Indonesia Update #6

Off to Borneo!  We began the second phase of their journey with a flight from Semarang in central Java to Pangkalun Bun on Borneo’s southern coast.  From there we traveled to Tanjung Putting National Park via Kumai harbor.  Komang, with whom we made arrangements, met us there, but Kasri, who also met us, is our guide for the duration.  Kasri is clearly friendly and knowledgeable.

Rice -- Asia's Ubiquitous Staple

The days are wickedly hot, the kind of intense searing heat that being inside an oven must be like — internal blood boil.  Moving on the boat is pleasant, though, with a slight breeze and plenty of shade.  We have one small and one large boat.  We all travel and eat on the large one.  After dinner and evening meetings and classes then some of us move over to sleep on the smaller boat. They roll down tarps to cover the open sides at night and when it rains.  For sleeping, mattresses and pillows and sheets are provided.  Finally, a mosquito net is draped over each sleeping area for protection.  These nets come in sizes from two to four persons each.  The fanciest one is pink with ruffles at the top — this is the boys’ four-person palace!

Food on the boats has been excellent — omelets, steamed veggies, fried tempeh, chicken or shrimp in cocoanut curry sauce, fresh pineapple with every meal and hot tea and instant coffee (instant coffee in the land of Java and Sumatra!) whenever we wish.  Classes have been going well; most students are keeping up well with their assignments and some are keeping up with extra encouragement.  We had conferences the other day to check in with each student on their progress.

Green Villages

There is much wildlife here, compared with urban Java.  We have seen proboscis monkeys, langur monkeys, gibbons and orangutans, and red, yellow, and blue kingfishers.  Several students got to walk down the trail holding the hand of Princess, a 37-year-old orang with a two-year-old baby on her back!

Proboscis monkeys are a common sight.  They’re found along the river and in the mangroves, but not inland.  They travel in large troupes of all ages; it’s very fun to watch them romping and tussling.  Since crocodiles, one of the monkeys’ main predators, are afraid of boat engines, a troupe will often cross the river in the crocodile-safe time just after our boat passes by.  Watching them take to the water is a delight:  Some would gingerly lower themselves into the water from descending branches, while others would plop in from mid-tree height.  The boldest would take a hurling, sprawling leap from branches far above.

We did see one crocodile this morning by the river; it was so well blended in that it was easy to miss.  One suspects that their camouflage puts strong selection pressure on the monkeys for good eyesight!

Now we have moved from the boats to homestays in the village for a couple of nights:  clean, spacious, and fairly austere rooms. The dinner, however was sumptuous — rice (duh), fresh cooked veggies, fried shrimp, fried tempeh, and potato soup.  The rooms are actually separate from the houses, so they’re not quite what you might think of as a homestay.

Now we’ve begun on our reforestation project.  We transported 300 saplings down to the dock with the help of some villagers.  Once across the river we headed about 4 km upstream to the reforestation site near the Buguruh Ranger Station.  There the work began in the hot sun.  We stayed at it, taking breaks for sun relief and water.  Even with sun cream, several folks got sunburn on the back of their neck and elsewhere.  In the afternoon we were blessed with some cloud cover that eased the pressure of the burning sun.  By the time we collapsed in exhaustion at the end of the day, we had planted an entire hectare (2.5 acres) of trees!

It feels good to help with the restoration of Borneo — the terrestrial ecosystem with the greatest species diversity on earth.  It is also good that we are making an effort to render our travels carbon-neutral, and in that way try to balance the indulgence of a trip like this with recognition of its impacts.

Tree planting is hard but good work, and all the kids participated with good energy and spirits.  Tomorrow we’ll wrap up tree planting and head back downriver for our last couple days on Borneo.  (And hang-out time with orangutans!) This is the only real labor we’re doing, since the orphanage was mostly interactive work, and when we head over to Bali, we’ll be mostly touring and learning, not working.  But what terrific lessons hard work offers, along with a sense of fulfillment.  In this awesome place, we are humbled, by both our privileges and by our limitations.

Terima kasih.

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