Living A Dream in Raja Ampat – It Wasn’t All About The Landscape

Submitted by mumunmumun on 15 December 2016   •  Destination

He was no more than rugged feet in flip flops. It was dusk and all I can keep my eyes on were his steps. We walked inland from the coast of Sawinggrai Village, Raja Ampat, passing gardens and forest openings for about 20 minutes before losing the dirt path. Two minutes into a semi-dense forest and walking on crossing roots on the soil surface, he guided us to man-made benches. We waited. We awaited those that descended from above; the ‘cendrawasih’, birds of paradise. I secretly waited to fulfill another long dream of mine in Raja Ampat and it wasn’t about the infamous landscapes.

I studied Biology in college. I went through 5 gruelling years memorising names of flora, fauna, bones and nerves. Realizing I started to twitch every time I heard the name of a thread-like nerve, I decided to focus more on bigger and fluffier things. I studied ecology, the science of the environment and the intertwining organisms that make the earth as we know today. Through sleepy hours in class, I’ve learned that Papua is a biodiversity paradise.  It’s very unique, evolving on its own time, as would any island ecosystem. It’s also still much preserved due to its location in the corner of Indonesia, relatively remote to development. It was one of the ‘it’ places for biologists.

raja ampat radjah shelducks


That dusk, I sat on the rugged bench made of two tree stems, placed behind a camouflage roof-curtain made of palm leaves. It barely hid us but I guess the effort counts. I started to have butterflies in my stomach of excitement, if possible, those butterflies be the Papilio moerneri, endemic to Papua. Last time I saw this bird, was in the birding guide book published by LIPI, Indonesia’s research organization. As a bird geek, guide books were one of my favorite books at the time. I would admire the hand-drawn images in the book, including the birds of paradise, and try to imagine them in the wild. I never thought I’d actually see one, but there I was, alert every time a leaf moved. One of those movements finally brought me to see the red ‘cenderawasih’ or Paradisae rubra.

Red cenderawasih

There were about four of five of this species flying from branch to branch. Their bodies and wings were mostly covered with brown feathers, making it a challenge to spot them. Their distinct thick yellow neck also makes it hard to spot as it looks like a patch of space amongst the leaves, but it gave them out once they moved. They were beautiful birds! The male walked up and down branches with wings spread, kinda like humans imitating an airplane. It was mating season, hence, not only did they fly, they danced. Male ‘cenderawasih’ would break a move to attract the females. I didn’t know the birds of paradise had so much flare. I felt my face have the biggest grin, holding back giggles of happiness. Not only did I see the birds of paradise, I got to see it dance and they were ridiculous but adorable. I moved slowly and quietly to get better angles to see the birds, but inside I, too, was dancing with happiness.

This feeling of happiness, geek-ing inside, repeated over and over again during my #TripOfWonders sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism. I didn’t always have to walk into jungles to feel tingles in my cheeks leading up to a smile. It also happened when I was underwater. Diving is usually a must for divers in Raja Ampat and I obliged once an offer came by. In that one dive, I saw so many big creatures; sharks, a moray eel, three turtles, a huge garoupa, countless fishes, and barracudas. Although I didn’t see anything new to add on my list, but the 5-6 barracudas that I saw were the biggest barracudas that I’ve ever seen. A solid 1 meter in length. For one dive, that’s a lot of big creatures to see. Not to mention, the corals were so colorful when diving around 5-6 meters. Garden-like, if I may say.

fishes from abouve the water at raja ampat

Another moment was at Pianemo. While most people were breath taken by the landscape, seen at the Pianemo platform, I was more intrigued by the coconut crab (Birgus latro) found at the base of the wooden stairs towards the platform. I’ve never seen one before and I’ve heard that they’re becoming even more rare these days. They were huge, probably a size down from a volley ball. Their claws were massive! I’ve always admired them to be the very few animals that has the skill to cut open a coconut. As a human, I can’t open a coconut even with a tool, let alone without. Unfortunately, they were in nets, bundled together, ready for the next buyer. Just as I was about to ask about them to the sellers just out of curiosity, my guide hurried me up the stairs. At the top, he informed me that the crabs were endangered and that we shouldn’t buy them. He must have heard me ask about the price. Kudos for the awareness! Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to buy one. I was merely curious on how much one would cost. I would have loved to just admire them a little longer, but I guess putting any attention to them might bring more attention and demand.

captured coconut crab in Papua

I also didn’t have to look far from the accommodation in Raja Ampat to see unique fauna. The Raja Ampat Dive Lodge apparently is home to a few unique animals. On the beach, a family of two adult ducks and three ducklings would walk back and forth, as if the resort was their backyard, which probably is. These ducks seemed to be black and white, but with a little wiggle I saw the distinct green-to-brown metallic feathers just underneath its wings. If animals evolved to camouflage, where the hell can it hide with green metallic feathers? Poison Ivy’s butt? This duck turned out to be the Radjah Shelduck (Tadorna Radjah) that is only found in Maluku, Papua and Australia. Score! Yes, I can even geek on the mere sight of ducks. Just ducks.

radjah shelducks in raja ampat dive lodge

riyanni djangkaru fellow geek

Fellow geek. 

Another super pleasant delight was seeing the walking shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) just under the piers of the resort. No diving was even required. All that was needed was patience and a flashlight, as they come out around 7 p.m. It’s a nice excuse to just hang around the pier at night. This, too, was something that I never expected to see so easy in my life. Oh how I was a happy biology geek during the trip!

For more about Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, you can click here.

Walking shark at raja ampat dive lodge

Photo by Riyanni Djangkaru.

Because my main task was to host the international travelers, I secretly kept this little part of the trip to myself. Well, until now. I didn’t indulge much, not only because my biology senses is very rusty, it’s not every body’s cup of tea, which was obvious on the trip. I did enjoy much of Riyanni’s enthusiasm, a travel mate at the time, as she’s a geek of animals and everything else, basically. It hit home to me and they were such precious moments, more than I expressed at the time.

Mathius sawinggrai village birdwatch guide

When the sun came up in Sawinggrai Village after seeing the cenderawasih, I finally saw the face of Pak Mathius, my guide. He had distinct Papua features with dark skin color, curly hair underneath his hat and wide jawline. I also saw the details of his feet, wrinkles and all, that didn’t show during dusk. I finally saw the man that took me to fulfill one of my dream. We chit chat a little bit; me being too enthusiast, him being mundane with my excitement. And then I bid him adieu. There’s no doubt I’ll be back to Raja Ampat and Papua as a whole. This gem of biodiversity is too good for just a glimpse like this!

Sawinggrai Village for cenderawasih watching

signs of birdwatching spots at sawinggrai village


typical house above water at Sawinggrai Village

room by the beach at sawinggrai village raja ampat

Sunrise at sawingrai village raja ampat

mangkokan leaves

Initally I thought this was endemic since it was funny looking. Apparently ‘mangkokan leaves’ (Polyscias scutellaria) can be found in Java. So much for being a Biologist 😀

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8 Comments on "Living A Dream in Raja Ampat – It Wasn’t All About The Landscape"

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Prasad Np
3 years 6 months ago

Totally agree with the biodiversity of Raja Ampat, for a nature lover like me, it was a dream come true. I could see fish in water just sitting on the pier, I saw and heard birds like nowhere else and that shark pic is absolutely gorgeous. I too saw it later but could not click the picture, so thanks for sharing it

3 years 6 months ago

Itu awal mulanya bisa lihat walking shark gimana? Sengaja menyenter-nyenter ke air? Atau ada bisikan dari orang sana, macam “Klo malam coba deh senterin airnya, suka ada walking shark loh!” gitu? Aku penasaran :)))

3 years 6 months ago

Wow, Raja Ampat! What an inspiring article! Awesome shoot and atmosphere! <3

3 years 5 months ago

Aku kok yaa kangen laut, kangen leyeh2 di rumah sederhana menghadap laut.
Aku blm pernah ke papua, please ajak kau kesana yessss