Red's Bird of Paradise through a cellophane filter

The ants have barely registered the sugary morsel I’ve tossed on the sand before my new best friend has snapped it up. He inhales the doughnut ration greedily and looks at me with thankful eyes, the kind only a hungry dog has. I sit upon the sandy shore of Gam, waiting to begin a trek which promises a glimpse of the Red’s Bird of Paradise. It’s 3am and the Raja Ampat sun has not yet risen, meaning my human companions are asleep. This is fortunate, because this is the best way to experience these remote paradise islands.

Torchlight cuts through the night sky signaling we are ready to begin our ascent. My four-legged friend gratefully receives what remains of my doughnut and I make my way towards the forest. As I follow the guide into the darkness moist foliage brushes my cheeks. My sight adjusts and I prepare myself for a whole new world, anticipating the unusual flora and fauna my eyes are soon to feast upon. I catch my gaze on a form I don’t recognise and with baited breath I approach. It is a plastic cup. The square kind that comes with a thin film lid to be pierced with a plastic straw. It reminds me of sports days in my hometown of Worthing.

I shouldn’t be surprised - the epidemic of single-use plastics is no great secret. I pick it up and continue on our path, irritated. Not so much at the carelessness of its owner, but because it has shattered the illusion of my journey into the unknown. Like stepping out on the Apollo 11 Moonwalk only to bump into Ian from marketing.

The label indicates how far this cup has travelled to reach its final resting place. In its own way, this cup has seen more of the world than some of my friends from high school. I’m sure it’s aged better, too. I put it in my bag and to the back of my mind.

We reach the summit and take roost in our hide, eagerly awaiting the dawn display. A flash of orange signals their arrival and for the first time I witness the breathtaking display of the Red’s Bird of Paradise. Despite the distance they are clearly visible in their lek, a communal displaying platform commonly found high in the canopy with conveniently little foliage. The russet wings of a male give a subtle shiver before the female makes her noisy approach to inspect the worth of his corkscrew-shaped tail wires. It’s mesmerising, humbling, and seemingly mad. It’s something I wish everyone could witness at least once in their lives.

We give a final glance to the now-silent treetops before beginning our two-hour hike back to camp. I arrive to find the few inhabitants sitting to breakfast. They glance up from their meal, “how was it?” they ask.

“Good!” I pant, weary from the humidity.
“See anything unusual?” asks another.
“Yes.” I respond, and think of that stupid cup.