A Travellerspoint blog


Animals in Bunaken

Northern Sulawesi

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At Living Colours in Bunaken I lay in my bright red hammock and read. As the sun began to set the little cicak geckoes would arrive to feed and have fun.


Very often, one gecko would approach another, bite it on the neck or on the top of the head, and hold on while the other wriggled like a rugby league player under the tackle. When released the victim would run away. Perhaps it is about establishing the dominance hierarchy, although you would think their brains are too small to store this information. Maybe they were just fighting for land: the prime real estate is near the light, where the food delivers itself.

An extract from the diary:

I’ve had to evict all kinds of beetles, bugs and ants from my sleeping chamber, together with a little green spider; there are lots of beetles and grasshoppers on the paths, and I have in turn been evicted from my hammock by a mean-looking shiny black spider.


There are 18 geckoes now on the verandah ceiling above me. Moths are a favourite, easy prey. I just saw a gecko take on a moth at least half its size.


It caught it all right, by the tail, but it took it ten minutes to gulp it down whole.






The beetles are a harder prey, and katydids are too large altogether.


And when you go to the bathroom there is a six inch centipede greeting you. It’s like Naked Lunch.

In spite of the number of pictures on this blog, I am not very fond at all of most insects, and I am frightened of spiders.

Once I moved down the path to Lorenso’s it got worse. I found a dying cockroach on the bed, surrounded by hungry ants. I got the sheets changed. It was the sort of place where you needed to check every item of clothing before putting it on.

I lounged in the hammock reading Touching the Void, and occasionally a squidgy gecko turd would land on me. They’re surprisingly large.

From the diary, again:

There is a mantis in my room. It looks a lot like a stick insect, only with longer forelimbs, and it moves as slowly. It has established itself on my towel. This is unfortunate, as I do not mind the mantis at all, and would like to hang up my towel to keep it from the rat that lives between the walls and the rafters.


And a glow worm has just flown through the room and disappeared through the rafters! This is constantly entertaining but it is difficult to sleep.

The mantis seems to be reading my copy of The Economist. I have picked up my towel and flicked it a couple of times but the mantis has hung grimly on.

The only way I can persuade the mantis to go anywhere is by offering it The Economist and then ferrying it on that. It is a discerning mantis.


Then came the cockroaches. I had been hearing rustling from more than one direction, and assumed it was the rats. I had packed everything away tightly, having seen a rat walking on the top of the walls. But a cockroach flew into my hair and I realised the rustling was cockroaches.

I have killed three but there are at least two more wandering the walls. I have sprayed insect killer everywhere, but of course it has had no effect on the roaches.

Sadly, although I avoided the mantis, it was affected by the insecticide. It lay still and arched its back for a long time. Eventually I had to put it out of its misery.

Posted by Wardsan 09:50 Archived in Indonesia Tagged animal Comments (0)


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Well, the funeral is over and the job interviews are completed, so I am free to try to have some more fun again. I definitely have a job to go to, I just don't know where yet, and this means that my expenditure is rising in response to the increase in expected net wealth. Arguably, having the prospect of a job without in fact doing any work is as good as it gets.

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It is not often that Ambon is in the news, but a new species of frogfish has recently been discovered there. It has white stripes on a caramel background. It is shaped like other frogfish – round, with hand-shaped pectoral fins – but it bounces around the bottom of the sea like a rubber ball. There is a video here.

Of Ambon, Alfred Russel Wallace wrote

Passing up the harbour, in appearance like a fine river, the clearness of the water afforded me one of the most astonishing and beautiful sights I have ever beheld. The bottom was absolutely hidden by a continuous series of corals, sponges, actinic, and other marine productions of magnificent dimensions, varied forms, and brilliant colours. The depth varied from about twenty to fifty feet, and the bottom was very uneven, rocks and chasms and little hills and valleys, offering a variety of stations for the growth of these animal forests. In and out among them, moved numbers of blue and red and yellow fishes, spotted and banded and striped in the most striking manner, while great orange or rosy transparent medusa floated along near the surface. It was a sight to gaze at for hours, and no description can do justice to its surpassing beauty and interest. For once, the reality exceeded the most glowing accounts I had ever read of the wonders of a coral sea. There is perhaps no spot in the world richer in marine productions, corals, shells and fishes, than the harbour of Amboyna.

Sadly, this is no longer true of Ambon Bay. It is a filthy, rubbish-strewn environment, full of plastic. On the Pelni ferry from Banda we had watched from the café at the stern as tons of refuse were thrown over the side during the twelve-hour journey. Put your rubbish in a bin and the bin is thrown over the side. Much of the rubbish floats. Ambon Bay is a narrow, dactylic inlet, and the refuse accumulates. So the coral has mostly gone. But it is a very good muck dive spot.


As I mentioned before, it was Pieter Bleeker who collected nearly 800 species of fish from the bay, and Wallace met him. (He refers to him as Dr Blecker.)

I went on Sunday, by invitation, to see a collection of shells and fish made by a gentleman of Amboyna. The fishes are perhaps unrivalled for variety and beauty by those of any one spot on the earth. The celebrated Dutch ichthyologist, Dr. Blecker, has given a catalogue of seven hundred and eighty species found at Amboyna, a number almost equal to those of all the seas and rivers of Europe. A large proportion of them are of the most brilliant colours, being marked with bands and spots of the purest yellows, reds, and blues; while their forms present all that strange and endless variety so characteristic of the inhabitants of the ocean. The shells are also very numerous, and comprise a number of the finest species in the world. The Mactras and Ostreas in particular struck me by the variety and beauty of their colours. Shells have long been an object of traffic in Amboyna; many of the natives get their living by collecting and cleaning them, and almost every visitor takes away a small collection. The result is that many of the commoner-sorts have lost all value in the eyes of the amateur, numbers of the handsome but very common cones, cowries, and olives sold in the streets of London for a penny each, being natives of the distant isle of Amboyna, where they cannot be bought so cheaply. The fishes in the collection were all well preserved in clear spirit in hundreds of glass jars, and the shells were arranged in large shallow pith boxes lined with paper, every specimen being fastened down with thread. I roughly estimated that there were nearly a thousand different kinds of shells, and perhaps ten thousand specimens, while the collection of Amboyna fishes was nearly perfect.

The problem with preserving fish - or any animal - in spirits is that the colours are largely lost. The reef fish in spirit bottles on display at the Cambridge Museum of Zoology are unrecognisable from colour alone, and the same is true of the snakes on display at the Snake Museum in Bangkok.

Wallace found the extraordinary, iridescent blue Papilio ulysses to be “absolutely common” in Ambon. No longer, although you do see this butterfly pinned and mounted everywhere in SE Asia. It, the Priam birdwing, Ornithoptera priamus, and the Atlas moth are the centrepieces of many of these mosaics.

Wallace also picked up specimens of the crimson lory, Eos rubra, and of “the fine racquet-tailed kingfisher of Amboyna, Tanysiptera nais, one of the most singular and beautiful of that beautiful family.” The latter was a new species.

The main town of the island, Kota Ambon, is a rather ugly place and I never learned to like it.


Apparently it used to be much cleaner and friendlier place, but the internecine violence at the turn of the millennium scarred the fabric and the psyche.



I was happy to get out of town and head a few kilometres south to Maluku Divers. There is good reef diving and muck diving in Ambon. As for the reef diving, it is worth paying an extra $20 to dive at Pulau Tiga, where there are some thrilling dives with significant currents, more interesting diving than the reefs on the south coast. And the muck diving in Ambon Bay is absolutely excellent. Great detail follows.

Hukurila Cave. This would have been a very nice dive if the dive guide had taken his time in the cave. But I was not very happy with my equipment – couldn’t keep the regulator in my mouth and was overweighted – and we went deeper than I am comfortable with, particularly without a dive computer – to 35 metres. Saw a big green turtle and some snapper, a couple of nudibranchs, lots of filefish and tobies, some two-tone dartfish, juvenile red-finned rainbow wrasse, and big spiny lobster, but fish not really present in the vast quantities of Manado or the Bandas.

Tanjung Hukurila. A small lionfish, lots of small shrimp (mainly banded), several nudis including a pair of Phyllidia ocellata and a tiny black and green Nembrotha. Quite a lot of red-tooth triggerfish sleeping in niches. A hawksbill, resting, up close. Very big for a hawksbill. Some very big anemonefish. Nce colourful coral. Visibility ordinary. Two-tone dartfish and fire dartfish. A big scorpionfish.

Hata Ala, Pulau Tiga. A thrilling dive. Down to the depths (34 m) with a strong current, hold on and watch. Lots of pelagics: mainly dogtooth tuna, wahoo, and a big Napoleon up close. Lots of emperor angelfish. They also see reef sharks and barracuda here, but not today. Visibility adequate. Swimming, against and across the current, into the shallows: saw a very small yellow moray with orange nostrils, a purple scorpionfish, millions of red-tooth triggerfish (the lunate tails are crossed, and they stick out of the holes in which they sleep).

Pulai Lain. Headed down to a cliff edge at 30m and held on against the current. Another great spot. Watched big fish playing like birds in the current. Two Napoleons, one clown triggerfish, lots of black surgeonfish and silver unicornfish. A big scorpionfish and a couple of cowries right behind the spot where I hung on. One of the Napoleons seemed to be sheepdogging a school of surgeonfish. Lots of great soft coral in the shallows, and blue and gold angelfish.

Rhino City, Ambon Bay. An amazing dive, to 25 m, some currents. Right at the beginning, a kind of silvery-coloured lacy scorpionfish, Rhinopias aphanes, with eyes like mirrors. A fingered dragonet, Dactylopus dactylopus. Blue-lined tang. Big black stonefish. Purple scorpionfish. Yellow/orange leaf scorpionfish. A school of ten squid, changing colours. A little seamoth, probably Eurypegasus draconis. Lots of hinge-beak shrimp and banded boxer shrimp. Two ribbon eels, one in the middle of changing sex (they change from male to female). A huge, probably a pregnant map pufferfish, just sitting there. Lots of little pufferfish and burrfish. A juvenile angelfish, possibly blue-ringed. Juvenile dragonet, tiny, less than 1 cm, white with a red patch. Several tiny yellow boxfish, about 1 cm across. A very long black pipefish. A giant frogfish, black, with a tiny white lure. Thornyback cowfish. A big solar-powered nudibranch. Two Jorunna rubescens nudis, one chasing the other, its mating organs already out. A long dark red nudi, Ceratosoma gracillinum. A Nembrotha rutilans, white with brown patches. And two other types of nudi.

Laha, Ambon Bay. Current, poor visibility at 15 m or so. A sea horse, dark brown, unresponsive. Three lionfish, of two different kinds, one a black version of common lionfish, the other smaller, possibly zebra lionfish. 1 small purple scorpionfish. An urchin crab, Zebrida adamsii, living on a fire urchin. Lots of fire urchins, which are very attractive. Two ribbon eels. A small moray, apparently guarded by a flutemouth. An octopus in a niche. A flounder. Three big fish, perhaps Spanish mackerel. A school of razorfish with a cornetfish in the middle. A thorny-back cowfish with a cornetfish swimming permanently above it. Lots of burrfish. Squat shrimp. And seven species of nudibranch: possibly scrolled Hypselodoris, H. infucata, Flabellina bicolor, Favorinus pacificus, Phyllodesmium longicirrum, Ceratosoma miamiranum, and Mexicilromis.

Posted by Wardsan 04:52 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Lovina to Semarapura

More volcanoes

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In Lovina, on the north coast of Bali, we stayed in a beautiful hotel with a swimming pool, hot water in the basin, a bath, and flowers on the beds. While we were staying in Lovina I dived the Liberty wreck at Tulamben with Franck, another trainee tour leader. It was a reasonably good dive, and we saw a lot of fish. But it was not clear why it should have such an elevated reputation.

From Lovina we travelled to Gunung Batur, the second-highest peak in Bali. On the way we stopped at Gitgit waterfalls.


On the Java-Bali-Lombok tour we climbed to the rim of Rinjani, Lombok’s highest mountain; visited a temple on the slopes of Gunung Agung in Bali; climbed Gunung Batur in Bali; and climbed Mount Bromo in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park in East Java.


All of these mountains are volcanic. Every hill of any size from the north of Sumatra to the eastern tip of Nusa Tenggara is a volcano, and most of them are active. The biggest eruption in the recorded history of the world took place in the area – and it wasn’t Krakatau.

The big eruption was Mount Tambora on Sumbawa, in April 1815. 160 cubic km of ashes and rocks were ejected, and the energy released was four times that released by the eruption of Karakatau in 1883. The height of the volcano fell from 4,200m to 3,090m in one day – now it is 2,850 m - and over 50,000 people died. 1816 became known as the year without a summer, as ash from the eruption blanketed the Earth, and it was the worst famine in the nineteenth century. Incesant rainfall in Switzerland in July forced Mary Shelley's holiday party to stay indoors and make up horror stories. (Hers was partly inspired by the work of Erasmus Darwin.) The dust-reddened sunsets were nice, though; they may have inspired some of Turner's paintings.

The eruptions and earthquakes are caused by the collision between the Indo-Australian Plate and the Asian Plate. The former is subducted under the latter, which creates very deep trenches south of Java – more on this another time, perhaps.


We stayed on the rim of the caldera of Batur at Kalibaru, about 1,500m above sea level, in a nice hotel called the Lakeview Hotel. Indeed, most of the hotels on the Java-Bali tour were splendid. The hotel is ugly, faced in pumice and looks like a castle or a prison, but there is a balcony looking over the caldera, and a really nice bathroom.


In the caldera is a lake and a volcano, Batur, which last erupted in 1994. The valcano has several vents.


The slopes facing the hotel are dark and bare. The lava looks new, but in fact it dates from 1963. Next to the 1963 flow are older flows, including one that submerged a village; the inhabitants relocated to the caldera rim.


We rose at three o'clock in the morning to climb the mountain. Contrary to the claims of some members of the party, it was an easy climb. It took less than an hour to get to the coffee post, where we watched the dawn.


Then it took us another 45 minutes to climb the loop path around the highest crater. On the walk around the summit we passed fumaroles and hissing, hot rocks.


Around the coffee post macaques fought each other or just admired the view.




The following day we stopped at Puri Besakih, the holiest temple of Bali.


The puri is actually a large series of Hindu temples. Entry to the temples themselves is not permitted to non-Hindus. We encountered another procession.


The temple is situated under Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest mountain.


Gunung Agung erupted catastrophically in 1963, killing thousands. The lava flowed all the way to the sea. As so often happens, the eruption was taken to be a judgment of the gods: the catastrophe also coincided with the most important festival in the Balinese Hindu calendar for a century. It is a mystery why the gods persist in speaking elliptically.


We also stopped off at Semarapura, usually known as Klung Kung. The remnants of the Javanese Majapahit state moved to Bali in the sixteenth century, and their descendants moved here in 1710. Here was the last capital of the last kingdom in Bali, the Gelgel dynasty. In April 1908 the Dutch decided to take over Bali properly rather than running it as a client state. They attacked the palace at Klung Kung. Rather than surrender, the king and all the inhabitants of the palace committed a puputan (a mass suicide), by walking en masse towards the Dutch guns. The Dutch destroyed the palace, and little is left standing.


But there is a museum and a couple of bale (pavilions), with wayang-style pictures that have, necessarily, been heavily restored: pictures fade very quickly in this climate.



Posted by Wardsan 01:57 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Ubud to Lovina

snow 4 °C
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This is not a happy time for me, as some of you may know, and I have not felt much like blogging recently, but today is the two hundredth birthday of Charles Darwin and I thought I might as well note it on the blog. The British media are enjoying a glut of Darwin events this year, and the Natural History Museum has a special exhibition on him; the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge is about to have one; and tomorrow Down House, Darwin’s family house near Orpington, reopens. I can’t get enough of it. Abraham Lincoln was born on the same day as Darwin, but that anniversary is receiving less attention in the UK, and rightly so.

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After leaving Ubud we went to Lovina, and on the way we visited three temples.

Taman Ayun is a Hindu temple dating from 1640. It is designed in three circles, each surrounded by a moat. It has 11 pagodas, representing 11 mountains. In Bali, good spirits live in the mountains and bad spirits and the dead live in the sea and on the beaches.



As we entered there was a procession, with chanting, drumbeats and song.


Not all visitors were welcome.


Tanah Lot is a Hindu temple on the coast and a big tourist destination.


The swell hits the rocks and bounces up dramatically.



The temple is on an island that is accessible at low tide. A lot of worshippers dressed in yellow and white brought offerings. In return for a donation, I was blessed and dabbed with rice on the forehead, on the temples and in the jugular notch, and a frangipani flower was poked on to my ear. I don’t believe in it, of course, but a frangipani in the ear is always a good thing.


At Tanah Lot there some people offer tourists the chance to be photographed with pythons. A big fruit bat hangs outside a shop.



For 1,000 rupiah you can feed it some mango, and everyone is a winner. When the bat ate the mango it closed its eyes in apparent ecstasy.


At Ulun Danu Batur, a temple on a lake, we encountered Russian tourists wearing virtually nothing: a skimpy bikini covered by a transparent shawl. This is not how you dress in a temple in Indonesia. Time was when Russian tourists were arguably the most cultured in the world, possessed of a Soviet education that was second to none except in matters of religion and economics. There weren’t many Russian tourists in those days, of course. Russian tourists in Bali are the lowest of the low: blond, crewcut rottweilers.




Posted by Wardsan 12:04 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)


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I am supposed to be preparing for an interview, so, naturally, I am doing all sorts of other things instead, including watching Kevin Pietersen bat in the First Test between the West Indies and England.

Here is a paddy field somewhere on the north coast of Bali.


Ubud receives large numbers of tourists, but succeeds in retaining its own character. One place, however, that is overrun is the central market, which sells items only to tourists. The woven items are often rather nice.


Others I am less sure about.


There are a number of temples with very attractive sculptures. Each temple is guarded by sarong-wrapped spirits such as Barong.


This is the old royal palace.


Sometimes the statues seem to be evil spirits. This is Rangda, the demon queen.


The Monkey Forest is full of macaques.


There are about 300 of them in the forest, including 35 adult males, living in three clusters.


Their canines are huge.


They are used to humans. They see humans as a source of food, and they hunt in packs. They will mug anybody, robbing them of any item they consider interesting.


A monkey stole Dick’s videotape while we were looking around the Pura Dalem Agung.



I ran after the monkey and tried to grab the tape back. The monkey bared its teeth and its friends arrived. The monkeys will scratch and bite, and some monkeys in Indonesia carry rabies, so I bravely ran away.




Posted by Wardsan 06:19 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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