Feb 12, 2011

Crossing the Wallace Line - From Bali to Lombok

Merpati Bali to Lombok Air Ticket
My boarding pass

We did not spend a whole week in Bali during the year-end escapade. In between our Bali adventures, Ine arranged for a 3D/2N vacation in Lombok (it was a "vacation" as I had no specific "mission" in Lombok). The flight from Bali to Lombok is short - around 25 minutes - and takes the traveller across the Lombok Strait, some 35km of sea separating the two islands.

It would be a mundane journey for most people. Not for me; I knew its biogeographical significance. As I proudly declared to Ine, "We're crossing the Wallace Line!"

Alfred Russel Wallace: British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist

In fact my trip, from Singapore to Bali then to Lombok, had added significance. In the same order but sailing instead of flying, the great British naturalist Alfred Wallace got to "discover" the line that now bears his name:

One day in May 1856, he took a Chinese schooner from Singapore to Bali, which he had no intention of visiting, but he figured he could find a way from there to Lombok and then on to Makassar on the island of Sulawesi. This accidental detour would give Wallace the most important discovery of his expedition. [source]

When I read the above passage, I was proud that Wallace visited Singapore the first question that came to mind was: just how long did Wallace take to reach Bali from Singapore? What about Lombok from Bali? If you believe in progress, then transportation must have improved tremendously in 150 years (a nice way of saying he would have taken very long in 1856). Much intrigued, I searched Chapter 10 of his book The Malay Archipelago where he wrote about Bali and Lombok:

It was on the 13th of June, 1856, after a twenty days’ passage from Singapore in the “Kembang Djepoon” (Rose of Japan), a schooner belonging to a Chinese merchant, manned by a Javanese crew, and commanded by an English captain, that we cast anchor in the dangerous roadstead of Bileling on the north side of the island of Bali.

Leaving Bileling, a pleasant sail of two days brought us to Ampanam in the island of Lombock, where I proposed to remain till I could obtain a passage to Macassar.

Indeed, 20 days is a long time for a Bali trip and that is not counting the time spent on the island. A return trip would have wiped off your two years worth of annual leave and we have not even considered the monsoon.

Merpati and their food
Merpati Air took me from Bali to Lombok. What Wallace took two days, I achieved it in twenty minutes. Inset: Food was given to us on the full-service flight (water and cake or bread). I wonder if Wallace could survive on this ration alone for two days.

It was in Lombok that he saw some species of birds that could only be found in Lombok and the islands to her east but not in Bali and islands westward from Bali. From his Malay Archipelago:

Birds were plentiful and very interesting, and I now saw for the first time many Australian forms that are quite absent from the islands westward. Small white cockatoos were abundant, and their loud screams, conspicuous white colour, and pretty yellow crests, rendered them a very important feature in the landscape. This is the most westerly point on the globe where any of the family are to be found. Some small honeysuckers of the genus Ptilotis, and the strange moundmaker (Megapodius gouldii), are also here first met with on the traveller’s journey eastward.

An imaginary line could be drawn that denotes this boundary or transition zone. On the map, see that Wallace Line divides Bali from Lombok, Borneo from Sulawesi and Philippines from the Spice Islands. Read this excellent page to find out the geographical implication on animals in the region.

The Wallace Line

Ine told me that according to The Naked Traveler, Indonesia's most famous backpacker and best-selling travel author - their version of Lonely Planet (too bad her works are in Bahasa Indonesia) - Lombok chillies are hotter than chillies from other parts of Indonesia. I am not sure whether the Wallace Line has implication on flora as well.

My flight from Bali to Lombok was therefore a momentous journey and up in the air, I kept looking out of the window and wondering whether I have crossed the Wallace Line. I made sure the moment was not lost by keeping careful records, in photos and videos.

Last Sight of Bali
Last sight of Bali from the plane, 10 minutes after take-off from Bali airport. The wide expanse of water announced the approaching moment. Unfortunately the plane went inside cloud cover and when it finally cleared 5 minutes later, I saw the land mass of Lombok!

My take-off from Bali Ngurah Rai Airport. Just like Changi Airport, the airport at Tuban is located beside the sea. You can see Bali's famous beach destinations - Kuta, Legian and Seminyak - immediately after take-off.

My landing at Lombok Mataram Airport. At 1:10, the plane landed with a loud "thud" .... ouch! From the video, the camera was rocking more violently on the runway than in the air. At the end of the runway, the plane did an about turn. Way cool! I didn't know a plane can turn 360 degrees on the spot. Not something you see at Changi Airport.

Checking Google Map, I realized the plane approached the airport from the east and not west as I imagined. This aerial of the airport reminds me of those WWII aircraft carrier decks with single runway. Now we know why the plane has to ke-belakang-pusing when it runs out of tarmac!


me said...

interesting trip!