Two and a half years of absence are coming to an end today. The main reason for not being active on our website anymore was simply the internet connection. In general there wasn’t a lot to catch on a remote island in Wakatobi (Indonesia) and secondly we are reglemented to a very small amount per week which doesn’t allow to up- or download anything basically. Holiday to the rescue!
Another reason for inactivity is content related. Yoeri’s camera stopped working after our time in Komodo (see final clip on: Where are you going?). The pictures of my old Pentax started to have annoying spots in multiple places and there was never any housing available to begin with. Only a couple of months ago we finally treated ourselves to new camera equipment – and are totally excited to put it to good use in 2019 and beyond.
We had our first dives on the House Reef and, of course, I created some postcards which are part of the bigger collection Warm regards.
My new camera is a Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and I have a nauticam housing. In the beginning I didn’t have a strobe yet, so all pictures of this collection are taken with natural light only and the LUMIX G Vario 14-42 with the wide angle conversion port from Nauticam. Looking forward to new projects and adventures in 2019. One of my new years resolutions: Follow my passion – in and outside the water: Create, share, inform and get active!
As a traveler you better get used to being asked where you are from, as this question comes up early in conversations no matter where you are going in the world. Nevertheless I was surprised to hear the Indonesian version “dari mana?” constantly when walking down the roads of Labuan Bajo. Without a greeting like “Halo” or “Selamat” it felt rather direct for the generally very modest and polite Indonesians. Of course, we didn’t want to be the rude foreigners and learned our reply: “Dari Jerman”. OK, actually Yoeri is “Belanda” by passport, but he is also a Berliner, and the Dutch are not very much loved in Indonesia.
More complicated was a second question which often followed, sometimes was even the only one asked: Ke mana? Where are you going? We were not only passing through as tourists therefore I didn’t know what to answer; hopefully nowhere for a while. Even though Labuan Bajo isn’t the most appealing place to be, it serves as a gateway to Komodo National Park with all its natural wonders as well as lush Flores. It was winter in Europe so we were definitely planning to stay in Indonesia for some time. Basically we came to stay, but on which islands and for how long we had no idea. “Where are you going?” turned out to be even more of a philosophical question revealing that we were drifting, going with the flow – quite happily, but without any proper destination or plan.
After a while we started to understand that these questions in fact are meant as a greeting. Unlike in other parts of the world where only strangers are asked, in Indonesia everybody is addressing everybody else this way. It’s simply not so much how you are doing, but where you are doing it. But even then you don’t have to be precise. You can say “jalan-jalan” for walking or my favourite expression “makan angin” (eating wind) which in a way reflected our approach to come to Indonesia quite well.
We moved on by now. But we still don’t really know where we are going or when this will happen. We are enjoying life where we are – most of the time at least. However I can show you where we are coming from and maybe where you are going to one day as we highly recommend exploring the beauties of Komodo yourself:
We just read a disturbing story of two dugongs, mother and child, that were kept on a chain in a little cage in shallow waters in Indonesia to be presented to eager tourists who could enter the cage for taking pictures with these endangered animals (selfie mania: stick to yourself!). Luckily two tourists not only refused to fall for this “attraction” and explained the status of these protected animals to the fisherman who caught and kept them, but also alerted wildlife authorities who freed them in the end (read full story on The Dodo).
It’s easy to blame the fisherman for imprisoning these gentle creatures, but truth is as long as there is a demand there will be a market. (That’s why the US war on drugs can’t be won by oppressing the producers in other countries, but that’s another story.) Therefore everybody: Please, be aware of the so-called tourist attractions that involve animals. Not always is the abuse as obvious as with a dugong on a chain in a cage.
In Bali we were constantly offered an island tour that included a stop for a very special coffee: kopi luwak. Ripe coffee cherries are eaten by the civet cat. While the pulp is digested the bean stays intact. Collected from the poo – actually here I wasn’t interested anymore – the beans are further processed. With so many tourists on Bali and all the tours offering this particular stop you can imagine how much poo has to be collected – every day. Instead of crawling through the bushes it’s much easier to catch a civet and forth fed coffee sherries to produce high quantities. Apparently all over South East Asia and for an international market… Tony Wild presented in The Guardian not only the development of this market, but also discussed a sustainable way of producing kopi luwak: Stay wild!
“Wild kopi luwak could provide smallholders with a premium product that also helps conserve the animal’s natural forest habitat. Maybe not so repulsive after all…”
Same goes for other animal attractions worldwide. There are very destructive and harmful ways and alternatives that can support local livelihoods and protect animal and their habitats in a truly sustainable way. We will put together some additional posting regarding tarsiers and whale sharks in the Philippines (to be linked soon).
But sometimes the only solution is: Stay away (like Boycott Seaworld)! For all divers and snorkelers it should be clear already: Don’t touch, don’t hold, don’t harass or chase (also not with that camera on a stick!).
If you want to see a dugong, find out where there are high chances of spotting them in the wild – without disturbing them. Apparently they can be seen in Komodo National Park. We keep our fingers crossed and our eyes open. But even without a dugong we have had fantastic diving, fascinating nature observations and unforgettable wildlife encounters on all our trips from Labuan Bajo. See for yourself in Yoeri’s clip for Uber Scuba Komodo:
In our first blog entry last year „Journey into the unknown“ we discussed how little is actually known on the impacts of the „first deep-sea mining Solwara 1, which aims to mine the Bismark seabed for high grade copper and gold, in Papua New Guinea by Nautilus Minerals, a Canadian company“.
Now the EU and SPC have published a so-called assessment on the costs of benefits of mining deep-sea minerals in PNG. Papua New Guinea Mine Watch writes in their blog: The
„new report claiming the money to be made from experimental seabed mining in PNG far outweighs the costs. Unfortunately the expensive report:
Fails to put a monetary value on many of the potential environmental costs
Fails to deal with the fact billions of dollars in mining revenues have already FAILED to improve the lives of ordinary people in PNG
Fails to acknowledge the past failure of PNG authorities to manage land based mining and its terrible social and environmental impacts
Assumes, totally against the evidence, that any environmental damage will be fixed by the mining company.“
During the flight to Indonesia in the beginning of December 2015 I read in my diving magazine Unterwasser about Bangka Island in the North of Sulawesi: Beautiful and diverse coral reefs just outside the famous Bunaken National Marine Park – less known, but very much worth going, especially if you enjoy small island life and would like to explore dive sites where hardly anybody has dived before. This tiny island of only 48 sq km is a hotspot of biodiversity. Perfect conditions for community-based ecotourism and conservation work how it is implemented in the South of Sulawesi by Wakatobi Dive Resort since more than 20 years already. Unfortunately the reefs are not the only natural resource found in the region.
“PT Mikgro Metal Perdana (MMP), an Indonesian subsidiary of Hong Kong based Aempire Resource Group, has been seeking licenses to extract iron ore from Bangka since 2008” (The Guardian, 3 April 2015). Even though a ruling of Indonesia’s Supreme Court in 2013 blocked further mining activities on Bangka the former Minister for Energy and Minerals, Jero Wacik, granted the exploitation license covering two-thirds of the island in 2014. Since then construction of mining and transportation infrastructure is causing direct demolition of reefs as well as indirect destruction via run-offs and waste products. The support campaign for the little diving heaven started immediately, but hasn’t been able to put a halt to the mining activities yet (read more on activism and diving around Bangka on Dive Advisor).
This case in the country where we hope to stay for 2016 or longer not only brought together my two passions, diving and activism, but combined the issue of marine protection with the topic that kept me pretty busy in 2015. After we came back from St. Eustatius in June I started researching the global impact of European trade and investment policy on exploitation of raw materials for PowerShift e.V. and the campaign Stop Mad Mining. Finally the study has been published! In German though: Alles für uns!? Der globale Einfluss der europäischen Handels- und Investitionspolitik auf Rohstoffausbeutung. Even though the EU calls her newest trade and investment strategy “Trade for all” it is clearly in the interest of big European corporations while democratic, sustainable, transparent and fair concepts of governing the natural resources from civil societies as well as Governments in resource rich countries are undermined.
Local populations are the ones who are most likely to lose everything: Their land, their intact (marine) ecosystems, their livelihood, and their future. “Bangka Island’s 2700 residents make their living fishing, tending coconut and cashew plantations, and catering to a growing tourism trade based on the coral reef. Residents are virtually united in their rejection of the mine, concerned it will threaten coral reefs and diminish fishing yields” (Inside Indonesia, April-June 2014). Mining doesn’t bring jobs or economic development to the region – or in this case island. In most cases local populations are not profiting from the infrastructure or getting any sort of revenue of mining projects. The Indonesian government tried to increase the national benefits of their natural resources, but rolled new mining law in 2014 when Newmount Mining used the ISDS mechanism (investor-state dispute settlement) of a Bilateral Investment Treaty to sue Indonesia for compensation (Hilde van der Pas and Riza Damanik): “The case of Newmont Mining vs Indonesia is a powerful example of how investment agreements, particularly Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), are used by companies to get exemptions from government regulations and legislation, undermining democracy and development.”
ISDS is a corporate weapon against public policies worldwide and is used to discipline states once a foreign corporation has invested in a country which signed BITs. But in the case of Bangka there was actually an Indonesian law prior to granting the exploitation license which prohibits mining on islands smaller than 2,000 sq km. Inside Indonesia writes: “Only weeks after the re-zoning, in December 2013, the Indonesian parliament revised Law no. 27/2007 to allow large-scale extractive industry investment on five small islands previously protected by small island conservation provisions – including Bangka. The revision was enacted very quietly.” Money talks, one could think. And in another mining case in Indonesia there is actually proof.
During that same flight I read about a corruption case that would be debated in Indonesia in December 2015: “The speaker of the House of Representatives, Setya Novanto, stood accused of trying to extort $4 billion in shares from the local unit of the American mining giant Freeport-McMoRan” (The New York Times, 17 December 2015). The operation license for the company’s Grasberg mine is ending in 2021. The controversial project in the East of Indonesia is the world’s largest gold mine and third-largest copper mine (collection on Grasberg mine by the London Mining Network). Mining friendly decisions on all levels are contrasting to the attempts to increase (eco and diving) tourism in the country. Digging and diving is a bad match.
Or so I thought: A couple of weeks later on a diving boat in Komodo National Park I met an engineer who is working in the Grasberg mine. Strangely enough his holiday love affair was a NGO campaigner from Peru who needed a little break from fighting to keep roads, illegal settlements and the oil industry out of natural and indigenous reserves.
The only way to explore the water world of Komodo Nationalpark: boat! But it’s more than just a way to travel. We enjoy the view of the islands in the sky before diving into the endless ocean and the sparkling sun on the water when getting back up after another magnificent dive part of the Flores Sea. Come to think of it: We actually wouldn’t mind to live aboard.
A week ago raining season started in Labuan Bajo. Even though the land in all the Eastern parts of Indonesia badly needed the rain, it does have its downsides. Not only are the clouds blocking our precious sun, but it creates quite some runoff that together with rubbish is being washed into the sea. But that’s a story for another day. Unfortunately it seems like the water, sediments and garbage have flushed away our internet too. Since five days there is no more connection in our accommodation anymore. “Maybe tomorrow?”, is the daily answer. Additionally to our nightly blackouts electricity stopped working this morning too. It most definitely does not make me happy.
It is annoying. It keeps me from doing things I planned to get done today. No idea when electricity is coming back, I’ve almost given up hope on internet all together. But what can I do? Be angry and frustrated all day about the situation, about the staff, about the circumstances in town, the weather in general. Possible, but it doesn’t change a thing. In fact I can’t control any of this. All I can do is to adapt my plan.
Just before the rain started I set up a new page on our website: Warm regards. I just got notice that my first real postcards from Indonesia started to arrive around the world. The idea for this section of online cards evolved from an evening with friends when we agreed that running – or any excessive sporting for that matter – is not our path to happiness, as well as a postcard I sent to my dad. Even though the quote on there is actually not from Buddha, it’s a good approach to life: “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” Nothing against running by the way: Take your time and enjoy it.
Instead of sharing my happy moments via cards I would love to have family and friends with me whilst travelling. Even the most paradisiac islands are better together. Come to think of it, a lot of these wonderful places don’t have internet or even reliable electricity. After all at the moment I only have to walk over to the dive center to get online. OK, the advertised “Free wifi” doesn’t exist, but the cable connection at least seems to be waterproof. Electricity just came back. Happy day!
Happy ending and off to a good start. Nevertheless we don’t know where 2016 is taking us. Therefore we keep our eyes open and follow our hearts: „Whatever tomorrow brings, I’ll be there“. Enjoy the soundtrack (Incubus: Drive) and see you hopefully somewhere at some point in this year.
We liked Bali from the moment we arrived: Already on the way from the airport to Radha Homestay we noticed happily how traditional styles are beautifully combined with natural, symbolic and day-to-day elements in a unique way not only within the many temples but basically everywhere: from houses to hotels, supermarkets and car parks. Sanur itself, even though highly touristic and definitely not the place we’d like to spend an entire holiday, has all these little statues, house temples, small offerings everywhere, including the narrow sidewalks, and an abundance of flowers, colours and smells.
Finally back in Asia! Before we had an exploration period in the West we worked in Blue Planet Andamans on Long Island in India. Bali feels like a little bit of India in Indonesia. It’s loud, smelly, dirty and crowded on the one hand, but people are happy, proud, kind, and spiritual on the other. And additionally there is nature in its tropical beauty and abundance. Bali touches the heart, soul and all senses, just as Long Island and India did too.