I went to Indonesia with a group of year 12s and 13s and 2 biology teachers from my school and it was an unforgettable experience. Indonesia is the furthest I have ever travelled but the excitement made it less nerve-wracking, when we reached Indonesia we then had a series of travel and accomodation until we reached the remote island of Buton, our group was based in the South forest camp, Bala, which required us to boat over to the forest and walk for 4 hours to our secluded camp. Although this was hard especially due to prior rain making it muddy our guides helped us immensely, including taking people's bags. Over the week at the forest camp we participated in many surveys, including listening to birds and measuring amphibians as well as short lectures on the biodiversity of the forest. The facilities were amazing considering we were miles into a forest and the equipment would have had to be carried into camp. The toilets were westernised but we used the traditional Indonesian mandis (a large tub of water with a scoop) to shower, which was a lot easier, more efficient and fun to use than anticipated. Also the huge river running through the forest was helpful, we washed our clothes, occasionally bathed and had a river party there on our last day...But by far the most important and special asset to this camp was the amazing volunteers and locals. Firstly, the volunteers are all so fun, interesting and friendly, they have so many stories to tell and are great at their jobs. They are so enthusiastic about what they do as well, when I was about to do my tree canopy access (which I 100% recommend, it is beautiful) Jesse, the amphibian and reptile expert, got a call from camp telling him 'a python has eaten a pig' just next to camp. This was exciting for everyone but Jesse was giddily running back down to camp, I think that is the most important thing Opwall offers; professionals who are great to work with and love their job. Next, the Indonesians that stayed with us, many of them live in Buton and travelled over with us, they are the loveliest and funniest people you could meet. Our cooks were amazing, our guides cared for our safety and knew the forest so well and our medic had a cure for everything (if you get spiked by a caterpillar rub some ash on it). The atmosphere in the camp was great and everyone had fun.
Our next stop was the marine site of Hoga and another set of boats, cars and hotels to get there, when we arrived there the views were amazing. At this site we spent the week doing 2 sessions of either snorkelling or diving a day. I snorkelled and it was really cool and fun however as this was all we were doing (we could not collect data due to no training) it got boring at times. Reflecting back on this I would now chose the dive training. The atmosphere was also very different than the forest, in the forest the group was a lot smaller and more intimate - our school, a few university students and the staff - whereas at the marine staff it was crowded with university students. At times, I felt these students would look down on us and frequently I noticed many of the girls went against the dress code and showed a little too much flesh than appropriate for a muslim country, this included wearing short shorts or even walking around in just a rash vest pulled over their bum. I hope Opwall will use this feedback to enforce the dress code more as I felt it unfair on the locals. Another problem was the littering, I understand that it is in the Indonesian's culture to throw their rubbish in the water, however due to the site's purpose I felt that the amount of litter covering the coral holes around the island was too much. Maybe a couple of bins around the walkways would encourage less littering? We also visited the close Bajau village called Sampela (village built in the sea), this was one of the most extraordinary places I have been and the kids were fascinating and fearless. All in all the site and island was beautiful and offered some great opportunities, I only picked up on these faults due to comparison.
Thank you Opwall for an amazing experience, the work and dedication that goes into ensuring everyone has fun, from the head of the Indonesian sites down to a diving instructor, attention was given to all our needs and speaking on behalf of my school we had an unforgettable trip that was worth all of the money. I would recommend this to everyone who wants to explore the world and different cultures, the good thing about going with the school is you get the opportunity without needing to study biology at university. The 2 week trip crams so much into it and some of my experiences mentioned are just a few, you will do things that you thought exceeded your abilities, you will become more humble and most of all you will create memories that will stay with you and adapt you as a person. My advice to those doing a similar trip as I have done is;
- Say 'Hey Mr!' or wave to everyone in the small villages that you drive past in Buton, you will never see strangers so happy to see you
- Buy a traditional Buton sarong
- Learn their language
- Take a pack of cards
- Take tons of photos (any photos you take with locals, show them)
- Have fun!!!