Indonesia and Malaysia 3.1 - Back to Bogor ... and the blog.

So after many years (8+ !!!!! Yikes!), I learned that my Google account gives me access to to my long neglected travel blog. Good timing too cause after many years I made a return trip to Indonesia (19 years) and Malaysia (12 years) a little over a month ago. The next few posts are the account of these trips in "Indonesia and Malaysia 3.1" to "3.2". I'll valiantly attempt to get them all out in short order while I still have something resembling a fresh memory of the trip.


I left Denver on July 13th, 2019, for Bogor, Indonesia to take part in the, Workshop to Enhance Collaboration Between US and Indonesia in Biodiversity and Conservation Research (unfortunately the link is hijacked or something. It redirects to a weird page). The goal is to bring together researchers from both countries in an effort form new and lasting collaborations around biodiversity research. The project involves people from numerous institutions in Indonesia. Specifically, IPB University and RISTEKDIKTI, the research institute of Indonesia.

The flight to Jakarta was long. As I expected and dreaded. However, the legroom from bulkhead seats in combination with in-flight movies helped to make the time pass by comfortably. When plane finally landed in Jakarta, a fairly large group of US workshop participants stumbled off and headed toward the immigration. The first I met also heading to the workshop was Sarah Tucker. She introduced herself when we were at the gate in Narita. I next me Geoff Zahn on the long walk to immigration and the sleep deprived lessons in questionable judgement that line turned out to be.

The adventure the immigration line turned out to be was milder than what it could have been. While in the slow moving and fairly long line, I decided to pass the time by updating my dad about my situation using the newly acquired WhatsApp. I then proceeded to snap a picture of the line to add to the message. Next thing I knew I was asked to step out of line by a security guard. My mind started racing as I contemplated the issue getting into trouble with Indonesian immigration within the first hour of my first visit in 19 years. OH, THE IRONY!

After the discussion of how I messed up went round and round with security a few times, I suggested one possible solution of deleting the image from my phone and paying a fine. I realized the concept of a fine was actually a “fine” (in quotes) when the guard asked me to suggest the amount. Fifty dollars later I had my passport stamped and was sent on my way.

I realize that $50 is a steep price to pay to simply jump ahead of the queue, but I ask the reader to consider the situation: after a 20-hour flight to a foreign country, what price would you pay to get out of trouble with another nation’s immigration? $20? $50? $100? $200? Given all the considerations of where I was, $50 felt like an easy price to pay.

The next morning, the workshop participants gathered in the lobby of the hotel. There was no breakfast so a few of us went in search of food. That’s when I ran into Jesse Czekanski-Moir. I stopped and commented on how familiar he looked, and we concluded that we knew each other from the Field Museum several years before. Small world.

The bus ride to Bogor wasn’t very long. At the hotel there was time to make acquaintances with the other workshop attendees. Most of them had some if not extensive research experience in the country. Soon after, Nyree and Jeremie made an appearance to introduce themselves to the group, and later I ran into Elliot getting off of the elevator with his son, mother, and sister. It was nice to see the familiar faces from CBG again.  

After our rooms were assigned a group of us went on a little walk to a nearby street market to purchase fruit. Memories some 19 years old came flooding back as we walked along the outer edge of Bogor Botanic Garden. I had to fight the urge to jump the fence and search for mushrooms. It probably wasn’t worth it anyway as it was the dry season making trespassing impractical as well as imprudent.

We had a welcoming ceremony that evening, but by the end I think we were more interested in sleep and getting the next day started.

The first day of the meeting began with another round of opening remarks. This time by prominent leaders from the research community of Indonesia and the US. The addressed some of the barriers and opportunities for research in Indonesia. Simon Malcomber made an important point about the recognition of Indonesia’s biodiversity. The country rates second to Brazil, but this is believed to be mostly due to the fact that less is known about Indonesia and thus, the greater the opportunity.

After the intros we broke into focus groups that dealt with specific topics. This continued for the next two days. All told, I took part in: “Evolution, Ecology, and Biogeography”; “Collections Management and Utilization”; and on the last day we discussed technological approaches, specifically around storage and dissemination of biodiversity data. Each one of these groups taught me something about the different challenges and opportunities to doing biodiversity research in Indonesia that I hope to utilize in future proposals.

Speaking of proposals, I finally got my NSF CAREER proposal submitted. It was a lot of work and some unnecessary stress leading up to the deadline. It was fortunate that I was up at 3am on Thursday morning as I hadn’t cleared the proposal to be submitted by the SRO office. I then had to go through the documents and make sure there were no warning signs or try to clear any obstacles to NSF completing the review process. In the end we were able to submit it with an hour to spare.

Anyway, I was up till 3 am after a combination of socializing at the restaurant in the Botanic Gardens. Several of us were on the lookout for a place where we could relax and unwind with some beers. Simon had found a place called “The Place”, but we were also told that we could go to the restaurant in the Botanic Gardens despite the Gardens being closed. There was a side gate that provided access to the Gardens and all we needed to do was take a 20 minute walk from our hotel.

At the restaurant (can’t recall the name), we ordered some food, but beer was what was really on the menu. Simon ended up ordering two “Beer Towers”. They were described as three 24oz bottles, but it turns out they ended up coming in a tall carboy-like contraption with a spigot that you could pour your own beers in (see picture). It was a nice festive occasion and opportunity to mingle with Nyree, Jeremie, Simon, Chuck Cannon, Maud Quinzin, and Alison Styring.

Being up late was also a factor of jet-lag. That evening I told Maud that if she was up for a late-night walk to give me a call. What was intended on being a short 10-minute walk, ended up being a complete 2-mile circuit of the Botanic Gardens. Again, 19-year old memories of Bogor came back to me during our walk. The massive size of the Gardens, the palacial grounds with deer roaming the grounds, and sadly the polluted rivers and waterways. Back then I could see the problems of plastic. Twenty years later it seems the world has awoken to the problem now that it’s too big to ignore.

The evening walk was a lot of fun. We ran into Indonesia’s version of the raccoon, the Palm Civet. It was also really nice getting to talk with Maud. She talked about her postdoc experiences and how excited she was about her new position at MIT. I reminisced about the area we were walking through, trying hard to unlock past memories of the place. As we walked and talked, it occurred to me at one point that I should probably check my email to make sure that my grant proposal was sent off OK. That thought ended up being one of those "sixth sense" moments that people get as all was not OK. I did end up getting the grant submitted, but only with hours to spare. It turned out that I neglected to give permissions for others to submit the proposal. After logging on, I figured out the permissions settings and made a few last tweaks, then the proposal was off.

On Thursday of the workshop, the participants were scheduled to take a tour of Bogor Botanic Gardens. I took this opportunity to visit Atik Retnowati at the herbarium in LIPI. It was really good seeing her face again after all these years. We got to catch up about what we were both doing with our lives and talked about the possibility to do work together again in Indonesia. She took me on a tour of the herbarium facilities. They were quite nice. Climate controlled rooms and sealed herbarium cabinets. There’s also a separate room for liquid collections. While touring the facilities I ran into another group of botanists visiting from Kew. This made me think of ways in which biodiversity research should be multinational collaborative works. So many ideas have been generated from this trip.

After the herbarium, Atik took me out to dinner, then we went to her house to check in on her daughters. It was a brief trip, but the meal was really good – grilled spicy fish with rice and soup. It was too much food actually, but really tasty. Driving to Atik’s house was wild. I’ve traveled in a number of countries, but Indonesia felt the most chaotic. But there was an odd sense of order, or at least an understanding that everyone had about what the rules of the road were. Despite the seeming lack of any rules at all. After a quick visit to Atik’s, where she gave me an orange that was refreshing but difficult to eat on my already full stomach we got back into the car and Atik graciously drove me back to the hotel in Bogor. It was great seeing her again and I’ll soon be looking for opportunities to collaborate with her in the future.


By the time Friday rolled around, my brain was full and I was eager to move onto the next phase of my trip. Early in the morning I piled into a taxi with Maud and Kathy Traylor-Holtzer in order to head to the airport. They were headed to Kuala Lumpur for the Conservation Conference. I was eager to make it to Yogyakarta to visit one of my all time bucket list locations.

Coming up next... Bourobudur.


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