Across the Wallace Line

March 2017

Back to the map of southeast Asia. Draw a line across it, written in tigers, foxes and deer. On side walks the great megafauna of Asia. On the other, the strange creatures of Australasia hop, bounce and glide.

Wallace line map

The so-called Wallace Line was discovered in 1859 by Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Later, other scientists realised that it cut a bit further north, and I’ve taken the liberty of drawing that in red on in this 1863 map.

Few wild mammals ever cross the Wallace Line, but on this trip I’m flying above it, repeatedly, catching glimpses of the exotic Sulu Sea.

Sulu Sea

Sulu Sea2

It is not safe down there; once the Sulu Sea was famous for its pirates, and today for its terrorists. But from 30,000 feet, you can get some idea of the tropical beauty of the waters.

I cross the Wallace Line just east of Borneo. A little further, and the Philippines come into view. This island nation sits astride the line – Palawan, on the Asian side, once hosted tigers, and leopard cats probably still survive. I’m headed to Mindanao, which lies on the Australian side and has no native felids.

Cats may be famous for their sleeping, but here a volcano dozes instead.

Mt Apo

Mount Apo towers 2,954 metres (9,692 ft) above southern Mindanao. It is sleeping, a comatose monument to the blazing power of the Pacific Rim of Fire.

The rest of Mindanao rolls up to Apo’s feet in ridges.

Mindanao

At ground level, green, white and blue dominate.

Jack's Ridge

It’s hard to visit Davao City without noticing exotic fruit. Durian is famous, possibly infamous. This sign on the Metro back in Singapore caught my eye:

No Durian

Maybe Davao’s jeepneys don’t object to durian?

Jeep

The reason for the anxiety is durian’s fantastically horrific smell. It is, however, known as the king of fruits because the taste is valued so highly. I sampled some in a milkshake; it’s complex, and your taste buds process it in stages. Very ripe melon is probably the closest description.

Meanwhile, Davao’s streets brim with coconuts…

Coconuts

…and venders turning them into buko.

Coconut sellers

Certainly that is appreciated in the tropical heat.

Waymarker

The mapmakers built it, long ago. Lichens write the years upon it, and autumnal mist steals its vista from human eyes, but it remains our grey witness to the hills.

Waymarker 27 Sept 2017

The Ordnance Survey’s trigonometry points crown hilltops throughout Britain. Surveyors used them to triangulate distance and draw this island upon maps for countless purposes. They are a monument to scientific brilliance, but only in chorus. One trig point makes no more sense than one limb of a tree.

But its sister hill with its own trig point is still there, 11 miles away, wreathed in cloud. Trig points may have concrete hearts but they share wild nature’s habit of hinting at greater tapestries beyond our sight.

Shaggy scalycap1 27 Sept 2017

Fungi like these shaggy scalycaps are only the fruiting bodies of the mycelium, the thread-like organism that lives unseen within soil or tree.

Slime mould 27 Sept 2017

A slime mould is only one life stage of the wood’s strangest lifeform: it existed as single cells before aggregating and becoming sessile.

Goat's rue 27 Sept 2017

Goat’s rue is a quiet monument to human hope. It is not a native species in the UK but has been here since at least the 17th century, given passage as a forage crop for livestock. Perhaps these dew-spotted petals are descended from plants tended by farmers who walked these hills in centuries past.

Crystalline clear skies seldom provoke questions about what lies just beyond our view. Mist is the master of those.

Tree in the mist 27 Sept 2017