Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Borneo Trek For Orangutans: Day 8.

This post covers the very last Friday of our trip; our journey back to the cities. We travelled from Bukit Peninjau Wildlife Research Station back to Meliau longhouse to say goodbye to the villagers and wait for our boats back to Lanjak—but Borneo wasn't done surprising us yet. Little did we know our afternoon would involve us getting stranded in shallow water before making our way to Putussibau, many hours later than expected.

Day 8: From Bukit Peninjau to Meliau, Meliau to Lanjak, Lanjak to Putussibau. 

This morning it was time to leave. We were heading back to Meliau, back to Lanjak, then back to Putussibau. I had gotten used to my jungle routine; a cycle of fumbling around for my headtorch at 5:30am, peeling my sticky skin away from my sleeping bag, ducking underneath my mosquito net and heading to the bathroom before getting dressed and packing up. Getting dressed usually meant choosing whichever clothes were dry enough and didn't smell too bad before lathering on the sunscreen and 80% DEET. I could feel the aching of my hips and back after days of sleeping on wooden floors and concrete.

Yesterday's rain had cleared and the sun was slowly coming back; again I was grateful for the weather we'd had. We had our last jungle breakfast; first, a round of toast, an appetiser for the early risers before our rice and eggs were ready. This morning, however, we had an extra treat—native honey thanks to the village men smoking out a beehive late last night.

Dea, daughter of one of the cooking ladies. She did her homework here in the kitchen, taking time off school to be here.

Shortly after breakfast we were on our way, walking back along the slippery planks, beams and logs back to the boats. I said goodbye to the jungle, our home, this place I would carry with me wherever else I go for the rest of my life.

I was far better at walking back along the planks than I was the first time, barely needing to use my trekking pole for balance. After travelling this same way on four separate occasions (once in the dark), my muscles and my brain had improved at what was undoubtedly both a mental and physical exercise.

Leaving Bukit Peninjau. Taken on iPhone.
Leaving Bukit Peninjau. Taken on iPhone.

We got back to Meliau early and got another chance to spend time with the locals. It only took us half an hour to get back to the longhouse, through the narrow canals, through the beautiful lake where we had sat and watched proboscis monkeys the night before. I said my goodbyes to all of it, but it didn't really feel as if I was leaving. It felt as if I was just going for a wander close by and this place would be right there, just around the corner, whenever I wanted to come back—and in a way, I feel like I've never really left.

There was no bottled water left at the village. We were all parched and starving, waiting for our boats to arrive to go back to Lanjak. I saved what little water I had in my pack for the boat—I'd need it more out there than I would here in the village. It would be another two hours until the boats arrived, and by that time we'd be travelling in midday sun.

This graph shows how many visitors have stayed at the longhouse each year. The slump in 2009 was due to the global financial crisis.

Amy, Derwi and one of the village babies.

Melanie playing with the kids as their parents watch on.

This man was once a headhunter, and had a tattoo on his throat which Dayaks are entitled to get if they have killed an enemy.   

Beautiful scarves handmade by the Meliau women

We were lucky enough to see how the intricate weavings were made.

Virginia chatting to the local men
Signing the guestbook.
Saying goodbye to the locals one last time. Taken on iPhone.
Taken on iPhone.
We finally began our 2.5 hour boat ride back to Lanjak, going back through all the same villages we passed the first time. We waved at all the people who stopped to watch us on their boardwalks, their houses, their bathboxes, their houseboats. I could feel heat exhaustion setting in—it was becoming harder and harder to summon the energy to raise my hand and arm simply to wave. I needed water soon. Thankfully we soon came across a merchant boat selling bottled water and snacks.

Despite having covered up and wearing my towel over my head to protect myself from the sun, I was still suffering from being out there for hours. I distracted myself as much as possible, putting my hands in the cool water to clean the dirt from my pack, hat and towel. I even cleaned underneath my nails (believe me, they needed it). We had little wooden stools on our boat this time, and I chose to sit on my life jacket instead of the seat—none of it was extremely comfortable, but the life jacket and the stool were probably significantly better than the floor of the boat.

I was relieved when we got to the bigger lake. It meant we were very close to Lanjak—but my relief wouldn't last long. The water level in the lake had dropped significantly in the last two days, something not even our guides or the locals had expected. We were about to be stuck in shallow water.

Stuck in shallow water, about to push our longboats back to the deep. Taken on iPhone.
No deep water for ages. Taken on iPhone.
Taken on iPhone.

Our boat and another carrying Kellie, Lisa and Wendy had gotten stuck here; the rest had detoured after they saw from afar that we had run into trouble. Even with five of us pushing our boat (two men, and us three women) we would have to stop after a little while to take a break. We were pushing the boat along the sea floor, which was neither sandy or rocky, but more like soft, smooth, tightly-packed mud. We were expecting refreshingly cool water when we stepped out of the boat, but it was surprisingly warm in this part of the lake.

Shortly after we got our boats back to the deep and began on our way again, we ran into Justine's boat, with Jimmy & Hermas keeping them company so they could get help: their boat had run out of fuel. We had plenty on ours (one of the many things contributing to how heavy the boat was when we pushed it), so we came to the rescue.

Justine and her acclaimed "shorts hat". Taken on iPhone.
Finally on our way back to Lanjak. Taken on iPhone.
On a motorbike back to Lanjak with a speed demon as my driver. I dared to take a photo this time. Taken on iPhone.
We got back to Lanjak at about 4:00pm. We were meant to have been there at 1:30pm, in time to have lunch and visit some other places in the afternoon. It had taken us that long to travel in the shallow water; it had been impossible to use the motor at a high speed, if at all. When we got back to land we jumped straight onto motorcycles that took us back to the WWF office. My second trip was worse than the first: I had jumped on a bike with a young male showoff who sped his way through the bumpy dirt road and beeped the horn at every opportunity.

We had to cancel our afternoon plans to visit the oldest longhouse in Borneo (where skulls from the old headhunting days were still on display) and instead headed straight to Putussibau on our bus after having "lunch". We arrived there at 8pm, completely wrecked—only a handful of us went to dinner. It was definitely an exhausting end to what was a beautiful, invigorating trip—but at least we can say we've pushed a longboat in Borneo.

Halfway to Putussibau.

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