Jungle Trekking in Tangkoko
Tangkoko NP, Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2009-05-10 12:00 by Martin
After the complete relaxation of Pulau Siladen, we headed to the extreme north-eastern tip of Sulawesi and the natural reserve of Tangkoko National Park. Getting here was an experience in itself, as busses and bemos (minibuses) do not go out here – instead we got a lift with a pickup truck, which is the main transportation form in the area. Sitting in the back and blazing through the amazing landscape on small roads were thrilling, yet we feared for heavy rains, as black clouds were rolling in from the sea. Luckily we got to the park entrance, and the small guesthouses located there, dry and safe.
A short rest later we located the tourist information shed (not the official one, as they were all boarded up) and arranged a guide for the next day – the friendly owner told us a bit about the area and suggested that we headed to the village beach for a glimpse into the lives of the “people of the sea” as he called the fishermen. It was a beautiful setting; a black sand beach (but a nice one) backed by green palm trees, crashing waves, colorful fishing boats in the water and children swimming and playing in the surf. We trudged up along the beach and were warmly greeted by the locals, and were instantly “Hello Mister”-ed. Boats were being built, set into the waters and were coming ashore with the catches of the day – navigating through the surf looked dangerous, but with skills and much practice the fishermen knew exactly when to start going in, rowing furiously when a big wave reached them, and were then carried all the way onto the beach.

The next morning we started out at 5:30. With the sun still not up, it was a bit difficult to get out of bed, but morning time is the best time to see animals (and not so steaming hot as midday), so we forced ourselves to it. Covering our entire body in mosquito repellent (yes, the one with enough DEET to actually work), taking on two layers of socks and tucking our pants into them, we prepared to be attacked by the resident mites of the forest. Apparently they bite and lay eggs under your skin, which will leave a severely itching rash lasting for days – not something we felt like being subjected to. Ready we set out with our guide and co-guide into the forest. The day quickly dawned with birds singing and the light slowly returning, gleaming through the thick foliage. At first we wandered around listening to it all, but were soon captivated by strange “woosh, woosh” sounds; two hornbills. The giant birds flew just above the trees and landed high in the canopy, but with quite some skill our guide spotted them and through binoculars they were clearly visible high above our heads. It is a remarkable bird, huge and with the characteristic large beak with a “horn” on top. It was very difficult to take a decent photo, even with our old but 10x zoom camera; the light wasn’t good enough. A short while later the birds flew off; in search of figs probably.

After walking some more, we came to an old dead tree, which were now only a high stem with no branches. High up hundreds of birds had made a colony in the stem, building their nests/burrows in the tree. It was a busy time, with small birds flapping about all over. Soon we got distracted though – suddenly three big black monkeys wandered just past us. About a meter tall when walking, they resembled chimps quite a lot – but with all black heads and somewhat slimmer features. They are known as Black Macaques and are endemic to Sulawesi. The three monkeys were on a food hunt and weren’t the least bit interested or scared of us, luckily their group wasn’t far away and we easily found them. Sitting in the trees, the forest floor or swinging in the branches, they were quite active. Again there wasn’t much interest taken in us, so we could just sit and watch the show. Again it was hard to take decent photos, but we managed to snap a few when the light and monkeys were cooperating.

Many trees in the park gets “attacked” by lianas, strangler figs and other growth that live on the trees. Sometimes they live in harmony, sometimes the attackers eventually kill their host; our next stop was an instant of the latter. Where once a mighty tree had stood now only the lianas and other stranglers were left, creating what looked like a tree, but upon closer examination was completely hollow. It consisted only of a thick intertwined web of growth, which reached far into the canopy and was at least a meter and a half in diameter. It was perfect for climbing; we didn’t dare go up more than 10-15 meters or so, but it was a fantastic experience climbing “inside” a tree. Through the growth you could look out into the foliage and onto the forest floor below.

Just before midday break, we came upon a very tall tree, which was a favorite hangout for an animal neither of us has ever heard of. It is a mixture of a koala and a tree kangaroo with a hint of monkey too – a true mix between the Australian and the Asian wildlife. This animal, which also only can be found on Sulawesi, is called a Cus-cus. We saw a group of 5 or so, but they were sleeping high, high up in the tree top. Even though we could only get glimpses of them through the binoculars, it was amazing to experience this elusive animal, that we didn’t even knew existed before we were staring at it. Nature is truly fantastic, so rich and diverse, yet complex and ever surprising.

We couldn't get a clear shot of the Cus-cus,
so we borrowed this photo.

At around 11 we had a good long break on the beach, which is also a part of the Tangkoko National Park. It was a beautiful mix of pitch dark sand and gleaming white coral washed up with the waves. The water was nice and blue and the beach clean, so we jumped in wearing most of our clothes, as we hadn’t brought swimsuits – it was refreshing with a swim after the long walk. Our guides went back to our guesthouse and picked up lunch, which was brought to us at the beach, and we hungrily wolfed down the Mie Bungkus (noodles to-go). Sitting on the beach hearing the waves crash against the sand and the scurrying sound of coral pieces being washed up, was a nice a tranquil relax. Giant butterfly in the most striking colors were fluttering about, and in a few moments of searching the corals we found 4 “tiger-eye” fossils, which are quite something in India anyway. After that it was time for a short nap ;-)

In the afternoon we headed into the forest again – the Cus-cus were unfortunately still sleeping, so we went on to find the main attraction of Tangkoko National Park, Tarsiers. These nocturnal fuzzy balls have huge funny looking eyes and are only 12-14 centimeters long, but have very long hind legs and a rat like tail. We had caught some crickets to feed the Tarsiers, so that they (the family we were “visting”) would come out from their nest in a big hallow tree. The crickets were surprisingly willing victims, simply sitting still when placed on the opening to the tree. Looking in we could just make out a few Tarsiers in the dark, but when they spotted the yummy cricket snack, they showed themselves. They were extremely quick, jumping from inside the dark to the hole, snatched the cricket and the jumped back into safety. We had the camera ready, and clicked away when we saw the Tarsier coming, but often it was simply too fast for us, and the picture came out empty. Cute, but again elusive, little animal indeed!

Dusk was upon us so we headed home with tired feet; on the way back we heard strange sound, it sounded like a woodpecker – but in fact it was a woodcutter. Illegally cutting down some smaller trees, he was long gone when we reached the place where he had been working. As with many of the primary forests of the world and indeed Indonesia, sadly illegal logging is commonplace here too.
This was the last entry from Sulawesi, an island that really surprised us with diverse attractions and friendly people. We were greeted with smiles and warmth everywhere and it isn’t hard to understand why this island was once a major tourist destination – maybe it will be again, it certainly deserves some attention.