Tuesday, 15 April 1986

AUSTRALIA March/April 1986: Javan stop-over

Part VI  Javan stop-over

This finishes the blog of an Easter 1986 trip to Australia, which I had now left and was about to embark on a 4 day stop-over in Java.  It is based on scant notebook entries and vague memories and this part is illustrated with a very few digitised images of slides taken at the time - the weather and habitat did not allow for much more.

On 11 April I caught the mid-day Garuda flight from Darwin to Jakarta via Bali where a number of people got off the plane, unsurprisingly as it was a popular holiday destination for Australians.  At Jakarta I seemed to be the only westerner who was not going on to Europe. I was not surprised.  Neither was I when my bag did not appear on the carousel – being a rucksack it is usually either first or more often last off - but my anxiety grew as all the other passengers departed with their bags and I was getting quite concerned when the carousel was switched off – it seemed so final.  I was looking around for an office in which to make enquiries when I saw it being carried across the other side of the baggage area by a porter.  Somewhat relieved I quickly reclaimed it and negotiated with a taxi to take me into the area of town where I could find a cheap hotel.  As a westerner I stand out and sometimes attract unwelcome attention as it is, but arriving in a new city with a rucksack as it is getting dark makes me feel particularly anxious.  I had no need to be as the first hotel I came to offered me a cheap room and despite having no common language indicated where I could get a meal and how to get to the station in the morning as I wanted to catch a train to Bogor.  I slept surprisingly well despite now entering the more adventurous part of the trip.

I was up as it was getting light on 12 April and made my way to the station where I did not have to wait long for a train to Bogor.  It was an uneventful journey and not very crowded.  On arrival I was pleased to see that the station was very central.  The bus station was not far away and after a short wait I caught a bus that was going to Bandung.  After a long climb up the flank of Gunung Gede it crossed the Puncak Pass and shortly after, where I was dropped, a side road led to the Cibodas entrance to and headquarters of Gunung Gede National Park.  I walked the last part, uphill under gathering storm clouds, and it seemed a lot further than 3-4 kms.  There was a rather grand entrance gate and then a small village with a big car park and lots of stalls.  It was early afternoon, I found a guesthouse, dumped my bag, bought some unmemorable food to supplement the ‘convenience’ biscuits I’d become accustomed to in Australia, and headed into the park.  At the entrance hut I obtained a permit but was told I needed a guide.  I was only going to walk to the waterfall and managed to persuade them that I did not need a guide to do that.  They relented and I headed into the National Park.  So far so good but I’d only started along the trail when the heavens opened and it rained heavily all afternoon.  At the waterfall I disturbed two Lesser Forktails but only had unsatisfactory flight views while later a White-crowned Forktail showed no better.  I did see Sunda Whistling Thrush, Sunda Minivet, Indigo, Little Pied and Snowy-browed Flycatchers and Mountain Leaf Warbler but a few birds went unidentified – a combination of brief views and a make do 'field guide' being a piece of paper with two-line descriptions of the birds I thought occurred.  The rain finally eased as I headed back to my hostel.  There were a lot of birds to see, and a certain forktail to get better views of, and with only a day and a half I was keen not to any waste time.  That included leaving the National Park during the day to find food so although my biscuits were holding out I bought a few more things that evening.

On 13 April I was up at dawn and made my way through a Botanical Garden to the start of the trail.. The hut was unmanned so I went straight in without any guide or the need thereof discussions.  I spent all day on the trail to the Waterfall with a brief excursion up the main trail but being a Sunday that soon became busy with local hikers.  Many wanted to stop and tell me their life histories or ask me mine, in Indonesian, which I would have thought it was soon obvious that I did not understand.  They were incredibly friendly and not at all threatening but smiling inanely at locals soon became tiring and when I heard a group approaching it was often easier to quietly step off the trail and let them go by without seeing me.  Birding became more difficult from soon after midday when the heavy rain started again and lasted all afternoon.  Despite visiting the waterfall several times I only managed another flight view of a Lesser Forktail, ding no better with White-crowned either.  Picnicking locals probably did not help in that respect and some remained even when the rain was at its hardest.  Despite these and the lack of field guide frustrations I had a good day and saw Javan Hawk-Eagle, 2 Javan Tesias, 4 excellent Sunda Flycatcher-Warblers, Pygmy Tit, Red-tailed and White-bellied Fantails, a pair of Snowy-browed Flycatchers at a nest, 15 Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babblers, Pygmy Wreb-Babbler, Pearly-cheeked Babbler, 10 Blue Nuthatches, Kuhl’s Sunbird, a pair of Pin-tailed Parrotfinches and what looked like another species of parrotfinch.  At the time I assumed it would be Bamboo Parrotfinch, the other species I knew occurred, and was quite pleased to have gone from having seen none to two parrotfinches in a day.  When I checked my limited information I realised the bird did not have a tawny-breast and later my memory and very crude notes matched most closely a New Caledonian Parrotfinch, perhaps an escaped cagebird or more likely a complete misidentification on my part!

Gunung Gede - early morning with the clouds coming in but before the stalls opened
Gunung Pangrango, not as high as Gede but a more typical cone volcano shape
Cibeureum Waterfall
lower slopes of Gunung Gede, the rest was usually hidden by clouds during my visit

I had a final day at Cibodas on 14 April but given the likely weather and the need to get back to Bogor, which I did not particularly want to do in the dark, I decided to stay until early afternoon or it started raining heavily.  I was up at first light and made straight for the area just short of the waterfall where I had flushed the Lesser Forktail.  I tucked myself away in the vegetation where I could see a small section of the stream and waited, and waited and waited.  Eventually, but perhaps not after more than an hour, a female Lesser Forktail flew upstream and landed in view for long enough for me to get my binoculars onto it and a bit more.  A decent view at last although it was soon off.  I had another quick walk up the main trail but had no luck with Blue-tailed Trogon and probably did not go far enough to reach the best area for them.  I did see 3 Eyebrowed and 2 Pygmy Wren Babblers, 2 Javan Tesias, 4 Red-fronted Laughingthrushes, 6 Blue Nuthatches and a good view of a White-crowned Forktail.  The rain started at midday so I headed out, picked up my bag from the guesthouse which had been great and walked down to the entrance gate where I had been told I could get a minibus down to the main road.  This I did and from there, after a wait, a bus to Bogor.  By now it was raining heavily and most of Gunung Gede was hidden by low cloud.  I arrived in Bogor late afternoon and found a basic hotel near the Botanical Gardens as it was starting to get dark.  It was still raining hard.

central Bogor in the rain
15 April was my last day and I was up at dawn and heading for the Botanical Gardens.  The gate was locked when I arrived just before 07:00 and a sign indicated that it did not open until 08:00.  I walked all the way around but a high wall prevented me from finding anywhere I could sneak in.  Not only was I missing the best part of the day but I felt that I had to leave at 10:00 anyway - very frustrating.  At least the gardens opened on time and I spent two hours walking around.  In fairness the gardens probably did not deserve much longer.  While there I saw 8 Black-necked Fruit-Doves, male Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon, Blue-eared Kingfisher (shamefully misidentified as Common!), male Hill Blue Flycatcher, Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker and 7 Black-naped Orioles.  I returned to my hotel well satisfied, collected my bag and headed to the station.  On the train back to Jakarta I was befriended by an English speaking local who was telling me of the cheapest way to get to the airport from the railway station.  It involved taking two local buses but the potential for me not getting off at the right place to change seemed too great for the amount I would save by not getting the tourist bus.  He did not seem to understand that I was prepared to spend a pound or so extra to avoid any potential hassle or delay.  Affluent foreigners, I’m sure he was thinking, even those dressed like a vagabond!  That was pretty much it, I caught the ‘expensive’ bus to the airport and my Garuda flight to back to Gatwick was without incident.  It had been a great trip, especially the times with Paul Noakes, John McKean and Chris Corben.  The last two’s hospitality had been brilliant too.  Gunung Gede had been great as a (slightly) more adventurous alternative to staying on Bali although as I’ve been back to Gunung Gede twice and still not made it to Bali perhaps in the long run it was not the best move.

[blogged May 2014]

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