Thursday, September 25, 2014

Borneo Trek For Orangutans: Day 3.

After two full days of travelling by air, our third day would be a full of travelling by land and by sea. We had a 2.5 hour bus ride from Putussibau to Sadap village, which would then be followed by another 2.5 hour longboat ride from Sadap to Tekelan Camping Ground in Betung Kerihun National Park. I didn't bother writing anything in my journal for this day seeing as we were mostly on the go, but rest assured—I have plenty to talk about.

Day 3: En route to the jungle. Putussibau to Sadap, Sadap to Tekelan.

Today we were finally on our way to the jungle. The idea of spending 2.5 hours squished into a bus with no air-conditioning (except nature's air-conditioning, which as it turns out, was pretty strong) may not seem ideal, but we were pretty happy. I had spent some time before bed last night preparing my bags for the boat ride this afternoon—waterproofing everything that couldn't get wet; putting my sunblock, insect repellent (tropical strength, 80% DEET—a necessity in the jungle), sunglasses, hat and water in easily accessible places on my day pack; putting my bigger rucksack into a huge plastic bag and knotting it tight. My camera was really my only concern, but I had a special waterproof bag just for that.

After breakfast (which included my daily dose of doxycycline to prevent malaria, and a banana fritter Jimmy had bought from a street vendor across the road) we piled into the bus. I was expecting our ride to be fairly bumpy and full of unpaved roads, but we had a solid hour or so where the roads were actually paved and line-marked.

Admiring traditional Indonesian architecture. This here is a longhouse.
On the bus, Hermas told us we'd pass across 76 bridges, big and small, on the way to Sadap. Some were properly constructed, some were merely made of wooden logs, some were still half-built (cue our nervous laughs: one heavy bus load of people on a rickety wooden bridge? We hoped the fall wasn't far).

We passed by a rubber plantation; many villages and longhouses with their unique tribal patterns; many dogs warming their bellies on the road. Living so far from the cities, these locals would only be able to get an income from what is around them: the rubber trees would be one such source of income.

We also passed a huge pile of rubbish by the side of the road where a dog was searching for scraps. "Pile of rubbish" doesn't even do it justice—there was enough garbage there to call it the town's actual disposal site. Hermas said the rubbish was one of the town's biggest problems. Again, I felt grateful for our way of life in Australia: we put rubbish in our bins at home, then every week someone drives it away and brings it somewhere we won't see it. Here, some people would simply throw their garbage into the water, because they didn't know any better, and all they knew was that the waterways took their rubbish away. There were plenty of similar problems in The Philippines.

One of the 76 bridges we'd pass.
Rubber trees.

Unpaved road.

Rest stop, toilet time and grabbing our lunch for this afternoon's boat ride from a local cantina.

Locals love foreigners. Justine & Anthea getting a photo.

We finally got to Sadap village, but not before our bus had to stop because it was too tall for the village archway. Some of the local men ran down to help grab our bags off the roof of the bus. I observed the village; it was small and quaint and right by the river. I could tell that every structure my eyes could see was all there was to the village. The school was probably the biggest structure, aside from their longhouse. It was from this little village that we'd journey onto Tekelan, where we'd camp in the jungle for the very first time.

Finally at Sadap.

One man carrying three of our bags, each weighing over 10kg, putting us all to shame.
How to waterproof your pack: shove it in a giant heavy-duty plastic bag.
Jess meeting the village kids.
I asked for their photo and they kindly, beautifully obliged.
Waving goodbye and saying "terima kasih" (thank you) to our bus driver.

Entering the main village. The sign here welcomes people to their harvest festival.

As we waited for our longboats to be ready, some of the group walked to the houses at the far end of the village while some of us stayed with the locals. We looked at all the handmade scarves, earrings, necklaces and other jewellery the women of the village had to offer. We later learnt that one large scarf (worth 1 million Rupiah or $100AUD) would have taken a woman a whole month to make by hand. The dyes in the scarves were sourced from berries and leaves in the forests. But this was just their hobby, not a regular source of income, and during this time of year most of the women were busy and away at plantations for harvest time.

These people are of the Iban tribe (also known as Sea Dayaks), a branch of the indigenous Dayaks of Borneo. While most villages now have modern resources (modern clothes, cars, and electricity in some parts), tradition and culture has changed very little. Most villages still live in traditional longhouses: as the name suggests, it's essentially one big, wooden house where multiple families and generations live. The communal space is then used for all the village's traditional ceremonies.

Our tour leader Justine modelling a traditional, handmade beaded skirt.

It was important to us that we show the locals kindness, enthusiasm for their culture and the environment, and support. A few of the Trek for Orangutans team bought pieces before we left. There are limited income opportunities when you're this remote, which is why it can become tempting to take part in illegal logging or wildlife poaching. By showing them that people the world over will come for the forests, we're giving the locals a strong incentive to protect them (in turn protecting the forest's wildlife), and their community will thrive.

There is a human heart to Borneo, and it is just as important to keep the forests alive for their way of life as it is to keep the forests alive for the animals.

Looking down at the Embaloh River.

Wendy & Jess with one of the locals. This man later asked me where I was from, confused by my Asian skin and looks.

If someone is leaving you, you say "selamat jalan" (like saying "have a good trip"). If you are leaving someone, you say "selamat tinggal".

We were attempting to buy a piece this little guy happened to be playing with!
Edho and the boys preparing our life jackets.

Making our way to the boats.

Before long it was time to go. We quickly (but carefully; the stairs were steeper than they looked) made our way down to the river where the longboats and village men were waiting. These beautiful, colourful longboats were simple, made by hand from ironwood trees commonly found in Borneo's forests.

The first Trek For Orangutans team photo

Hermas giving a last-minute briefing

Jimmy and Jess

Antonia, Lisa and Caroline passing by

Unsurprisingly, the longboat ride was beautiful, albeit extremely uncomfortable after even a short period of time. The boats were fairly narrow and there were five people in each: three passengers, one spotter/navigator at the front and a motorist at the back. Many times in my life I've been grateful for being quite petite, and this was one of those times—if I was over 6" like plenty of my teammates, that narrow boat would have been even more uncomfortable. We'd better get used to it—there were days more boat rides ahead of us.

We stopped halfway to Tekelan, stretched our legs and had our lunch. Yep—I stood in one of the most beautiful, remote places on Earth eating rice and a fried egg. Glorious.

Time to rest for lunch and for anyone who needed the "bush toilet"

Hermas & Maria

On the road again

As the wind blew through my hair on that boat, my heart sung and I felt this incredible lightness, a buoyancy on the inside. My face lit up as I looked at all the wonder around me. Everything is always so clear when you are completely, mindfully present. We were finally here, in The Heart of Borneo. Trees upon trees upon trees were around us; I saw multiple, diverse species of plant-life with every glance. On our boat, we saw about 4 or 5 unique species of birds, a small black monkey swinging between branches (no doubt grabbing some lunch), dozens of tiny jumping fish, an otter, and Jessie even saw a barking deer.

How many people would ever get to see a place like this? I knew I would never forget it; never stop being grateful for it—even right now, writing from my home in Brisbane, I vividly remember how I felt, and what I saw. It was liberating, and I feel as if I'm still there.

Most of what we saw here would be unique to Borneo and Borneo alone: I saw millions upon millions of reasons to protect this place, all the reasons we had fought for when we were fundraising and campaigning. I had to restrain myself from shooting at every turn: not only because I wanted to live in this moment, in this place, but also because I was terrified of the boat dipping too far on one side and submerging my camera, or a sudden splash drenching it completely.

Huge, heavy logs stacked upon the rocks. This shows what the river level can get to during the high season.

The Borneo To Be Wild duo right here

One of our crew with his catch: he caught this fish unbelievably quickly.
Skipping stones on our second rest stop.
Anthea was the best stone skipper of our team. The locals were unsurprisingly good at it.

Finally arriving at Tekelan Camping Ground.

As we turned into one of the narrower tributaries we noticed the water getting clearer and bluer, the trees a little denser. We finally arrived at Tekelan, our home for the next two nights. We were so happy to get here and get out of the boats (I was certain my dérriere had bruises by now). I couldn't believe this peaceful, beautiful place was going to be what we woke up to for the next two days.

After we all got unpacked and set up in our tents, we all had our bath in the river. Us ladies went a little further upstream, away from the local boys—we called it the "ladies baths". I lowered myself into the shallow, freezing water and avoided the middle of the river where there was an incredibly strong current. We sat on the stones of the riverbed, chatting and joking and laughing, learning more about one another. I didn't bother bringing my camera with me. I just wanted to be right there.

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