Trip Start May 23, 2011
24Trip End Aug 17, 2011
Not many people come to Kalimantan, the Indonesian side of the island of Borneo, but those who do usually visit Tanjung Puting National Park. It's famous as the study site of Birute Galdikas, the lesser known of the three primatologists trained by Louis Leakey in the 1970's (the other two being Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey). For many years, her camp served as a rehabilitation center for confiscated orangutans
For me, seeing the orangutans was secondary. It's not a zoo, but I can't get too excited about seeing tame animals getting called in for dinner. The orangutans are really cool and I enjoyed seeing them, but the contrived nature of it makes it less magical. But the park offered something else that was magical: houseboats. To see the park, you rent a small boat, called a "klotok," that comes with its own captain, cook and guide. Then you spend three days chugging upriver, stopping off at the feeding stations along the way. At night you tie off on the bank and sleep under the stars. Although it's primitive, it's perfectly comfortable, and if you enjoy spending time on a river it's a must.
I loved the boat, but I have to add the caveat that I was mad most of the time
Moving on...On the first day, we motored up a river that looked like chocolate milk, apparently from mining pollution. We soon turned up a tributary that was what they call "black water" - clear water stained red and black by the tannins in the falling leaves. Every day we stopped by a feeding station at the designated time and followed a path to the platform. We knew right away that these were no wild orangutans. On our first stop, an orangutan met us at the dock and walked ahead of us, looking over his should every few minutes to make sure we were following. I guess they know the feeding doesn't start until the tourists arrive. The feeding platform was covered with bananas, and orangs swung in and out picking up bunches. At two of the stations, the domanant male showed up and sat on the platform gorging himself
We saw a lot of other wildlife (including a few wild orangutans), and Shen discovered his new favorite animal: the gibbon. The gibbon is a very lean, muscley monkey with a branch-swinging style that makes him look like Spiderman. Something about how he carries himself is very humanlike. But like a really cool human. The kind of human who wouldn't sit next to us in the lunch room because he'd be too busy sharing a smoke with the teacher.
We didn't see crocodiles, but we heard a crazy story from Camp Leakey. The Camp, which is Dr. Galdikas' camp, used to have a posted swimming hole nearby. We went to look at it, and it looks very inviting. It's a big pool where the river constricts, creating a natural dam. Swimming was prohibited here, however, when a British volunteer was eaten by a crocodile
Every evening, we'd be back on the boat by late afternoon, and we'd cruise up the river in the golden light. At that time of day, the proboscis monkeys gather in the trees along the water's edge. They were everywhere - it was a proboscis monkey gauntlet.
We also had good luck with our guide, Mewadi. He was very ecoconscious and much more sensitive to the orangs than the other guides. He was also very interested in learning more about the US, and he peppered us with questions nonstop. We're accustomed to the usual - where are you from, how long are you here, etc etc. His questions were hysterical. "In your country, do you have a lot of cheese?" "Are there haunted areas?" "Do you have coyboys?" Sometimes they took on a dualistic nature: "Bread in your country: Cheap, or expensive?" And my personal favorite, "Mermaids: Real, or imagined?" He did not feel the need to segue - he once sat down at the table with us and, with no further greeting, started the conversation with, "In your country do you have triplets?" Good morning to you too, Mewadi. I liked him from the start, but he really won me over when talking about the orangutans. He said that guides feeding them makes them dependent and less likely to adapt to the wild, so "when I see it, it makes me angry in my heart."
The boat trip was a good introduction to Kalimantan, but we're also excited to see wild orangutans. Another national park is next on the list!