Orangutans in the Jungles of Borneo: October 16 2008
Oct 1 we slid off the dock at Bali Marina. It was a still, still morning. There was not a breathe of air as we motored North around Bali through the Lombok Strait. The current was 4.5 knots against us which kept both engines in full...Barefeet guzzled diesel like a sailor guzzles whisky. Rounding Bali's East coast and the North shore exploded before us...giant mountains jagged and impressive...with steep drops to the ocean. Spectacular! The shore was scattered with small coves filled chock-a-block with spider boats. Our goal in rounding Bali was to hug the shore until we went out to sea...keeping close to land during daylight but heading offshore by nightfall in order to avoid the numerous fishing platforms and fish traps found closer in. Just in time we headed offshore as the sun was setting. Wow - spotted two sea snakes just off from Barefeet...possibly banded sea kraits. The passage was a three-day motor sail with very little excitement. However, Chris had a period of white knuckles at 1am (Oct 3) with a fishing boat...Barefeet nearly became a hood ornament after trying to zig and zag around the meandering path and variable speed of a big fishing boat. Yikes! Oct 4 we made it to the mouth of the Kumai River in Borneo (Kalimantan). Rumors abound about the treacherousness of navigating this river...shallow depths unreadable in the chocolate brown water (actually it's called black water with high acidity, pH 4.0 or less). Fortunately, we had waypoints up the river and they worked flawlessly. We anchored in 30 feet of good holding mud and immediately jumped into the dinghy headed for Harry's Yacht Services (ph 62 8125086105 Harry Roustaman)...to organize a trip into the Tanjung Putting National Park where the orangutans live.
The men of the forest (orangutans)..."orang" means men and "utan" means forest...live only in Borneo and Sumatra. Current estimates place the Borneo population at 5,000. We nailed down a 3-day/2-night adventure through Harry into the jungles of Borneo with s/v Sora (Terry and Karen). It was just the four of us on a klotok (slowboat) complete with cook, guide, captain and helper. The package included all meals and lodging aboard the boat...but we opted for sleeping at the Rimba Eco-Lodge with air con and hot water (and the random scuttling cockroach...check bags before getting back onto Barefeet). Harry thinks of everything and the package also included a boat boy living in Barefeet's cockpit while we were gone to keep an eye on things. We could hardly wait to get going. Erin was so excited she never did get to sleep the night before we left but she was bright eyed and bushy tailed when it came time for our pick-up...too bad we corrected our clocks the wrong way and were waiting for the pick-up for two hours. Ah well, it was worth it.
Oct 5 our lime sherbet painted klotok ambled up the Sungai Sekonyer river...sounding like the African Queen with a fly-wheel engine and no muffler. The jungle is amazing...dense, humid, full of sounds...with all the exotic thoughts conjured by the mere word "Borneo." We lounged on pillows and cushions on the upper deck covered by an awning and caught up with Karen and Terry...last met in Tahiti when we all raced on s/v Miss Jody (another PDQ). Part way along and our klotok's engine quit...phew, at least it wasn't our boat! Guide Herman professionally got a flash speedboat to rendezvous with us. We headed to Camp Leakey in the speedboat and would meet up later with the klotok at the Lodge. This speed boat was a zippy little "sports car." The driver sat Indian style behind the mini-wheel with the other five of us shoehorned into the seating area. The steering is run from steering wheel to engine via pulleys and nylon rope with gas kept in jerry cans in the center of the boat. Periodically, the driver stops to clear grass and debris from the engine's water intake line...with a foot or hand...while the engine is still "on." Erin had to close her eyes for these maneuvers. When the torrential rain began we pulled up the cover and the driver continued on...peering out of a windscreen no bigger than a cereal box. It was a fun adrenaline drive that got us to Camp Leakey right on time for the 2pm orangutan feeding.
Camp Leakey began in 1968 with a single hut and two professors...Dr. Birute Galdikas and Dr. Gary Shapiro...researching the orangutans of which little was known at the time. The Camp has evolved into a permanent outpost of several buildings and now includes the rehabilitation of injured or orphaned orangutans. The 1980 National Geographic cover showing a human and orangutan infant bathing together in a bucket was Dr. Galdikas and Dr. Shapiro's son at Camp Leakey...wow. Orangutan rehabilitation has become more and more necessary as their habitat shrinks at an alarming rate due to illegal logging and jungle burning in order to make room for lucrative palm oil plantations. Saving habitat acreage within the National Park is a tough up hill battle against graft and corruption best explained by photographs of the head of the National Park standing astride a 3-storey high pile of illegally logged trees INSIDE the National Park. We unfolded ourselves from the speedboat and walked across a raised boardwalk path to the living and dining quarters of Camp Leakey and were immediately treated to our first orangutan meetings. Gosh, they move so much like humans and seem almost indifferent to our presence...only every now and then showing mild curiosity in us.
Every day at 2pm is feeding time at the camp. We walked about 20 minutes into the jungle to see orangutans gather for bananas and milk. As we walked so did they...on the trails or swinging overhead. It was pretty surreal. Once at the feeding platform the orangutans gradually arrived...mothers with clinging infants, adolescents and various status males...hierarchy became evident as some orangutans jumped off the platform when others arrived. And, of course, there was the cheeky teenager that buried his face in the bowl of milk then made off with the bowl. Although we were star struck by the orangutans there was also a wild boar snuffling around the ground below the platform...nasty looking tusked creature. Oh, watch out overhead...these guys are food machines like us and when they have to go to the bathroom they simply let it go. Note to self...do NOT stand below an orangutan up a tree. The guides are friendly with the orangutans and there is a sort of camaraderie between them...which leads to certain adult orangutans sidling up to guides looking for more bananas when the supply is finished...or making off with the banana backpack...tee, hee, hee. We sat and watched and took more pictures than we thought possible.
Day 2 (Oct 6) found us back at Camp Leakey for the full day. We toured the Educational Center and saw a PBS documentary about the orangutans of the camp. Our brains had settled down and we were more relaxed watching the orangutans...even learning their names and matching stories from the documentary with the actual orangutan. Tom (25 yrs) is the current king and stunning with his testosterone induced cheek pads and throat pouch. Kusasi (47 yrs old) was orphaned when his mother was killed and he was kidnapped for the pet trade. Amazingly, he escaped, returned to the jungle and eventually became king for a staggering 11 years...ruling with compassion and caring for his mates and offspring through sheer fear and intimidation toward male contenders. Princess (26 years old) grew up around Kusasi and a gentle bond continues between them. Princess is unusually intelligent...learning to communicate via sign language and copying human behavior...even unhitching a canoe and paddling in the river! Ben (15 years) is an offspring of Kusasi and Princess with a unique intelligence of his own. At one point we watched as he washed his face and hands with soap...unbelievable. We also spent time on the dock just sitting beside Ben and letting him investigate us. Later, Samson (15 years) stole our hearts when he came up beside us on the trail...and walked hand-in-hand with Erin and Herman. The more we saw the longer we wanted to stay. However, it was getting dark and we needed to get back to the Lodge for a quick shower before Herman made us another delicious meal on our klotok. We slept well under the mosquito tent in the room as the jungle sounds carried on throughout the night.
Day 3 (Oct 7) we visited a different feeding station and saw a contender male. He was impressive. The guides were quite wary of him and we took our cues from them and kept our distance. Back to Kumai and we have loads of skeeter bites but they were worth every chomp. Erin seems to have the record with 27 on her back alone. Oct 8 we wandered the one street town of Kumai and arranged with Harry for diesel to be delivered to the boat...does diesel count as a souvenir?! Winds are forecast to be light which should make for a calm 4-5 day passage to Batam Island but we do not want to chance running low on fuel. Indonesia is predominantly Muslim (except for Bali). Therefore, head scarves and mosques have become familiar parts of the landscape. Additionally, we have become pretty accustomed to the mosques wailing via LOUD speaker multiple times per day...and they are almost part of the white noise of the harbor...but not quite.
Oct 10 we pulled up the anchor at 5.30am and headed for Batam Island...our last stop in Indonesia. The river exit was smooth (we had dropped eggs on toast)...until we hit the sea. Yikes! Erin got seasick but kept up with what needed to be done. The Java Sea is pretty shallow (approx 35 feet depth) at this spot which made for a VERY bouncy several hours. We attempted to raise the main sail during the raucous seas but lost the twisted "D" shackle into the sail bag...we hope...rather than overboard. Well, that sail is out of commission until the shackle can be located. Oct 11 saw calmer waters in the South China Sea but the same hot, sultry weather...bikini and swim trunks were the wardrobe of choice. Then just like clockwork life got a bit exciting about 2am with 30 knots of wind and torrential rain IN a shipping channel, of course. Aaagggh. The blinding rain was accompanied by thunder and lightning that came close enough to Barefeet that we put the hand held GPS into the microwave just in case we got a direct hit. Fortunately, that did not happen. S/v Sora was nearby and we have kept in contact boosting each other's spirits as we pass through the temperamental ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone)...read...wacky combination of variable weather; wind, sea state, rain, lightning and thunder. Back went the sails but it seems we have torn the screecher...hhhmmmm...sail number 2 of 4 is out of commission. Ah well, at least we have plenty of diesel. Oct 13 at 9am we crossed the equator and were back into the Northern hemisphere. Very exciting stuff and we celebrated with a bottle of Aussie bubbly from Dane and Reegan...thanks guys. First swig to Neptune then a toast for us. Motoring against current has again become the name of the game. Looks like our last push to Batam would be in the dark so we made a quick sleep stop at Mesanak Island. Karen and Terry came aboard for chicken Tikka Masala and a mini-equator party...but not too late since we left at 5.30 am the next day (Oct 14). The last 50 miles to Batam was a bit time warpy as we passed Indonesian fisherman with hand lines and rudimentary wooden boats but just in the distance saw numerous super tankers passing through the Singapore Strait. Yikes...what a game of frogger we will play making that crossing tomorrow. But tonight it is dinner with Karen and Terry in the restaurant at Nongsa Point Marina (www.nongsamarina.com). A recently renovated and beautifully shiny marina...ahhh...what a sleep we will have.
Oct 15 we were officially checked out of Indonesia. We sailed the waters for approx 1.5 months but barely scratched the surface of the more than 13,000 islands in the world's largest archipelago. Next stop is Singapore...but first we have to cross the Singapore Strait...one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. The ocean activity reminded us of Panama but even that seemed to pale in comparison...supertankers passing East and West, supertankers anchored, pilots arriving and departing, tug-and-tow barges, hydrofoil ferries...you name it and it is on the water here. At one point we even counted five enormous LNG tankers! Yikes. The six hour run was not bad but it was tiring...constantly looking to see who was on the move and how quickly. Safely through the multiple shipping lanes with traffic schemes and we were tied up at Raffles Marina (www.rafflesmarina.com.sg) awaiting immigration to be officially checked into this new country. Our boat stamp got its first use...very official as multiple papers were stamped "Barefeet." Singapore courtesy flag has been raised and passports have been stamped. We are now free to explore the 21st century and shopping mecca of Singapore.