Baluran: Into the Wilderness

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Asia, Indonesia, Southeast

East Java’s Baluran National Park

Our driver carefully navigates the gravel path, flanked by trees and shrubs, tall and low, that cuts through the dense forest. From the national park’s entrance off the main road that connects the East Javanese cities of Banyuwangi and Situbondo, it is a good 13 km of bumpy ride to reach the vast expanse of Bekol savanna. In this far eastern corner of Java – the world’s most populous island – the sheer absence of large crowds of humans feels both peculiar and refreshing.

James and I head to a small office, which looks more like a house, on the northern side of the savanna. A man appears, then I explain to him about the booking I made several weeks earlier. In this secluded wilderness, booking a room online clearly is not an option. Instead, I texted him as soon as I found his phone number. A short reply “Yes, it is available” is all I need.

After grabbing the key to our room, he leads us to a bigger, two-story building nearby. Baluran National Park – named after the extinct Mount Baluran that acts as the focal point of the park – covers an area of 250 sq km with only two options of accommodation for those who wish to experience one of Java’s last safe havens for wildlife. I opted for the one near the savanna over a beach-front room, some four kilometers away to the east. The interior of the first floor is rather drab with a few dusty decorations hanging on the wall. He goes upstairs and points to a room where we will spend the next two nights. As he opens the door, a foul odor escapes the stuffy, dim room. This smell, is it mouse urine? I ask myself. James’ face displays shock, regret, disgust and helplessness all mixed together. Maybe it’s not wise to tell him about what I suspect.

“We only have electricity from 5:30pm until 11pm,” the man nonchalantly tells us. “And the wire fence is there to keep the monkeys away,” he adds, explaining about the chain wire that covers three sides of the balcony.

The communal bathroom is downstairs, equipped with a squat toilet, a waist-high tub filled with water, and a plastic water dipper. Despite the thin black sediment on the bottom of the tub, the water itself is clean. I look up and see cobwebs hanging from all four corners of the bathroom. Behind the door, a nail is where you hang your towel and everything else.

“There was someone who came to Baluran and asked if we had a shower, a stove, and other things. But this is in the jungle!” he laughs.

An old motorbike that we hire from one of the national park’s staff members becomes our savior to keep ourselves busy and away from our room most of the time, and thanks to it, we begin to appreciate the true beauty of this slice of Africa in Java – Afrika van Java, as the Dutch called it during the colonial time. I haven’t been to Africa, and I have my reservation toward the way some people describe places across Indonesia: the Niagara Falls of Java, Chichen Itza of Indonesia, the Maldives of Indonesia, and the list goes on. However, some people who have been did point out some similarities between the landscape of Baluran and that of East Africa.

Dry palm trees bathed in afternoon sunlight looks surprisingly majestic, while water buffaloes, deer and peacocks roam underneath and return to their cribs. In this land, the peacocks’ plumage sports different shades of colors than those I’ve seen elsewhere. But they’re similar in one thing: their unmistakable penchant for flaunting their kaleidoscopic coverts to the hens.

We return to our room before dark, take a cold, refreshing bath, and later try to sleep with all the windows open.

A Slice of Africa in Java

Reaching for the Sky

A Feathered Local Resident

The Vast Expanse of Bekol Savanna with the Bali Strait on the Horizon

Going Separate Ways

Run Peacock, Run!

Stopping for A Mud Bath

Vigilant Watchers

Getting Ready for the Night…

…and Waking Up the Next Day

A New Day Has Come

Early Risers

The next morning, after a surprisingly good sleep, we are ready to explore the savanna and the beach with a fresher mind. Just before sunrise, we leave for the beach. Thankfully our motorbike’s lamp works and it’s bright enough to keep me aware of what lies in front of us. We secure a place to watch the sun slowly rise over the peaceful Bali Strait. A beautiful, bright yellow disk emerges from the horizon. Its soft light tints the sky with a deep orange hue. But we are not the only ones who enjoy the sunrise.

Long-tailed macaques leave the comfort of the trees to bask in the morning sun while scavenging for food on the beach. Some seem indifferent of the sound of clicking shutters around them. As more and more grey fellows flock into the beach, we decide to leave them in peace. The beach itself is rather bizarre to me, not because of any strange rock formation, nor other curiously-looking physical features. Instead, big letters of B, A, M and A are installed near the parking lot. Signboards around the beach all bear the name Bama. On Bama beach, it does feel odd and funny to be … Bama.

On the way back to Bekol, we spot several herds of deer foraging for grass under the trees. Closer to the savanna, as I’m taking photos of Mount Ijen to the southwest, a lone bull walks graciously amid the dry grassland. A peacock emerges from behind and keeps following the big beast. Then it suddenly makes a sharp left turn and dashes through the savanna. In spite of the thick coverts, a peacock apparently can run really fast.

Back at the base camp, we are told that we can get a bird’s eye view of the picturesque expanse from a watch tower, just a short walk from the office. From a height, Baluran National Park’s dramatic landscape is nothing short of magnificent. A sliver of blue line lurks on the horizon, none other than the Bali Strait itself. On the lower level of the tower, we catch a glimpse of wildlife interaction at its truest form. Around two muddy watering holes, two stags cry for attention from does who outnumber them. Meanwhile, a peacock does what it has to do: showing off its dazzling plumage to impress the hens.

To the far end of the office is an enclosure dedicated to breeding a species whose population has sharply declined in the last few decades. Banteng, a wild ox species, is driven to the extreme edges of the island by the explosion of human population. The male’s white rump and legs are a contrast to the black, muscular build of the rest of the body. Another species who finds refuge in the far east of Java is black lutung, long-tailed monkeys known for their agility. On the canopy of the national park, troops of lutungs are far from the reach of hungry leopards and dholes.

On our third and final day in the national park, we are breathing a sigh of relief after spending two nights in one the most basic accommodations we’ve stayed in recent years. For city dwellers like us, Baluran National Park can be quite challenging. But as my trips to Komodo National Park, Menjangan Island, and the Banda Islands have taught me, seeing wildlife in their natural habitat is a far more rewarding experience than watching them in caged enclosures – and more humane too, obviously. Thanks to places like Baluran, where humans are guests, we are constantly reminded of the importance to keep the balance of the ecology.

That Strange Feeling when I See My Name Everywhere

An Acacia-Fringed Gravel Path

The Shrouded Peak of Mount Ijen

Wherever Water is Around, So is A Gathering

Life is Good

An Endangered Javanese Banteng in A Safe Enclosure

Breakfast Time

Dwellers of the Trees

Wilderness in the World’s Most Populous Island

Mount Baluran, the Focal Point of the Namesake National Park

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

62 thoughts on “Baluran: Into the Wilderness”

  1. Man, you have your private beach in there! Lol!

    Hey, is motorbike the only kind of transportation we can use in there? Or do they provide car to rent if we travel in big group maybe?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know. It was surreal. 🙂

      From the main road, visitors usually reach the savanna by car or motorbike. The gravel path from the savanna to the beach, however, is more suited for a four-wheeler or an off-road motorbike. Just make sure to ride the right kind of vehicle when you go there.

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  2. Well Bama, I’m glad you only told me that foul odor was mouse urine long after we left Baluran – and when we were wrapped up in the comfort and cleanliness of the Ibis airport hotel in Surabaya! The Bekol savanna and those strange trees were such an unusual sight compared to the scenery we saw elsewhere in Java. I do remember reading about the wildlife there a while before the trip, but I honestly thought Bama Beach was the main reason for our visit to Baluran. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • What would you do if I told you that very moment? 😀 You know, that was a budget hotel, yet we were so excited and relieved as if we were staying at a 5-star hotel! Speaking of those trees, there’s something primordial about their look — and that made them special. Sure I was curious about ‘my beach’, but I was more intrigued by the wildlife and landscape. 🙂

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      • I don’t know, actually. There was no escaping that basic jungle lodge! At least we didn’t see the mice (or have any close encounters with them) like some of the other guests…

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  3. Yanto says:

    Hi Bama.
    How can we book to stay in Baluran !
    How do we get the contac address ?
    Cheers
    yanto

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    • Hi Yanto. Unfortunately I have lost the contact number of that person. But if you look up Baluran’s webpage, there’s a phone number you can call.

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  4. Wonderful post Bama, and photographs! Those peacocks are gorgeous. I’ve never seen them that colour before, with the yellow. So beautiful. I’ve only seen the Indian peacocks.
    Alison

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    • Thanks Alison! Those peacocks are pretty, aren’t they? If you notice, the color of their neck is green, unlike Indian peacocks’ blue. I always thought all peacocks were the same, until I went to Baluran.

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  5. Volcanoes. Beaches. Coffee beans. Ancient temples. Exotic wildlife. Amazing natives. Java teems endlessly in beauty, magic and natural wonders. Thanks for sharing.

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    • True. For an island as crowded as Java, surprisingly there are still pockets of places like Baluran which seem to be beyond the reach of commercialization. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m surprised visitors compared the park to East Africa. I didn’t see any resemblance from your photos, especially palmyra palms (zero in EA). To me, Indonesia was Indonesia, distinct in itself and didn’t need to be likened to any other place.
    Once had a similar accommodation experience (though not quite as bad) in Uluru. There was a mouse in our room, so I called the office and was told this was a national park, we can’t touch any animals!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Five years ago I was also quite skeptical about Baluran’s moniker, until those who have been to East Africa alluded to the similarity between the two places. A fellow blogger, Peta, who’s from South Africa also mentioned about the familiar scenes in her comment. I guess I have to go there myself and see what my perception will turn out to be.

      However, I do agree with you about not likening Indonesia to any other place. It gets so ridiculous some people actually compares an open-pit mining site in Central Java to the Grand Canyon!

      Your experience with that accommodation in Uluru reminds us to have the right mindset when we go to a national park. We are guests, and as guests we’re supposed to be mindful of whatever we do. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Mallee!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I can tell how beautiful the park -like area must have been to put up with such horrific accommodation. East Africa on Java and the savanna with its dry climate in an area where you would expect the jungle, all that was quite a surprise for me. Thanks for a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really was worth the inconvenience for we were presented with such magnificent vista throughout our stay in the national park. Java, despite being home to more than 140 million people, surprisingly Java still has places like Baluran. Thanks for reading, Peter!

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  8. Bama, a big thank you to you, for introducing us to this surprisingly wild and vast slice of Java. We have not travelled extensively in Indonesia, beyond Bali, Yogyakarta and some business trips in Jakarta and have been itching to explore more. Love your beautiful crisp photography of the animals.

    Your description of your place of stay while not the typical tourism brochure description, made us chuckle over breakfast and nod in recognition of many similar experiences of uber rustic accommodation made up for by the glorious settings.

    We have macaques too, around where we live in Sri Lanka, but our daily visitors are black faced langurs. These little guys are rather shy, so no need for protection, such as you described in your post.

    Your description of this Africa like setting is really interesting being that I come from South Africa and I can say that it does look similar and familiar.

    Incidentally, we really like the blog format you have with the lead photographs showing up on your home page. Very dramatic and artistic. NICE!!

    Peta & Ben

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re very welcome, Peta & Ben. As you know, Indonesia is such a vast country. Even I myself have only been to a few places in the country. And as for Java, the island where I live, I have a dream to one day do a roadtrip exploring its natural beauty and ancient sites.

      When we were in Baluran, there was this couple from Austria who stayed at the beachfront accommodation. From what they told me actually I’m glad I decided to book that room near the savanna! During our six-month trip across Southeast and South Asia, we stayed at such accommodations several times — the one in the Keralan highlands, however, was quite a surprise as we got a hut instead of a chalet as the room was advertised on the internet. But such is the beauty of traveling, isn’t it? You’ll never know what you’re gonna get.

      I remember the langurs in Anuradhapura, and they were quite gracious I must say, as opposed to the often mischievous long-tailed macaques.

      I would love to travel to South Africa one day! In the last few months for some reason quite a few bloggers I’ve been following went to the country and posted gorgeous photos of the landscape.

      I really appreciate your time to read this post and share your thoughts!

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    • Baluran memang seru banget untuk dieksplorasi sih, meskipun buat saya agak aneh pas ke lihat nama saya bertebaran di mana-mana pas di Pantai Bama. 🙂

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  9. One of my favorite places in Indonesia. It’s just so different, and still different to east Indonesia that is mostly dry too. I love how we can see the wild roam around freely. Seeing a flying peacock is just wow!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mumun! I still remember my comment on Indohoy’s post about Baluran. Finally I went there myself (and felt weird about the beach :)). You’re right about the difference between Baluran and some places in eastern Indonesia. Both can be really dry, but each has its own allure. Aren’t those wild peacocks amazing? They’re among my favorite animals in the national park.

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  10. Beautiful! Love the monkeys catching the sunrise! The Nature is so unexpected! thanks for sharing

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    • Thanks Julz! There’s something very human about the way those monkeys sat and ate while enjoying the sunrise. I can definitely picture us, humans, doing something similar.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes exactly! I saw it in Sri Lanka, i have a picture somewhere. Monkeys enjoying the sunset. I love nature

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      • Just now I remembered about the monkeys I saw in Ubud. Some of them tried to crack open a coconut in a very human fashion.

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  11. What a fun trip you had! The obvious presence of mice and the Bama Beach add to the memories you will find yourself sharing with others! In regard to peacock males flaunting their colors, I’ve often wondered if the females really are impressed or are they “yawn, ho hum…seen one, seen ’em all.” There must be subtleties that only a hen can see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The fact that we stayed at a very basic accommodation forced us to stay outdoor most of the time and explore the beach and the savanna, which I’m grateful for. Fortunately we didn’t see any mice despite knowing that they lurked somewhere behind the walls or at the attic. I chuckled when I read about what you imagine the females would think of the males. But you’re right, those hens must be able to see something humans cannot.

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  12. I absolutely agree that this place is very reminiscent of East Africa – or vice versa! (Perhaps we should call Tanzania the Baluran of Africa instead …) My heart sank as I read about the door opening to your room. I’ve had a few experiences like that; in some, we were able to change accommodations and in some – like this one – we really had no choice but to suck it up and stay. I’m glad you still felt so positive about the place in general!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I’m really intrigued now! I should start planning a trip to East Africa. You know, when that man showed us the room, for a brief moment I was wondering whether we should move to the beach. I’m glad we decided to stay as the following day this Austrian couple we met told us about the problem they had with the toilet in their beachfront accommodation. Thanks to that old, rickety motorbike, we could enjoy the majestic landscape of the national park!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Bama that trip sounds very adventurous! I got a little squeamish at the description of the room. Mouse urine? Ugh. Gorgeous photos and I do love seeing you out in the wild. Your talents with the camera transfer beautifully from architecture to peacocks. Great post.

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    • It was certainly a different kind of adventure compared to what you usually get yourself into. Ideally I should have used a real telephoto lens to take shots of the wildlife. But as I was traveling for six month, clearly that was not an option. Thanks Sue!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think sometimes I’m too focused on details. No need to feel ashamed, Nug. Go visit Baluran and tell me how ‘my beach’ is going. 🙂

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  14. Quite an adventure! Your description of your room made me shiver Bama. I know I would not have slept a wink…if I had recognised the odour that is 🙂 Glad the Baluran landscape made up for the dire lodging. I do see the resemblance to East Africa, right down to the thorny bushes.

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    • It was a place where you don’t want to think of anything when you sleep — que sera sera. But I’m really glad the weather was nice during our stay, so in spite of the squalid accommodation, everything outside of it was very rewarding. Ah, so it does resemble East Africa. I hope I can go there sooner than later.

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  15. to me, seeing wild animals in the wild is amazing and sometimes heart-thumping at the same time, especially the big ones. though it’s the small ones that i had to keep my guard from, when i was in ‘your’ beach: the macaques who liked to steal food :))

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    • Every time I see wild animals in their habitat, I wish I could bring more people to also witness the majestic scenes unfolding before my eyes. It’s one of the best experiences one could possibly get, and also a very eye-opening one! Watching those beasts really makes me think, isn’t it better to leave them in peace where they belong? Speaking of ‘my’ beach, unfortunately I had no authority over those long-tailed fellows. 🙂 I had to really keep an eye on them as well.

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  16. Amazing and wonderful animals. This was our first visual Indonesian safari and we loved it (apart from the room, shiver). 😊
    Beautiful photography, Bama❣️
    Warm greetings from Norway 🇳🇴
    The Fab Four of Cley

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    • Thanks Dina! On the other hand, I would love to explore Norway one day. The fjords, the stave churches, and Svalbard are some of the places on my wish list. I believe the accommodation options there are a lot more decent than the one in Baluran. 🙂

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