Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by indohoyindohoy on 10 February 2011 • Itinerary
I love to use the expression ‘Woohoo!’ This word is spot on when it comes to the good times and the sarcastic ones. This trip got 2 Woohoo’s since I finally got to do 2 numbers of my ‘places to see’ list. I set my foot (finally) on Kalimantan, or as most might know it as Borneo. Woohoo! And I got to go to Tanjung Puting National Park, a place that has fascinated me since my college years. Woohoo! Anything checked off any ‘To do’ list deserves some expression of celebration! I got to see the real live Proboscis monkeyor as the Indonesians would say, Bekantan! It sounds so weird, right? And its looks even weirder in real live! Of course, I got to see the Orang Utan up close and personal. But it’s hardly the best part of the trip!
As Vira can not contain her itch to travel after being in Jakarta for a few months, she had an idea to travel to Tanjung Puting National Park as a detour of her visit to Keukeu that lives in Banjarmasin (I swear she can not tell the difference between detour and ‘whole other destination’. They’re in 2 different provinces, for God’s sake! Hahahaha…) Gasp! I couldn’t miss the opportunity, as itchy as Vira’s feet! (That sounds gross!) (Vira butting in: yea, just put the blame of your own itchiness to someone else *continuing filing nails*) (Mumun: :P) By some sick coincidence, work just had to give me an early break! *smirk* I thought it was heaven sent, before I realized I had to pay by a gruesome challenging journey to getting there, which I’m sure I will blog one day. Oh I should mention the company. Besides Vira, we had Teddy, an almost boyband member which I was a fan of (really, it’s a long story! ). The three of us decided to catch a plane to Pangkalan Bun to Semarang and struggled on a shuttle bus on a Christmas Eve long weekend scene. Who were we kidding?! The highway was jammed! However, we managed to catch the plane after a 14 hours ride, which was supposed to be for 9 hours.
We met with Aidi or Edi, our guide, at the Pangkalan Bun Iskandar airport at 2.30 pm. Edi had a relief smile on his face once we walked towards him. He was on the edge of his seat, since we informed him we were running late for the plane schedule. He was worried all the shopping he did all day would partially come to waste since we might delay the trip. But there we all were, ready for the ride. I should have remembered to group hug! *hug* We waited about 15 minutes before Keukeu, a friend of Vira’s, entered Pangkalan Bun from Banjarmasin. She decided to join us under short yet delightful notice. And now the team is complete. Hurah! Live on Board, river style! First day on board and I was willing to get a little damp for the sake of enjoying my first several hours in Kalimantan witnessing the river civilization. The journey started at Kumai river (hence the small city on the banks is called Kumai) which was wide and brown. The banks were filled with both wooden and modern boats and houses. What I thought were 3 storey buildings made for business, a sign of economy development, were actually swallow nests with little holes for the swallows to enter. Swallow nest is an expensive commodity worth selling.
The itinerary, as Edi explained, basically is living on board and visiting the feeding stations for 3 days and 2 nights. Sleeping, eating, and showers (huh?) would be done in this humble vessel. Simple, right? But so much can happen on a boat! Turning in to Sekonyer, we practically made ourselves at home. This water body would be our garden for the next 3 days. We were first greeted by rows of Nypa/Attap Palm on both sides of the river bank, as if they were decorating gateway to the Tanjung Putting National Park. Feels like royalty in some imaginative way?! In between the cloudy sky, the afternoon sun showed us the vibrant colors with shades of green, orange, and brown.
Disappointingly, the river wasn’t supposed to have murky brown color water as seen. This had only happen a few years back due to the gold mining boom upstream. I work in mining, so I can tell you a good company would be in jail to be caught doing this, changing the turbidity of a river. And as I learned later on, the miners are local people doing small mining business, knowing less about the environmental impact for the sake of a better life *SOB*! The occasional passing loud speedboats on the river were people coming to and from the mine. Some of them fish the river, but the ones with the speedboats usually those that work in ‘local’ mining. This water condition would continue up to the river junction to Camp Leakey.
The stream to Camp Leakely was so clean. The water was like thick tea water, clear dark brownish. You could see the bottom of the river, yet it was a shade of brown. Unreal! It was so interesting to see such a different kind of ecosystem. The forest was now denser and it felt more secluded from the world. We picked a good time to visit. The amount of klotok on the river weren’t much. Each boat had time on the river to be by it self with casual over-takings. Klotoks are like frenemies, as in they should help each other spot things, but should never stick together for a long time as it would crowd the river and scare the apes; a scene easily found during high season. Living on board turn out to be more pleasurable than I thought. Waking up in the mornings was priceless! We woke up to bright sunlit mornings opposite to the possibility that we could have had a down pour since it’s the rainy season. And the only reason to wake up is because you’re hungry or if you wanna bug your mattress mate that sleeps harder than you do, a.k.a Keukeu. Who’s with me? Muhaha…
The ride through the river was beautiful! Even though the river was murky to start with, it still gave a great ambience of living within the wilderness. Imagine… entering a part of one of the biggest rainforest of the world through a river! Especially entering river Sekonyer Kecil when the forest reflects on the still water, you can’t make a bad picture even if you tried! This was my favorite part of the journey. It was such a different feeling to the whole trip. Usually I picture myself lazing around on a beach, but this journey reminded me that I can do that anywhere when the nature is as still and lush as this!
The nights were pitch dark and the only thing we could hear was nature at its best: silence, with audio bits of animal activities and water movement. With minimum signal coverage and dares to let go of gadgets, we filled the nights with traditional Indohoy meetings turning in to slumber parties. It’s the best way to get to know your travel mates and including the crew. The nights usually end with a yummy dose of giggling in bed khihiihihi…then zzzz….. Wildlife Spotting Starting the journey, Edi explained that although the apes are abundant, a small portion of visitors were unlucky as the apes did not visit the riverbanks. Fingers crossed! But I, and I’m think my friends were too, was really happy that we saw so many precious wildlife especially outside of the feeding stations. I leaped to see my first Orang Utan amongst the Nypa, pointed by Edi. Oh WOW! It was a WILD Orang Utan, probably one that had never had human nurture as some of the Orang Utans we would be seeing at the feeding station. Orang Utan or Pongo abelii is more solitaire so in the wild you would probably see one or two at once.
There was so many Proboscis monkey or Nasalis larvatus. As a note, this monkey is the mascot of Dunia Fantasi, the biggest theme park in Indonesia, located north of Jakarta. I dreamt of seeing this ape because I couldn’t imagine how the real thing would be. Man! They’re so like the dummy mascot but smaller. They had a human face with a weird schnozzle a.k.a nose! They also had incredible human looking thighs. Seriously, I wouldn’t be able to tell it apart to an old human thighs if it was detached from the body, well minus the hairs of course. These apes live in colonies, so it was easier to spot and you’ll see a lot in one sitting.
The long tailed Macaques are all over the place. These monkeys are quite common such as those in Bali’s temples, roaming and ruling the area. Here, they seem pretty small. I’m not sure about the hierarchy of the ape world, but looks like they wouldn’t want to mess around with an Orang Utan or Bekantan that are much bigger than them. The last monkeys we saw of the day was my favorite, the Silver Langurs or Trachypithecus critatus. It was a bit dark when we saw them, and they were on the side where they had their backs towards the sun, creating a silhouette. In Edi’s guide book of mammals, these guys looked really cute, but it’s their Mohawks that had me at hello! Let it be known, on the first day of the journey, I have finally learned an important lesson. MYTH BUSTER: MONKEYS DON’T NATURALLY EAT BANANAS! D’oh! There rarely are Bananas in the forest so they survive more on various forest fruits. Some apes also have an extra belly, which digests any kind of poisonous food they eat. Can you imagine having that and never have to worry about Bali belly ever again? Lucky creatures! *grumble!* And yes, Indonesians too sometimes catch these ‘disease’ on random occasions. After 3 days passing through wildlife, we can now say that we can spot apes without Edi, a big achievement! At times, it can be too much, good thing we could bird watch as well (spoken like a true bird watching scout!) I never get bored of this, and I’m glad that my enchantments towards birds and yapping about them finally got Vira appreciate birds and this hobby a little, she even borrowed my binoculars a couple times to (try to) observe them birdies. As a bird enthusiast, I was so eager to see the famous hornbills (checked!) and the huge stork Edi promoted about (checked!). The holy grail was when we chased the beautiful stork billed kingfisher or Halcyon capensis, which had the most beautiful colors! The pictures on the net lied! It’s even more beautiful in live! Then and there was I satisfied and ready to go home.
Tanggui Feeding Station After docking at the gate, we walked on a boardwalk towards the feeding station. Edi suddenly took a right somewhere and said it’s better to go this way. A lot further and shady compared to the other way. There was no reason to say no, so we trotted in the wet floor forest (Better avoid sandasl, leaches would love you for sure). It was pretty nice especially stepping in to a forest. Until in the distance we saw something moving… it was … it was… a Caucasian couple waiting at the feeding station…khihihihi… . They were already setting their eyes on Kasido, a huge male Orang Utan dangling on a tree. A few more tourist came it to see them too, not forgetting to take pictures. The Orang Utans that come to the feeding stations are usually those released from rehabilitation. They could have been orphans or wounded when first nurtured by humans. Feeding stations help them survive amongst their natural habitat. Although still spoiling them to some extent, at least they’re not in a zoo and can fulfill some functions in the forest (better poop in the woods than in the rehab camp).
We took pictures, mimic some couture poses (I swear, monkeys and models are not far apart when it comes to posing), chat with other guides and rangers, try the call, and say hi to a baby Orang Utan on its mummy’s back. I miss my mum! We spent a fair 2 hours just watching the apes and lazing around. It was a nice ambience to be in, despite the fact it was pretty humid.
Heading back, we took the short way out. Turns out we passed an open area, a forest after illegal logging. It had a tall observing tower where you can see the horizon of green. A nice climb and hang out, really. Keukeu didn’t have the courage to climb up. I’m not sure why. Besides the hole in the ceiling, perhaps because of lightning or just age, it was pretty tough. We walked back to the docks and climb back to the boat. We dried our damp shoes to then lied on the shaded deck. I realized why this crew kept the boat pretty simple and empty. Once coming back, it was great to have a clean fresh deck. Clutter would only make things … complicated. I was so glad that we didn’t have any furniture. Camp Leakey This was the main destination! Camp Leakly is the research center for rehabilitated Orang Utan and other primates. It was established by Dr. Birute Gladikas in 1971. It was named after the legendary paleo-anthropologist, Louis Leakey, who was both mentor and an inspiration to Dr. Galdikas as well as Drs. Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. I won’t get in to too many details. All I can say is, I hope the research is still continuing.
During lunch, the captain was already swimming and cleaning the bottom of the boat, even though he knew there were crocodiles in the waters. Yes people, crocs and not the shoe kind! I’m not sure if it’s his dedication or his local knowledge that made him semi-trapped in the water cleaning between boats. Swimming is highly prohibited, but he was still there when we came back! Thank God. They said, there are people that were destined to be eaten and some that aren’t no matter how many times they jump in the water. Hmm… Indohoy’s believe it or not!
We started to walk in to the park area and had a mini stop at the food supply shack. Here, the rangers prepare the milk and fruits, and wait for it … bananas! We got to know a ranger that has been in the area for some time. D’oh! How can I forget his name? He showed us how he knows the Orang Utan very well by walking up to Siswi, the alpha female that crept up the visitors causing a small commotion at the time. Ah yes, you can tell they were buddies when he threw a candy from his mouth and Siswi caught it in hers. Oh how Indonesian rangers are so different to the ones in developed countries. Here, they are your local trying to make a living and getting minimum wage, or just basic adventurer that isn’t looking for much but adventure and a decent pay for daily meals. And yet they have to deal with the same danger, with no alluring insurance… even though I’m Indonesian, oh how I try to understand the life cycles of our ways, always… We then walked about 1 km to the feeding station. We certainly picked the right guide sine Edi knew the area and the rangers. The ranger even trusted him to take the guest to the feeding station when Siswi started to make trouble. Edi also told us several stories of the trouble he had to take his guest out because the Orang Utans were a bit on their toes. The current alpha male, Tom, rarely can be trouble.
The feeding station was kinda like a mini stage area, where the Orang Utans were fed on top of an elevated platform with benches on the sides for visitors. Well… ideally the feeding would be on top of the stage, but like an interactive theatrical show, the real feeding can happen anywhere. Orang Utans come from all directions to the stage, even walking behind and overtake you to get to the platform. Feeding can also happen outside of the stage area and right beside you. Everything is ‘flexible’. Orang Utan can be very persistent. The can demand the powder milk solution by force, and the rangers would yell and show a bit of force saying that they have to share and slowly drink rather than spilling it on the ground. It was definitely interesting, as we saw the Orang Utan be dependent but ruling over the food provided. In about 30 minutes the food and milk ran out. Most of the visitors by now were heading back. We hung around the station just to hang around I guess… Did I mention it started to pour?
We headed back to the boat after signing in the guest book. Please do sign in, since it would be reported to the government. This signs that the rangers have done a good job by inviting the people and you’re quite happy with the ‘show’. It means a lot! We filled in the book and fed our goodbyes to the rangers, masters of the Orang Utan. Hypnotized by Flies… Fire Flies At one point, we hadn’t decided the itinerary up to the last day. After a bit of discussion, we decided to spend the night at the Nypa area to see the fire flies decorate our Christmas. Edi happenned to mention this to Vira making her nag to see them. Well she did the nagging for us to be exact :D. Thank you, Vira! On the second and last night (… hiks!), we continued our journey down the clear river until it got dark. We were hungry but were willing to suck it up for the sake of searching dozens of fireflies! Reaching the Nypa area, we stood on the front part of the boat for the look out. And true enough, as promoted by Edi, flocks of fireflies were decorating random trees as we passed. It’s like the tree was given a dash of fairy dust. They were probably pretty horny as they blink to find a mate, but we leave ourselves run with our own imaginations. We struggled to park the klotok at one specific tree that had a fair amount of fireflies but succeeding to have them as decoration of our last dinner.
Aidi Susanto and the Gang We didn’t get Edi’s name from the official guide organization, we got it from a friend’s friend. As part of our trip, we picked Edi’s brain, both about him and the tourism in the area. I was curious. He used to be the cook of a klotok, and with a little motivation, he learned bit by bit how to be a guide. He had himself certified and now is all good to take you to see monkeys. Wow… that sounds cool! ‘I am certified to take you to see monkeys’… khihihihi… A lot of screaming and shouting was necessary to force the crew to dine with us but we did it! It was very warm and we got to know more about the crew. Turns out Anang, the captain that can drive the boat with his feet (saw it with my own eyes!), was waiting for his guide certificate this January. He used to be one of the miners upstream, but he saw his friend died in a mine hole one day, and it was a slap in his face. Now, although not making as much as the mining industry, he has chosen to be a guide. I hope he got it, because he surely understands service! The cook also was getting his certificate soon but is still under Edi’s guidance. Edi, fairly young, has already done so much for other people. Heart!
To be honest, what we paid them wasn’t that much considering there were 4 of us. But that probably was because he gave us a local price. I secretly calculated his profit and it wasn’t much. Felt a built guilty about our negotiated price. But after more discussion, I realize that their expenses weren’t as high as in Jakarta, where I base. That was just in my head. Nonetheless, it’s traveling that reminds me that I have it good, hence I never compromise much to those that struggle more than I do. And anyways, I learned towards the end of the trip that the service was very much satisfying. Despite there’s nothing topping the experience of spotting animals in its natural habitat, to be honest, the best part of the trip was the journey. Not only did I have great travel mates, we also lived in a great boat with the superb crew, fresh eye candy the whole trip, and were constantly on the move! So there was never the same scene during the whole 3 days and 2 nights trip. There were too many details we had to take out because I could go on and on, so my apologies. However, we still have some goodies up our sleeves on this trip for you. We’re not heading home yet…
The crew, apparently, were cooking while we were ape spotting. The food was always ready at meal times. To our surprise, meals were full on menus. Simple, humble, great tasting food with fruits of course. We screamed and shouted trying to get the crew to eat with us on top deck, but they apparently were trained to eat separately on the bottom deck. But we made the eat with us on the last night, yes! *fist pump Breakfast was fulfilling. The first morning, we had a plate of fried rice each, with fried eggs. A regular hit of coffee and morning laughs is great to start the day. The crew also provided plenty bottled drinking water as you would never survive the humidity without them. It’s great to brush your teeth with it too!
Would you really pass something like this?
We also had coffee time (as this was my choice of drink when offered besides tea) Huraaahh! On the first day, it broke me out of my broken heart reality of the upper river mining impacts (Vira: gosh, you’re so easy..hahaha). Tasting my first sip of coffee started to calm my nerves after having a 48 travel spasm and a reality check on my profession. I started to slow down following the rhythm of the boat. Coffee and tea are served in the mornings and afternoon. So don’t worry, your dose of caffeine would be satisfied, you addicts!
Lunch was great delish and Vira can confirm since she had a great time sucking on fish skulls. The training cook will surely be able to survive in this industry if he keeps on cooking like this. Dinner was no less. It was humble Indonesian dishes but it taste great!
The Vessel – Klotok The tour package was pretty basic actually, to live on board on a wooden boat and visit the Orang Utan feeding stations. The type of boat used for these tours is called a Klotok, since the engine makes like a ‘klotok-klotok-klotok’ sound. I was kinda wondering what this boat offered and how it could make me feel at home during the next 72 hours. Stepping on the boat, I realized I had NO idea what I was going to get into even though it was a guided trip. And that’s a good thing! Thus, I rubbed my hands together while smirking to the oblivious … muhaha…
That’s the bathroom back there.
Once aboard, we settled in by umm… placing our bags on the top deck. That was basically it. As we sat and were half confused to what else was there to do, we saw one of the crew in his oversized singlet shirt, trying to wipe the deck spotless dry. Such an effort considering it was really cloudy. And as we guessed, worthless since it started to drizzle. The small dude in the shirt that was between oversized or he was just too small, turned to be the captain of the boat, named Anang. Whadya know? Without complain, he and Edi moved fast to close the deck area, protecting us fragile travelers 😀 The bathroom is very much decent, AND HAS TOILET PAPER HA! It also had a shower that pumps water on a mini generator. We had showers coming back from Camp Leakey (psstt don’t tell anyone we only had 1 shower during the tour). I was so, so excited because we would be using the river water and not the Sekonyer waters. Yes! The cola color water was pumped for your shower. And did I mention, the shower was open up top? The others were pretty reluctant to try so they needed a dummy. And I was all for it, especially I knew I couldn’t pass another day without one. I wanted the experience and Edi said the water was just fine. I had to believe him and the captain that had the water up to his chin! Aaaahhh… it felt so good, especially since the view was super! And it felt like usual fresh water, nothing to be worried about!
On sleeping, the crew were like little war ants, work fast to assemble and dissemble our mattresses, the sheets, and the mosquito nets. It’s a luxurious and tingly feeling to use a mosquito net. I am always in favor of it. And it’s important to avoid the nasty Malaria infecting buggers! Use repellent, just in case. For the four of us, the crew set up 2 cotton beds.
In the mornings, we helped tidy up, fold the mattresses, sheets, and nets so breakfast can come to Momma!
To get to the Tanjung Putting National Park, you must get to Kumai, which easily reached from Pangkalan Bun. There are daily Trigana Air flights from Semarang to Pangkalan Bun. Here is a very important note! We ordered plane ticket with Trigana online. The ticket printed out 11.35 am. Apparently, everyone, including those in our shuttle bus to Semarang knew that the flight would leave at 1.00 pm. Now, we love gossip but this was one expensive gossip should it be wrong. But … they were right! The plane was to take off at 1.10 pm. No one told us about this!!! It could have spared us the headache. I guess this is what they call local knowledge :P. So please check and recheck when the place actually leaves Semarang, but of course the earlier you’re there… the better!
However, there are limited flights from Jakarta being only 3 times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday) and arrive about 2 hours)later than from Semarang, which could cost you a night at Pangkalan Bun or Kumai before starting your tour. Should you be traveling along Kalimantan, there are also flights with other airlines, such as Kalstar, from Pontianak and Banjarmasin.
We’ve been bragging about how good Edi is, and I would so recommend him to anyone that would love to take this trip. Edi can fix up a trip according to the amount of people in your party and the length of stay. The itinerary can be discussed of your liking. The trip we did was based on what we wanted. All can be arranged! We can’t really say how much our trip cost since we got a locals price… sorry, but we have to have advantages being Indonesians once in a while *shrug*. But we can give a rough estimation of probably USD 500 for a small group of people.
Trips include being picked up from the airport, transport to Kumai, 3 meals a day, plenty of bottled drinking water, tickets to enter the park, and transport back to Pangkalan Bun if necessary. So, all we can say is CALL HIM! It’ll also helps him to develop his quest to train more locals of Pangkalan Bun and Kumai to be guides, captains and boat crews. It sure beats the mini mines upstream. What to prepare? – 3 copies of your ID (passport) – suggested one pair of long sleeve shirt and long pants – and a lot of fun spirit! Ready for the experiene. Now you can contact Edi: Aidi Susanto (Edi) Jl. Gerilya RT 06 Kel Kumai Hulu Email: email@example.com Mobile: +62 853 3289 7697; +62 831 5208 0043
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