Indonesia’s forests are being destroyed. Ecotourism may offer one way to protect them.
By Gemima Harvey for The Diplomat.
Following a flurry of international attention and keen anticipation, the extension of Indonesia’s forest moratorium, preventing companies from getting new permits to clear protected areas, was confirmed on Wednesday. The news comes days before the original ban’s expiry on May 20, but even with this promised respite for Indonesia’s forests, many remain concerned.
Much of this concern centers on the future of vast swathes of tropical rainforest in Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra. Aceh’s Governor, Zaini Abdullah, is pushing a pro-development plan that would allow 1.2 million hectares of protected rainforest—some of the most pristine areas left in the country—to be rezoned, opening the gates to mining, timber and palm oil companies. The plan is reportedly close to approval, unless Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono intervenes. The spatial plan calls for roads that would cut through sections of Gunung Leuser National Park, the last place on earth where elephants, rhinos, tigers and orangutans can be found in the same location. Adding alarm, the protected status of a critical ecosystem, The Tripa Peat Swamp, would be removed.
East Asia Minerals (EAM) has been lobbying authorities to approve the plan, releasing a statement last month saying: “The company [EAM] is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from ‘protected forest’ to ‘production forest’.” They go on to say that efforts have been stalled by a coalition of environmental NGOs.
Opponents have taken to social media, with efforts including a recent petition from global campaign network Avaaz. Rudi Putra, the Indonesian conservation manager who won The Future for Nature Award 2013, explains in the appeal that Aceh boasts the largest biodiversity in the Asia Pacific region and is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In 2011, the national moratorium was set in motion by an agreement between Indonesia and Norway under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme. Norway pledged US$1 billion to support Indonesia in its strategy to address issues of rapid deforestation and peatland degradation, which accounts for 75% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Forest coverage is disappearing at a disturbing rate, earning Indonesia the dubious distinction of inclusion in the 2008 Guinness World Records for having the fastest rate of deforestation. An area equivalent to 300 soccer fields is cleared every hour, and the UN Environmental Programme predicts that 98% of Indonesia’s forest area could be destroyed by 2022.
Suspense about Aceh’s future coincides with the release of a UNDP study of forestry governance in Indonesia, which rates Aceh as the most poorly managed in terms of protection, regulation, planning and participation of REDD+.
Graham Usher, Landscape Protection Specialist, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project is pleased that the moratorium has been extended but says it remains unclear what this means for Aceh. He notes that where the former governor reformed forestry regulation in favour of protection, the new Aceh governor is reverting “to the development paradigm of ‘less forests = more development.’”
Usher explains that national laws and environmental guidelines are paramount, including mandates to protect the Leuser Ecosystem, but the Aceh Government is under the impression that a “special autonomy” act gives it unbridled authority to break national forest protection laws. He says, “It appears that the National Government is taking a softly-softly with Aceh to avoid disputes.”
A key problem is inconsistency in spatial mapping. While the National Government has the final say, since decentralization in the late 90s, local governments have been producing their own maps and Usher says not all of these are recognised by the national authority. He gives the example of a 2007 concession handed to a palm oil company by the land mapping agency in Aceh. This concession in the Tripa Peat Swamp was marked as protected by all previous moratorium maps and yet the company (Dua Perkasa Lestari) has continued to clear the land, regardless of its environmental significance and concerns over legality.
Usher says efforts are being made to move towards a solution “where all government agencies essentially work from the same baseline data.” But with 40 years of divergent maps to assimilate, this is far from simple. “There is no doubt that progress has been made, particularly with the public perception that maps are public documents and should be transparent.”
It is also critical to consider the affected indigenous people living near the areas mapped for rezoning.
Campaigners and conservationists assert that lost forest coverage could cause landslides and flash flooding, with serious consequences for local populations. Usher says that Aceh has many steep mountains with fragile soil systems and that a proposed new road network creates risk of major disasters. “The Leuser Ecosystem was not only established to protect biodiversity and threatened species, but also to protect the ecosystem services on which millions of people currently depend.”
Others, however, argue that restraint on industry is a restraint on raising the living standards of the rural poor. Pro-development bodies maintain that expanding industry creates jobs for communities where there may be little alternative economic opportunity.
This reasoning is used by industry representatives opposed to extending the ban on forest conversions. The director of law and advocacy for the Indonesian Palm Oil Association, Tungkot Sipayung, spoke out in The Jakarta Post, saying extending the moratorium will “limit development of labour-intensive palm plantations and palm processing sectors.”
Another sentiment, in opposition to limiting development, is cynicism towards the interventionist role played by industrialized countries. World Growth, a pro-development NGO, contends in a report about the potential impact of the 2011 moratorium on communities, “It is crucial that developing nations be given the same chance that developed nations have benefited from.” The report points out that in certain regions palm oil is the main or only crop grown, providing jobs in its various stages of production.
Usher dismisses the idea that industry expansion pulls people from poverty as “rubbish.” He uses spatial planning in Aceh to illustrate that land decisions are being dictated by “a few bureaucrats and private interests.” He goes on to note that there is limited land for productive agriculture in the region and that most people live on the north/northeast coastal plain, where most rice production takes place. This rice farming hinges on irrigation from inland forests. “If these forests are converted to other uses (such as oil palm or mining), many of these people will suffer increased poverty. There is a reason that developed countries like Japan and Taiwan (with a similar landscape to Aceh) have 60-70% forest cover: they have long realized that they need this level of forest cover to sustain their development.”
Spurred by climate change worries, industrializing nations are being called on to minimize emissions. As Indonesia demonstrates, this in turn requires new policies and improved forest management to limit the deforestation linked to growing industry. That’s a point echoed in a study by Yale and Stanford University researchers, which projects that expansion of palm plantations in Indonesia’s could pump more that 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2020, more than all of Canada’s current fossil fuel emissions.
Indonesia has the third-largest tropical rainforest coverage in the world and as global warming is blamed for more severe weather events and environmental catastrophes, many eyes are turning to the Southeast Asian nation to keep the lungs of the earth intact.
But who draws the line between development and environmental degradation?
Indonesian conservationist Rudi Putra says in the Avaaz petition appeal, “Countries like mine have a right to develop, but not at the expense of our priceless natural patrimony, and it should benefit, not harm, Indonesians.” Wolfgang Sachs, author of The Development Dictionary, has written: “Politics is compelled to push either equity without ecology or ecology without equity.” He continues to discuss post-development initiatives where, “a transition from economies based on fossil-fuel resources to economies based on biodiversity is paramount.”
One possible model is ecotourism, which lets people earn money while living in harmony with the earth. Indigenous communities retain their independence, at the same time accessing a sustainable economy.
Disputes between indigenous populations and multinational companies are increasingly common, in a disturbing trend known as “land grabbing” or “economic land concessions.” In Laos and Cambodia, for example, the chain of collusion strings together multinational companies, backed by banks in Europe, which are granted land concessions by corrupt government officials, who then look away as locals are rendered powerless, their farmland and livelihoods destroyed. The disenfranchised are left with an ultimatum: work for the companies or starve.
Right now in Borneo, the Malaysian firm Sarawak Energy is planning to establish hydroelectric dams, which according to news site Mongebay are “controversial because they require the forced displacement of indigenous communities and will flood large tracts of rainforest. Furthermore there is currently little demand for the electricity that will be generated, raising suspicions that the primary purpose of the projects is to generate lucrative contracts for politically well-connected firms.”
Ecotourism turns this trend around. Rather than economic growth at any social and environmental cost, people are empowered to create a conservation-focused economy, creating job opportunities while providing incentives for protecting rainforests and generating funds for wilderness patrols and the rehabilitation of endangered species displaced by human activity.
Take the inspiring example of community-based ecotourism in Tangkahan — near the Gunung Leuser National Park, an area under threat from the Aceh Government’s forest plans. Fuelled by the desire to create a sustainable economy, two villages of more than 7000 people came together to establish The Lembaga Pariwisata Tangkahan (LPT). Supported by NGOs Indecon and Flora and Fauna International, in 2002, LPT signed an agreement with the National Park Authority, securing 10,000 hectares (now 17,000 hectares) for eco-tourism activities under the prerequisite that it be protected. From 55 founding members, 32 formerly worked as illegal loggers, indicating an innate wish to protect their environment while retaining the ability to feed their families.
With financial incentives for conservation, the community has transformed the area into an ecotourism destination. This has led to job creation, with various roles required to run their tourism office and multiple tour packages. LPT’s website states that just a decade ago, the area was an exit point for illegal logging in the national park. With its stunning scenery and clear rivers, however, the community began to realize the potential for income from appreciative visitors.
Jessica McKelson, Director of Raw Wildlife Encounters, launched her ecotourism initiative in 2008 and said the livelihood of local people is a core pillar for why the company operates. “They are custodians of the lands that surround their communities, where we bring guests to visit, they allow us to enjoy these areas and we offer employment opportunities from guides to rangers to administration as well as education programs so they can comfortably support their families and don’t have to work in legal, or illegal, logging or palm oil and can live sustainably. Most have lost all their natural resources to deforestation practices and were left with no option but working for $8-$10 per day in terrible conditions or losing that job to transmigrants.”
Since the business started, McKelson says that 85% of gross earnings have gone to community and environmental programs. “This community-based eco-tourism model provides local people with stable, consistent income without damaging their own backyards and the wildlife and ecosystems within it. It’s conservation through empowering and educating the community. A win-win for all!”
Along with economic benefits for local people, there is the added bonus of conservation-based skills transfer from NGOs to the community. Describing the Tangkahan initiative, The International Ecotourism Society says that skills like “ecotourism development and management, planning and policy development, conservation management, and monitoring and assessment” were merged with Karo culture and values “to ensure community ownership of the initiative and equality in the distribution of benefits.” Raw Wildlife Encounters also offers guide training to the Tangkahan community to support sustainable management that is consistent with standards set out by The International Ecotourism Society.
In promoting ecotourism, emphasis must be placed on ethical management to ensure it does not transform into mass tourism, void of eco-values. McKelson says Bukit Lawang in Sumatra is an example of this. She explains that tourists ignore conventions about avoiding contact with orangutans and even pay bribes to local guides for a close encounter and the chance to feed them, which becomes encouraged by guides keen for the extra cash.
Despite the cases of mismanagement, she says, “Eco tourism in Indonesia can be a great employment model to protect natural resources via an alternative sustainable livelihood.” In other words, a step in the direction of building economies that do not come at the expense of the environment.
Full article > http://thediplomat.com/2013/05/19/can-ecotourism-save-indonesias-disappearing-forests/
Gemima Harvey (@Gemima_Harvey) is a freelance journalist and photographer.
By Colleen Curlewis, April 2013
I returned recently from the first Earth 4 Orangutans trip to Northern Sumatra where I saw how the scourge of plastic and non-biodegradable waste is choking the environment. I wanted to write a blog that gives you some tips on how to travel responsibility – tips that can and should be applied both at home and abroad. Before that though, let’s look at why plastic is such a problem.
It’s worth stating up front that the problem with plastic didn’t exist as recently as 30 years ago. I still remember grocery shopping with my mum and using strings bags and paper sacks. Milk bottles were returned and reused, and bottled and canned drinks were far fewer and less consumed than today. The last decades of the 20th century saw a boom in plastic production, factory farming, and processed and fast food dependency. Coincidentally it’s also seen massive increases in deforestation, pollution, carbon and greenhouse gas emission, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. However I digress, back to plastic.
Apart from the obvious eyesore created by discarded plastic, it is a very dangerous material in the environment. It virtually never biodegrades! Sure it breaks up into smaller pieces but it is safe to say that every single bit of plastic you’ve used in your life still exists, somewhere, and will long after you’re dead. Scary…
If you’re concerned about greenhouse gases and the overuse of fossil fuels, plastic fails dismally in that department too. The energy and other resources used to produce these (mostly) single use materials is significant. Using National Geographic calculations it would take about 22 million gallons of crude oil to produce the 38 million water bottles used by the Americans each year. That’s a lot of oil, a lot drilling and a lot of emissions.
Beverage bottles contribute the highest amount of litter (after cigarette butts) and are especially bad for three reasons they require extensive energy to produce, are typically single use, and do not biodegrade. In Australia, despite our first world facilities in recycling, public rubbish bins and container deposits, the Clean Up Australia Day foundation lists plastic as the number one source of rubbish collected. A staggering 38% of all rubbish collected is beverage containers and their lids – all of which are recyclable.
Then we have the ubiquitous plastic bag. Made from polythene, which is hazardous to produce, it also takes up to 1,000 years to degrade. With an estimated 500 billion to 1 TRILLION plastic bags being used globally every year, and Americans alone chucking over 38 million water bottles annually, it becomes tragically obvious we are smothering the world in plastic.
Plastic bags get caught in the wind, and settle on trees and other wildlife habitats. Plastic bags end up in the oceans and may make their way to one of several ‘garbage patches’ around the globe. The most significant of these is the North Pacific Gyre a massive area that stretches from the west coast of the US to Japan, and from California to Hawaii (that’s BIG). A Gyre is formed where several ocean currents converge, swirling together and trapping massive amounts of plastic debris, and in effect, causing a massive dead and dying zone in the ocean. Here the plastic is ingested by marine animals and can also settle on the ocean floors where it suffocates coral polyps. In 2006, the United Nations Environment Program estimated that every square mile of ocean hosts around 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. In some areas, the amount of plastic outweighs the amount of plankton by a ratio of six to one.
Although plastic is broken down by exposure to the sun, it never actually loses material; it just degrades into smaller and deadlier pieces. All sorts of creatures ingest which causes blockages in their systems, leading to slow and painful deaths from starvation and toxicity. Larger pieces can ensnare, injure or strangle animals of all sizes.
Okay, so now we’ve made clear the immensity of the problem, how can you minimize your impact AND set a good example? There are some simple and effective things you can do that make a big difference to how much plastic you leave behind.
When travelling in any developing country water is always a concern, so consequently you end up thinking you need to buy bottles, and bottles and bottles of the stuff. If you’re in the tropics you drink heaps (or should) so if you’re consuming the recommended amounts, you can be using more than six bottles a day! So what to do?
1. BYO. Boil Your Own! Make sure you have two or three reusable drink bottles that won’t melt when filled with boiling water (your RAW bottles are great for this), then when you have access to a kettle boil enough water to fill your bottles and carry them with you instead of buying water on the go. Boiling is the most certain way of killing all microorganisms plus it’s cheaper. And consider this, over a two week holiday this would save around 84 bottles! If the whole tour of 10 people does it that 840 bottles NOT going into the rivers, oceans or anywhere else!
2. Use water purifying tablets. A less desirable option but still better than buying up on plastic bottles. The Aquatabs brand is the top seller worldwide and makes it very easy to purify water on the go. T here are different strengths available to do different quantities of water. Travellers would usually use the one effervescent tab to one litre of water strength for convenience. Check out online chemist discounters to get the best deal.
3. Plastic crush. If you get stuck and can’t boil or purify then you must minimise your waste. When you’ve finished with your bottle remove the cap and crush it so it concertina’s in on itself, then while it is still crushed replace the lid so it doesn’t ‘re-inflate’. Doing this serves two purposes, firstly it minimises the physical size of the bottle so if it ends up in a landfill or tip, it doesn’t take up as much room. Secondly, by screwing the lid back on you make it more difficult for small creatures to crawl into the bottle seeking moisture or shelter and get stuck, where they die from starvation and dehydration. If you have room in your bags, bring them home for recycling here.
Green bag not plastic
The most important things to do - just as you would at home (you do right?) – is to take a collapsible and reusable shopping bag with you.
Make sure you show this to the shopkeeper straight away. This is how you can set an example, and if you can speak a few words of the local language, explain you want to keep their country/ city/village beautiful by not adding to the litter. You might also say that animals sometimes eat the bags and die painfully.
If you cannot escape using a plastic bag you can do a couple of things:
1. Bring them home – most large supermarkets offer plastic bag collection bins at their supermarkets, bring them home and take them there
2. Tear and knot it - When it comes time to discard it, tear the handle loops off, fold the bag in on itself and tie it into several knots, then dispose. Many animals get caught in the handle loops so by tearing away the handles you minimise that risk. Folding and knotting the bag reduces its surface area to mass ratio, therefore making it less likely to be blown out of landfill sites.
Home and away
While the issue of waste is far more visible in developing countries where they lack the waste disposal systems we have, the issues are just as relevant when you get back home.
The issue of plastic is a universal one, it may be better hidden at home but we contribute to the global problem. Given that plastic is literally here to stay, we must make every effort to think more about what we consume both at home and away.
Reduce, reuse recycle. Say no to plastic. Lobby the manufacturers of your favourite products to reduce packaging and to find alternatives. The problem of plastic has been created in such a short time, but has created a very long term problem. We need to take personal responsibility for what we consume. For ourselves, our children and all the creatures we share the planet with. We do, after all, only have one.
The journey from Samosir to Berastagi is long and the landscape varied. We pass through towns, pristine cloud forest and farmland of strawberries, corn, cabbages and flowers.
On our way we stop at the Lingga village, a small Karo village with a strong link to Karo culture. Here some of the people still live in the traditional Karo houses, many of which are being restored with funding from the World Monuments Fund.
The names of the village families are listed as you enter, and include Sinulingga, the family of our very own guide, Edi Orata Singulingga, otherwise known as Jack.
It is Jacks first visit to the village, which is part of his history, the village that his great grandfather lived in before making the journey to settle in Tangkahan. For the Batak people heritage is important, and can be traced through family names that link people by marga or tribe names. The Batak Toba people were the source of many of the Batak people across North Sumatra.
The term Batak is often used across Indonesia to collectively describe the people of North Sumatra, which includes the Toba, Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun, Angkola and Mandailing people. It is more common however when in North Sumatra to refer to the Toba people as Batak, and the others as Karo, Pakpak. Simalungun, Angkola and Mandailing. Historically it is believed that the Batak people moved from Toba to access the lucrative trading that occurred along the coasts of North Sumatra at the time. Many decided to settle along the way, such as the highland Karo, and their traditions evolved into the ones we see today with the distinct language and customs of each group. Lingga village is not only significant to Jack for his family history, but is significant to all the boys as a living example of Karo culture that has been lost in many areas, including Tangkahan.
The traditional Karo house is quite different than the Batak Toba. It lacks the large boat shaped roof that dominates the landscape of Toba, and instead is built roughly in the shape of a praying man. The animist religion historically practiced by Karo people, believes in three worlds, that of the sky, of man on the earth, and the underworld below. The shape of the house represents this belief. The house is on stilts, with a large space underneath, representing the underworld, the living space is the land of men on the earth, and the large spacious roof, used for storing and drying produce, is the heavens above. The house is entered via a ladder of which one side is taller than the other. Touching the lower side upon entry pays homage to the under world, and touching the higher side when exiting pays homage to the heavens. The door is low, so everyone entering must bow, and so pay homage to the earth, the land of man.
We learn a lot at Lingga village of Karo culture, and it is made particularly special as we share this with the boys for whom the experience is a telling of the history of their ancestors. For this reason it is difficult to leave Lingga village.
We head to Brastagi, where RAW already has a solid tour activity for our clients, so for us is more a rest stop and a place to catch up with fellow guides.
We eat good food, and drink tuak before retiring in the fresh mountain air, knowing that tomorrow we will return to the jungle in time for Christmas.
Karo house in Lingga village
The boys mix it with their heritage, and our guide demonstrates the traditional birthing method of the Karo women!
The Karonese flute, used traditionally by young men to attract a wife
Bim, Jack and Ika watch and learn the prowess of the traditional flute player, grateful that they are already married.
Lingga village has a museum, where normally it is forbidden to touch such artifacts as the masks used for rain dance, but today they make an exception.
Yes, it is Darwinta.
These elephants are refugees of a shrinking habitat. As their homes are converted to farmland or large scale plantations Sumatran elephants are increasingly brought into contact with humans. This human elephant conflict often results in the poisoning of elephants and in an effort to avoid these conflicts, the elephants are caught and relocated to government run elephant training centres. These centres are under resourced and overpopulated. One solution to the problems faced by the training centres was to establish the Conservation Response Units (CRUs), designed to give these captive elephants a better life and to protect the habitat still available to thier wild counterparts. The CRU, where the elephants of Tangkahan are cared for, aims to provide forest protection, high quality care for the resident elephants, ongoing professional training for the mahouts, education to both locals and visitors on the plight of Sumatran elephants, and essential financial sustainability through eco tourism.
When you book an interaction with the elephants of the CRU Tangkahan, you are contributing directly to a well established, professional and innovative conservation program.
The CRU model was implemented by Fauna and Flora International, since then it has been supported by Melbourne Zoo, Australia Zoo, Vesswic, and the International Elephant Foundation.
Visit these beautiful elephants on our 12 Day Wild Jungle Safari!
Samosir Island in Indonesia is known locally as the island within an island. It is around the same size as Singapore, but this is the only thing the two islands have in common. Dotted with the distinctive upsweeping roof ridges and colourful decorations of the traditional Batak houses, the island is a mixture of steep inland forest, rice paddies and laid back tourist centres, where visitors can relax with a drink overlooking the intense beauty of a deep volcanic lake.
Samosir is at the heart of Batak Toba culture, and for this reason, as well as its geological history, it is a popular tourist destination. Raw already takes guests to Samosir, but we decided to take some time to explore new activities in the area. What we discover is an unexplored beauty beyond the main tourist centre, and an active passion for environmental issues here.
We stay at Tabo Cottages, Annette who owns Tabo with her husband Anton is active in ecotourism in the area and is particularly passionate about waste management and raising awareness of the importance of preserving the natural environment of the lake. In the morning Rika and I accompany Annette to a festival celebrating the kentungan, a bamboo instrument used by the Batak people to communicate in times of emergency. The tradition has been largely lost today, but the local authorities were using the unveiling of a giant kentungan as an oppurtunity to highlight the importance of community.
Running late, which seems to be a regular and almost expected occurrence during our survey tours, we get back to Tabo in the early afternoon and load the car for a circumnavigation of Samosir Island.
We pass Ambarita, the location of an ancient Batak Toba village where visitors are treated to a detailed account of traditional customs no longer practiced. In previous years, the Batak people were animists and practiced rituals that are considered brutally unfavourable today. Now the majority of the community in the Tabo area are Christian so slaves and criminals need not fear been executed and eaten.
We follow the east coast north, passing volcanic fissures, hot rocks and sulphur in the air. Once past the town of Pangururan, where the island is linked by a narrow stretch of land to the mainland town of Tele, the road becomes a little rougher, and we are surrounded by small villages and rice paddies that extend on one side to the edge of the lake, and on the other to the steep interior of the island, where the remnant forest clings to the hillsides.
We stop for sweet strong coffee at Niangolan, where we hope to find information on the boats that ferry locals from various villages from Samosir to the mainland, and potentially use them for tours in the future.
Leaving Niangolan the road begins a steep and windy ascent into the hills that dominate the South West coast of the island and we are soon surrounded by high rice fields and stunning views of the lake and mainland. The winding road reveals well concealed valleys with rice paddies carved into the only available spaces between steep hillsides.
Stopping to take in the sunset we continue with just enough light to see the heavy rainclouds approaching rapidly from across the lake. The clouds move in with the darkness making visibility close to none as we make our way slowly and carefully through the white wall of dense cloud and fog visible in the headlights.
It takes us seven hours to circumnavigate Samosir, all of is beautiful despite the final hours spent crawling along unfamiliar, steep winding roads through cloud and cool tropical downpours.
We arrive at Tabo to freshen up and treat ourselves to a night of live music and of course important networking at the local watering hole, Roys Bar.
It has been a brief but important exploration of Samosir island, in which we expanded our local network and found new areas with the potential to offer ‘off the beaten track’ experiences. We spend the evening discussing the potential to incorporate these experiences into local community initiatives that aim to protect their valuable environment.
In the morning, there may have been a few sleepy heads in the car as we made our way slowly to the mountain town of Berastagi.
Next stop - Berastagi/Lingga village!
By Sonya Prosser
Travel Writer & Raw Product Development Manager
In December, it is low season in Tangkahan, the tourists are few, and the durians are nearing the end of the harvest. A good time for the RAW team to get together and embark on a survey tour to Danau Toba and Samosir Island, and explore new options for providing our clients with dynamic tours. Ika, Bim, Jack, Darwin and myself were joined by Rika, who was lucky enough to be visiting at the time, and has been a driving force behind the English school in Tangkahan.
It may sound like a dream job, but survey tours are hard work. There are many late nights, early mornings and a ridiculous amount of driving, cramming as much in as possible to every day. We have an itinerary, but must be flexible as new opportunities arise, or the best-laid plans turn to mud and alternatives found.
With ukulele in hand and a steady supply of rambutans we head off south to Toba.
Lake Toba lies in the middle of North Sumatra. One hundred kilometres long, thirty wide, and five hundred and fifty five metres deep, at the deepest point, it is the largest volcanic lake in the world.
It was formed 75, 000 years ago by a volcanic eruption so big that it covered South East Asia with around 15cm of ash. Even today in India the Toba ash layer has been measured at six millimeters thick, and in some parts of Malaysia, it is nine millimeters thick. Exploring the area around Toba, the power of the event is evident in the structure of the landscape, although the steep sides of the crater have been softened somewhat by time.
We start our journey with a six-hour drive from Medan to the town of Balige. Tourists travelling to Toba rarely visit Balige, but there is a small community of dedicated locals who aim to promote community eco tourism in the area. We are met by Richard a young and enthusiastic local travel operator, and Sebastian, owner of Bo Ru Ku Toba Art café and gallery, who promptly bundles us into his land rover, and in a race against the setting sun we set of to meet with locals keen to establish homestays.
We return late to Sebastians' café, where his wife has produced a meal of possibly the best fish I have ever eaten, anywhere. Even Rika, who normally doesn`t eat fish, went back for seconds. Revitilised by good food and copious amounts of coffee we talk well into the night sharing ideas and planning our next days activities, which begin with bleary eyes at 5:30 AM.
Sunrise over Danau Toba, is witnessed amoungst the concrete graves built high above the town. Rather than being morbid, it is quite beautiful. Instead of flashy resorts dominating the prime real estate, small tombs, with dwarf trees sprouting from the cracks in the cement, and decorated with flowers, are illuminated by the rising sun.
After breakfast, we visit the small village of Meat (Mee-aat), nestled in a forested valley on the shore of the lake. Here the villagers weave the beautiful ulos that are sold in the Balige market and worn for special occasions by the Batak people. The people of Meat, like many of the villages we visit in the area, still live in the traditional Batak Toba houses known as jabu. The houses are distinctive of the area, and are dominated by the upsweeping roof ridges in the shape of a boat. In the past, these spacious houses were home to around four families, but more commonly today they house only one. Usually in clusters of up to ten, the villages are surrounded by a wall of densely clustered bamboo, so often the village is not visible from the outside.
It’s our final day in Balige, and time is rapidly disappearing, the last ferry to Samosir island leaves at nine PM and it will take us an hour or so to get to the ferry terminal at Parapat. We say good-bye to Sebastian and Richard, who have been so accommodating and passionate about their town and hit the road again.
Next time – Samosir Island!
By Sonya Prosser
Travel Writer & Raw Product Development Manager
A word from Lara Shannon, Founder of Ecochick.com and Host of Eco TV, on being waste wise on your travels and at home.
As tourists to other countries we must be responsible for what we do with our rubbish and the amount of waste we create. Particularly in third world countries where it can be easy to think that it doesn’t matter anyway, given the amount of rubbish and pollution we can see all around us. Yet, it is in these places that we can make the most difference. It is so important that we as tourists set an example and endeavour to educate locals along the way about the need for protecting the local environment.
On our travels we can all play a role in helping locals to understand the consequences of leaving rubbish on the ground, or throwing their garbage into village rivers and waterways (which is common place), on both the local marine environment.
It is so important that we all understand the impact that our individual actions can have on the on the beaches and oceans locally, as well as globally.
In my most recent travels to countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, I found it could be as simple as saying ‘no’ to plastic bags and using my reusable bag instead – many locals asked me why I did that and, when I explained why they were interested and thank full that someone would care to do that in their country.
On my evening walks along the beach, I would collect all the plastic rubbish I could see and by the end of my travels I had some locals joining me in my evening walk to do the same. I can only hope they might continue and the numbers will grow.
Facts to consider:
How you can help:
- Around 8 million items of litter enter the marine environment every day 1
- Around 7 billion tonnes of plastic litter enter the ocean every year. 2
- It is estimated 3 times as much rubbish is dumped into the world’s oceans annually as the weight of fish caught. 3
- An estimated 100,000 marine mammals and turtles killed by plastic litter every year around the world. 3
- Always put your rubbish securely in a bin or recycle it whenever possible. Don't throw any litter in the street or gutter as storm water drains flow straight to the waterways.
- Keep a carry/tidy bag in your car or your bag for your rubbishand for when you go walking near the ocean or other waterways. Every piece of litter you pick up is one less that can cause harm.
- Cigarette butts are the single biggest litter item and are harmful to wildlife on the land and in our waterways. Always stub out your butts and put them in a bin.
- Avoid products that are 'overpackaged' - wrapped in individual packs or several layers of plastic.
- Say ‘no’ to plastic bags by taking along your own re-usable one on your travels or when you are at home and go shopping.
- Take your litter home or to your hotel for recycling or disposal when visiting beaches, parks and gardens.
- At home, secure your garbage bin lid so litter doesn’t blow free when emptied or if overfilled.
For other environmental lifestyle tips, products and news visit www.ecochick.com
- Marine Litter - An Analytical Overview – UNEP 2005
- Australian Marine Conservation Society
- Faris, J& K. Hart (1995) Seas of Debris: A summary of the Third International Conference on Marine Debris, Alaska Fisheries Science Centre, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
The 8th IEBFM was held this year in a wonderful place familiar to all of those who have visited North Sumatra on a RWE tour, Tangkahan!
Hosted by the Ministry of Tourism Indonesia, and Indecon, the Indonesian ecotourism network, the conference ran over four days, and was followed by a three day test tour to Lake Toba. The proceedings brought together international tour operators from Thailand, Korea, Japan, Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines, with local Eco tour businesses from all over Indonesia, from Borneo to Ambos, and totaled around 40 participants.
Hosting the conference at Tangkahan was a great opportunity for the community to show off what they have and create a network of like-minded people, who understand the concepts of creating conservation through eco tourism and sustainability for local communities through business strategies.
The RWE team was extremely busy, with Bim, Jack and Darwin all on the organizing committee and Ika joining as a RWE attendee at the conference.
They did an amazing job at showcasing the tours offered in Tangkahan during the day and creating a relaxing space to learn and share ideas during the evening, when we would sit on woven mats, talking and eating until late.
One of the highlights of the discussion forums was the presentation by Ary Suhandi, the director of Indecon, and a key player in making the transition from illegal logging to tourism in Tangkahan. He spoke of how Indecon promote ecotourism, and sustainable development for local communities throughout Indonesia by providing support and training for communities ready to make the change.
The Toba test tour was designed to showcase eco tourism opportunities in the area and explore places not yet on the tourist trail. We visited a wonderful project called Taman Eden, at Lumban Julu where a local family grows organic produce and engage the community in propagation and planting of endemic species in an effort to regenerate forest destroyed by the paper industry.
We visited local operators in the Balige area who aim to highlight environmentally friendly building and local culture, and visited hard to reach fishing communities on remote patches of the lake.
Seeing Tangkahan shine, and exploring a new area of North Sumatra were definite highlights, but the overall highlight was the people we shared this with.
Meeting and getting to know so many passionate Indonesians whose drive to preserve Indonesias' wild places through eco tourism and community participation was inspiring. Ika and myself made many good friends and we look forward to exploring further all the innovative exciting projects in the hope of sharing them with RAW clients in the near future.
Sonya Posser (Raw Leader and Travel Writer)
Raw Wildlife Encounters has partnered with acclaimed wildlife photographer Liam Lynch to provide a truly unique snorkelling experience with humpback whales among the tropical waters of the archipelago of Tonga.
This exclusive 10-day encounter lead by Lynch allows six guests to snorkel alongside majestic and gentle humpback whales within the pristine waters of this island paradise while capturing the spectacular moments forever. Guests will spend seven days on the water enjoying many exhilarating and intimate interactions each day with the whales which migrate in huge pods to the warm tropical waters each year to mate and give birth.
The Vava'u archipelago of around 50 islands has an abundance of white sand beaches, blue lagoons and lush vegetation. Under the surface, protected coral reefs, shipwrecks and underwater caves await for divers and snorkelers to explore.
Lynch’s twenty years of photographic experience provides the exclusive opportunity for guests to capture this magical experience with professional guidance. An intrepid sleuth, Lynch has travelled the world in enduring whatever extremes he must to capture the stories told in his wildlife photography. Relaxed, calm and always positive, Liam takes on every experience with respect, interest and his characteristic perennial good humour in his quest for great pictures.
Ideal for wildlife photography enthusiasts and those wanting a once-in-a–life-time experience alike, this encounter will see guests:
Snorkelling with humpback whales over seven days
Receive professional photographic advice and guidance before and during tour
Have the opportunity to explore Mariners Cave and Swallows Cave
Relaxing along the many pristine white sand beaches in free time
Enjoying traditional fresh and delicious food and banquets
Have the opportunity to explore beautiful uninhabited islands in the humpback whale nursery
Departs August 2013. AU$2850 per person or AU$3500 per person including accommodation and breakfast
For further information and bookings:
Raw Wildlife Encounters - email@example.com \ http://www.rawildlife.com.au/tours-1/magical-whale-snorkelling-expedition
Liam Lynch Photography - http://www.liamlynchphotography.com.au/
About Raw Wildlife Encounters
Raw Wildlife Encounters (RWE) is one of the world's leading eco adventure travel agencies. It provides guests with life-changing travel experiences and unique wildlife encounters while catering for an exceptional quality and comfortable journey along the way. Raw tours are lead by qualified wildlife professionals who take guests along roads less well-travelled and allow them truly unique learning experiences with exotic wildlife. Raw Wildlife Encounters fosters responsible tourism that benefits the local people, tribes and wildlife in all travel destinations through Raw’s Conservation programs. www.rawildlife.com.au.
Raw Wildlife Encounters Founder Director and Orangutan Land Trust (OLT) Trustee Jessica McKelson is currently in Singapore for the Orangutan Land Trust workshop to determine the Trusts future direction and strategy.
Executive Director of OLT, Michelle Desilets, said of Ms McKelson's involvement and the workshop "I am so proud of you and to be a part of the efforts of Orangutan Land Trust. I am only too excited to be a part of this strategic workshop with dynamic people. You are such an inspiring woman, keep up the great work!"
OLT was founded by Lone Drescher Neilson, known internationally as a champion for orangutans, and as one of the foremost experts in the rescue, care, rehabilitation and release of these orangutans. She is the founder and manager of the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Project in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) operated by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. OLT is also a partner of Ms McKelson's Earth 4 Orangutans project founded with acclaimed primatologist and Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program Director Dr Ian Singleton.
"I feel privileged to be part of such an amazing organisation", Ms McKelson said of OLT.
Today Ms McKelson departs for Sumatra to meet with The Guardian (UK) Environmental freelance journalist Oliver Milman to share with him the incredible work Raw's conservation partners achieve within the unique areas of Sumatra Raw Wildlife Encounters visits. Read Milman's past articles on RWE and our conservation partners work here:
Zookeepers plan to build islands for orangutan
s - The Age
Fires threaten to 'extinguish' threatened Indonesian orangutan population
Orangutans as teachers
- ABC Science
For further information:
Orangutan Land Trust
Earth 4 Orangutans
Marketing & Communications RWE
About Raw Wildlife Encounters
Raw Wildlife Encounters (RWE) is one of the world's leading eco adventure travel agencies. It provides guests with life-changing travel experiences and unique wildlife encounters while catering for an exceptional quality and comfortable journey along the way. Raw tours are lead by qualified wildlife professionals who take guests along roads less well-travelled and allow them truly unique learning experiences with exotic wildlife. Raw Wildlife Encounters fosters responsible tourism that benefits the local people, tribes and wildlife in all travel destinations through Raw’s Conservation Commitment programs.