Wel­come to the jun­gle and its ex­otic wildlife

In­done­sia feels like a land de­signed for ad­ven­ture, as Ed El­liot dis­cov­ers

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - TRAVEL LATE -

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

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