Tanjung Puting

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The first thing I discovered when we got off the plane in Pangkalanbun was that someone had managed to break a fairly vital buckle on my new pack. My mood wasn't helped, later, in Kumai, by our helper, Pak Herry, adding an extra night to the calculations for hiring a klodok (boat) to visit the park. We eventually agreed on a price, and set off in a speedboat for a half-hour trip up the Sekonyer River to Rimba Lodge. On the way we stopped at the park office at Tanjung Harapan and parted with Rp300,000, the entrance fee for three days, for two people.

We walked into the Rimba Lodge reception area, and the young lady who greeted us asked "Are you Andrew?" She works at Udayana Lodge in Bali, the place where cricket practice is often held, and was on rotation at the affiliated "eco lodge". Our room was quite nice, and dinner in the restaurant was simple, tasty and inexpensive. The only minus was that we could hear the air-conditioner of the adjoining room all night (which was ironic because we had deliberately chosen a room without). The timber decking and thin walls also meant disturbances from fellow guests later at night.

At 5am, there was a racket outside, which turned out to be the small grey monkeys launching themselves from the trees on to the cabin roofs. We got up long before the other guests, and went out to the small pier to see if there were any animals. We had breakfast, and then read for a while until the klodok arrived. The adventure began.

Usup, the young boat driver, and Udin, the even younger cook/assistant, were lovely. They were very polite and unobtrusive, but helpful at the same time. Udin's Indonesian home-style cooking was delicious and plentiful. The banana fritters for afternoon tea were particularly nice, and fattening.

The klodok had an enclosed lower deck, and a canopy over the part of the top deck. There was a basic toilet at the end of the boat. The "crew" cooked, slept, pumped the bilge and tended to the diesel engine in the back third of the lower deck.

Up the muddy waters of the Sekonyer we went, until we turned east up a tributary. The waters got progressively clearer, and, well before we reached Camp Leakey, they were crystal clear.

We walked along a couple of hundred metres of decking (apparently built by western volunteers) to the office. We encountered our first orang-utan, the large male who was the number one boy in the area. After a few other people arrived, some of them on a study tour from England (and staying at Rimba), we trekked a kilometre or so into the forest to the feeding area. The guides had a large basket of bananas, and hollered all the way to alert the orangutans.

Everyone sat about for a while, and a female with a baby teased us by swinging about in a nearby tree. An Indonesian film crew arrived. They were doing a program for a Saturday afternoon "adventure" show, and the presenter, Riana, was very nice. She showed us her photos from Pondok Tanguy, where they had been in the morning, and where we were going the next day. It was a bit perturbing to see that one of the accompanying forestry men had a sub-machine gun, and another had a pistol.

A few more orangutans filtered in. All of a sudden, everyone at the start of the track scattered. "Win's coming", someone cried. A very large male, the head honcho in that part of the forest, lumbered in and took over the feeding platform.

Back on the boat, we tied up at a wider part of the river a half an hour or so back downstream. On the map in the travel guide it is marked as "Crocodile Lake". Usup informed us that an English tourist was taken at Camp Leakey two years before, after ignoring his guide's advice not to swim. Usup, himself, said he was scared on one occasion when a drunk Australian tourist fell in, and on another when a clumsy English tourist did likewise. Both were pulled out in time. (The next morning, at Pondok Tanguy, we observed Probiscus monkeys jumping into the water and swimming across the river. Usup said that they knew there were no crocodiles around when boats pulled up at the pier.) Despite Usup's efforts, we didn't see any crocodiles during the trip. We were happy to take his word that they were there, somewhere.

We read for a while, and washed using the river water. We thought we would be alone, but no, with 10km of river from which to choose, another klodok arrived and tieds up 50m from us. It began to rain, which turned into a torrent, blocking out any noise. On the "upper deck", the boys had rigged up tarpaulins and a mosquito net. It was like sleeping in a gently rocking tent, and we drifted off easily. I woke during the night, with dripping on my feet. I just moved them out of the way, figuring that everything would dry during the course of the next day.

We woke at dawn, to a sound like high-pitched buzz saws, from some unseen insects. We could see various birds and monkeys along the river, as we slowly cruised to Pondok Tanguy.

The set up was far better for observing orangutans than at the more-famous Camp Leakey. Apart from the feeders, there was a German couple and their guide. The number-three male arrived first, and spent at least twenty minutes stuffing himself on bananas before a young female and another female with a baby appeared. The baby was extremely cute, and always kept one hand on its mother. We could have touched them. A few other young males kept their distance in the tree tops. On the way back to the river, we encountered another female with a baby on the track.

After Pondok Tanguy we stopped and walked along some more (volunteer-made) decking in to a reforestation camp. The men there collect seedlings from the forest (taking care to leave enough for natural propagation) and replant them. They had an eleven-hectare patch, and said there was another thirty hectares further into the forest.

Udin put together a six-course lunch, and we nibbled our way through it on the way back to Tanjung Harapan. The film crew was there before us, and we had to wait half an hour before walking to the training area. There was only one baby being trained. According to the trainer, the baby ("Julius") was found in a nearby village. He was 7 months old, and weighed only 2.5kg. He is now twice that age, and 10kg. She spends 5 hours each day teaching him to climb trees, and build nests out of leaves in the branches. She also bathes him twice a day.

In the late afternoon we tied up at a pier. There was a break in the clouds, and Usup declared that there would be no rain. We slept under the roof canopy with just the mosquito net. I woke up during the night, and went out on the deck. It was like a light show. There were fireflies in the bushes along each side of the river, and the clear sky revealed more, and brighter, stars than I could have imagined. The river refelcted the stars back. It was wonderful.

After breakfast, Usup asked if we wanted a relaxing cruise back to Kumai. It was more relaxing than he had anticipated. We pulled into the shore after about two kilometres, and Usup announced that the motor was broken. The boys waved over a smaller boat, and its sole occupant examined our motor with them, before pronouncing it beyond immediate resuscitation.

We, and our packs, boarded the smaller vessel, and sat on the boards that covered the bilge. Off we went, and made it to Kumai without incident. We were dropped at the wrong place, and had to walk a couple of hundred metres to the klodok owner's wharf. We informed them of their boat's plight, and they found a car and driver out in the street for us.

We had a bit of a wait at Pangkalanbun airport, but eventually boarded the 60-seater plane for the trip back to Surabaya. We had a safe landing and take off at Sampit, and an uneventful flight to Surabaya. We had an amazing holiday, and were rested and relaxed, ready to face the rigours of work in a couple of days' time.