After much preparation, and delays due to Covid and a lingering La Niña weather pattern, Holly and I are finally off on our expedition to Wallacea. We’ll be driving overland and taking ferries between islands — heading east from Lombok, located on the southwestern edge of the region, through Sumbawa to Flores, where we’ll take the ferry from Labuan Bajo to Bira on the southern coast of Sulawesi. We’ll base ourselves in the capital city of Makassar for a couple of weeks, exploring the nearby Maros caves — home of the oldest figurative art in the world — and working with Indonesian researchers to document some of their recent work.
After that we head north, to Tana Toraja and the fascinating cultural wonders of the highlands. Beyond that lie Lake Matano, the deepest lake in Indonesia and deepest island lake in the world, and Lore Lindu National Park with its mysterious megaliths; diving in the coral paradise of the Togean Islands before heading on to Manado and the renowned wildlife reserves of Bunaken and Tangkoko in North Sulawesi — home to Coelacanths and maleo birds, among many other fascinating creatures. Turning eastward we’ll cross the Molucca Sea to North Maluku, home to the ‘Spice Islands’ — and some of Alfred Russell Wallace’s most fascinating discoveries. It’s also the location of the second-largest nickel mine in Indonesia, a key player in the global race for ‘green energy’ commodities.
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The timing is auspicious. Alfred Russel Wallace was born in 1823, making this year the bicentennial of his birth. Furthermore, the vehicle we’ll be driving is a renovated Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser built in 1973 — 50 years ago, four years after I was born. Over the course of the past couple of years my mechanic and I have completely rebuilt the engine and drivetrain, and feel that it’s now ‘expedition-ready’. Apart from its legendary offroad prowess, it is the 4x4 of choice throughout Indonesia — meaning we’re likely to find mechanics along the way able to source parts and make repairs should anything go wrong (and of course it will). Finally, it’s the 25th anniversary of an overland expedition I led to Central Asia, driving from London to the Altai mountains via Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran and the ‘stans — which, among other things, revealed the surprising genetic impact of Genghis Khan on the modern world (this RadioLab episode is well worth a listen). Hopefully the confluence of anniversary dates bodes well for the journey.
I’ll be posting here as we go: travel stories with images and video, deeper dives into the science and history behind the people, places and creatures we encounter, and musings on the past, present and future of this little-visited part of Indonesia.
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Bali had 6.3 million international tourist arrivals in 2019, while Sulawesi received ~3% of that, the majority of them scuba divers traveling to Manado and nearby Bunaken National Park.
What an adventure! Have a great time!
Incredible. Looking forward to your updates, Spencer!