A Travellerspoint blog

November 2008


View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

I'm back in the southern hemisphere after my diving trip to Manado. I managed five dives in the Lembeh Straits, to the east of Manado. As Jaakko from Living Colours put it, Lembeh is "a dirty harbour", so whoever managed to promote it as a dive site is a genius.


But it is world-famous for its muck diving; there is very little coral, and much of the bottom is black volcanic sand. (Sulawesi is not generally volcanic, but the volcanoes that head to the end of Nusa Tenggara head north through Maluku and then back up through the north of Sulawesi on their way to the Philippines.) Here divers find and photograph unusual things.

I saw:

    A good number of frogfish. These are also known as anglerfish. They live on the bottom, and walk-roll on four fins looking mean. The first dorsal fin is adapted to carry a lure, or esca, which is dangled and flicked in front of the large mouth, looking like a swimming shrimp or small fish. We watched a chocolate and cream painted frogfish (Antennarius pictus) for about ten minutes and it walked straight towards us like the sort of beefy Londoner that keep a hungry pit bull to compensate for the inadequacies of his character and anatomy. We also found a couple of hairy frogfish (Antennarius striatus; I found one, of which I am very proud), which are much prized by divers.
    Lots of scorpionfish, including a striking purple paddle-flap scorpionfish, Rhinopias eschmeyeri, and a number of leaf scorpionfish, Taenianotus triacanthus.
    A number of mantis shrimp, of the boxing type.
    A couple of free-swimming snake eels, perhaps Napoleon snake eels.
    A number of garden eels, Heteroconger species.
    A bright yellow (female) ribbon eel, Rhinomuraena quaesita, up very close.
    A lot of blue-spotted stingrays, Dasyatis kuhlii.
    Half a dozen flying gurnards, which are extraordinary and beautiful.
    Three sea moths, Pegasus species.
    Some longhorn cowfish, Lactoria cornuta.
    Several waspfish, Ablabys macracanthus. These are related to scorpionfish, but the dorsal fin begins above or forward of the eyes. They flop from side to side like leaves in the surge.
    Lots of small Periclimenes schrimp, usually on tube anemones. They are transparent except for the purple joints.
    A lot of commensal pairs of gobies and Alpheus shrimps. The gobies keep watch. The Alpheus, blind, build and maintain the burrow that they share with the goby. The shrimp always keeps an antenna on the goby, and when the goby flicks its tail in warning, the shrimp disappears into the burrow.
    A barramundi cod, Cromileptes altivelis.
    Several schools of very attractive Banggai cardinalfish, Pterapogon kauderni. These are beige with black stripes and they have very large fins. The pectoral fins are black with a dusting of icing sugar.
    A lot of purcupinefish and related species, including a lot of small, rusty orbicular burrfish, Cyclichthys orbicularis, and a few balloonfish, Diodon holocanthus.
    A number of flounders.
    Lots of big painted flutemouths.
    A pink-red ribbon of sea slug eggs, perhaps those of the Spanish Dancer.
    Lots of nudibranchs, including Berthella mertensi, a huge Pteraeolidia aeolid, a tiny blue Phyllidia, Phyllidiopsis annae, more Nembrotha kabaryana, Halgerda bacalusia, and Ceratosoma tenue.
    A mushroom coral pipefish, a tiny white relative of the seahorse.
    A couple of thorny (or perhaps common) seahorses. They are very, very weird.
    A dark red roughsnout ghost pipefish, in patch of dark red algae, Solenostomus paegnius.
    A small Sepia cuttlefish, with which I tried to have a sign language conversation for five minutes. They communicate in colour, so it is difficult to answer back.
    Lots of lionfish.

Unfortunately I have no photos. I rented a camera but it didn't work.

The diversity of fish in Indonesian waters exceeds that in any other part of the world. Pieter Bleeker spent thirty years in Indonesia as an army doctor from 1842. He pulled 800 species out of the waters of Ambon Bay and published the Atlas Ichthyologique, still something of a bible. 1,100 species of fish have been counted in Maumere Bay alone (cf 1,250 in European waters). It is not easy to know what you are seeing. The same applies to corals: there are 450 reef builders in Indonesia, against 50 in the Caribbean.

  • **

More linguistic confusion: in an Indonesian accent 'fishing' and 'pissing' are the same. And 'potty', as a noun, is pisspot in Indonesian.

  • **

A couple of weeks ago an eight-year old boy died in Flores of rabies. There have been 135 deaths from rabies in the last ten years in Flores. The boy was bitten in September, but received medical treatment only in November. By then he had reached stage 4, when the victim is afraid of water, wind and light.

  • **

Lorenso's in Bunaken had a library of second-hand books, and I'm a bit light on books, so I read a lot while lounging in a hammock and watching the rain. Books read recently:

The Undercover Economist, Tim Harford (a very good book - but unfortunately I knew it all already)
Gorky Park and Havana Bay, Martin Cruz Smith
Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe
Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
Amsterdam, Ian McEwan
Sogni di Sogni, Antonio Tabucchi
Touching the Void, Joe Simpson
All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque.

  • **

I am off to Ambon tomorrow, and thence to Banda by ship if I can manage it. Banda is remote, and I am trying to get there as soon as possible in order to give myself a good chance of getting out of the country by the time my visa expires in the middle of December. I don't expect to find many internet connections along the way.

Right - now for a McDonald's! Bliss.

Posted by Wardsan 20:14 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)


View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

I'm posting from a Warnet in Manado, at the northern tip of Sulawesi. I spent nearly a week on nearby Bunaken Island, but managed only eight dives as a result of a cluster of illnesses. This afternoon I am catching a bus to Bitung and a boat to Lembeh, with the intention of spending a couple more days diving. The rainy season has begun in earnest.

I dived with Living Colours, an outfit run by a Finn called Jaakko, one of a tiny minority of the 40 or so operators in the Bunaken National Park that actually takes steps to clean up and preserve the reef. The resort consists of wood and bamboo bungalows with a lot of nice touches: solid coconut wood beds, insect sprays and repellents of various kinds, hot water, hammocks. This is the view from the verandah.


And this is a view towards my cabin.


Unfortunately they were full after two nights, so I went down the path to Lorenso's, a more basic place. The wildlife in my room was undesirably spellbinding. But the social life was better at Lorenso's because we all sat around the same table to eat our fish, rice and vegetables. It was pleasantly polyglot: French, Italian, Czech, Finnish and German were heard, as well as the inevitable lingua franca. And many of the guests were very interesting people, including a former Catholic priest called Artur, who got married thirty years ago and had to find a new job (running a liturgical institute); Miguel, a permanent traveller from Spain; Fabiano and Ludovica, from Ostia but living in Holland; Deepal, a kiwi who runs an NGO treating PTSD victims in earthquake zones in Java. And Pierre and Valerie, a couple from Francophone Switzerland who are travelling for three years with their seven-year-old twin daughters. They teach them maths and French in the mornings; apparently that is the entire curriculum for pupils of their age in their home canton.

If you were to produce an economic balance sheet of the resorts in the region, some of the assets would be land and buildings; some would be goodwill [not in an economic balance sheet, come to think of it]; but a large part would be accounted for by ownership interests in the reef. Unfortunately, of course, the reef is held in common, the health of the reef is a common good and the fish taken from it are a private benefit. Nevertheless the numbers of operators are small enough that you would expect them to be able to cooperate to manage their common asset. Some of them do; but most of them apparently fail even to perceive their private commercial interest in preserving the reef that brings the tourists.

Other than the plastic bags that drift across from Manado, though, the reef remains very healthy. The dives are wall dives. The walls disappear into invisible depths; apparently the sea is 2 km deep at its deepest around here. On every dive you find yourself in apparently infinite schools of red-tooth triggerfish and schooling pyramid butterflyfish. The hard and soft corals, hydroids, tunicates and especially the sponges abound. There are one or two green turtles; the odd black-tip reef shark (not common, though); some big-eye barracuda; a great barracuda or two; schools of Teira batfish; pairs of fire dartfish; scrawled filefish; the biggest giant clams I have ever seen; some big trevally of various kinds; scorpionfish including leaf scorpionfish of various colours; lionfish; pufferfish large and small; spotted boxfish; huge trumpetfish; the most aggressive anemonefish ever (they headbutt you, going for the eyes), plenty of Chromodoris, Phyllidia, Nembrotha and Aeolid nudibranchs; Napoleon wrasse; striped eel catfish; different kinds of tiny Periclimenes shrimp; some big petticoated bivalves, perhaps abalone; snapper in large quantities, mainly black; banded sea-snakes; moray eels of various kinds; and at least one black and yellow ribbon eel.

The plan thereafter was to to a circle back to Makassar via Ternate and Ambon, However, I have received wildly conflicting information about the trip from Ternate to Ambon (no or some planes; some or more boats) and I don't have enough time left on the visa to take the risk, so I am reluctantly giving up on the idea of Ternate and going to Ambon instead, via Makassar.

Probably as a result of the various illnesses, I feel tired of travelling just now. I am sick of all the attention, of the 'hello misters' every ten seconds as you walk down the street, of the cold water and the cockroaches. I cannot summon much enthusiasm for the trip to the possibly idyllic island of Banda, and none at all for the planned visit to Cambodia later in the year. I hope this passes; meanwhile I am looking forward to having cheese and wine five times a day in Singapore next month.

  • **

The US presidential elections have passed, but Indonesia remains in the grip of election fever. The next presidential elections are in the spring. But already there are political flags everywhere, bedecking even remote hamlets in central Sulawesi and Papua.

The incumbent, universally known as SBY, has finally announced his candidacy. Former President Megawati Soekarnoputri, of the PDI-P, is standing too, and so, perhaps, is former President Wahid. More interestingly, Sultan Hamengkubowono X of Yogyakarta is also seeking his party's nomination. He will have to win the nomination of the Golkar party ahead of SBY.

Hamengkubuwono X is the hereditary sultan of Yogyakarta, which is a province in itself. He lives in the kraton in the middle of the city. And every day he commutes to another palace, because he is the democratically elected governor of the province. It seems that Jakarta tried to take power away from the sultanate by giving powers to a governor, but everyone voted for him anyway.

Posted by Wardsan 13:27 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)


View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

I’m back in Makassar after spending four days in the highlands of Tana Toraja. The Torajans have unbelievably elaborate funeral ceremonies, costing tens of thousands of dollars, and they also have a buffalo cult.

One of the traditional Torajan dishes I ate poisoned me; I have diarrhoea and a fever. I popped a couple of Imodium for the overnight nine-hour coach journey, but the effect wore off an hour before we arrived. A very low point. I’m trying to plan a trip around the islands of Maluku, but, being ill, I am finding it difficult to do so.

Wallace liked Makassar for its neatness.

Macassar was the first Dutch town I had visited, and I found it prettier and cleaner than any I had yet seen in the East. The Dutch have some admirable local regulations. All European houses must be kept well white-washed, and every person must, at four in the afternoon, water the road in front of his house. The streets are kept clear of refuse, and covered drains carry away all impurities into large open sewers, into which the tide is admitted at high-water and allowed to flow out when it has ebbed, carrying all the sewage with it into the sea. The town consists chiefly of one long narrow street along the seaside, devoted to business, and principally occupied by the Dutch and Chinese merchants' offices and warehouses, and the native shops or bazaars. This extends northwards for more than a mile, gradually merging into native houses often of a most miserable description, but made to have a neat appearance by being all built up exactly to the straight line of the street, and being generally backed by fruit trees. This street is usually thronged with a native population of Bugis and Macassar men, who wear cotton trousers about twelve inches long, covering only from the hip to half-way down the thigh, and the universal Malay sarong, of gay checked colours, worn around the waist or across the shoulders in a variety of ways. Parallel to this street run two short ones which form the old Dutch town, and are enclosed by gates. These consist of private houses, and at their southern end is the fort, the church, and a road at right angles to the beach, containing the houses of the Governor and of the principal officials. Beyond the fort, again along the beach, is another long street of native huts and many country-houses of the tradesmen and merchants. All around extend the flat rice-fields, now bare and dry and forbidding, covered with dusty stubble and weeds. A few months back these were a mass of verdure, and their barren appearance at this season offered a striking contrast to the perpetual crops on the same kind of country in Lombock and Bali, where the seasons are exactly similar, but where an elaborate system of irrigation produces the effect of a perpetual spring.

Wallace stayed at the house of a local Dutch merchant, Mr Mesman, with whom he got on well. Mesman's plantations were, naturally, run by slaves. He also traded coffee and opium, mother of pearl and tortoiseshell.

Now Makassar is a city of between 1.6 million and 8 million inhabitants, depending on the source ( believe the former). It is low-rise and extends for many miles. The only thing of interest in the city is its food, and I cannot eat right now.

  • ***

The zoology of Sulawesi puzzled Wallace. The island is right in the middle of the archipelago. Land lies not too distant on all sides. And yet Wallace found, among relatively low numbers of animals in general, a very high proportion of species unique to Sulawesi. And many of the animals with relatives elsewhere seemed to be as closely related to African species as to Asian or Australian. (It is the westernmost limit of the range of marsupials, however.)

Wallace had great success collecting butterflies at the Bantimurung waterfalls, near Makassar, where he stayed for four days. Even then the falls on the Maros river were a popular destination for visitors. Wallace wrote:

As soon as my scanty baggage had arrived and was duly deposited in the shed, I started off alone for the fall, which was about a quarter of a mile further on. The river is here about twenty yards wide, and issues from a chasm between two vertical walls of limestone, over a rounded mass of basaltic rock about forty feet high, forming two curves separated by a slight ledge. The water spreads beautifully over this surface in a thin sheet of foam, which curls and eddies in a succession of concentric cones until it falls into a fine deep pool below. Close to the very edge of the fall a narrow and very rugged path leads to the river above, and thence continues close under the precipice along the water's edge, or sometimes in the water, for a few hundred yards, after which the rocks recede a little, and leave a wooded bank on one side, along which the path is continued, until in about half a mile, a second and smaller fall is reached. Here the river seems to issue from a cavern, the rocks having fallen from above so as to block up the channel and bar further progress. The fall itself can only be reached by a path which ascends behind a huge slice of rock which has partly fallen away from the mountain, leaving a space two or three feet wide, but disclosing a dark chasm descending into the bowels of the mountain, and which, having visited several such, I had no great curiosity to explore." [I felt the same.]

The butterflies he found in Sulawesi were larger than their relatives in Asia, and more curved and pointed on the upper wing.

The area is now a small national park, a popular destination for trippers from Makassar. Visiting on a Saturday, I was expecting coachloads of visitors, and hundreds of stalls selling rubbish. The stalls were there, but the visitors, while plentiful, were not overwhelming; Sunday is the busy day. I was expecting the stalls to sell the mounted and framed butterflies that you see almost everywhere in southeast Asia, and so they did. Most of the butterflies, though, came from Ambon, Halmahera and Papua, which I took to be a sign that the local butterflies had been overfished. Those from Papua, Ornithoptera, I did not see while I was there; they are too rare. The Rajah Brooke birdwings were pinned with their wings at the wrong angle.


I went by minibus. That statement does not begin to do justice to the nature of the trip. To get to Bantimurung I took a rickshaw and three minibus trips (becak and bemo, respectively). The minibuses, ancient Mitsubishi Colts once again, are built for small people, usually full, and invariably filled with noise from the large speakers in the rear. The bass causes the shopping bags to vibrate. You never know where you are or how long it is going to take (two and a half hours to get there), and everything is in Indonesian, of course. You are stared at all the way. It is a small adventure in itself.

As soon as I got to the park I became the tourist object of most interest. People take a lot of photos, often surreptitiously with mobile phones. In the afternoon I was walking along a road and was stopped by a van of soldiers. They only wanted their pictures taken with me, both individually and as a group. It took a while, but when the Indonesian army requests something, it gets it.


I stopped at one of the butterfly stalls to take a photo and started chatting to one of the vendors, Asri. I later saw him at the butterfly museum – a moth-eaten collection of extraordinary butterflies from Indonesia, inaccurately labelled. He wanted to walk with me, and I said fine but I would not pay for a guide. No problem: and useful it was, as he pointed out all the butterflies around. Tourists were bathing under the waterfalls in numbers and floating down the rapids on inner tubes, but despite the mass of humanity, there were still butterflies in great number, and amazing ones too.


I didn’t get where I am today without learning how to bullshit, so Asri and I swapped tales of Vindula and Graphium, Papilio and Idea (Linnaeus named the first: Idea idea idea); Nymphalidae, Ornithoptera and Pieridae. I told him what I’d seen in Vietnam and Malaysia and he started to believe I knew something about butterflies. I don’t.

I took some photos of Graphium sarpedon milon feeding near the lower falls. I was excited to recognise (following the visit to the museum) a Graphium androcles on the way up; the top third is brown, the rest largely cream, with very long swallowtails to each wing.

There were smaller, also, pointy-tailed, Graphium rhesus, and some Vindula erota. Then a group of Pieridae (whites and yellows): Delias; Appias zarinda; and an orange sharp-winged Appias nero. .





Wallace found in the area a millipede of a 'dull lead colour". This may be it.


We walked up concrete steps to another set of waterfalls. I took note along the way of each species we saw – to no avail, as I lost the notebook while changing bemos on the way back.

Of the upper falls, Wallace wrote:

When the sun shone hottest, about noon, the moist beach of the pool below the upper fall presented a beautiful sight, being dotted with groups of gay butterflies--orange, yellow, white, blue, and green-- which on being disturbed rose into the air by hundreds, forming clouds of variegated colours.

It is still the same. I crouched immobile in the sun. The heat and humidity were high. While I took photos of other butterflies, a beautiful turquoise and black Graphium milon landed on my head, walked down my shoulders and then started to drink from the wet shirt on my back.


On the way back we saw an attractive black and white Ideopsis, much smaller than the great grey-with-black-spots Idea blanchardi that I had seen in the museum.

Back at the lower waterfalls I took photos of more Graphium milon, a Graphium deucalion and the glorious Papilio peranthus adamanthus. This has a wonderful blue-green flash in the middle, but this only shows when it is flying; it is very difficult to take pictures of a flying butterfly.





Also Papilio sataspes and the large, rounded, Papilio fuscus – described here by Wallace in 1865 - with small white flashes on the lower wing.


[It is not always easy to tell what Wallace actually saw, because the names have subsequently changed. So Wallace was pleased to see and capture “the rare little swallowtail Papilio rhesus”, north of Makassar. This is now Graphium rhesus, and the same applies to most of his Papiliones. Similarly, he found Tachyris zarinda, which I suppose is the same as Appias zarinda.]

I’m strongly against doing things that encourage a trade that should not be encouraged. The more you hand out sweets, pens or money to children, the more you encourage them to beg. You shouldn’t eat shark’s fin soup (as I did, to my regret, in Malaysia). And you shouldn’t buy birds of paradise or endangered butterflies.

But, hypocritically, I did. The drive to avoid social embarrassment trumps any morals. I felt I owed Asri something for his help along the walk. We walked down the road to his family’s house, and they showed me about a thousand butterflies, each wrapped in paper.

On the way to his house I saw a big spider [an orb-weaver of genus Nephila]. They eat animals as large as lizards. To take this photograph I had to cut through the web of another spider, and it took some doing: each thread was as strong as cotton thread. (The webs are enormous. You see a lot of them in Maluku. In parts of Melanesia they are collected on frames and used as fishnets.) There is a very small spider on the back of the thorax of the larger one – the boyfriend, probably. Nephila males are often a hundred times smaller than the females.


I realise that the male can't really be seen in the photo above, so here it a close-up of another photo.


The pinned and mounted butterflies sold in frames are often fake: a transplanted body with wings not its own. These were real, and I bought some of the butterflies that I had seen. My specimens: Papilio blumei; Papilio adamanthus; Graphium rhesus; Danaus vulgaris; Troides helena; Papilio fuscus; Dalia eperia; Graphium deucalion; Appias zarinda; Appias nero; Hebomoia glaucippe celebensis (described by Wallace 1863). What am I going to do with them?


Posted by Wardsan 18:32 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

The Wallace Line

View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

It’s Remembrance Sunday. It’s also my birthday, and I think this is the hundredth post on this blog. It has been a better year than most, but then I have spent nine months of it abroad. This morning I pottered about eating Pringles and listening to saved-up BBC Radio 4 podcasts: Law In Action, In Our Time, Material World, Thinking Allowed. After a quick trip to Fort Rotterdam, where I was again the tourist attraction (photographs and interviews granted), and an excellent sashimi lunch, it started raining hard and I came to the mall to surf. Quantum of Solace is on at the cinema here – but only in Indonesian, chiz. I have some bread and babybel and Lindeman’s red wine to consume this evening as a treat.

Here is a cheese on toast frog at Fort Rotterdam.


  • **

To be employed as a ‘Front Liner’ at Bread Talk, a bakery chain, you must be between 18 and 22 years old. If male, you must be between 165 cm and 175 cm in height, and in proportion (doesn’t say where); if female, between 158 cm and 170 cm and in proportion. You must not have tattoos. It is a long time since employers could lawfully be so choosy in the UK.

  • **

I have mentioned Alfred Russel Wallace a few times and I shall mention him again. I read most of The Malay Archipelago, by Wallace, in a nice edition from Periplus. I looked for it for months before finding it in Bali, and read it at slowly as I could bear. I lost it, though, a few days ago, so all comments have to be from memory.

From 1854 Wallace spent eight years travelling around what are now Malaysia and Indonesia, and in that time he formulated a theory of evolution by variation and natural selection. In fact he did so in the northern Moluccas, while prostrate with malaria. In 1858 he wrote to Charles Darwin from Ternate about his conclusions. Darwin had independently come to the same conclusions twenty years before, but had not published his findings, fearing the reaction. Both had been inspired by reading the Essay on Population by Thomas Malthus (first published in 1798). The point of the essay that stimulated both was hyperbundance: the tendency of species to produce more young than can surive given the resources available, and the consequent competition between members of the same species.

James Hooker and Charles Lyell, who knew of Darwin's earlier work, arranged that Darwin and Wallace should publish papers in the same edition of the Transactions of the Linnaean Society, and both papers were read out at the same meeting of the Society.

There was no competition between the two; each man admired the other. Wallace dedicated The Malay Archipelago to Darwin, and throughout his long life modestly referred to the theory of evolution by natural selection as ‘Darwinism’. [Darwin wrote to Wallace a decade after the Linnaean Society meeting: "I hope it is a satisfaction to you to reflect... that we have never felt any jealousy toward the other, though in one sense rivals."]

They came from different backgrounds: Darwin the son of a vicar, of independent means; Wallace an autodidact from Monmouthshire who had to pay his way. Wallace financed his travels by collecting animals and selling them to private collectors (including Darwin) and to museums. From his Asian trip he brought back 125,000 animal specimens, of which half were the beetles that obsessed him. Many were new species – at least 900 Longicorn beetles alone. In his twenties he had travelled for four years in the Amazon, but he brought back nothing from that trip: as he travelled home his ship caught fire and he was shipwrecked, losing everything.

In the book, which is a journal rather than a learned paper, he comes across as a thoroughly engaging figure – fiercely intelligent, kind and possessed of boundless curiosity and stamina. He travelled to places that no European had visited. He did have quinine and a mosquito net, but was nevertheless often very ill for weeks in the middle of nowhere. When he got ill he was on his own; it must have taken great courage to continue to travel in the face of such a high probability of expiry. The book records his travels, with a strong bent towards geography, geology, ethnography and ecology. You do want to be interested in animals, but it is a great pleasure to read, and all the more so while travelling around the same region.

I described the Wallace Line in a previously post as a climatic line running from north to south. Wallace indeed noted that the climate becomes drier from the eastern third of Java onwards, and attributed this to the influence of the Australian continent. But his line is much cleverer than that. It is a geological hypothesis based on the modern distribution of animal species and genera.

Wallace observed that, ignoring the most far-ranging birds (whose origin cannot be surmised), species of Asian origin become progressively less common as you go east. Conversely, birds of Australasian type, such as cockatoos and parrots, become more common, and appear first in Lombok. In general, birds and butterflies become sparser as you go east.

Furthermore, most of the species of Asian origin are also found on the Asian mainland; only a minority of species east of Bali are not also found in Thailand or India. For the birds of Australasian origin, however, only the genera are common to both places; within each genus, the species tend to be unique.

Wallace also found that there were almost no Asian or Australasian mammalia in the islands east of Bali. He assumed that those that are found, such cats, dogs and deer, and possibly horses, water buffalo and pigs, had been introduced by humans (dogs and pigs were probably introduced during the Austronesian expansion, 3,500 years ago).

He also noted that, while the seas are relatively shallow around the islands, there are deep channels between Bali and Lombok and between Australia and Timor. The 100 fathom line encompasses Borneo, Java, Bali, Sumatra and Asia on the one hand, and Australia, New Guinea and Timor on the other. (He was not sure about Sulawesi.) If the sea fell 100 fathoms, there would still be a gap of twenty miles between Timor and Australia.

Hence he concluded that Sumatra, Borneo, Java and Bali had once formed part of the Asian mainland. But the islands between Lombok and Timor were truly oceanic, having been attached to Australia, if at all, only in the very distant past. Animals from Australia had got there first, crossing the twenty mile gap to Timor, and had had time to evolve into new species. Those from Asia had arrived more recently and had not had time to evolve much.

[Post script. Darwin was not the son of a vicar. His father, Robert, was a physician; and his father, Erasmus, was also a physician. Erasmus also believed that species were not immutable, and published his argument in verse. Darwin was initially supposed to be a physician, and trained for a year at Edinburgh. But he did not get on with it - he did not like blood, for one thing - and he quit after a year and a half. He did learn taxidermy, though, from a freed Guyanese slave, which later proved very useful. Eventually he and his father agreed that he should go to Cambridge University, with the intention of becoming a vicar (as the majority of Cambridge graduates still did). No entrance exams in those days: his father simply arranged for him to go up to Christ's College. When he set off on his voyage on The Beagle he still intended to enter holy orders on his return. For that and other reasons, Robert initially vetoed Charles's journey. It took Charles's maternal uncle, Josiah Wedgwood, to argue him round.

Darwin spent most of his time at Cambridge collecting beetles, hunting, and going on walks with J S Henslow, the professor of botany. He was very modest about his academic achivements at school and university. But he knuckled down to work hard in the last few months, and, despite his later modesty about his academic achievements, he came tenth out of 178. (He was examined in Classics, moral philosophy, maths, physics and astronomy.) In fact his result was much like that of John Maynard Keynes, who was equally uninterested in what he was supposed to be studying, but still managed to get a reasonable First.]

Posted by Wardsan 17:32 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)


View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

There were eight of us on the trek in the Baliem Valley, and about 11 porters. Some carried food, other carried our bags. It is the first time, I think, that I have been portered [nope - we had porters in Lombok], and it was very welcome. I did not learn the names of all our porters, but one name that I and everyone else knew was Iblis. ‘Iblis’, as I have mentioned before, means ‘Devil’ in Arabic and in Indonesian. So it is a nickname; I believe his real name is Paolo.

It might have been that his name was given because of his face. He looks dangerous and packs a lot of muscle.


In fact, we were given to understand in broken English, the nickname was given because he is a pyromaniac. Certainly, Iblis delighted in starting fires en route, even when not at all necessary. And wherever there was a fire, there was Iblis, entranced and grinning manically.

Iblis wore a leather jacket with a yellow Suzuki on the back. At one point he sat more or less in a bonfire, and the jacket protected him from the flames.

Appearances were deceptive. All our porters were wonderful; they would do absolutely anything for you, and would try to anticipate all your needs, even when they weren’t needs at all. They helped us all over the Peak District stiles and slippery log bridges. They pulled members of our party for miles up and down the treacherous paths. They supported us and even carried us across rivers.


But Iblis went even further. With all his might, he twisted the water from our wet laundry, including even Dirk’s socks, so redolent of Danish cheese. He washed Maurits’s feet. A truly sweet man.


When we left at the airport, I told Iblis in Indonesian that I thought he was a good man, and he grinned with his betel-stained teeth and shook my hand for about a minute. It was a tad moving.



Posted by Wardsan 17:11 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 8) Page [1] 2 » Next