At some point I realised that my picture of eastern Indonesia would have a big gap if I ignored an essential aspect of the local natural history. The Indonesian archipelago is part of the circus-pacific fire belt, the so-called ‘Ring of Fire’, and the area with the most active volcanoes in the world. Nearly 130 volcanoes are currently active in Indonesia, of which the East of Wallace region accounts for a considerable share. On Sulawesi and the North Moliccas alone, there are already more than 10 of them. In the meantime, I have already visited Gunung Ibu.
The way to Gunung Ibu – A little adventure in itself
After an early arrival at Ternate’s Sultan Babullah Airport, I went with my tour guide to the harbour and from there by ferry to the large neighbouring island of Halmahera. The approximately 2-hour crossing is entertaining. On the maritime route, it’s not just the various boats that keep catching the eye, it’s especially the varied mountainous island landscape that keeps the eyes, somewhat tired from the long journey, awake.
Arriving at the port of destination, however, the journey is still not over. The journey continues by car along the west coast of Halmahera in the direction of Ibu, on a route that does not make fast driving possible throughout. In alternating succession, you leave countless palm groves and neat villages behind you until you reach the base camp, a small bungalow in the middle of a palm grove, in the afternoon. A bath in the river, a simple dinner, some more chatting and a simple mattress to sleep on for the night. This is the end of the day. Coming from Europe, it is indeed a long journey. But ‘at the end of the world’ adventure calls!
Jungle trekking at its best
The trekking started the next morning. A short approach, then a leisurely climb – at first. Soon the palm groves gave way to jungle and the vegetation became denser. The path seemed to get lost in the thicket and had to be brought out again and again with machetes. The ascent became steeper and increasingly uneven. It was by no means alone over hill and dale. Here a fallen tree blocked the way. There, the fallen and half-fermented fruit of a tree, which made a part of the path a strange slide. Then a short but extra steep slope that required the use of hands and feet. And there was a small overgrown cliff that only the tour guide noticed because he knows it’s there, and which – depending on the length of your stride – you go over or, like me, jump over.
Acquaintance with Wallace’s Giant Bee
In between, there was a break every now and then. Admittedly, you can’t do without it. The green thicket doesn’t leave much stimulation for the eye, but it does for the ear. And it was indeed a comparatively loud buzzing that made my eyes wander. Something large and black had detached itself from a tree and was buzzing in my direction. I had never seen such a large bee before. As my tour guide explained to me, I had encountered Wallace’s Giant Bee. An encounter of which, unfortunately, there is no photo.
The ultimative jungle camp-experience, not only for first-timers
In the afternoon, the resting place for the night was reached. Unfortunately, an overnight stay directly at the crater rim was less advisable at this time, as Gunung Ibu was showing increased volcanic activity. This way, however, I had my first jungle camp experience. A rather small open area in the middle of the dense greenery was chosen as the campsite and off we went to set up the tent. Over a campfire, noodle soup from carved bamboo cups and pre-grilled chicken, it was easy to chat about what we had already experienced and planned. As we were to tackle the rest of the route well before sunrise the next morning, it promised to be a short night. Very short for me, as it soon turned out. I had no idea how noisy it can be in the jungle at night … insect chirps, wing beats, owl calls and something four-legged that crept more or less noisily around my tent … and in between the dull rumbling of the next Ibu eruption.
Goosebump volcano spectacle
Early rising was the order of the day after a rather sleepless night anyway. The last few hundred metres were not particularly rough, but steep, and the very narrow path was not so easy to make out in the dark, even with a headlamp. Just arrived at the crater rim, it started: a loud roaring signalled the next upcoming eruption, which showed itself in the dark by red lava at the volcano rim. A loud roar could be heard. The volcano is active – for a while. Then it went silent again, and all the smoke disappeared until it starts its spectacle all over again after about 20-30 minutes. This is particularly interesting during the short phase of twilight, when you can see the smoke against the brightening sky, but it is still dark enough for the lava to stand out well. On the ‘roof of the world’, so to speak, the scenery is dominated by two massive sounds: one is the eruption of the volcanic mountain and the other is the rolling masses of stone of the flowing lava flowing from in the opposite direction to where you are and thus remaining invisible. A backdrop that gives you goose bumps.
The way back also had its surprises in store, for it is only on the descent and under sunlight that one takes in the truly breathtaking scenery. From high up, you have a wonderful view over the vast expanses of jungle that seem to reach all the way to the coast, all the way out to the Moluccan Sea. A view I would like to enjoy more than once.