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The summer holiday is a big deal for a lot of people; the chance to clear the mind and body, to explore the things you never had time for during term-time. We all plan getaways, sometimes for sun, sometimes for snow. But what about adventure?
Well, that was the goal but I certainly received a lot more than bargained for. The destination was Indonesia: total travel time, eighteen hours, final stop the picturesque island of Buton. I excitedly skipped off the small 72-seater plane into the radiant heat of the Indonesian sun. If I thought it was hot then it would be nothing compared to hiking underneath the emerald canopies of the jungle!
I left the airport with fellow trekkers, safely nestled in the back seat of a car. We drove past two-by-two shelters selling cheap kerosene, food and travel supplies, before we stopped in the city for a foray into Indonesian cuisine. A delectable dish of fried noodles with chilli-seasoned eggs finished by a healthy dose of baby bananas, all served behind veils so as to respect Ramadan.
We were settled in via a daily routine for the first few days. All of the expedition members would meet at 6am in the morning to get breakfast, followed by a lecture on biodiversity, fauna and surveying (an interesting learning experience, as I was one of two non-biologists present). For the first few days everyone basked in the natural beauty of the Indonesian climate before one of our Indonesian guides informed us of a ‘jungle-training’ lecture to be held in the afternoon.
We arrived at the perimeter of the forest via the back of a cattle-truck, staring down the army of leviathan-esque trees, before our leader began our trek into the depths. Unfortunately my biologist-eye isn’t very keen so the first thing I noticed about the rain forest was the hard-going terrain and the oppressive humidity. It would be a disservice to not mention the tranquility of the nearby wilds; orangutans and other forest life would call out of the labyrinthine folds of the forest, butterflies would cascade in the roads arcing out through the wilderness, and palm-trees would hang over us, coconuts tantalising close in sight. Walking in such a dangerous yet stunning environment gives you a sense of perspective and makes you realise how easy-going the British climate is (incessant rain otherwise).
Once we arrived at our interim camp, we were told to build a shelter from the natural environment (with a little help, of course!), then also cook ourselves food from the provisions we had brought with us. Which entailed making fire!
As you might guess, some of us woke up tired, some starving and even some just a little bit wet. Our guides helped us cook breakfast before the last trek to our training goal – a waterfall camp!
Despite my weariness, probable flu, and definite dehydration, nothing could dampen a mad scramble up a twelve-tiered waterfall, each tier holding a gargantuan pool of water, peaking at the very top with a glorious view of the entire formation. Feeling like an adventurer I descended and joined everyone for an impromptu swim in the gently flowing river opposite our camp.
Words are simply inadequate for the sheer euphoria of being in one of the most remote regions of the world. It made me appreciate the benefits of leaving the fears and stresses of our technologically always-connected society behind, even if just for a short while. The people we met along the way were always kind and friendly, and I am grateful for their guidance on fauna, their help traversing the terrain, and their kind hospitality in letting battered, smelly explorers sleep in their living room!
…And that was just the first week. Admittedly, I returned from the training feeling like death. I was so dehydrated, I began counting sweat-drops, singing uncontrollably, and mildly hallucinating. I was riddled with infected gashes, insect-bites, heat-rashes, and had flu-like symptoms so that when we finally arrived back in civilisation, I found a chair, and didn’t move for three hours. I used my novice Indonesian to inform a local medic I had ‘many problems’.
One breakfast and seven pills later, I was preparing for the second portion of our expedition, a trek into deeper forest in the un-surveyed north of the island. Our destination would be a camp located halfway up a small mountainous region of forest, from where smaller groups would explore the surrounding forest, taking notes of the local fauna in order to find species variation based upon the changes in habitat.
Three weeks of jungle does change you. Even all the negatives, insect bites, foot-rot, exhaustion, all have the effect of making you feel like you can overcome anything, whilst being so close to such untouched wildlife is a rare honour. Handling a 4.7m reticulated python, experiencing the celebration of Eid and hearing rumours of a lost lake in one trip is a rush for the senses, and makes you feel alive.
It was after spending around two weeks in the deep-forest that it was decided we should venture to the northern tip of the island, to see what could be found nearer to the oceans…not only did we find more lizards, bats, and birds than we could count, but we also saw clear blue oceans cast with dancing crystals of sunset-gold, fish glittering like living opals as they sauntered gently to the ebbs of the sea, all bordered by two outstretched beryl arms of forests, crafting a picture an artist would relish.
So, it seems rather strange returning to life on campus, a year of intellectual pursuit and a mountain of books to dive into, after the pursuit of adventure and a dive into a river, yet I cannot stress enough what a liberating experience travel can be. University is most definitely the time to broaden your horizons; next time you’re thinking of a getaway, why not venture to the lands of adventure?
The organisation that ran this expedition was Operation Wallacea, a trust which undertakes research to ensure the conservation of various natural habitats. If you would be interested in signing up as a research volunteer, talks will be held on campus on the 28th of October, 1st and 4th of November. If you want to look up destinations, revel at the fantastic wildlife photography or find out more, you can visit http://opwall.com/