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Indonesia is a great destination
Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to Manado (Indonesia), April 2012

A couple of days after we collected our Indonesian visa at the Indonesian Embassy in Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur, we took a flight with Indonesian’s price fighter Lion Air to Jakarta. Jakarta isn’t really our favourite city, so when we bring a visit to this part of Java, we prefer to stay in the nearby town of Bogor; just an hour by train away from central Jakarta. We love Bogor, partly because of its size and great botanical garden. One of the main reasons to come to this part of Java was to buy some field guides for the birds of Indonesia. It is almost impossible to buy these books outside Indonesia. They are most of the time out of print. But in Bogor you can buy them at the Bogor office of ‘Burung Indonesia’ (The Indonesian bird protection organisation). The books are only available in the Indonesian language, but the price is ok and it is a great way to learn some Indonesian. We decided to buy the books of Sumatra, Java and Bali, the book of the Wallacea area (including Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara and Moluccas) and the book of the Papuan birds. Just in case.

We used this visit to Java also to bring a renewed visit to Jakarta and the nearby National Park Gunung Gede, which is a great park with good birding opportunities. In Bogor we decided to stay at a different place then we used to stay. Just outside the bus station of Bogor we met Tom who told us that he rents out some rooms in his colonial family villa. For 50,000 Rupiahs (Euro 4.50) per room per night, including breakfast, we had a great room in the centre of town. Indonesia can be very cheap, but our overall impression is that prices are rising, especially in the more eastern provinces of the country.

Boarding for the night flight from Jakarta to Manado
In the small village of Cibodas near the gates of Gunung Gede National Park, we stayed at the same home stay as four years ago. The home stay is managed by Freddie, who speaks fluently Dutch (much better than his English). This home stay is the place to be for birders, because it is a good place to meet fellow bird lovers. But during the four days we stayed at this little place, we were the only guests. It was off season which meant no other birders. However, it gave us the opportunity to have some nice conversations with the owner Freddie (see also the column: Religion in Indonesia). When we were back in Bogor, the first thing we did was to bring a visit to a travel agent. We bought two plane tickets from Jakarta to Manado. We left the same night. By the time the sun rose again, we landed in Northern Sulawesi’s main city and took a taxi to the Rex hotel, a place where we stayed several times before. The last time we were here, we came mainly for the great diving opportunities at nearby Marine Reserve Bunaken Island. This is the place where we got our diving certifications. But this time we came to do birding. There are two national parks that are worth a visit. The first one is Banani Nani Wartabone National Park (names after a local freedom fighter). Also this park, as most others in Indonesia, is terrorised by ongoing illegal logging activities, but a visit is still worthwhile. The park is also very remote and not many foreigners make it this far. So, if you decide to come, you will be rare species in the village that will get a lot of attention. And that’s part of the fun.

It was a long bus ride (6 hours) from Manado to the small village of Duloduo. Duloduo is the most practical base for any visit to Banani Nani National Park and is also the village with a great home stay: Auntie Mien’s Home Stay. The price is substantial (Rp 200,000 per person, including three meals a day), but the stay is very pleasant (see also the article: birding at Auntie Mien’s). We stay three full days in Duloduo and see a lot of great birds. We were here also three years ago and it was shocking to see how fast the forest is disappearing. During our last visit we failed to bring a visit to the Tambun forest, part of Banani Nani National Park, where it is still possible to see the fabulous Maleo Bird in the wild. We went to the forest, saw the bird very well, and we even got the opportunity to release one of the Maleo chicks into the wild. The park rangers try to hatch some of the eggs in a protected area, to prevent poachers to collect the eggs for selling them on the market.

An ojek (motorcycle taxi) ride near Duloduo

After our visit to Banani Nani Wartabone NP we took a bemo (local public minibus) in the direction of Manado. We got off at the midsized town of Kotamobagu, because we wanted to bring a visit to Gunung Ambang (Ambang Mountain). Gunung Ambang is also ‘famous’ among birders because it is one of the few places in northern Sulawesi where you can find some mountain species. From Kotamobagu we took a public bemo to the very small village Sinsingon, at the foot of Gunung Ambang. This village has no formal accommodation, so we went to Pak Julius’ house. He is the local ranger and also accommodates and guides birders. We do not know how much Pak Julius does to protect the forests on the slopes of Gunung Ambang, but it seems that it is not enough. Also the forest here is quickly disappearing, and some of the very special highland species of Northern Sulawesi with it. Very sad! Most bird watchers come here to see the very elusive Scaly Kingfisher and the Matinan Flycatcher. We saw none of them, probably also because we are not using recordings to allure the birds. But our visit was still very worthwhile. We saw many great birds.

Our last destination in northern Sulawesi was Tangkoko National Park. We also visited this place before, but at that time we were unlucky. We shared the park with a group of Bird Tours Asia who hired all the good guides. That left us with the unmotivated leftovers. But this time we were in Tangkoko in the low season, which gave us the opportunity to select the right guide. We choose for Samuel, linked to the Mama Roos Home Stay, and this choice proved to be a good one. We spend two days in the park and saw many of the ‘target species’ of the park (see also the article: The benefits of a good guide). Samuel even showed us the Minahassa Owl, one of the rarest birds to see in this part of Sulawesi. And he even showed the bird during daylight to us! Satisfied, we travelled back to Manado where we bought the flight tickets from Manado to Kao, a small village on the Island of Halmahera, around 600 kilometres east of Sulawesi. But first, we had one more day in Manado to look back at some great weeks in the northern part of Sulawesi; a great destination with a very friendly population. And that makes Indonesia such a great destination. Every island is different; almost a country on its own.


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