Planes, Taxis, Ojeks and Keteks Part I

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September 18th 2013
Published: September 23rd 2013
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I departed Jakarta for Palembang two weeks ago with these instructions from my Indonesian friends, "Eat pempek." Pempek is a savory treat made from local ground fish meat mixed water, salt and tapioca. It's eaten with a vinegar based sauce. Masakan enak means delicious and all the variations I tried over the following weeks were indeed so. Further instructions came from one of my supervisors Mr. Hendi who said I must try the infamously stinky fruit, durian. A natural procastinator, I quietly put this one off.

You'd be forgiven for thinking I had flown to Sumatra to only sample the local delicacies. In truth I had come over as part of a high conservation value asessessment (HCVA) team. In short our mission was to:

• Search for areas that contain or provide biodiversity support function to protected or conservation areas.
• Find critically endangered species.
• Search for areas that contain habitat for viable populations of endangered, restricted range and protected species and
• Find areas that contain habitat of temporary use by species or congregations of species.

Of course I was part of the bird crew and had the pleasure of working with my now good friend Satriya. Over the following weeks he would foster my knowledge of not only of Indonesia's incredible bird life, but of Indonesia's fasinatingly diverse cultural traditions and anomalies. For our 1st HCVA we departed from Palembang harbor where an incredibly sad monkey was tied to a bench. Or maybe it was just my relished idea of freedom that saw sadness in his little, brown eyes. Soon we were zipping out of the harbor on a wooden speed boat towards a bewildering system of canals that connected rivers and forest plantations. 4 hours later and 120 kilometers from Palembang we arrived at a plantation camp where we would be staying the next 4 nights. It was a much cheerier place than I had imagined with well built lodging, landscaped grounds and a volleyball court. Inside our bunkhouse we had the usual assortment of bugs, ants and geckos that come with living in the steamy tropics.

The next morning at 5 am we boarded a traditional boat called a ketek. It has a hand crank to fire up the insanely loud engine. For this reason I nicknamed it the Indonesian water helicopter and Satriya and I are going to make a million rupiah ($100USD) by designing the 1st solar ketek! For the 1st few days we would be dropped off along the canal and survey by walking along the canals or when possible venturing further into the forest. We already had 50 species by the end of the 1st day in some rather marginal habitat.

Our 2nd afternoon of surveying would be rememberable for a number of reasons. We ventured out into some old bush which had scattered trees and some tremendous undergrowth which we cut and waded through. After one such instance our guide Idham pulled a leech off of him. We all started checking and the next 5 minutes involved a lot of cursing and laughing as we all had them. One had managed to get me in 2 places and my pants leg had blood splattered all down it. But we had also landed in a honey hole and would chalk up 12 more new species in our most prolific afternoon, tallying 37 species in total. Most memorable to me were the sunbirds and one exquisite woodpecker, Common goldenback. We bushwhacked our way back towards the awaiting ketek, the sun blazing fiery red through the trees. The boat ride back equaled the afternoon with the starriest night since our arrival slowly unveiling itself. As I lay back marveling at existence I laughingly complained that the only problem was I could not see a meteor for all the fireflies gliding by.

The following morning certainly didn't start out like it could rival the previous days exploits. Common travelers diarthea required me to request our ketek drivers to stop along the canal. It like all things did pass and after surveying along plantation groves for the 1st hour we soon began to enter a nypa (native palm) forest. Things picked up quickly with 40 black-crowned and striated herons flushing in front of us, followed by our 1st crested hawk-eagle. The npya forest slowly changed to mangrove forests as we entered an estuary. It was such a lovely area, but a little late in the morning at this point and the birding was slow. Ominous, dark grey clouds were also building up south of us. Coming around one bend I was surprised to see a large village with all the houses high up on supporting stilts. Satriya and I were then both surprised to see the ocean! We had just a little time to dock our boat and climb up a ladder to the shelter of a house before the storm was upon us. High and dry Satriya was soon informally interviewing some villagers about the what local avifauna they have seen. This was a part of the HCVA process I had not seen yet and it was a very productive means of learning more about the area. They had even seen our grail bird, the endangered white-winged duck.

After the rains had passed, we crossed the ricketiest bridge I have ever crossed to get to the other side of the village. From there we headed up planked walkways to reach the village leaders house. We sat with him for a couple of hours as Satriya gleaned more information and we were offered fried deer lung from a sambar deer just killed the night before. Edible nest swiflet houses dot the whole village and are a major source of income. The nests are made from a blood and saliva mixture and fetch 4-500 USD a kilo! That's big money anywhere in Indonesia and this village was doing particularly well, attested to by the tablet the village leaders daughter played on and later took pictures with of the villagers posing with the stray foreigner. He later took us in his swiftlet
Chilling with Village LeaderChilling with Village LeaderChilling with Village Leader

Photo credits to Agung Satriya Wibowo.
house, a place of insane noise and lots of poop. They use playback powered by solar to help lure the birds into these caveronous structures. Soon afer we departed with a kilo of sambar deer and a pocketful of memories. Heading back up the estuary we spotted our 1st white-bellied fish eagle, a regal sight. Stay tuned for part 2...

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Photo credits to Agung Satriya Wibowo.

23rd September 2013

Even your gastritis episodes are exciting!
Love all your blog entries dear Brian! I know mother will be so thrilled to have someone read it to her. I can tell so much memory improvement since she has been moved to the Advance facility..and your mother agrees. She is also enjoying her therapy and working hard to get back to her apartment. Keep on keeping us updated. Your very loved.

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