Monday, September 22, 2014

Borneo Trek For Orangutans: Day 1-2.

It was a week yesterday since I landed home after 10 days in Indonesian Borneo. It's just as surreal to me now as it was when I was leaving that this trip even happened. After over a year of talking about it, training for it, fundraising and campaigning for it, it didn't seem real that I was going to be in this place I'd only ever heard of. Even now that I'm back to normality, I wonder if perhaps it was all a dream...but the photographic evidence sits in my hard drives: all 3,581 fragments of memories and moments from Trek For Orangutans to remind me I was there.

I have over 800 final shots that I want to share with you, so I'll be doing separate blog posts that cover 1-2 days from the trip. Unlike my other blog posts, I'll actually be including some writing as part of my Borneo photo series. As comprehensive as photos may be, there's so much they won't tell you about—the smells, the noises, the atmosphere; the view outside the frame; all the genuine, proper conversations I had with people who were once strangers; what I wasn't able to or didn't have time to capture; and that which I chose not to capture because a moment was too good to waste on shooting it, versus living in it.

I committed to writing a pretty detailed journal while I was in Borneo, so I'll be including excerpts from those pages in these posts.

Here goes.

Day 1: From Brisbane to Sydney, Sydney to Jakarta.

I write this on board our flight to Jakarta, Indonesia. My second flight today; my first ever flying solo. I may be with my tour group, but most of us have only just met, and in many ways lots of us are travelling alone.

I was emotional when I left Brisbane. I didn't expect to be; I wasn't sure why. I felt every different feeling right down into the pits of my stomach. I was hoping to leave on a positive note, but I guess the reality of everything was hitting me.

Martin and I were up until 1am the night before packing, weighing, repacking, unpacking. Making my bags as light and easy to travel with as possible. Despite my backpacks being the lightest I'd ever packed for anywhere overseas at 8kgs (carry-on) and 11kgs (checked-in), they still felt heavier than I would've liked them to be: mostly because I knew I would be carrying them all myself. When one of your bags is taller than your torso is long, you get pretty determined to make it as easy for you as possible.

Special meal = getting yours before the trolleys. Cue instant mood improvement.

Window frost at approx. 39,000ft.

Beginning the journal.

First glimpse of sky above Indonesia.

The first three days were mostly going to be travel. Lots of flights, checking-in, security points, waiting. It's mostly why I didn't take many photos of this part of the trip: there's only so many photos of planes and clouds and airports I can share before it all gets very boring. I'm certain you get it—but when you start thinking about how long it took us to get to The Heart of Borneo, you then get a true idea of exactly how remote we were.

Flying over Jakarta.

Meeting Caroline, a wonderful photographer and one of our tour leaders.

Day 2: From Jakarta to Pontianak, Pontianak to Putussibau.

After our welcome dinner and a bit of rest (4 hours, to be precise) we were up again, checking out of the hotel for our flight to Pontianak, the capital of the province West Kalimantan in Borneo.

It already felt like we'd been here weeks but really it had just been a day. I was strangely content and comfortable, which was unexpected, but nice—I was grateful to feel at home instead of feeling anxious. Perhaps it was because, in many ways, Indonesia reminded me of The Philippines: the same crowded streets, the same humidity, similar smells and houses and plants; similar culture and food and people and language. Many Filipinos and Indonesians would have similar ancestry, after all.


Flying over Pontianak.

Maria from Ecuador. She's doing her Masters at James Cook University in Cairns but has been doing her research in Borneo with the WWF team.

Our flight to Putussibau was meant to be at 3pm, so we were hoping to have time to stop by at the WWF offices after lunch. Then we got news that our flight would be early, so we stopped for lunch near the airport and decided we'd try to visit the offices at the end of the trip.

The sun was blazing and we all got to experience the true heat of this city, which was almost precisely on the equator (thus why Pontianak is also known as Kota Khatulistiwa—Equator City). Caroline ordered us all a refreshing round of Tehbotol (literally translates to bottled tea) and introduced us to Jimmy and Hermas, who would also be our tour leaders during the trip. We didn't know it yet, but we'd get pretty close to these guys in the end.

Meeting our tour leaders Jimmy (WWF) and Hermas (Kompakh) for the first time

My delicious vegetarian Indonesian lunch. Very reminiscent of traditional Filipino family meals.

Back to the airport for our next flight.

We made it back to the airport, checked our bags and waited at the gate. A little while later, Hermas gave us the bad news: the flight had, yet again, been pushed back to its original time of 3pm. We were starting to understand what our trip notes had said about running on Borneo time—expect the unexpected when it comes to "plans" and just go with the flow.

With nothing to do and plenty of time to kill, our crew put us all in the executive lounge so we could have a more private place to chat and ask our tour leaders questions. Albertus, one of the WWF researchers, held the floor, talking and answering questions about the orangutans and the work WWF are doing; about how the money we raised would be used. By the end of the trip we raised over $60,000AUD for WWF. It was thrilling to know we'd get to spend some quality time with the crew and see first-hand what they do for the environment, wildlife and people here.

Sitting in the executive lounge as we wait for our delayed flight.

Albertus talks to us about orangutans and the work WWF are doing for The Heart of Borneo.

We enjoyed some snacks as we waited in the lounge. To date we had done a lot of sitting around at airports and snacking; I was certain we'd all have to be rolled down the hills by the time it came to the trekking part of our experience. There were also more snacks given out on the plane. Needless to say most of them would probably contain palm oil, which is one of the major contributing factors to deforestation and wildlife endangerment in Borneo.

On board our tiny, 70-seater double-propeller plane to Putussibau.

Arriving at our hotel, Putussibau.

Luggage being taken off the bus (literally).

Local girl next door to the hotel, giggling and smiling as I wave and take her photo.

Wandering around Putussibau before dinner. We're certain this tipper truck was full of prisoners, because later they were followed by police escorts down the road.

After landing in Putussibau we rode our bus to the hotel, where we could finally dump our huge bags and have some free time before dinner. I wandered around the small town with Anthea and Amy. I'm not sure how often they see foreigners in Putussibau, but you get a lot of attention and giggles and waves from the locals. Everywhere you looked there would be street vendors and mopeds and kids coming home from school in uniform. The hustle and bustle of a normal day ending.

The architecture here was interesting; there were garishly coloured buildings amongst houses that were mostly grey slabs with rusting tin roofs or simple wooden structures, plus some slightly more modern buildings (usually government buildings).

There was a mosque and a Christian church within very close vicinity of each other—you wouldn't see that in Australia, but here I noticed it was common. Just as the sun started setting, the mosque began blaring for daily prayer time. The sun sets very quickly here, usually red and hidden behind the haze, casting soft glows amongst the cloudy sky.

Setting sun.

We passed some unusual commotion up the road. Even the locals weren't sure what was going on: all we knew was that policemen were turning everyone around.

I wish I could have photographed some of the greater moments of the evening; how during dinner, our local crew surprised us all by presenting Justine, our tour leader, with a lovely cake for her birthday, which she had been hiding from us the entire time.

Or how, during our wanders, a local woman enthusiastically jumped out from her house and put her young daughter in front of us so she could take a photo.

Not many people knew English in these smaller provinces, and she rattled off her questions in Indonesian. Amy studied Bahasa throughout primary and high school and was able to grab some of what she was saying. We tried to ask her about the commotion up the road, but all we got was that she was "shocked too" about what was happening. We never really did find out.


  1. Lovely work Camille,
    Can't wait to see the rest.

  2. Camille the photography is unsurprisingly beautiful but this post is also remarkable for the personal insight you afford us to your trepidation and excitement as the adventure begins. I cant wait to see/read/hear more.

    1. Thank you so much Nicole! :) I'm always so nervous about writing, perhaps because I'm so used to letting the photos do the talking—but when I get positive feedback like this I'm always encouraged to share and open up a little more.

      Sharing thoughts that are often so deeply personal is always scary on a public platform but I'm really glad people seem to enjoy it. x

  3. Beautiful photos, especially the ones of your group here and there - you capture people and moments so wonderfully. Looking forward to seeing more :)

    1. Thanks so much Teresa! The best is yet to come :)