Into the Wild

Trip Start May 23, 2011
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Trip End Aug 17, 2011


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Where I stayed
Camp Kakap

Flag of Indonesia  , East Kalimantan,
Wednesday, August 3, 2011

If Tanjung Puting was warm and cuddly, Kutai National Park was creepy-crawly. At dinner on our first night, a big spindly spider dropped down to nose level between us and hung there. Shen commented that it looked like a black widow and asked if I could see red on its belly. Just then, It slowly rotated on its thread, and there it was: a blood-red splotch underneath. Oh, dear. We were doubly grateful for our mosquito nets that night. One early evening, we were sitting on the deck when we heard a soft thud to our left. We looked over and saw that a snake had apparently fallen from the sky. He sat still for a moment and then slithered off into the woods. Our third creepy-crawly was one we intentionally searched out. After dark, our guide took us out into the jungle looking for the hole. Once we arrived, we turned off our headlamps, and the guide used his to create a complicated light show to charm the creature out. After a few minutes of strobes and flashes, out crawled a massive tarantula. He was actually beautiful, soft brown and velvety. We watched him for a minute or so then left him to his hunting. At the research camp where we were staying, we met an English guy who assured us there were no crocodiles in the river and told us how much he had enjoyed swimming every day. We remembered those words when we saw our largest creepy-crawly, and eight-foot croc sunning on the muddy banks. We asked our guide about it, and he said the nearby town averages about five crocodile attacks on people per year. And yet they continue swimming and bathing in the river! We were told the crocs can grow up to 30 feet, which I had to assume was an exaggeration or I could not have stepped foot in the boat back to town.

We also saw wild orangutans on several hikes, which was a treat. They hang out high up in the branches, so we were glad to have our binoculars. I can see why they're called orangutans, a name that means 'person of the forest’ in Indonesian (and Malaysian). They would often be obscured by leaves, with just a hand or a foot showing, or we would just see the dark outline of a body against the green. Then they would shift, or the wind would rustle the leaves, and for just a moment we’d catch a glimpse of human-like eyes staring down from the canopy. I like thinking about early explorers who had never seen them before, and maybe didn’t know they existed. How spooky it would be, to see animal shadows moving around in the trees, and then catch a glimpse of those eyes.

They weren’t always so tough to see. One day we found a group of them feeding in trees along the riverbank, and we were able to watch for quite awhile. They weren’t too bothered by us, though the mom with the baby chided us a few times. They were eating fruits called Singkawang, which when peeled are about the size of a grape. Considering how big the orangs are, it’s amazing that that’s an acceptable food source.

Wildlife aside, it was really wonderful to just be in the forest. Hiking around, we saw trees so huge they supported their own substantial ecosystems, and butterflies that seemed scaled up to match. Although it’s the dry season, we got one good heavy rain, and it was really cool to hear it pounding its way up the river before it reached us. We stayed at a camp that is used for orangutan research four months of the year but allows visitors during the other eight. It was a great place to stay – very rustic, but with mattresses and shelter from the rain. The outdoor shower required a bathing suit, but we loved showering among the trees. It was a nice break from the standard shower here, which is generally a nozzle hanging above the toilet. One of my favourite parts of the trip, as always, was the nighttime noises. I don’t know why – maybe it’s a relic of a childhood in the country – but I’m deeply soothed by the rhythm of all the insects, cicadas, frogs, lizards, etc. And the rainforest has that in abundance.

So that is it for Kalimantan. We spent ten full days on the island, not including travel days on either end. Of those ten, six were spent dealing with transport – arranging it, waiting for it, or riding it. That is a crazy ratio, especially considering we hired guides and private transport for part of it. Our original plan was to spend much more time here, but transport has been difficult throughout Indonesia and even more so here. We want to finish our trip on the beach, so we find that we have neither the time nor the energy to explore Kalimantan thoroughly. To be frank, it’s also been a little depressing. I hope that there are parts of the island that are still wild and well-protected, but in our time in the south and east, what we saw was a far cry from the ‘jungles of Borneo’ image. From the plane, the southern and eastern regions were just a patchwork of agriculture and settlements. From the ground, human settlement stretched on for miles and miles, all built up from the economic activity of extractive industries. Perhaps most symbolic of the lack of environmental commitment was when our park ranger, who did not seem to know or care about the park, smoked cigarettes on our hikes and flicked the butts into the forest. I can’t make sweeping judgements from just ten days in two areas, but I really hope that the environmental situation is less dismal than it appeared.

The last island on our itinerary is Lombok, just east of Bali. It’s much more touristed, which in our current frame of mind is just fine. We’re looking forward to (relatively) easy transport, a little surfing, a little time on the beach, and maybe…if I’m really really lucky…a glass of wine!
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Comments

Amy Scott on

Some of these pictures remind me of our crazy hikes in Honduras!

jesshiggins
jesshiggins on

True, it looks a lot like La Ceiba. I love that jungle lodge!

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