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In Which We Dive an Undersea Volcano

17 Oct tendrilly fan corals in scarlet and orange off halmahera, indonesia

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Indonesia is not, let us say, short on dive sites.

And, when you can snorkel with giant manta rays, turtles and jellyfish defanged by evolution off Pulau Derawan in Borneo and see pretty much all the Togian islands have to offer (bar the plane) without fronting up for cylinders and BCD, it makes sense for any traveler with more time than money to be a little picky about where they actually dive.

An active undersea volcano, fringed with bright corals, falls well into the “yep, I’ll dive that!” category. One of almost 50 newly catalogued dive sites off Halmahera in East Indonesia, it nestles just offshore from Galela, only a couple of hours by dive boat from Tobelo.

The pure black sand beach, glittering with shards of mother of pearl, fringed by coconut palms and encircled by rocky coves full of lobsters, submarine hot springs and coral means there’s plenty for snorkellers too.

But descending into the crater itself? Wow! Continue reading

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The Adventure Island You’ve Never Heard Of: Morotai

15 Oct Flickering flames and logs against a pitchblack background.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Ever heard of Morotai?

Nope?

You’re not alone. But, when it comes to desert island bliss, this smallish island off northern Halmahera in Indonesia’s Spice Islands (Maluku or the Moluccas) packs some serious punch.

Over the last four days we’ve splashed by night in luminescent water on the soft white sand of our own private island (accommodation free), got up close and personal with critically endangered dugong, the origin of the mermaid myth, visited a pearl farm, and handled Japanese bayonets and American dogtags from World War II battlefields.

Also? We’ve seen some turtles, the odd dolphin, 6-metre saltwater crocs. And eaten fantastic crabs.

And there’s much, much more to Morotai. Continue reading

When Travel Becomes Time Travel

23 Sep

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Tomorrow we embark for Pulau Halmahera, one of Indonesia’s Spice Islands, where we will travel back in time.

Our aim? To experience the nomadic hunter-gatherer life as it is still lived today, among unassimilated Togutil people.

And this is a journey almost as close to time travel as it is possible to get. A step right back into human history. Continue reading

Buffalo Soldiers: Living for Death in the Tana Toraja

2 Sep Funeral buffalo sacrifice, eyes open, throat slashed, dying in a pool of its own blood on the grass. Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

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Like This!

“Are funerals like this in London?” asks my new Torajan friend.

The dead man’s drum-shaped coffin emerges from the matrimonial bedroom where he has “slept”, preserved in formalin, with his family for the last eight months. Continue reading

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

14 Aug

Low's Peak casts a shadow and refracts the sunrise, Mount Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Dali would have loved the summit of Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak between the Himalayas and New Guinea.

Granite towers, horns and cowslicks protrude improbably from a landscape of fractured moraines and curvaceous drops, polished clean by Pleistocene glaciers and decked with gleaming waterfalls.

And watching the rising sun refract around these surrealist sculptures and illuminate Low’s Gully, which falls dark and sheer for over a kilometre, is a memory that will last forever.

Unlike the thigh and calf pain, which I am told should be gone within the week. Continue reading

Ulp. It’s an Alp.

10 Aug

The flag of Sabah state, with Mount Kinabalu shaded in blue on the top left.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]When a mountain makes it onto the state flag, you know it’s a big old mountain. And Mount Kinabalu, which stands over 4000m above Sabah in Malaysian Borneo, is certainly that.

The nine year old and I will be climbing it on Wednesday and Thursday. (Well, hiking, technically, albeit with the odd bit of rope and head-torch action.)

And every time I see the bloody thing looming up, I wonder whether this is a good idea. Particularly since one part of Z’s incentive package for the summit climb is that I am giving up smoking.

Not for the first time, it has to be said, but hopefully for the last. Continue reading

The Vanishing Forest

28 Jul Three platforms laden with forest timber plough their way down the Batang Rejang, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

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Some things, simply, look too big, too plentiful to ever be used up. The herds of bison that clouded the American plains; the trees of Easter Island; the ice sheets of the Arctic; the world’s great rainforests… Continue reading

Into the Deep

12 Jul

Z in scuba gear exiting a boat with a giant stride.

One small step for mankind... One giant stride for a boy.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Why learn to dive?

Well…

Scuba diving opens up an entire new world. There’s the fluid, graceful movement in three dimensions, moving up or down (quite literally) on a breath, turning any way you wish like a gymnast in zero gravity, powered only by your legs and fins.

There’s the chance to explore the complex ecosystems of coral reef: a surrealist, ancient, technicolour landscape, populated by a myriad creatures who, unlike their land equivalents, have yet to learn to fear human beings.

There’s that warm, buzzed glow of discovery you get when you surface. And that edge of anticipation as you take the giant stride off the side of the boat…

Which is exactly what Z is doing, in the picture above. (The ginormous wetsuit is, in fact, an extra small.) It’s his first giant stride as a qualified Junior Open Water diver, off Koh Tao, Thailand. Continue reading

Spirits of the Forest

18 Jun

Lichens form webs of green, pink and orange on the bark of a tropical tree. Nam Ha protected area, Luang Namtha, Northern Laos.

Tropical lichens spin their symbiotic web on a mature tree.

The sheer complexity of the ecosystem in protected, mature forest, from lichens spinning their symbiotic webs across old bark to the chaos wild pigs wreak on stands of giant bamboo, gives you a whole new perspective on the world and your infinitesimal place within it.

And when your guides are animists, who whole-heartedly believe in the spirits of the forest, the experience is deeper. When hiking in Europe you might lay a stone upon a cairn, as a good luck sign and mark of your travels. In the Nam Ha protected region of northern Laos you lay an offering of leaves at a sacred place. Continue reading

Full Fathom Five…

13 May

Imperial Japanese Navy ship AkutsishimaThere is a sepulchral magic to a shipwreck. Viewed from underwater, with russet filigrees of sea ferns flourishing on the fractured edges of a shell hole in the side, lettuce corals unfurling from a rusting crane, the gossamer fins of lionfish undulating like silken flags outside a propshaft, a wreck is one of the most awe-inspiring sights the planet has to offer.

The battle of Coron Bay might have faded into history. Just another skirmish in the closing throes of the Second World War in Asia, where US Helldiver pilots annihilated a Japanese supply convoy hiding in the Calamian Islands.

After the raid, in September 1944, it took weeks for some of these monsters to sink. They drifted, crippled, on the currents for many miles. Others went down almost instantly, taking many of their crew with them. Some have never been found.

Z and I visited three of the ones that have. Continue reading