Victor Valley College Tropical Research Initiative
Herpetofauna of Timor-Leste
Jaco Island, Lautém District
Our plan was for an early start to drive from Com Beach Resort to to Tutuala Beach and cross over to Jaco Island on local boats but things did not quite pan out that way, fate had some surprises in store for us today.
The first surprise involved the fuel gauges on Mark's Troopie. The night before the main tank read 1/8 full while the sub tank read 2/3 full (he had switched to sub that morning) but this morning the main tank read full and the sub read empty.
"Faulty gauges" said Hinrich, "let's go".
So we went, but we did not get far, the 'faulty' vehicle stopped dead on the limestone plateau not ten kms from Com, so we abandoned it and continued in Hinrich's vehicle, something Mark did not argue about as he was feeling somewhat under the weather, with a hacking cough, extremely sore throat and general malaise.
We continued, north of Lake Ira Lalaro, through Mehara and Tutuala, to Tutuala Beach, the roughest stretch of the road being the last 8 km from Tutuala down to the coast, which we had last driven on Phase I in 2009 when we also had to negotiate a smoldering tree-fall.
We would not forget that journey in a hurry, both Hinrich and Mark had both been stung by buthid scorpions (Lychas mucronatus) and had suffered considerable pain and discomfort.
In 2011 we reached Tutuala Beach (aka Pantai Walu) without further incident and looked across to Jaco Island, a mere seven minute boat ride away.
Jaco Island from Tutuala Beach,a seven minute boat ride away. click to enlarge image
At Tutuala Beach we turned right for the fisherman's village, not left for Valu Sere where we had stayed in 2009. It took two trips to get the team of nine and three guides/boatmen across to Jaco Island, the smaller of Tim0r-Leste's two islands. Jaco is uninhabited and managed as a sacred reserve by the local people, visitors being allowed to visit but not camp or collect anything on the island except by special permission of the local guides who act as keepers of this beautiful spot. There are reports of an old Portuguese fort on the far side of the island but we did not have timeto go that far on this trip, which served really as a short recce. Feeling increasingly unwell, Mark remained on the beach while the other eight split up into two groups with a guide each.
Traveling to Jaco Island
The plan was to herp for two hours, then return to the mainland and drive back to Com but Marissa was also still feeling unwell and she and David arrived back on the beach after about an hour. Half an hour later the others returned with their captures.
Jaco Island habitat
On our short visit to Jaco we were able to document the Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko), the distinctive call of which could be heard from the trees, and a Four-fingered skink (Carlia sp.) which evaded capture, while specimens of two species were collected, a Night skink (Eremiascincus sp.) and a Forest skink (Sphenomorphus sp.), the latter of which resembles specimens from Raça caves.
Despite Jaco being a sacred island we found signs of human predation of endangered wildlife, the carapace of a young Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) with a machete cut to the front.
Hawksbill sea turtle,Eretmochelys imbricata (exterior and interior - note machete chop to front left)
The team about to leave Jaco:
(back) Mark, Zito, Naveen, Marissa, David, Hinrich, Caitlin; (front) boatman, guide, Luis, guide, Laca. mouse over or click to enlarge
The team was ferried back to the Troopie on the mainland and we drove back towards Com as day turned to evening, a long and bumpy drive.
When we reached the abandoned Troopie, around 90 minutes later, Mark got out to see if it would start. Hinrich switched off his ignition to listen for the engine, but the vehicle battery was flat and the Troopie refused to start, as did Hinrich's engine when he turned the key.
So now we had two Troopies, both dead as door-nails, facing one another on a cold dark road on a limestone plateau in eastern Timor-Leste, and two members of the party were feeling decidely unwell.
Enough excitement for one day.
Pushing Hinrich's troopie up and down the road failed to get it to restart, all lights had gone from the dashboard. Then after a while we figured the jolting of the road might have causes an electrical misconnection somewhere in Hinrich's vehicle and jiggering with the HT leads on the battery suddently brought the vehicle back to life again. Leaving the dead Troopie by the side of the road we headed back to Com Resort and warmth.
Mark was now running a temperature of 101.3 so Dr J (Naveen) sent him off to bed with medication to bring his temperature back down. It was a rough night, as roommate Hinrich will attest, with fits of coughing and fever but by the morning his temperature was back under 100 degrees. For Mark at least the next day would have to be a day of inactivity.