“Operation Wallacea was the greatest decision we ever made”.
Now for those of you who don’t know, Operation Wallacea or Opwall is an organisation dedicated to biological and conservation management research programmes all over the world. Our experience began in October of 2015 when Ms. Newton gave a presentation about this expedition and somehow roped five IB students into a two-week adventure.
Our location was on Buton Island, Indonesia, where we had one week of jungle research in a campsite called Bala, about a three hour trek from a village in Buton. The second week was spent on a marine site in a place called Bau Bau, about a two-hour drive from the village.
The beginning of the trip began when we landed with the smallest plane we’ve ever been on, fitting about 50 people, into Bau Bau airport on Buton Island, where airport security consisted of a man pushing a trolley of rucksacks from the plane to the small outbuilding, checking your luggage tag as you left through the door to the beautiful, hot island.
We all walked out to a line up of cars that looked like they were ready to take us to the start line of the Amazing Race! About two hours later we arrived at the village, where the activities began. We stayed the night in local village houses and ate traditional Indonesian food in their community centre.
The first activity of the expedition was Canopy Access, and this was definitely a favourite. It consisted climbing a strangler fig tree that was approximately 148 feet high, allowing us to see how 40% of all life on earth lives. A few of us were even able to swing off a branch at the top, literally as if we were flying 148 feet off the ground. Next was our trek to our jungle campsite. Thanks to a good night’s sleep in the local homes of the Indonesians, we were able to pull through an incredibly tiring trek to Bala.
In Bala we had full schedules filled with things like jungle skills where we learnt how to survive in the jungle, if ever need be! It consisted of building a shelter for ourselves that was water resistant, creating booby traps to catch animals and cooking eggs on a fire that we created. Our days always also included surveying organisms such as reptiles, bats, butterflies and mammals.
Each was a similar process, where we would observe and look for certain types of endemic species of Buton and learning how to document them and what each spotting of them meant to the ecosystem. As for our evenings, they included washing up in the river, or if you were lucky you got the ‘mandis’, the Indonesian version of showers.
Each day was filled with tackling nature and in the process we developed a new type of sport ‘mud skiing’. This was when it had rained so heavily the day or night before, and all of the trails were filled with mud so in order to walk down, we needed to slide down each slope.
At the end of our active day, we would finish with an interesting lecture about tomorrow’s survey. One of the highlights of the Bala camp was the sleeping situation: Each of us fell asleep to the swaying of our hammocks within a covered tent.
As angelic as the Bala experience was, all things come to pass, and so did it. Fresh, clean and energetic, did we march out of Bala camp. We had all learnt a great deal and the innumerable laughs mixed with varying degrees of complaint drifted amongst us. This was the first week completed, and there seemed to be nothing to top it, for what could be a more unique experience than that?
The coming week had an expanse of experiences that none of us could have predicted. After arriving in our base camp and spending the night, we headed to the marine site in BauBau. It seemed a blessing after a week in the jungle, with functioning toilets, showers and air-conditioning. But Bala certainly had more character and exclusivity than an otherwise ordinary motel.
There, we met a great many researchers and budding marine biologists. It was a thoroughly fascinating experience, for some in our number learned to dive, whilst others honed their skills and developed skills intrinsic to marine surveyance.
We struggle to recall a week that passed in a heartbeat, but what is unforgetable is the final night, where a gargantuan camp-fire was set up and lit, while local and international music played in the background, all this amidst party games and incessant chatter. Many of us, who are unlikely to ever meet again, bonded in this moment, and I believe it was a heartbreaking moment to leave the following day.
Six nonchalant faces packed into a car on our leaving day, but these same faces betrayed a great sombreness at having to leave Indonesia behind and face reality. Unfortunately, aptly sad music played in the background on our flight. Steep frowns and heavy hearts were carried away by a propellor plane, off into the sunset, but away from paradise.
The 2016 Operation Wallacea team were:
For more information, contact Jo Newton: [email protected]