Exploring obscure islands in Indonesia can bring the traveller face-to-face with extraordinary travel experiences. Luckily, expats can now take advantage of the incredible Indonesian air network to access smaller regional centres and relatively remote destinations. Stephanie Brookes describes a recent journey to the stunning rainforests of Buton, alive with colourful butterflies.
Buton Island is located off the southeast peninsula of Sulawesi, near the gateway to the famous diving area of Wakatobi. It is also an island that seldom gets visitors; so why did I go? I try to visit new places at least once a year. I liked the name Buton and–in all the thirteen years I have spent travelling the islands of Indonesia–I had never met anyone who had gone. So that was a good enough reason for me.
My journey to Buton started in Jakarta where I boarded an 8:00 am flight, arriving in Buton in the early afternoon. I met my guide Fernandes at the air terminal who explained about the many languages spoken on the island. “Many people speak Wolio,” he said, “but only three kilometres away from this airport they speak Cia-Cia language, and thirty-five kilometres away they speak Lasalimu and Kumbewaha.” He went on to explain, “Each of Buton’s seven languages belongs to a different ethnic group–each one with its own traditional music, culture, dance and rituals which are honoured throughout the year.”
As I headed out of Bau-Bau, I was surprised to see a Balinese cremation procession in progress. We passed many split-gated compounds, which were carved with traditional Balinese artwork. A long line of Balinese people in colourful costumes snaked along the road towards the ocean. My guide remarked, “Balinese is another language spoken here. The Balinese came here as part of President Suharto’s transmigration program.”
The drive from Bau-Bau to the highlands started with a long scenic stretch of coastal beaches before we made our way up into the mountains. My destination was the Lamusango Forest, which is famous for its butterflies. On the way, we passed through fertile farmlands where fields of corn and cassava swayed in the breeze. It brought to mind the Javanese epic poem written by Buddhist Monk Mpu Prapanca, which dates back to the fifteenth century and the days of the Majapahit Kingdom.
The poem describes Buton as an island with rich gardens and a sophisticated irrigation system.
We passed a patchwork of fields full of sweet potatoes, cotton, coconut, and betel. Pineapple and banana plantations dotted the horizon. Fernandes explained that this product makes its way to the bustling Bau-Bau market on a daily basis. “ We can visit the market later,” he said, “It is packed full to the brim with fruit and vegetables as well as a bounty of fresh fish. It’s very interesting, and I think you will like it.” After two hours on an impressively smooth, new road we reached our forest destination. Lamusango Forest was made famous by Alfred Wallace, a British naturalist, explorer and anthropologist from the nineteenth century; he collected rare butterfly and insect specimens from the rain forests in Buton.
We followed a neatly raised concrete footpath deep into the forest and entered the land of butterflies and anoa, a midget buffalo species. This exotic creature is roughly the size of a dog and sports a rather large set of longhorns. Fernandes warned me, “If we enter this place, in any way doubting the existence of the anoa, he will present himself. You must also not be loud or behave in an obnoxious way when you are in this forest. So please can I have your agreement before we go any further?” I hurriedly agreed as I was already three kilometres into the trek. I found out later I did not need to worry too much as the creature is nocturnal.
As I trekked even further into the forest, the butterflies became more prolific, with splashes of blue and purple frequently appearing. It was one of the more delightful forest walks I have ever done. With my exuberant guide, pointing out trees and edible plants along the way; it was not only beautiful but also fun and informative. We did not see anyone else on our two-hour walk.
On the way back to Bau-Bau I passed through a pretty little town, which was painted blue and white. Every house, every fence paling and every warung was colour coded. Fernandes told me that the town had voted on the colour theme and that all the paint had been provided for free, in preparation for an official government visit. Like many roads on the island, the road I travelled on was new and built only two years ago. As the sun was setting, I stopped at a viewpoint to take in the panoramic views of the town and harbour from a hilltop spot called Wantiro. A string of local warungs selling drinks and food had starry-eyed young people sitting at tables poised on the cliff edge. With the help of selfie-sticks, they were snapping romantic pictures as the soft light of day fell into night.
That evening I made plans for my next day’s adventure which would include an early morning market tour and a full day exploring the beaches and hidden coves of this beautiful remote Buton island.
Flights: Regular flights operate from Jakarta and other major cities to Bau-Bau, Sulawesi via Makassar
Tour Guide: Mr Fernandes Arung