Our long awaited trip to Kalimantan finally arrived and we were off to meet the orangutans and cruise through the jungle. We set forth on our journey, leaving Yogyakarta for the “River City”, Banjarmasin.
We were flying from Yogya with the ever consistent Indonesian airline, Lion Air (consistently delayed – to be expected, the country runs on the premise that everyone is late). We touched down in Banjarmasin to be met by the news that there were currently no taxis and we would have to wait. A friendly fellow tried to help us out, after much encouragement from his friends, by offering us a lift to town for about double the going rate. He didn’t count on; a) me knowing what the taxi fair should’ve cost, b) me understanding what his friends were telling him to say and most importantly, c) I’m bloody stubborn! So after a long discussion on the availability of bensin (petrol) in South Kalimantan, the time of day, the unlikelihood of any taxis being available, the length of a piece of string – a cab pulled up – we jumped in and off we went to our luxurious hotel.
Well, not luxurious at all, it was basic and dirt cheap – at $20AUD for a clean, air-con room with a shower. Until we arrived, starving from no dinner and an hour of waiting/bickering at the airport, to realise that there was nowhere nearby open to get some food. Never fear, this is Indonesia; one of the front desk guys went to find us some ayam goreng (fried chicken) and some sayur (vegetables) and even came back with change. One of the many advantages of travelling with a cute baby and an attractive wife. The next day we flew aboard a bi-plane (well, a twin-prop) to the small town of Pangkalan Bun, to be met by our tour guide for our trip, Rudi and be taken to our losmen (a losmen is cheap accommodation, bit like a cross between a home stay and a hotel) for the night, in the port town of Kumai. Landing in Pangkalan Bun was interesting. We were in a tiny airport, surrounded by many a bule in safari style garb. Some looked straight out of a Dr Livingstone story, in hundreds of dollars of brand new get-ups (some with matching hats!), looking prepared to tackle the jungle head on. We were in jeans.
Our accommodation in Kumai was more basic than Banajarmasin – we had air-con again and access to many warungs out the front door – this time for a mighty $10AUD per night. No hot water or shower this time around though, it was mandi or bust. Kumai is a quaint little town, very used to Western tourists stomping through it and full of opportunistic entrepreneurs, canny boat owners and eager guides keen for your business. Brave kids come from everywhere to talk to you, guys offer you cheap access to their boat and all inclusive tours of the National Park. Unfortunately for them, we’d organised everything from Yogya through one contact. You could save small amounts I think by rocking up and bargaining your way around the town, but that would eat at least a day and is it really worth it? Our stay in Kumai would be short, as we were heading in to the Tanjung Puting National Park the next morning, aboard out klotok (converted fishing boat).
We were woken from a restful sleep by the distorted warbling tones of the owner’s overweight, 8 year old grandson echoing down the main corridor. He sounded like he was auditioning for Islamic Idol and he would definitely make an episode if he was, largely as comedy relief. It was like our own, personal, fat little call to prayer. After praying for respite that was not granted, we dragged ourselves out of bed and set about packing up to depart on the klotok.
The real adventure began as we pulled out from the dock, realising that we were setting forth on what would be a truly amazing experience. There were definite nerves, how would Jack go on a boat for 4 days? How many orangutans would we see? Would it all be worth it? Many tourists stay for one or two nights – heading straight up the river after landing in Pangkalan Bun in the afternoon, doing overnight, then straight back out. We had the luxury of four full days on the klotok, so our trip up Sungai Sekonyer (Sekonyer river) was at half pace. Slowly but surely the jungle became thicker and thicker as we neared our first stop, Tanjung Harapan in time for the scheduled feeding time. There is much conjecture over the practice continued feeding of released orangutans. One school of thought is that it encourages dependence and is primarily for continued support for tourism, the other is that it is supplemental feeding and that if there is adequate fruit in the forest the orangutans do not come.
We waited in the steaming jungle for nearly two hours, staring dourly at a pile of bananas resting on a wooden platform, like some sacrifice to a vegetarian God. Our guide reassuring us throughout that we would see more orangutans at the other camps. We waited patiently, pretending not to speak English to avoid talking to the loud American tourists, sitting patiently and sweating. A few groups left, feeling they’d seen enough at other camps. We were patient, aware that we had plenty of time and that this camp has the most “wild” orangutans. After almost giving up, a young, shy male orangutan rustled through the branches – perching up above us to survey the scene. He too was patient, taking almost half-an-hour to watch and wait – keeping an eye out for threats such as us, or more dominant males.
He swung down and started scarfing bananas with ferocity, always keeping an eye on us and another on the jungle around. It was amazing. Jack was completely blown away by his red cousin, confused equally by it’s foreignness and familiarity. We watched this little guy eat for nearly an hour before he headed back in to the jungle, sated and happy with a belly full of bananas. Absolutely stoked with what we seen, we made our way back to the boat, looking forward to what the next day would bring. Only, we didn’t get that far – coming across a large male orangutan hanging out near the path. He was only 3 metres away and while being a bit nervous managed to come down to ground level to grab a hand of bananas before taking of back in to the trees. Truly breathtaking.
Now we were really humming. We headed back to the boat to head further up the river and pick a nice piece of river bank to sleep next to. Lining the river to watch us go by were hundreds of monyet Belanda (Dutch Monkeys [also known as the Proboscis monkey] – named such by the locals because of their huge noses and pot-bellies). Jack and the monkeys traded screams, shouts and thumps as he crawled atop the deck as dusk slowly set in and we prepared for our first night under the mosquito net in the middle of the jungle.
To be continued….