It was 15th February 2020, just a month after COVID-19 was first discovered and before the world went into lockdown. A group of Australian travellers had joined us on board the famous Swiss-owned ship Pindito in eastern Indonesia for a unique expedition, owned by Edi Frommenwiler. Among the many things we experienced in that 12 days, was an excursion into the limestone caves of the Misool archipelago, where we were to discover the remnants of the prehistoric community that used to live here.
Edi discovered these caves about 20 years ago. Since then, they’ve become a tourist attraction for visitors to the area but there are still locations that take a bit of a scramble to reach. There aren't many people who come here and being led by someone who pioneered exploration of the area almost thirty years ago, means we get to see the most extraordinary things.
We began with a zodiac trip to the first cave, a tiny entrance that opened up into a place where we could walk inside.
There were swiftlets nesting in the ceiling, attracted to our lights and calling strongly. These birds use echolocation in the dark, to navigate their way around the stalactites. At a second cave later we were able to see their exquisite nests attached to the ceiling.
The final cave, the grandest of all, has a boardwalk, shelter and changing area. There is a 10m-deep pool flowing inside which connects it to another lake about 120m in. It’s an eerie snorkel in complete darkness to the other side. The water is warm and crystal-clear. There are sponges and sea slugs on the colourful walls. We took underwater torches and found a tiny Bobtail Squid hanging in the darkness.
Inside the massive main cavern at midday, a shaft of sunlight illuminated a central rise and around the corner, this opened up onto virgin rainforest. We walked up a soft mud hill, encrusted with oysters and clam shells ... a huge midden that may have been used for thousands of years. On the flat top, there was a plateau containing a stone fire place and the remnants of shell meals. Edi recalls, when he first came here 20 years ago and had to hack his way in using a machete, there was still charcoal in the fire pits but no evidence of any human activity or footprints.
Nearby there are bones and skulls buried beneath the overhangs of limestone mountains, undercut by the sea. Were these Indonesian fishermen? No-one knows. There used to be pots buried with them but they have long since been pilfered.
Surrounded by dense coral reef and topped with lush rainforest, this spectacular region is one of the most important places on Earth for marine conservation but also represents a human history that is barely known.
Our next expedition, if borders permit, will most likely be in 2022. Sign up if you'd like to know more and we can send you a copy of the trip reports from previous years.
Writer, photographer and founder of Wildiaries
Simon has been studying and observing wildlife for over 40 years and for about 30 of that, writing stories, taking photographs and making short films. His observations and experience extend to travelling extensively through Australia and eastern Indonesia discovering new and exciting travel opportunities, as well as contributing to science and conservation. Simon is passionate about conservation and the impact travel can have on the lives of people in remote places.
We strive for authentic, fulfilling travel experiences and support people we believe, create a better world. Sign up for stories, features, sustainable travel opportunities and to learn a new way to see rare creatures and wild places.