Wild West Expedition: Preparation to Ujung Kulon!

Well, actually this is my post after several months off. It is pretty shame to know how inactive I am for the last couple month. I didn’t blame anyone for sure, nor myself or my new freelance job. It is pretty sure because I start to feel bored and don’t have many things to say. OK, finger crossed, I had so MANY things to write in my blog, and in fact I still have so many debts about my unfinished story—about my trip to Baluran last year (the very same story where I start my relationship with N, so it’s a historic one), and then the fantastic story in Denmark, Surabaya, the celebration of my 5th years of Birdwatching, and the one that I would love to tell in this post: Ujung Kulon.

Departure from Bionic's HQ
Departure from Bionic’s HQ
At Tugu Station
At Tugu Station
Ujung Kulon National Park
Ujung Kulon National Park

Well yeah, while I will write the other story sometimes in the future—I mean, soon—I would like to tell about my story in Ujung Kulon. Not because it is the newest adventure that I have for a couple weeks back, but it might be also the most adventurous trip that I ever had for the rest of my life. Yes, Ujung Kulon National Park, the wildest, the largest, the biggest, the coolest, and the most goddamned area in the whole island! Ujung Kulon is like the Wild West in Java (in fact, it is located in the most western tip of the island) and also the most inviting one.

Well, let’s start with a little background on how I can make my way here. It was all started with an announcement from my campus about a funding program from Indonesian ministry of education, a maximum 12 million rupiah for any college student research proposal. Here is the time when the college student in my university start to be busy with their proposal, try to get the funding for several reason (for me, well, to have a free vacation ‘under research circumstance’).  Too bad my proposal has been rejected, together with all but one proposal from the members of my birding club—and this one proposal can be the most God-damn-it one, and I accidentally involved to it!

The story started on a bright afternoon when I tried to fix my proposal. My friend and rookie birder, Abid, try to fix his proposal too. The only problem is that he didn’t have enough crew for his proposal (it should be at least 4 people in a team), so he called me and asked if I would like to join him. Without noticing his proposal title or place, I said yes, in a mean to help my poor friend that looks so tired and so serious to finish his proposal. It might be the worst decision that I have ever made, but also the best one in my life.. yeah…

 A couple months later we got the news about the accepted proposal, mine is rejected (study of population of nocturnal bird in Carita Forest Reserve), while Abid’s—which including my name in his proposal—is accepted and granted the funding. It is the time when I finally knew the title of his proposal; The Study of Large Green Pigeon’s Population and Dispersion in Ujung Kulon National Park, Banten. For God’s sake, I was shaking at that time, because now we have a responsibility to find (and count the population) the rarest bird in Java, Large Green Pigeon, that last spotted in 1988!

Large Green Pigeon (Treron capellei), a common bird elsewhere but very rare in Java | Picture by Jason Bugay Reyes from Oriental Bird Images
Large Green Pigeon (Treron capellei), a common bird elsewhere but very rare in Java | Picture by Jason Bugay Reyes from Oriental Bird Images

The next problem surfaced when I knew that Abid that has no any depiction about Ujung Kulon NP was so anxious about this project, so he wrote the research’s method as ‘..full sampling surveys will be occurred in the whole area of Ujung Kulon NP..’. Whole area of Ujung Kulon, means you need to walk over 123.000 ha (or 443 square kilometers) area of the most impenetrable lowland forest in this island, with many deep rivers, swamps, crocodiles, and malaria all over the area! It was then  revealed that Abid—the only one who writes down the proposal alone—imagined the NP as the only NP that he ever visited, Merapi National Park, a small 6.900 ha national park with degraded forest and easily penetrable walking path on it. Comparing these two NPs is just like comparing a giant over-doses watermelon with a tiny cramped pygmy grape!

 Well, actually I haven’t visit the park too, but I have some depiction about this park from some books I have read—including Birding Indonesia and some articles in Burung Nusantara. Only by reading it, I knew that this park is not for a fun birder like me, with extremely difficult access, expensive living cost, and much other. I also have some experience to live in this part of the island, which is almost twice more expensive than the one that we have in Yogyakarta. It is not a surprise to know that Abid put the budget list based on Yogyakarta’s price—because he believed everything is just same as in Yogyakarta, east and central Java, as he never traveling outside of this ‘cheap’ area.

OK then, no one to blame, we still have a task to do, the show must go on!

Because of our lack of fund and knowledge about the area, we contacted an acquaintance from Merapi NP that has been worked in Ujung Kulon for many years, mas Irwan. However, his information was not a relief for us; in fact it brought more worries to us, especially when we heard about the expensive access and dangerous land that we will face.

“With your budget, penetrating the whole area is impossible,” he said. “Better if you change the method and focus on more specific location.

We then have a consultation with our senior, Mas Kukuh, about the method. Knowing that our original method is impossible, we tried to build the new method where we would focus on the more specific location, which turn to be Cigenter river, the last place when this bird last seen in 1988. However, the 36 gaps between 1988 and 2014 meant so many things, from the change of vegetation or even the extinction of this rare species in Java. Well, In fact I was pessimist that we can count the exact population of this bird—or in fact, find any live one. I was pessimist about all of the trips, and all I wanted to do is just come, watch as many birds as I can, and then go home.

2 weeks before our planned date, I and Abid were tasked to visit the Ujung Kulon NP’s HQ to find any information about the access, document, and any other things that we need to know. We searched for any information from the internet about how to reach the NP (most of them are wrong!) and get some details from Mas Irwan (all of the are right). So from Yogyakarta, we took the economy class train ‘Progo’ to Jakarta, which mean you need to stay all the night in a dirty train with fake AC, a hard chair with 90 degrees back support and any other ‘economic’ facilities. From Pasar Senen station in Jakarta, the wikipedia said that we need to catch another train from another station, ‘Patas Merak’ which only need Rp.4.0000,- to Cilegon, far cheaper than other option such as bus (Rp.25.000 – Rp. 35.000 ) or AC class train (Rp. 30.000). Here we found out that the economy class train from Jakarta to Cilegon didn’t stop at this place, in fact you need to go to another station Kebayoran Lama for Rp. 5000,- (screw you, Wikipedia!).

We arrived at Kebayoran Lama station, wait for several minutes until our train came (late as usual). Here we knew what we could take with that ridiculously cheap price. There is no seat number in our ticket, you can sit down in every blank seat along the train, but you need to hurry unless everyone else will take it before you. In our trip from Yogyakarta to Jakarta, there are no food seller or street musician inside the train because it is strictly forbidden and there are security everywhere. The same thing actually happen on Patas Merak, but the only different is the security didn’t care about the noisy food seller and street musician that come up the train and filled up our train with noisy stupid music and screaming. For the next 3 hours, we were in a hell!

The train stopped at Cilegon station at 1 PM, so we got down and took a rest for a while. We took a lunch in the nearest Padang restaurant, searching for some information about the bus the Labuhan where the National Park HQ located. After praying and took some rest at the nearest mosque, we caught a minibus to labuhan for Rp.30.000,- and spent the next 3 hours on it, but at least there are not so many people in a bus and we have a nice view of shorelines along the way.

At 3.30 PM, we finally reached the Ujung Kulon National Park HQ. There, we met Mrs Monica, a kind woman and staff of NP who told us about all that we need to know and even give us a sweet homestay for free! Our target that time was Tamanjaya, the last village before the national park itself, but it turned to be an impossible task due to the distance and our lack of budget and time. The next day we then decided to go back to Jakarta and resided there to buy our ticket to go home—another big mistake that I have made, and maybe the biggest one I have done as a surveyor.

Well, it was a quick survey and we felt that we have know everything that we need to know, so we came home happily, thinking that there are nothing to worry for know. We then spent our free time to Carita, got a wonderful lifer for me (Crow-billed Drongo) as well as many other for Abid. Well, 2 weeks later we know that all of that feeling is a WRONG, and we did a BIG mistake to our team.

On the day that we were waiting for, we prepared ourselves in a pretty short time. Our small 5 team would be joined by 5 other people to help us conquering this wild area and some help from the senior with more experience too. So at the end there are 10 of us, 9 would depart from Yogyakarta (me, Abid, Ekky, Hasbi, Mas Praja, Mas Epe, Arel, Mas Kholil, and Mas Adin) while one other, Mas Khaerul, will join us from his home at Serang, the capital city of Banten province where the national park lies. Logistic were brought from Yogyakarta except for some fresh vegetables that needs special treatment, and is included a HUGE amount of rice, sardines, instant noodles, and dried salt fish.

Next problems came out when we knew that we had not book a train ticket yet, and then we knew that all the economy class ticket has been booked out! We had no choice than took the AC class train which spent Rp.200.000, 4 times more expensive than the economy class. We had no choices because we need to reached Tamanjaya in 3 days to catch up the free ship ride from it to Handeleum Island, the transit of our expedition before we went to Cigenter river. Well, in desperate condition about our pretty limited budget, we took the ticket and got ready for the next adventure…

Well, wait for the next post for our story from Ujung Kulon NP, the wildest area of Java!


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