The Adventure of Indonesia

Trip Start Oct 20, 2010
1
8
14
Trip End Feb 07, 2011


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Where I stayed
On a long tail house boat

Flag of Indonesia  , Java,
Saturday, November 13, 2010

Adventures in Indonesia

We started out wanting to make this SE Asia an adventure but we never expected the adventure in Indonesia to start out with  Mount Merapi's eruption.  For a few days, our whole itinerary in Indonesia  was in chaos. The first city we were suppose to visit was Yogyakarta in Java which is only 40 km from the volcano.  For a few days, many international airlines cancelled their flights due to safety concerns .  We had no idea whether we would even be able to get to Indonesia or not.  After a few tense days watching the news and talking to my contacts in Jakarta, we decided to skip Yogyakarta but tried to keep the rest of the Indonesia itinerary intact.  My two friends from Beijing, Shiqiu and Xiaoqiu flew to Jakarta early 11/10 morning and waited in the airport for us.  Since they don’t speak English, they had some anxious moments until we finally arrived.  Jakarta has the reputation of being a crowded, congested and polluted city that is hard to get around so my friend Chad from Singapore suggested that we spent our extra days in Bandung – a "resort" town about 2 hours drive SE of Jakarta.  We were met at the airport by our guide Hillman and a driver.  The highway was initially quite crowded but once we got away from Jakarta, the traffic moved faster and the air got cleaner. Shiqiu made the observation that the 6 persons in the van spoke 3 different languages. Two speak only Chinese, the driver speaks only Indonesia, Ray speaks only English. Our guide Hilman and I are bilingual in different languages.  The communication among 6 of us got pretty chaotic at times.   We stayed at The Preanger International – a 4star hotel in Bandung.  This hotel is famed for an  “Art Deco” motif but there were only a few art displays in the lobby.  The room is ok but the internet (at 100,000 rupiahs for 24 hours) is extremely slow and frustrating to use. 

Bandung is the 3rd largest city in Indonesia and supposedly the escape for people who live in Jakarta.  Unfortunately the city looks a little run down and really need s a face lift.  We visited a volcanic crater and a hot springs park nearby.  Both were quite commercialized and unimpressive but we met one Taiwanese who is selling organic salted duck eggs there.  We tried several new fruits we never tasted before.  The snake fruit with the skin just like a snake is our favoriate.  At the hot spring park, I had a “free” foot message from a local young man.  He used sulfur stone to make my skin whiter.  Although the foot message is free, I did have to buy a rather expensive ice cream from him.  What a smart business strategy and marketing plot  he came up with.  We went to a school that is dedicated to train children the traditional Indonesia bamboo musics and dances.  The children are lovely and very enthusastic about their performance. The bamboo instrument has different keys and we participated in performing songs with the children.  That was the highlights of our stay in Bandung.

We returned to Jakarta airport and continue to the next segment of our trip which is the Orangutan tour.  We first flew to the town of Banjarmasin.  We stayed at one of the Lonely Planet recommended  budget  hotel ' Peranda’. At 150,000 rupiahs (about $18) a night, it is one of the cheapest hotel I have ever stayed at,  It is clean but we lost electricity several times during the night and there were several small critters roaming around the place.  Shiqui, however, was happy because there are 4 Chinese TV channels she can watch.  I guess next time I will have 2nd thoughts about staying at one of Lonely Planet recommended “budget” hotels.  Banjarmasin is one of the bigger town of Kalimantan (the Indonesia side of Borneo island).  We met both Chinese and European business people at the airport and they are all here for one reason  - coal.  It turns out that Kalimantan has one of the richest coal deposit in the world and it is at the surface which makes mining it easy and economical.  With all the business coming to Banjarmasin, it still is a small town with little to show tourists other than a boat ride to a floating market and a tour of the city’s canels.  We tried some local fare – Soto Ayam (chicken soup over rice) which is a little bland.  We took a smaller plane to Pangkalangbun  – the entry point to the Tanjung Puting National Park.  All visitors are required to register with the park before boarding a long-tail boat for the trip down the river to the park.  We were very surprised to see a fairly large sized boat with a captain, an assistant and a cook waiting alongside our English speaking guide Edwin.  What a luxury that is sitting on the upper deck of the boat with the cool breeze on our faces and the beautiful scenery ahead of us.  The river bank was lined thickly with low palm trees. Edwin told us that the river used to be the color of dark tea but due to the runoff from the coal mining upstream, now the  river is a muddy brown.  We saw many speeding fast boats on the river.  Most of them carrying the miners and their families back and forth from the mining camps. Shortly after we started our journey, we started to see wild monkeys on the trees.  These are Proboscis monkey and their one distinguishing features is their long nose.  The young ones have noses like Pinocchio and the old males look exactly like Jimmy Durante.   When the whole monkey family (as many as 20 to 30)  stayed on one tree, it was quite a sight to see all those big noses. 

Edwin took us to visit one of the villages along the river where he lived for 3 years to help with the reforestation effort.  The villagers used to live inside the National Park and the government built a new village for them when the park was established.  Each family was given a house and a cow as compensation.  The village used to have over 600 residents but now has only about 300 – mostly women, old folks and young children.  Most of young adults left for jobs in bigger cities.  The village does not have electricity and the only satellite is for emergency phone services only. They have one elementary school with about 50 students.  Villagers tend to their rice field, fishing and feeding theirs cow.  Women wash cloth in the stream and children playing hop scotch on dirt floor. The villagers may not have all the convenience of the city life, but neither do they have pollution, traffic jams or stress.  It is hard to say whether the villages or the city dweller have the better life   Our dinner was prepared by the cook with all fresh ingredients.  I saw him grinding spices on a stone mortar and peeled potato for French fries.  Our cook’s father is Chinese and the dishes he prepares actually are more Chinese than Indonesians which please both Shiqiu and Xiaoqiu.  They enjoy all the meals on the boat.  At night we anchored along the river bank and a huge mosquito net was stretched over the whole length of the upper deck of the boat.  We were tucked in safely under the net away from the swarming mosquitoes.  With the swinging of the boat and the occasional bird or monkey calls, we slept peacefully on the boat.

I was awaken  early morning by the jungle calls of two huge bird with black bodies and white faces.  There are also some brilliantly blue and gold colored kingfishers chattering around.  Before we reach the first feeding station, we start seeing wild orangutans hanging from the trees.  These locally known “red forest people” were driven to  near  extinction due to the lost of habitation and poaching.  30 some years ago a Canadian researcher Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas came to study these giant apes and established the International Orangutan Foundation in 1986.  With her dedication and lots of international pressure, the  Indonesian government set aside a large area for the preservation of Orangutan.  The feeding stations around the research camps are mostly for the animals previously  rescued from injury or captivity.  The keepers know them all by name but nevertheless warning us that they are still wild animals and can be dangerous.  The male orangutan Durak  we met at the first feeding station weights about 125 kg and is 7 times as strong as a man.  When he finally came down to the station to dine on bananas, cassavas and “sweetened” milk, all the other orangutan stayed respectively at a distance.  Once Durak had his fill and left, a  young male came down cautiously from the trees and snatched up most of the remaining food as quickly as possible.  He grabbed bunches of bananas, several cassavas in both hands, both feet and still able to stuff more in his mouth while leisurely climbing up into the trees.  He showed the dexterity and cleverness of an orangutan who is well suited  for life in the  jungle.  After lunch, we stopped at the big Camp Leakey where most of the orangutans who came to feed were females with babies.  We did meet the King ‘Tom’ who blocked our way toward the feeding station and Edwin had to bribe him with some bananas to let us pass.  Tom is famous for being unpredictable and destructive so we all passed by him carefully.  Then we met Princess and her baby.  When Princess was a baby herself in 1978, a National Geographic photographer took a picture of her in the bath tub with Dr. Galdikas’ baby daughter and this picture made it to the cover of the magazine.  Princess loves the human touch and came over to hold Edwin’s hand.  She grabbed my arm and started walking down the path with us.  She was heavy and hung on to me like a child so Edwin and I basically carried her to the station.  What a thrill that encounter was for me.  There were quite a few orangutans swinging around the trees and they have no fear of the tourists standing around the feeding area.  We all had to be careful and tried to keep a safe distance from them.  It was hard to watch both the front and back because we are really in the midst of the orangutan family activities.  I was busy taking pictures when someone yelled “watch out for the one behind you”.  I saw a red furry arm reached  from behind  me and I quickly stepped forward.  Next thing I knew is that that clever orangutan took my water bottle, unscrewed the cap and drank all the water.  At least he didn’t try to grab my camera bag.  I have never been so close to wild apes before and luckily they are mostly gentle and not as mean as the baboons I met in South Africa.  I do hope more people will understand how precious these orangutans are and support Dr. Galdikas’ effort in protecting them. When we board the boat, I saw a mother orangutan sitting on a tree picking termites off a dead  tree branch.  On her back was this cutest orangutan baby I have ever seen.  He tried to mimic his mother by picking up a small stick and hitting tree branch with it.  Edwin recognized the mother as Rita and her baby will be named with a name starting with R.  I told Edwin if they name the baby Ray, we will be willing to donate money to help to pay for his upkeep.  Edwin said that there is already an orangutan name Raymond, I guess maybe we should name the baby Ryan after our son then.  We stayed at the camp as late as we could but we had to leave and return downstream because of the unexpected flight schedule change from Pangkalan Bun to Banjarmasin,.  Instead of leaving at 1:30 pm, we had to leave at 8 am  the next morning.  We anchored for the 2nd night by another palm tree grove and this time we found that we were starring  up at  the blinking lights of thousands of fire flies.  This is prettier than any Christmas tree lights I have ever seen. 

The Orangutan tour is excellent, the services and guide are great, I only wish is that we could stay on the river longer.  The original itinerary of 3D/2N was adequate if it wasn’t cut short by the unpredictability of flight changes in Indonesia.  Since I first booked the flights online, the flights had changed several times, mostly without advanced warning.  Our guide told us that we are lucky because sometimes the airline just cancel the flights all together without advanced warning.  They had the experiences of returning tourists by land which takes about 14 hour.  So I learned a few tips for any travelers who are interested in coming to this area

1.      Be sure that you leave a local contact phone number( e.g. your tour guide or travel agent) with the airline so the airline  can text message you the changes of the flights (which happens all the time)

2.      Watch out for travel days that are Muslims holidays because Garuda (Indonesia National Airline) canceled our flights to Bali in the morning because of just such a holiday.  We ended up staying at the Banjarmasin airport for 7 hours waiting to be rebooked on next flights to Jakarta then to

Bali

3.      In smaller cities like Banjarmasin, most people do not speak English and the communication with local people could be difficulty.  It is useful to learn a least some basic Indonesian words like basic greetings, the name of different foods and the currency units

4.      Electricity is unpredictable and a flash light is very useful.  Most of the plug are two round holes.  Adapter for your cell phone, ipods and computer is necessary. 

5.      Indonesia rupiahs started out in the 1000s.  With so many zeros in their bills, it is easy to get confused about the numbers.  100,000 rupiahs basically is worth only about $12.  It didn’t help that the 100,000 bills are similar to the color of 10,000 bills.   Although the exchange rate is about 8900 to $1, I usually just take out 4 zeros in the bill and estimate it to the closest US$. 

I hope you enjoy this  segment of our “million miles of SE Asia tour!

 
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Comments

Mary Jo Herde on

Wow!!! I love being on this trip with you. YOur blog is great. Thanks for taking the time to share with your friends.

Mary jo

veve on

Thatls really a fantastic trip, and I am so glad to see you all safe and enjoyable in Indonesia. the orangutans are so cute and it seems you get along well with them. My mom looks so happy in the pics. I am waiting for the parts from Singapore and Malaysia.

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