Out of the 195 countries in the world, I was lucky enough to have my school suggest Indonesia as one of the destinations for our annual environmental/science trip.
As soon as I heard what our day-to-day schedules would look like, I knew I wanted to go. So after almost a year of planning, several meetings, and seven vaccine shots, it was finally time to hop on the plane bringing me into this beautiful country. It was my first time visiting a Southeast Asian country, so I had no clue what to expect.
It was on July first that my journey with Operation Wallacea began. We got on a boat from Kendari to get to the North Buton camp. We got to the port, got out of the car, and were immediately greeted by at least fifty locals, who were excited to see us. The smell of durian, boxes of lychee all over the place, and Celine Dion’s most famous song on repeat will be a memory engraved in me forever.
Five hours later we are in Buton. This is when the real journey begins.
A local family greeted us in their home and gave us lunch. We ate, and then we hopped on one of those Suzuki trucks and started to go up the mountains. I think that’s when we all realized that it was going to be a very muddy and dirty week. But, we embraced it.
We finally got to the Anoa Camp. During that week, we had multiple lectures, surveys, and some classes to develop our jungle skills. I don’t think I’ve ever learned more about species and biodiversity than during my trip with Operation Wallacea. We would wake up every single day around five or sometimes even earlier so we could go up transects and try to identify as many species as possible.
The most amazing part of it was that we were guided by people who were ambitious and passionate to save these species and try to collect the most data possible. Being surrounded by people like this showed me the importance and urgency of keeping these forests safe for all species, especially the rare endemic ones.
The constant slipping in the mud, playing volleyball with the locals, and my acquaintance with the “Mandi” were all little joys that I experienced during my week in the jungle. Between surveys and lectures, my friend, Livia, and I would go sit by the fire and have a good laugh with some of the locals. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we were able to bond and find a way to understand each other, and that is truly something I will never forget.
On our last day there we had a social night. It was a night where we learned traditional Indonesian dances, the music they listened to, and some of the locals’ life stories. It may have taken me at least fifty tries before I got the dance, but the second I learned it, it was a surreal experience. I never thought the impact of dancing a traditional Indonesian dance with people I had just met a week ago would be so meaningful. It taught me that no matter where you are in the world, no matter the cultural differences, there are so many little things to appreciate and learn from one another, and I think we tend to forget that sometimes.
After one week in the jungle, it’s time to go to the marine site, Hoga. After almost another day of travelling, we got to Hoga Island.
During the week, we would go on these magical dives, where you would see so many beautiful corals, fishes, and turtles. I had never seen anything this beautiful underwater before. We dived into the coral triangle, the area that hosts the most diverse and biologically complex marine ecosystem on the planet. Being able to witness this with my own two eyes was crazy but not impossible due to my amazing dive instructor, Anvidah, and my dive master, Ahmed.
On July 14th, we went on a trip to Sampela, a village on the water almost 15 minutes away by boat from Hoga. The Bajau people, meaning the locals of Sampela, are the most wholesome and kind people I have witnessed. Right before meeting them, we got a little brief explanation about their unique history and how they manage to live on the sea. I was truly in awe of their perseverance, and I couldn’t wait to go talk to them. I sat down next to them, and even though once again we couldn’t speak the same language, we found a way to communicate with each other.
After a while, all of the Sampela kids brought me down to the port, and we started playing hand games; I even taught them one hand game song in French! I will never forget this moment because it was probably one of the best experiences of my life.
This little girl, Indra, and her friend Mika kept complimenting me on my bracelets. I made those bracelets myself with some strings you can find at your local dollar store. So I decided to give them the bracelets because I wanted to remember this moment every single time I make another bracelet.
There was also this little boy named Andy. The staff from Hoga had told us prior that it had been a week he was working on this little boat that he wanted to sell. I knew I was going to be the one buying it the second they said it was up for sale. So I did. And the face of that little boy, the joy in his eyes when they told him that someone is willing to buy his boat, is a face that will stay with me forever. While I’m writing this today, the boat is sitting to my left on the shelf, next to my bed.
This was truly a trip that showed me a lot and taught me so many things that book and schools can’t teach. That’s why I think every teenager like me should be able to go on a trip like this one. Thank you once again, Operation Wallacea, for everything that you did for me and my school. Thank you to Selena, Mo, Katie, Chris, Anjele, Kandar, Sule, Taufik, Fauzann, Bernie, Ao, Waryati, my teachers, friends, and everyone else that was a part of this journey!