Between 1854 and 1862 a meticulous young naturalist named Alfred Russel Wallace made an epic journey through the islands of the Malay Archipelago gathering specimens and recording observations. Upon his return to England he published his findings in a book entitled The Malay Archipelago. The geographical line that runs between Borneo/Sulawesi, Bali/Lombok, and the Sunda and the Sahul oceanic shelves marks a remarkable division of biodiversity that bears his name, the “Wallace Line.”
The majority of the islands Wallace visited now form part of Indonesia. The national motto is “unity in diversity” and a modern day adventure through the East Indies and across the Wallace Line offers just that. Our Best of Indonesia voyages I and II, followed by Bali to Saigon aboard the sleek and comfortable Clipper Odyssey have something for everyone. Historians enjoy experiencing much of Wallace’s original route and those interested in the rich regional World War II legacy have the Japanese naval headquarters in Kokas, West Papua and oil rich Tarakan, East Kalimantan to explore. Ternate is one of the spice islands of Indonesia, where we learn of the historical Portuguese and Dutch trading legacy.
Lovers of people and culture will delight in the ethnographic diversity. On each voyage there are experiences second to none. The coastal Asmat people of West Papua, once known for cannibalism today produce exquisite carvings. The cultural highlight of Sulawesi is a trip to Toraja to experience a Christian society still adhering to ancient megalithic traditions. The architecture of the traditional houses and the funerary rites that are such an important part of Torajan culture make it unforgettable. Unlike much of Indonesia which follows Islam, Bali is predominantly Hindu, a legacy from the Majapahit Empire and the traditional animist Bali Aga. The fascinating island of Sumba is renowned for very fine ikat weaving and the annual pasola, horse joust. Borneo is home to a number of indigenous cultures including the Dayak, traditionally renowned for head hunting, long-house communal living, and exquisite basketry and beadwork.
Naturalists and birders enjoy the rich biodiversity of the Australian Sarul shelf and Wallacea. Komodo Island is famous for its unique inhabitants Varanus Komodoensis, the world’s largest species of monitor lizard. Borneo is home to the “Orang Utan,” man of the forest, and Sepilok Rehabilitation Center in Sabah, East Malaysia affords the opportunity to view these magnificent animals in their natural habitat.
For divers, snorkelers, and marine life enthusiasts there is an underwater world awaiting discovery. Frequent expedition stops in warm turquoise waters, fringing sun-kissed white sand beaches include Ashmore Reef in Torres Strait. Triton Bay and Raja Ampat offer some of the best diving and snorkeling opportunities in West Papua followed by Bunaken National Marine Park and Komodo National Park.
Each of these voyages provides a wonderful opportunity to experience the islands of diversity that make up Indonesia. The real dilemma is which one will you choose? Ideally, you experience all three and sail on a true voyage of discovery through the Malay Archipelago in the spirit and wake of Wallace.
Kim, an expert in Southeast Asian culture and textiles, is a lecturer on all three of our Indonesia voyages in spring of 2010: Best of Indonesia,Voyage I and II, and Bali to Saigon.