Sunday, October 05, 2014

Borneo Trek For Orangutans: Day 5.

Today we would leave our beautiful campground in Betung Kerihun National Park for another day of travelling and little else. We'd be on our way back to Sadap, saying our last goodbyes to the men who had spent time away from the village to help us with the boats and in the forest; then we'd be back on a bus to Lanjak for lunch at the WWF offices before another very long boat ride to the village of Meliau, where we'd be staying with host families in a longhouse.

Day 5: From Tekelan to Sadap, Sadap to Lanjak, Lanjak to Meliau

Oh, how I wished for just one more day in our quiet sanctuary by the river. I knew I'd miss this place the most, even though we hadn't yet been anywhere else: it was so serene and cosy, and sleeping in our little tents out there meant that I, for the most part, felt like part of the jungle—like this place could really be my home and I could get used to it.

The first of many scrapes of mud on my gear

Some of the boys looking at pages from the Heart of Borneo book, given to us by Albertus—they've probably never seen their jungle home published in print before.

Breakfast leftovers: forest potatoes on the left, crisps on the right
The team gathering for our departure near the logs from our campfire the night before.
The men made their own fire here every evening

Couldn't leave without a group photo including our crew and cooks.
Anthea with our cooking ladies. We were so lucky to have homemade meals every night.
Anthea & Lisa
Melanie thanking the women on our behalf
Hermas translating
Giving the ladies tips from each of us to show our appreciation

Arriving back at Sadap

Huge helicopter seeds

The 2.5 hour boat ride back to Sadap felt like the fastest boat ride we'd had yet. We would say goodbye to the villagers here, getting one more chance to buy from the women as we waited for our bus. Here we would also give our final thanks to our boat crew, openly expressing our gratitude and presenting them with a bonus as thanks from all of us: 2.3 million Rupiah to be split between all of them. We did this in front of everyone else in the village, so that everyone could see how protecting the forest will make a positive difference to their lives.

Me, my new scarf, two of the women who would have made them and their kids.
Hermas and a hand-woven scarf that says "Betung Kerihun National Park"

Virginia and Albertus talking about the scarves and jewellery

Hermas giving one last speech to all the men

Dan giving thanks on behalf of all of us

Hermas counting the money in front of everyone, so that the amount is completely transparent: this way, the leader of the crew cannot lie and take more for himself.
We all shook hands with each of the men, who seemed so happy and grateful

Virginia and the leader of the boat crew
Me with our boat's spotter (on the left) and our motorist (on the right). 
Wild rambutan!
Happiest group
On the road to Lanjak
Those stairs. Nope.
Danau Sentarum in the distance

Caroline taking a photo, while I hope she doesn't fall
Soon we were in the bus, on the road again, going to Lanjak before an afternoon on boats once more. We stopped by a monument halfway through, before finally arriving at the WWF offices for lunch. From there we had a choice: to either ride a bike (which of course means no helmets) to where the speedboats were, or hike it there (which would take an hour). Some of us chose to walk, myself included—we'd heard too many stories about tourists getting injured or worse on motorbike rides in Indonesia. 

At the WWF offices in Lanjak for lunch

Being the middle of the day, it was so hot and there was absolutely no shade. People loved seeing tourists out and about, often calling out to us or bringing their children outside to see. Motorbike riders would clamour to offer us a ride but we insisted on walking. 

The photos below are from my iPhone, as I didn't want to carry my heavy camera whilst walking through the village.

Justine playing with the village kids
By the time we got to the end of the wider road of the village, a group of riders surrounded us—Jimmy said that we would take too long if we continued walking, and we'd be behind schedule for the boats. So on the bikes we went, in the end. "There's something I didn't know I'd tick off my list here: going on a motorbike ride for the first time ever", I thought to myself. Needless to say I held onto my driver tightly; the dirt road was caked in dry mud, with plenty of bumps threatening to toss us over. Thankfully it meant we couldn't go very fast.

Off the bikes and time to wait for the speedboats
Jessie & Caroline
Antonia & Maria

On our speedboat, which wasn't very speedy at this point
We got into our speedboats, little metal things significantly wider than our jungle longboats but nowhere near as long. I thought ahead and had brought my towel in my day pack, which was still damp from the day before—I was beginning to use our boat rides as my natural clothes dryer, knowing full well it would dry so quickly in the heat and in the wind. My towel proved to be a wise decision anyway: I needed all the cover I could get from the burning sun, and this boat ride would take 3 hours.

Very slow going: at this point we were convinced there was something wrong with our motor

Justine and her "shorts-hat"

Pretty uncomfortable already. Thankfully I was small enough to have most of the packs up at the front with me.

We passed many villages on the way to Meliau, all the same: small communities with a longhouse and a mosque all resting on wooden stilts by the water and not much else. Little ramps and ladders would lead down from the main boardwalks onto the river, where there would be little wooden platforms and boxes for fishing and bathing. We would always go very slowly through the villages, making sure not to disturb any of the fishing nets or crab pots, as this was the main source of income around here.

Every time we passed a village the kids would run out of their houses and follow us across the boardwalk, screaming and waving and blowing kisses and laughing. We waved back every time, happy at how excited they were to see us.

Many of the villages had mosques

Break time for some shade and the bush toilet

Anthea looking out. We had spotted macaques in the trees earlier.

Cattle right by the river.

So many enthusiastic waves and kisses blown to us.

Arriving at Meliau

Just one of many adorable dogs in our village

After we arrived we gathered in the middle of the longhouse. We were all pretty tired from our long journey in the boats, so we welcomed the coffee, tea and sweet bread that were put out for us. Despite our diligent applications of sunscreen and my best attempts to cover myself with my towel, most of us were definitely sunburnt.

We relaxed and chatted for a while before Hermas explained who would be going in which room. I had already seen my name, along with Justine & Jessie's, on a piece of paper outside one of the doors. We were staying with a host family that had plenty of fish tanks.

Power didn't come on in these villages until the evenings, electricity only running off two generators at the back of the village. We would be sleeping on futons on the wooden floors, which to us felt like a significant upgrade from the concrete slabs the two nights before.

After putting our stuff down, Justine, Wendy and I went for a walk around the village. It wasn't a big walk, travelling only to the edges of the boardwalks where it would suddenly end, and then going down a ladder to where a small, young plantation was. We noticed that there was a church here, whereas there were mosques in all the other villages preceding Meliau. Wendy pointed out that the water must definitely get very high during the wet season, otherwise there wouldn't be a good reason to build the village at this level.

We went back to our rooms to dump our stuff and sat by the edge of the river where the others were swimming. The sun was setting, making everything look soft and pink. I immediately wanted to run back up to the longhouse to get my camera, but Justine stopped me. "Just relax", she said. So I did. I would never live in this moment and in this place ever again—why waste this precious time trying to do it justice through the lens when I could just enjoy living in it, remembering it in my mind's eye?

Justine making friends with the kids. Taken on iPhone.
Young plantation. Taken on iPhone.
We were treated to a full moon during dinner that night. I sat outside with some of the others and enjoyed the fresh evening air. Inside the longhouse, some of the girls were painting their toenails "orangutan orange", and begged Jimmy to have his nails painted too—after a little bit of pushing we convinced him. To our surprise and delight one of the local village men sat down with us after seeing the fun we had with Jimmy, and Amy painted his toenails too.

The rest of our evening was spent watching a few videos of orangutans and the work Albertus and Jimmy have been involved in with WWF and the local Indonesian government over the years. Whilst WWF do not have any sanctuaries or rehabilitation centres, they are integral to the rescue and recovery of orangutans who have been kept as pets or found in the wild—many are still very young and are sometimes in need of critical medical help. One baby orangutan had been found after its mother was shot and killed, the same bullet hitting her baby. Jimmy said that it once took him 8 years to photograph a single orangutan, trying in many different jungles only to finally get a spontaneous photo of one at the back of this very longhouse.

Painting toenails "orangutan orange"

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