Boano – Indonesia – The Successful Shit Show

Typically an island so small hardly warrants its own blog post, but the events that unfolded on our visit to the island of Boano became so complicated that nothing seemed to work out like we had wanted and is enough of a story to warrant individual treatment. Boano Island is very small, only 20 kilometers from end to end and is located north of the island of Seram. The only way to get to the island is by boat, a procedure not too uncommon considering Indonesia is a country of islands and one often goes by boat to get somewhere. It is important to note that the tiny little island of Boano happens to have an endemic bird, Boano Monarch. I always find it interesting that an island so small and so close to so many others would have a bird found there that is found nowhere else in the world. Naturally we planned to visit Boano and see this endemic bird.

What we wanted to do sounded easy enough – get to Boano, and we had a strategy to make that happen. Our plan was simple: Arrive in Seram; Find transportation to take us an hour up the road to the town of Piru; Transfer to more adequate transportation because the road up to the town of Masika is in rough shape; Once in Masika, hire a boat to take us to the island of Boano. See endemic monarch. Maybe that sounds like a lot to someone not used to taking public transportation but this is as straightforward as it gets from getting from one point to another.

We arrived to Seram via ferry (one we nearly missed by a few minutes had it not been we were part of a bemo full of people wanting to make this ferry forcing the driver into driving like a maniac) and proceeded to take a bemo up the street to a nearby hotel. Likely the bemo driver misspoke attempting to use English when he told us 20,000 rupiah to go the 1km distance to our hotel. We got in anyway and paid him 2,000 as the price should be without blinking an eye. We snagged the cheapest room in the hotel and proceeded back out to the road where we hoped to find a public bemo up to the town of Piru. This is where the fun all started. Apparently there aren’t public bemos driving up the streets, one must get them from the ferry terminal. Well we went to the hotel instead of getting straight on the road and the influx of passengers from the incoming ferry wanting to go to Piru likely already left. By the time we made it back to the ferry terminal, we had to negotiate a price to take a private ride. It was a bit of a process but we made it work. Fine. That sort of thing happens. We move on.

When we got to the town of Piru we found that the public bus going to the town of Masika wasn’t going to leave for another 3 hours. Fine. This sort of thing happens too. We will do something else. We were a bit pressed for time so ojeks it was. We asked around for a few minutes hoping to find someone willing to go the 25 km for a reasonable price. We were initially quoted 100,000 each but the price kept going down until we finally met a guy who said 40,000. Perfect. Now we just needed a second. Another guy pulls up and says 60,000 which causes the 40-guy to turn into a 50-guy and another ojek comes along and agrees to the price of 50,000. He agreed but as it turns out later, he had no idea what he agreed to. I happened to be the lucky one who rode on the back of his bike – easily the least comfortable motorbike seat I’ve ever sat on. Not only was his bike uncomfortable, it was terribly slow and Ross had to periodically have his driver stop to wait for us to catch up. Our hour long ride was lengthened by at least 30-minutes because my driver couldn’t keep up. The road certainly was in rough shape but no worse than many others we’d been on, as broken roads are quite common in Indonesia. Apparently my driver didn’t know this though and when we were a few kilometers from our destination he demanded 100,000 for the ride even though he had agreed to 50,000 back in town. We weren’t going to pay more when he delayed our arrival by a significant amount. When we arrived and handed him the 50,000 we promised, he threw it back at us, akin to how a small child would throw a toy that he no longer wanted to play with. The ojek driver also told the boat drivers that we wouldn’t pay him while we were attempting to negotiate a price. It turned into quite the fiasco. The one boat driver in town demanded 1.5 million for a ride. A bit of a steep price so we asked around. Every time we would find someone willing to go for 1 million, the combination of our angry ojek driver telling them we wouldn’t pay and the boatman who wanted 1.5 siding with our ojek driver, caused the other person to back out. It wasn’t until we said “well, we can call the police and have them figure it out” that the ojek driver remembered what he agreed to and took the 50,000. All the while Ross’s ojek driver was content with his 50,000 that we paid from the start, because, you know, it was what he agreed to. It was a disaster and upsetting someone like this brought me to tears because I really hate to upset anyone, but his behavior was absolutely terrible and caused undue hassle on our end.

It took at least 2 (maybe 3????) hours for us to finally agree to 1.5mil because with every passing hour daylight was running out. We weren’t able to find a boat for cheaper so, not wanting to waste any more time, we eventually did agree to go out with a guy who was at least nice to us. The small blue boat that we had hired did not have a cover, nor did it have any outriggers for stabilization. Unfortunately the ocean was in rough shape and we were splashed with ocean water and high waves for the first hour of our 2-hour ride. Several times Ross was certain the whole thing was going to capsize. Luckily it didn’t and by the time we cut around to the north side of the island the ocean current seemed to be friendlier and the second hour of our boat journey brought us seabirds like Great Frigeratebird, Black-naped Tern, and Sooty Tern hunting the schools of fish in the area.

We eventually arrived on shore with only a few hours of daylight left but we couldn’t get out on the trails right away as we would have liked. We were immediately scooped up by someone speaking English. Shocking. We weren’t expecting someone living in this remote town to be able to speak English! We initially were thinking ‘great’ he can take us to the patch of forest where the monarch is, or at the very least explain to someone what we want to do, but this English-speaker wasn’t local and he immediately took us to the local town secretary to check in. We get there and a lot of waiting around ensued. We didn’t want to anger anyone so we waited and went with it but with each passing minute Ross’s anxiety about running out of time was increasing. As it turns out we were waiting around for a better English speaker, something we didn’t know until she arrived. She then explained that we would need to go to the other side of the island to check in with the Kapela Desa. Being in a hurry to do something is not well-known to Indonesians who have nothing better to do and can turn an easy task into a several-hour project. This was the point where we needed to make our haste known. We explained again that daylight was running out and we know that others visiting birders before us did not have to do all of this. We just needed someone who knew the trail to take us. English speaking Indonesians like this, while extremely friendly and helpful, can cause more hassle than necessary. Instead of getting on the trail we had yet another detour!

FINALLY (at 4pm!!!) we start birding, and likely only because we just started walking on what looked like the main trail towards the forest. We meet a nice young man on the trail who started talking to us. We thought he was sent to guide/escort us, but I think we just ended up with him because he happened to be on the trail next to us. We told him about the forest and he knew where to go. The batch of 25 children hanging out nearby started following us too and probably would have followed all the way into the forest had we not told the guy to tell them to go away. One or two, fine, but 25+ wasn’t going to make this already difficult task of finding a bird with only an hour of daylight left any easier.

We were thinking we didn’t have enough time but Ross immediately got to work. He hears a ‘monarch-type call’ and follows it, plays some tape and just like that has a pair of Boano Monarchs in plain view. For the amount of birding that we did, this whole post could fit into just one paragraph, but with all of our misfortunes, it turned into an all-day, high-stress affair. Luckily it was a fruitful forty minutes of birding and we also had Red-faced Parrot, and a pair of the endemic Boano subspecies of Common Paradise-Kingfishers!

We wanted to start back on the boat before dark so we packed up before seeing much else. We did show our two local ‘guides’ (likely just guys with nothing better to do) and the guy we had to check in with at the beginning who joined us where we saw the bird. We showed them pictures and the map in the book detailing that this bird was found only on their island. We wanted them to know that this little patch of limestone-rock-filled forest was worth keeping intact. We also paid each of them 50,000 rupiah (+ a 25,000/person ‘entrance fee’) so they know that they can make money showing other people where this bird lives. They had no idea about the Boano Monarch that was endemic to their island but after our visit were pointing out other birds (mostly common things) but seemed genuinely interested in the birdlife around them and couldn’t believe that they had a bird that no one else did!

We got on the boat and went back. The ride back on the water was rough, but luckily not as bad as the initial journey. We arrived back in the small village just after dark which made finding a ride all the way back to our hotel another disaster. I’ll just sum it up by saying we were exhausted and too tired to fight over price. We conceded to being completely ripped off and got into our beds as soon as possible ending what was possibly the most Successful Shit Show  we’ve had to date.


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