Scary idea or fantastic adventure
On learning that I was about to head off to a remote part of a country, landscape and culture that were quite unfamiliar to me, the world suddenly seemed to consist of two types of people … those who were cautious and fearful and imagined all manner of terrible things would befall me, who took great delight in recounting horror travel stories … and those who were excited for me and thought it was a wonderful opportunity and knew I would have a fantastic time. I decided to consider what the first group had to say and used my common sense and the information available to prepare myself for the experience ahead but put any fears or doubts aside and let myself be inspired by the latter because I knew this was going to be an incredible opportunity.
Operation Raleigh provided us with an orientation booklet that contained everything we would likely need to know about preparing for and undertaking this expedition. The venturers had gone through a selection process to whittle down the large number of applicants and make sure that those who were selected were physically and emotionally prepared for this experience. But I hadn’t had the benefit of such a process and so relied on my previous experience of camping trips into remote natural areas in Australia to make sure I was ready.
Getting bitten by the ‘travel bug’? No thanks!
I started walking and working out at the gym to prepare myself for the big hikes I knew we would be doing with a heavy backpack and for the general rigors of living in basic conditions for at least 3 months. I somehow made it through 14 injections including three rabies shots and in the process got over my fear of needles. Rabies vaccination seems to be part of the standard immunisation these days for visitors headed to parts of Asia but back then rabies shots were only required by anyone who knew they would be actually handling mammals. They were a must for me and the venturers in my team.
I also made a start on my malaria tablets, which proved very important because within the first month of being on Seram one venturer contracted malaria and became so ill that they needed intravenous fluids and had to airlifted off the island. By taking some basic precautions I stayed well and healthy throughout my 5 months in Indonesia and came home lean, fit and happy.
I spent 6 weeks learning ‘Bahasa Indonesia’ before I left so that I would have a basic grasp of the language and could get by when on my own. Indonesian as a modern dialect of Malay has borrowed heavily from many languages including Arabic, Persian, Portuguese, Dutch and Chinese.
I learnt many more words while I was in Indonesia but of course after all these years have forgotten most of them. I have however continued to use a handful of words that I decided sounded so much better than their English equivalent … bagus (good), cukup (enough), tidak (no), sedikit (a little) and Apa? which sounds so much nicer than What? but not as formal as Pardon me? And I have always loved the greeting ‘selamat datang’. It rolls off the tongue and for some reason always makes me think of those classic Hollywood movies where the characters are dressed like genies in colourful silken clothes with magnificent turbans and jewelled slippers. It’s the sort of greeting that makes me want to bow and wave one hand in gentle circles through the air towards the person I’m welcoming.
The Jungle Rule
Our orientation booklet was very helpful and didn’t mince words … ‘For much of the time you will be living in a tropical rainforest so poncho, hammock, water bottles and mosquito net are essential. The climate will be hot, sticky and wet and for these sort of conditions the standard Jungle Rule applies: Wear one set of clothes during the day, which will get soaked. Change into a dry set at night and the next morning change back into your wet outfit. Anti-fungal foot rot powder is essential as skin disease is rife and make sure to bring one tin of anti-louse powder too (joy oh joy – can’t wait to get there!). You may also be living in the mountains at up to 9000 feet where it will be cold, so warm clothing is also essential.’
If you are interested you can view the full clothing, equipment and medical checklist that was sent to us in our ‘Joining Instructions’. Keep in mind this was for a 3 month stay.
Nusa Ina (Mother Island)
I flew from Perth in Western Australia to Indonesia’s capitol Jakarta and met up with OR staff and other scientists who had mostly come from the United Kingdom. We flew together to the small island of Ambon and then traveled by boat to Wahai on Seram’s north coast. I did the trip on the ‘Lipi’, a neat little research vessel, others took the local ferry. Meanwhile the venturers were on their way to Seram aboard the ‘Rinjani’, a large passenger ship.
After a long journey by air and sea we had all finally reached the island that would be home for the next three months. The weather was beautiful and beyond the palm-lined beaches the central mountains looked sheer and imposing. We were excited about the adventure that lay ahead and keen to get started.
As a group we got stuck into the task of unloading equipment and personal belongings onto the jetty at Wahai. We then met some of the local people who would be porters and help us to move equipment and stores to the base camps that had already been established on the Island. We were also fortunate to have the use of a shed near the jetty to store any personal gear that we didn’t think we would need for the first phase of the expedition and so lighten the load for our first hike. Then we were off!
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Photos by Kai Bansner