Category: Papua

Great photos from New Guinea

My friend Will Betz has a great collection of New Guinea photos, but never had a chance to post them online yet. He’s finally scanned and posted a sample. Check out the images of bowerbirds, they’re amazing. The males of these New Guinea birds build massive structures, and will collect all kinds of colourful objects to attract females. What guys won’t do to get the girl…

The sample includes some great shots from South America and Africa as well.

Are travel guides all bad?

The travel writing industry is abuzz over the upcoming release of Thomas Kohnstamm’s book detailing his life as a Lonely Planet travel writer. He supposedly plagiarized content, didn’t visit the places he was supposed to go to, slept with waitresses, etc., etc. In reality, it turns out that it wasn’t all that bad. In a recent interview, he takes back some of the things he said in earlier interviews. Of course, by then the main stream media had picked up on the juicy tidbits.

So, are travel guides, just that – guides, or are they bibles? I have used a lot of guidebooks in my travels, and spent a lot of time sending updates to Lonely Planet’s guides. As far as I am concerned, they are just rough guides. Stuff will be missing, out of date, or wrong, but that is the fun of it. But if you find errors, don’t whine about them. Instead, take the time to write the publishers, or post an entry on the publisher’s forums.

Do I buy guidebooks when I travel? Always.

Which ones? Depends on the destination. I always compare Rough Guides, LP, and Moon Handbooks. For North America, Moon often has more in-depth titles. For other countries, Rough Guides tend to be more in-depth, with better writing (more background info, especially about culture, and more opinionated), and they cover more out-of-the-way places. But Lonely Planet covers more establishments, has more practical information, and offers more titles. For example, there are no Rough Guides for Mongolia and Bhutan.

When I go to a country for an extended period of time, I buy several guidebooks. For example, in Bhutan, you need the Lonely Planet, as well as Francoise Pommaret’s Odyssey guide, and Bart Jordan’s Bhutan, a trekker’s guide. For Mongolia, get the Lonely Planet guide and the Bradt guide.

Are the LP guides to Bhutan and Mongolia any good? Both will invariably have some errors, but Michael Kohn (Mongolia) lived there for three years, and knows the country as well as anyone writing about it. Stan Armington (who wrote earlier editions of the Bhutan guide, as well as several of the LP Nepal guides) has been in Nepal since the early 70s, and was one of LP’s first authors. He as good as they come.

There were a couple of bibles out there, though. The ultimate travel guide is probably the Indonesia Handbook by Bill Dalton, founder of Moon Publications. Sadly, it is out of print, but it put all other Indonesia guides to shame. It truly was the travel bible to Indonesia. Even so, it had its share of errors, and Bill was the first to admit it when I met him in Jayapura, West Papua. Bill spent about 20 years researching every edition of his Handbook. No travel writer has spent so much time criss-crossing the country. But in the end, it even became to much work for him.

The other one was the Moon handbook to Tibet (also out of print). About three times as thick as any other Tibet guide, it truly went into great depth. It’s a shame that both are gone now.

West Papua art

Two girls pounding sagoMy good friend John Moore has just opened an exhibition of his amazing New Guinea art at a Victoria art gallery. While art from Papua New Guinea may be better known, there is a strong artistic tradition in western New Guinea as well. His exhibition is well worth if you like traditional art.

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Maps for Garmin GPS

Garmin eTrex Vista HCXGPS has come a long way since I first saw someone use a unit in 1992 on the crater rim of the Mt. Bromo volcano in Java, Indonesia. By 1995, we had a Garmin 45 while exploring a previously unvisited alpine valley near Koropun, New Guinea. At the time, the average error was still 30-100m, and the unit took a long time to lock onto 8 satellites simultaneously. But it worked, and showed us exactly how far we were from a friend’s house with cold beer.

I recently retired my trusted Garmin 12, which took me on an epic drive through the southeastern Gobi desert of Mongolia. It was a great unit, but lacked built-in maps. As a result I always knew where I was, but it was hard to pinpoint the location on a map. For the Gobi trip, I hooked up the unit to a laptop running scanned 1:100,000 Russian maps on OziExplorer. That worked very well, and allowed us to navigate through one of the most deserted parts of the Gobi without trouble (other than many flat tires!). The unit worked well, except in the forest. Not exactly a problem in the Gobi, but certainly an issue when trying to map hiking trails in the dense forests of Bhutan.

I now have a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx, which has mapping abilities. It allows you to upload any vector-based maps. The Garmin Mapsource 1:50,000 maps for Canada work well, but don’t have everything one wants on them. Bring in CGPSMapper, software that allows users to create their own Garmin maps from any vector-based data. It includes a map database, where users have uploaded their maps. Cool.

I find that even with a mapping GPS you need paper maps to get an overview, but you should have a map (and a compass!) with you anytime anyway in case the GPS dies on you.

One huge advantage of the new crop of GPSs is that they are much more sensitive, so they even pick up signals inside a house, or better yet, in the forest.

I don’t see detailed maps of Mongolia yet, though, so next time I drive through the Gobi (I’d love to visit the far southwest next time!), I’ll go the laptop route again. Still unbeatable compared to anything else out there.

Photos from the Foya Mountains

The Foya mountains is one of the remotest mountain ranges in the world. Although I have always dreamt of going there, I had actually never seen good photos. This site on insects of Papua has a bit more information on the area, including photos and a location map. This site on the CI expedition to the Foya Mountains has some more information.

New species in Foya mountains

A team of Conservation International biologists returned to the Foya Mountains (map) in northern Papua (Indonesia) this year. This pristine rain forest, considered one of the last great unexplored areas of the world, once again yielded some great finds, including a giant rat, and display behaviour of a black sicklebill bird of paradise. I saw these gorgeous birds in the Wandamen range near Wasior in northwestern Papua. These iridescent black birds with their very long tails are truly stunning.

My friend Will and I had been wanting to go to the Foyas ever since we came to Papua, but the area is just too remote, unless oyu are with a well-organized expedition. It’s no wonder that it took Bruce Beehler 25 years to get there.

However, looking at the Google map of Papua, I was shocked at the number of new roads in the area around the Foyas. In the early ninetees, there were none. I even saw entirely new transmigration areas along the north coast. Rather depressing.

West Papua

I recently uploaded some pictures of West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), Indonesia’s remotest and least-visited island. Still largely covered in pristine rainforest and outer-worldly cloudforests up in the mountains, it is one of the world’s last remaining truly wild places. Here mountains rise to 5,000m, with a glacier covering the tallest peak. The Pegunungan Zaag (Sawtooth mountains) in the east are virtually impenetrable. Stunning birds of paradise, bowerbirds and tree kangaroos make their home on the island.