Welcome to the jungle and its exotic wildlife
Indonesia feels like a land designed for adventure, as Ed Elliot discovers
Our jovial, middle-aged guide, Ameer, animatedly whispers: “Quick, look in the trees — just above the bank.” The deep growl of the boat’s engine is instantly killed as he directs my eyes to the edge of the narrow, murky river. I follow his outstretched arm until my gaze fixes on a female orangutan with the sun shining on her craggy, brown face.
We’re a few hours into a journey through the jungle of Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesian Borneo, chugging through the crocodile-infested Sekonyer river on a traditional two-tiered, wooden boat known as a klotok.
Our excitement increases when the big eyes of a tiny, one-year-old infant peep out from behind its mother’s back. Our looks of awe are returned with indifference before the larger of the two apes releases the long leaf it has been feasting on and nonchalantly retreats back into the thick foliage.
Indonesia is the largest archipelagic nation on the planet and stretches in excess of 3,000 miles from east to west along the equator. It is made up of more than 17,500 islands and a bit of hopping about is necessary to experience the best it has to offer.
Cheap internal flights costing as little as £20 mean it is easy to do so, providing opportunities to the see the weird and wonderful creatures of this country’s diverse ecosystems.
Almost every region contains different habitats and animals, making it an ideal destination for a trip in search of wildlife.
Borneo and the nearby island of Sumatra are the only two places in the world to encounter wild orangutans.
Leaving behind Pangkalan Bun in Borneo, we travel to the island of Flores, situated almost in the centre of the archipelago. The journey — via the Javan city of Surabaya and Denpasar in Bali — requires three short flights, totalling fewer than four hours.
We arrive in Labuan Bajo, a fishing town on the western tip of Flores, which serves as the gateway to the Komodo dragons of Komodo National Park.
Comprising 29 islands, this conservation area is spread across the tempestuous Flores Sea. Komodo and Rinca, which have a combined human population of around 4,000, are the major ones, along with uninhabited Padar.
Spending the afternoon in close proximity to the world’s largest lizard is our main goal, but there are plenty of enjoyable distractions to break up the boat journey.
One of the beaches has a pink appearance due to the mix of red coral and white sand, and it offers an excellent opportunity for a snorkelling expedition to explore hidden treasures lurking beneath the sea’s surface.
The presence of manta rays, turtles, whales, dolphins and dugongs makes it an enticing area for divers, and there are also more than 1,000 species of tropical fish and occasional sightings of whale sharks.
Following an hour spent face down in the warm waters, we are soon back on dry land ready to continue our primary quest.
There are more than 2,000 dragons on Komodo island. These fearsome, carnivorous cannibals dominate, preying on much larger animals, such as water buffalo and deer, along with wild boar and goats.
Visitors, understandably, must be accompanied by a guide and, as we follow a series of trails, ours quickly leads us to a couple of dragons lounging by a watering hole.
It’s another unforgettable wildlife encounter, which unfortunately ends too soon, although I have time to reflect on it that evening.
Back on Flores, I tuck into fresh crab in spicy Padang sauce while watching the setting sun turn the sky various shades of red and orange above the silvery sea.
As I pick out the dark silhouettes of fishing boats dotted in the bay, I wonder what other great mysteries Indonesia might hold.
SIGHT SEA: diving in the warm waters where there are over 1,000 species of tropical fish. Above right, orangutans, and the beach at Flores