Saturday, November 01, 2014

Borneo Trek For Orangutans: Day 9-10.

This will be my final Trek For Orangutans post on the blog. I hope you've enjoyed both the visual and written aspects of my storytelling, and I hope it's inspired you in some way. If you feel as if I've taken you there; if you've been inspired to do something or take off to that one place on your bucket list right now; if you can almost feel the sweat and the heat and everything in between, I've done this right.

In this last post, we travel from Putussibau to Pontianak, Pontianak to Jakarta, and Jakarta to Sydney before I finally fly back home to Brisbane in the early hours of Monday morning.

Day 9-10: Leaving Borneo, Going Home

On Day 9, I awoke in Putussibau. Sleeping on a mattress had never felt so, so good. I had gotten used to the sun rising just as I did, the warm light just breaking across the horizon, waking everything up with it. I knew when I came home to Brisbane the sun would be higher in the sky by 5:30am, but here it was still dark.

We'd only be here in the hotel for a couple of hours before flying back to Pontianak (the Equator City, which you may recall from my very first post).

Justine shaking hands with Hermas & Jimmy

When we got to Putussibau airport it was time to bid our goodbyes to Hermas. Hermas, who runs Kompakh Indonesia, had been so wonderful and helpful during our whole trip, always making sure we had everything we needed and keeping everything running.

Justine organised for us to give Hermas & Jimmy a collective tip for all the amazing work they did for us. It was hard not to tear up—they didn't simply feel like our tour guides; they felt like friends we had just made for life.

Hermas, Roni & Jimmy

Dan, Koyah the orangutan, Hermas & Jess

Borneo in-flight snacks: usually bottled water & a sweet.

After our short 30 minute flight we arrived in Pontianak, travelling in cars our WWF crew had organised for us to our hotel. The heat in the Equator City was in full force—we had been blessed with the cooler, fresher air of the rainforests over the last few days, but in the cities there would be very little reprieve. The city was bustling, with so many trucks, cars and motorbikes sharing the road. It was easy to see how accidents happened here. We had even seen a truck full of palm oil fruits on the road.

We got to our hotel, beautiful (and air-conditioned) with its glass doors, polished floors and even bellboys to carry our luggage to our rooms. We were given refreshing lemon, lychee & aloe vera drinks upon arrival—but the real excitement began amongst the ladies when we saw the sign for the hotel's day spa. A massage the equivalent of $30AUD after a week full of trekking? Yeah.

After settling into our rooms it was time to explore, have lunch and see the rest of the city. We perused the streets near our hotel, walking through shops and getting ice cream from a street vendor. Our lunch was at a small fried noodle restaurant that had been around for 40 years—our tour leaders told us it was the best noodle restaurant in Pontianak. It was busy, clearly popular with the locals, and when we got our food, we understood why.

Then it was time to explore the markets. First we stopped by the produce markets, where locals were selling fruits, vegetables, grains and more. I prepared myself for the onslaught of "hellos", giggles and questions from the locals as we walked through the markets. Jimmy told us to stay close and never stray too far from the group so we could keep each other safe and avoid thieves. While there were many a vegetable and herb we recognised, there were plenty more we didn't. Afterwards, we went to the souvenir district, and we tried to spend our remaining Rupiah on sarongs, tote bags, beaded necklaces and more from the locals.

Bag of tamarinds—exactly like the ones we found on the forest floor.

As with many places in South East Asia, rubbish and waste disposal is a serious issue. Locals will simply dump their trash in the waterways or on the street because they aren't aware and educated of the wider problem and the issues that would cause. As we stood on the bridge waiting to cross the other side, we smelt the unmistakeable scent of sewage from the waterway. I could see plenty of rubbish in it, and what I thought was a huge heap of burning rubbish ahead alarmed me even more—as it turned out, a warehouse had just recently down in that spot, but it seemed that in that short time people had already started treating it like a dump.

Shortly after we crossed the bridge, we walked a little further and, to our surprise, got to the docks. I laughed immediately. We were so, so done with boats after spending over 4 hours on one the day before. We piled into the boats, bemused, and not genuinely concerned—besides, it was only a short ride across the river; what could possibly go wrong? Famous last words in Borneo, but thankfully nothing happened.

Burnt down warehouse.

Cannot believe we let this man take us on another boat after hours of being stranded yesterday.

Disappointed I missed getting this man's face in focus after I asked him for a photo, but pleased he had a small smile on his face.

Storm rolling in.

Kids playing near the mosque.

On the way to the Sultan's Palace
Across the river was a huge mosque, and nearby, the Sultan's Palace (Kadariah Palace): our next stop. Jimmy explained that we wouldn't ordinarily be able to visit the palace, as only relatives of the Sultan are allowed on its grounds, but today we would be joined by a descendant of the Sultan himself. All the people beyond the palace gates were relatives of the Sultan (the last of which reigned in 1950); once upon a time, they would have been affluent, but now, they lived similarly to those outside the gates. As relatives of the Sultan, however, they are still able to ask the government for money if they need it, and may be given special favour because of their bloodline.

We took off our shoes at the palace. Anthea, who works in architecture and building design, mentioned something about the Dutch influence on the palace design. This palace withstood two world wars and everything in between since the 1700s—given the materials and resources they would have had back then, the palace was clearly built to last and made well. It was a shame we couldn't see inside the palace—it was being renovated at the time.

"Miss? Excuse me miss, what's your name?"

Just a cat sleeping under the palace cannon.

We heard the storm rolling in, low growls of thunder booming across the sky. We had already seen the threatening, dark clouds looming over the city when we crossed the river in our speedboat—if we took a boat now, we'd most likely get completely drenched. So we paid a visit to the mosque and waited out the storm.

We were all wearing shorts, so we were given sarongs to wear while we were inside. The mosque is the oldest and largest in Pontianak, and just like the palace has survived since the 1700s. A group of students were waiting out the storm at the mosque too and they sat with us, enthusiastic about what we were doing here and where we were from. They were fluent in English, which hadn't been a common experience for us throughout the trip.

The heavy rain cleared, and we made it back to our boats and the hotel safe and dry. We had some spare time before dinner, so I took the opportunity to have a shower, wash my hair and get into fresh, clean clothes. My clothes were warm from being stuffed inside my bag (which had been exposed to hours of sun), but nevertheless, they felt good. I completely repacked my bag ahead of our flights tomorrow (I had three in total), getting rid of everything I would no longer need once I got home. As I packed, evening prayer began across the city.

At 6pm, it was time for our final dinner in Borneo. When I went upstairs, I intentionally left my camera in the hotel room, continuing to make good on what I had promised myself about living in certain moments—but when I got to the roof I immediately had to run back down to get it. The 6th and top floor of the hotel was beautiful, and our dinner was in a little garden near the pool, gym and day spa. We all looked refreshed, relaxed and happy around the table. After spending a week in the jungle still being able to enjoy ourselves with the simplest things, you enjoy a little luxury all the more.

Red setting sun as evening prayers blare from the mosque speakers

During dinner there were speeches, and we gave Justine a gift to thank her for being an amazing tour leader. She was always approachable, relaxed and lots of fun and always had the best stories from her own trekking experiences in places like Mt. Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp. Borneo was a first for her. She commended us on our enthusiasm and our dedication to a great cause and how we carried ourselves even after sleeping on concrete, spending hours on boats, change of plans, and everything in between.

At the end of the night Albertus gave us some books, his gifts to us. One outlined his research on the Heart of Borneo forest corridor that WWF are trying to protect, and the other, a beautiful photobook he was also involved in, with photos of some of the places we had been. I knew I would treasure these, one of few physical souvenirs I'd take home from the trip.

Ambushing Justine with a gift from all of us to say thanks for being an amazing tour leader.

Jimmy giving us his farewell speech.

The next morning, I enjoyed one last shower in the beautiful hotel bathroom before heading downstairs for our buffet breakfast at 6am. Amy and I were the first to get to breakfast, but some of the others appeared soon after; we sat around the table and talked for a little while, our last true meal together before all our flights, and all our goodbyes.

This trip was beyond everything I had imagined. Before I left, I didn't think on it too hard, never delving too far into my dreams of this place so that I could be open to what I would experience when I got here; so that everything would surprise and delight me. I was never once disappointed, even if we weren't following the itinerary, even if we were doing something unplanned—it felt like everything was exactly as it should be.

The friends I made, little words of the language I learnt, everything I saw—it is as vivid to me now as it was when I was living it. I need only stop for a moment and think, and there I am again. I never had a doubt I would be, but I am so thankful I said yes to this, said yes to spending a year of my life working and physically training for it, fundraising and fighting to preserve this place.

Whatever lies in your heart always takes you to amazing places; you won't always understand why you're being pulled there, or where you might end up, but when you get there, you become a little more whole, a little more you, and a little more prepared for where you're next meant to be.

Roni from the WWF crew.

This security guard was super friendly and very interested in our visit.

Virginia & Albertus

Saying goodbye to Albertus

Giving Caroline a gift, our thanks for her hard work and her wonderful, positive attitude
On the bus taking us to the tarmac for our flight to Jakarta

Boarding the plane to Jakarta

Saying our final goodbyes to Caroline at Jakarta

Final Indonesian sunset. Jakarta International Airport.

The first glimpses of the sun from approx. 39,000ft. En route to Sydney.


  1. Lovely series, Camille. Thank you for sharing. <3

    1. Thanks so much Carina, glad you enjoyed it :) x

  2. Beautiful series. I intently read every post, they were so thoughtfully put together and the photography was as always lovely to look at :D.

    1. Thanks so much Tash, I'm really glad I got you hooked haha! Hope I go on more adventures again soon, I loved having this kind of story to tell.