of buses waiting about ten metres from the door. Every bus that goes from Labuanbajo to Ruteng passes Puarlolo because thereís only one road. The first bus I tried was bound for Ruteng and it was all good until I said I was only going as far as Puarlolo, then suddenly the bus was full. The second was also fine to start with but then the driver tried to tell me they actually donít go past Puarlolo after all, which got some indignant responses from some of the other passengers, so he changed tack and said it would actually cost 100,000 rupiah to Puarlolo not 20,000. They obviously didnít want someone on the bus taking up room that could be used for someone paying to go all the way to Ruteng, and at this point I got fed up and went back to the hotel for breakfast, and then went to Potawangka Road by motorbike instead. By this point it was already late morning and I wasnít even sure at what point on the road I should be in order to find the main target birds (Wallaceís hanging parrot and Flores crow) so I got off at the first patch of forest and then walked for several hours without really finding anything at all. The second day I dutifully went out of the hotel to try to get a bus to Puarlolo for the second time - and there were no buses! Eventually one drove past, I flagged it down, and then we proceeded to drive in circles round town trying to pick up non-existent passengers. I think there must be some mysterious Friday void where nobody uses the buses in Flores. Anyway, I didnít get to Puarlolo till 10am and again the birds were all at siesta and I got nowhere with my searches.

Puarlolo is about 36km out of Labuanbajo, and thereís a big sign-board on the side of the road with endemic Floresian birds on it so you can't miss it. You just walk up the access road from the highway for about 100metres to the Telkom Station and to the right of the gate youíll find a rough track leading into the forest. The forest here is quite low but so damn thick I donít know how anybody finds the Flores monarch without tapes. I certainly had no luck! There are also Flores hawk-eagles in the sky above the tower, except when I was there. Walking back towards Labuanbajo along the highway for about 300 metres thereís a big trail on the left that goes through really good forest. Birds I saw here included russet-capped tesia, flame-breasted sunbird, black-fronted and golden-rumped flowerpeckers, crested dark-eye, emerald dove, golden whistler Ė definitely would be even more better stuff in early morning.

Rather than consider those two days as miserable failures I instead decided to call them reconnoiters for later visits, although in the event I never got back to Puarlolo after all.

Potawangka Road is much closer to Labuanbajo, only about 10km out of town, so its readily accessible by motorbike. I decided to try my luck there a second time, but at a proper birding hour (6am), and as I stepped out of the hotel a bus to Ruteng passed by - right after Iíd finished complaining that you canít get anywhere early on the local buses! I stuck to the plan however and went to Potawangka Road. I got the driver to stop at what seemed like a good distance into the forest, and as I was paying him a hill mynah landed in a nearby tree, a bird Iíve wanted to see in the wild for years. So it was a good start. It took about two hours to walk back to the main road (it was downhill) and I saw quite a few good birds including orange-footed scrubfowl, Gould's bronze-cuckoo, yellow-spectacled white-eye, Wallacean drongo, flame-breasted sunbird, pale-shouldered cuckoo-shrike, and two more of the birds that were on my most-wanted list, the red-cheeked parrot (like the hill mynah, a bird Iíve wanted to see for many years) and the Flores crow. Seeing a crow may not sound very exciting but this particular crow is only found in one region of Flores and nowhere else on the planet. Also its not all brash and in-your-face like other crows, its very shy and wary although I did see five of them that morning. They donít exactly slink away when they realise youíve seen them but its as good as.

A bird I didnít find that morning was the Wallaceís hanging parrot, a little wee thing about the size of a sparrow. When I was a boy I read about this bird in Joseph Forshaw's brilliant encyclopaedic book "Parrots Of The World" and decided that one day I would go to Flores and see them. The bird itself isn't overly exciting to look at, mostly green with a bit of red, much like any of the other species of hanging parrots actually, but it wasn't the appearance of the bird that intrigued me it was the text in the book. The copy I have now, published in 1989, has a text column of only about ten centimetres that basically consists of a description based on the one known museum specimen, a note about some eggs that probably belonged to another species entirely, and just three sentences on its life history that starts off with stating that its "a mysterious bird, about which almost nothing seems to be known, and the type is the only specimen that I could locate." Since then of course Flores has become more accessible and birders go there reasonably often so I'm a bit late to the party, but that's all right because I never liked parties anyway. With all that in mind, for a third morning I returned to Potawangka Road and for a third time I failed to see a hanging parrot. Actually that third time I didnít see the crows or hill mynahs either although there were lots of other birds in evidence.

Apart for the hanging parrot, the other main animal I wanted to see on the island was the Flores giant rat. By this time however I had stuck that into the too-hard basket. Thereís almost no information available on the internet or in books about it beyond its size and colour; even its habits and where it lives on the island seem to be unknown or at best educated guesswork. Absolutely nobody I spoke to about it in Ruteng or Labuanbajo had any clue what I was talking about. My searches in the forest were equally unrevealing. In the natural history museum at Bogor (in Java) there is a stuffed specimen (according to Lonely Planet) and it seemed like that would be the closest I would come to seeing a Flores giant rat with my own eyes [except when I got there I discovered there wasn't a stuffed Flores giant rat there at all dammit].

The rat wasnít the only thing I was having trouble with. I just couldn't get to Komodo Island!! I'd seen the dragons on Rinca already but I did want to see them on Komodo as well because apparently they are a different colour, secondly there is some select bird-life there such as the lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo, and thirdly you just can't be in the area and not go to Komodo because that would be stupid! I could have hired a boat just for myself but that would have set me back somewhere in the region of NZ$200 and I couldnít justify that. I was basically sitting around waiting for some more tourists going to Komodo so I could join in and we all distribute the cost to everybodyís advantage. But nobody was going to Komodo, they were all going to Rinca because its closer and cheaper to reach. It was very frustrating! Some people said to me one morning that they were going to Rinca because everybody goes to Komodo and therefore Rinca is more select and quiet. What rubbish! They read that in some guidebook and the reality is the exact opposite. I honestly never found a single person actually going to Komodo.

Finally I have to mention when I was in the restaurant at the hotel waiting to be given food, and a medium-sized (about 20cm) tokay gecko fell from the ceiling to the floor and sat there looking a bit stunned. After a couple of seconds he recovered his composure and scuttled straight up my leg, round onto my back and then up onto my shoulder where he sat for the rest of the evening, either being under the impression that I was a tree or that he was actually invisible. I named him Mr. Tokay Gecko. He did little to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
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last bird lifer: Red-kneed Dotterel Erythrogonys cinctus - 30 May 2014 (#1444)
last mammal lifer: Horsfield's Tarsier Tarsius bancanus - 10 May 2014 (#230)
latest 2014 bird: Tui Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae -- 18 August 2014 (#559)
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