Merauke, Papua

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February 19th 2017
Published: February 21st 2017
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This is only a 36 hour snapshot of a fascinating part of Indonesia, but I'll try and provide some logistical information for the adventure minded traveler. The first thing to keep in mind is the climate. My trip was in the 3rd week of December. The rainy season had began about two weeks before I arrived. While it did not affect my travels, it did mean that the wildlife was much more dispersed, therefore more difficult to find. My guide, a local ranger named Asep (085244688175), said that October is an excellent time to visit. That would be at the end of the dry season, so you'll find the wildlife congregating around the remaining water holes. So, you will enhance your chances of seeing some of the regions specialties like wallabies, cassowaries, birds of paradise, cockatoos, and other species all within a relatively confined area. Finally, before arriving do not forget to secure your surat jalan(travel permit) as we were asked to provide it at several police and military posts. Bring extra copies as well, because they often want to keep a copy.

As I added this destination while I was in Papua, I did not really have much time to plan. Thankfully, through a good friend I met Asep and decided to just go with him by motorcycle to Wasur National Park. It's a bumpy 80 kilometers or so north of Merauke. We rode together on his dirt bike, and if I did it again, I would definitely take the time to try and find a 2nd bike. By the end of the 2nd day, I do not remember ever being more saddle sore! Our first stop was at the airy headquarters of the park. There is quite a bit of information displayed, although it is all in Indonesian. Another 20 odd kilometers down the road we stopped in a small village. The areas in and around Wasur National Park are governed by adat (traditional law and customs), so we needed to request permission from a village elder to camp. We were also obliged to hire a motorcycle for our additional guides as required by the village's regulations and provide the fuel and food. This added up quickly to a round 1 million rupiah ($75) for the more or less 24 hour excursion. It seemed rather expensive, but my friend who worked in Papua for years reminded me that this gives the villages an incentive to manage for wildlife.

Another 20 kilometers north, we left the paved road following a grassy track through open savanna where an agile wallaby darted across the road. Light was fading rather quickly and our other 2 guides who had gone ahead were nowhere to be seen. In the deepening dusk, we rode up on an old encampment. It was a lean-to roofed with paper bark from one of the local trees. Extra sheets of these were strung up nearby and also used as something to sit on. Darkness had already set in by the time our guides found us using a flashlight as their headlight was broken. After a simple meal of noodles, I was grateful to had brought a sleeping pad and mosquito net. The others slept out in the open on the paper bark, and I heard them swatting mosquitoes throughout the night.

We were up before dawn and broke camp without breakfast in order to get to the monsoon forest as quickly possible. It turned out we were still quite far from the forest, and the motorbike trails were far from easy to follow in places. It was 6 am and past morning chorus by the time we arrived. Asep pointed out some bird of paradise calls, however, I could never get near them. I did stumble across a Blythe's hornbill and imperial pigeon, but most of the action was happening back out in the savanna. Asep let me drive his little green machine, and I had blast putting along and stopping for cockatoos, kookaburras, butcher birds, and at least a dozen other species. We ended the day near the coast birding a freshwater lake near the coast that had an outrageous diversity of species both on and around the lake. It would have been a great place to camp if I had had an extra night. My cup was already overfilling though, after an intense 24 hours of wildlife spotting. I was happy for my cheap hotel room back in town, and not even the local drag races out front could keep me from a heavy sleep.

Additional photos below
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28th February 2017

Thank you for the blog as Zi enjoyed it very much.

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