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Published: August 2nd 2014
We arrived in Pangkalan Bun on an hour and a half flight from Jakarta. Pangkalan Bun is in Kalimantan which is the Indonesian side of the island of Borneo. The main tourist attraction here is the Tanjung Puting National Park. We have arranged for a three day, two night trip up the river into the park on a klotok (houseboat).
The owner of the tour company we booked our trip through met us at the airport and drove us into town. He recommended a cheap hotel to spend the night while we await our trip to start early the next day. The place was a bit of a dive but it worked for one night.
The next day we were met by our tour guide and we loaded up for the 20 mins drive out to Kumai where the boats leave from. At the harbour we met our two boat captains and our cook and loaded onto the boat. The boat itself was really cool. It was a long wooden river boat with sleeping/cooking quarters below and an open upper deck where we would hang out and eat our meals and sleep at night. There was also a bathroom
Alex & our guide
At the first feeding station.
with a flush toilet at the back. The captains were very young but seemed to know what they were doing and the cook was an awesome lady who cooked us way too much delicious fresh food.
We headed out to the Kumai harbour and started winding our way up the river into the park. We were served lunch up on the deck while we headed to the first orangutan feeding station. The highlight of this park is the opportunity to see orangutans which are only found in the wild in Borneo and on the island of Sumatra. There is a rehabilitation program here where they reintegrate ex-captive orangutans back into the wild. Part of the program includes daily feedings where they feed bananas once a day at set intervals across the three camps in the park. These feedings are the public's best opportunity to see these beautiful animals. Our guide turned out to be wicked as he would know the direction where the orangutans would come out of the forest to the station and we would just leave a half hour early and bushwhack into the jungle to hopefully catch a glimpse. Our first trek into the jungle was
Our behind the scenes tour at the first ranger camp.
exciting. It was hot and sticky but exhilarating as we were trying to follow our guide as he was following his jungle instincts. He was grunting and looking into the trees and before we knew it there was a beautiful orangutan swinging in the trees overhead. Our guide took out a banana to get her attention and to our disbelief she reluctantly came down from the tree tops to check out the situation. Jay was holding up the bananas now and the orangutan came down and stretched to grab a few. As quickly as it happened she was back up in the trees heading for the feeding station and we were left with this unbelievable experience. For that one moment when she came down from the trees we completely forgot about the steamy humidity and ants on our feet. It was intense and probably one of the best experiences we've ever had while traveling.
We continued onto the feeding station and watched as several orangutans came by for the daily feed including mothers with their clinging babies and one of the biggest males in the area. I find the orangutan rehab program really interesting. They started rehabilitating ex-captive orangutans
in 1971. They reintegrate them into the wild and the only support they provide once they are healthy is the once daily feedings. There are times of the year when the wild fruits are ripe that they don't even see any orangutans at the feeding station as they seem to be able to live pretty well in the wild. They do have to keep feeding though as the population has rebounded to the point where they've reached maximum capacity in the park. There are also wild orangutans in the park that do not approach humans at all and just do their own thing.
We loaded back onto the boat and started up the river again. This is where the wildlife viewing really kicked into high gear. From our boat deck we saw proboscis monkeys (only found on Borneo), macaque monkeys, crocodiles and several wild birds. We overnighted at a ranger station where our guide took us on a night walk through the jungle. We spotted tarantulas and scorpions as well as the biggest ants we've ever seen. The sounds of the Borneo jungle at night time are impossible to describe but we made it back to the boat safe
and sound. We came back to a fantastic dinner prepared by our cook which we ate under the stars while listening to the forest. It was absolutely surreal. We hit the sack early as we were planning on getting up for the sunrise in the morning. They laid out our mattresses on the top deck and hung the mosquito net and we dozed off to the symphony of jungle sounds.
The next morning we were up at 4:50am to catch the sunrise. Our guide slept in but luckily he showed us the way to the view tower the night before so we set off alone. We climbed the tower just as the sun was coming into the steamy haze. It was neat to hear the jungle sounds change as the birds and monkeys started to wake up and add their calls to the mix. We even heard an orangutan call out in the distance. They nest up in the trees every night. We came back to the boat to a nice breakfast and then set out for the second feeding station. This time we skirted around in the woods again but struck out so we gave up and went
At the first feeding station.
to the station. They were late this morning but eventually they showed up for some breakfast. A huge male lumbered up as well as a number of other orangutans. It's really cool to watch these guys swing through the trees. They are so flexible and agile even at a young age. The babies generally cling to their moms while they are traveling through the forest but they get a chance to practice while they are just hanging out. We went back to the boat and then up the river again for Camp Leakey which is the original and main camp in the park.
The orangutans at Camp Leakey are more tame and more numerous. On the boardwalk up to the camp we spotted a mom and baby and headed for them. Our guide noticed that the mom was acting weird and he had a feeling that another orangutan was nearby. We turned the corner and saw Mario an 8 year old male. He came right up to us and we able to feed him bananas and rambutan fruit. While he ate he let us feel his fur and touch his hands. It was pretty cool although apparently against the
park rules! Feeding time was coming up so we made off into the jungle again and came across a few other orangutans. There was a mom and her young year old baby. The baby was very cute although the mother was not a fan of his curiosity. He was swinging our way and let out a bit of a cry when he couldn't reach a branch. As soon as mom heard that she ran up and grabbed him and took him away while grunting and smacking her lips in disapproval at our presence. The feeding was awesome as tons of orangutans came by for a bite to eat. A gibbon and a wild boar also showed up to add to the 'movie' as our guide called it. The rain started to come down and the orangutans started to head back into the trees. This was a bit of a sad moment for us as we realized that this would likely be the last time we ever see orangutans in their natural habitat again.
Back on the boat we turned around to go back down river towards Kumai. We spotted wild orangutans on the way back which was a nice
surprise. Mom was in a nest at the top of a tree at dusk while her baby played around in the nearby branches. We cruised in the dark past trees covered in hundreds of fireflies and eventually parked for the night right underneath a firefly tree. We ate one last huge meal by candle light and watched the fireflies while we fell asleep.
The next morning we got an early start and came back into port by 8am. It is festival time here as the Ramadan fast broke the previous day and now everybody celebrates and feasts with family for three days in what's called Idul Fitri. It is one of the biggest Muslim festivals of the year and everything shuts down as people go home to their families. It is very cool to see everybody in a good mood and dressed in their finest - men in white gowns and white caps and women in beautiful dresses. The down side for us of course is that travel is almost impossible during this time. As a result we are stuck in Pangkalan Bun for two extra days. We're in a nice hotel passing our time with a TV with
cheesy American movies as there is literally nothing to see here in the city. Food has been hard to come by thanks to the holidays - last night we ate peanuts and a plate of brownies we found at a cake bakery that just happened to be open. Tonight we will head out to see if we have any better luck but I am preparing for a similar meal. The hotel is abandoned but they still provided a full hot continental breakfast for us which is kind of ridiculous as there is literally nobody else here.
Our last day we woke up to a nice hotel breakfast then lounged around until our taxi to the airport at noon. Things were going well until we arrived and heard rumours about our plane being delayed. Luckily we ran into Wati and Harry who run the tour company that we booked our boat trip with and they asked the right people and made some calls to find out that our plane was going to be 6 hours late! This means we miss the connection to Lombok and will be stuck in Surabaya for the night. Nobody at the airport knew what the
hell was going on and we knew even less because of the lack of english. This is travel in Asia for you as we recalled from some of our most confused times in India. To make matters worse there was no food at this tiny airport because it had apparently gone bad or something. Wati came to the rescue though and offered to go buy us lunch and come back to our blanket laid out in the airport parking lot. Barbecued prawns and fish on rice with vegetables and chili sauce. It really saved the day and we could not thank Wati enough. She would not take any money from us and she just genuinely wanted to make sure that we were alright. Even late at night after she had picked up her new clients and set them on their orangutan adventure she didn't want to leave us at the airport. We had to plead with her to go home. We could not recommend Wati and Harry enough they are legitimate solid people.
Finally at 8:45pm we were on our way. The airline gave us about 60% of our fare back and when we got to Surabaya the other
airline booked us another flight for early the next day at a ridiculous discount so in the end we were not out of pocket any money which totally surprised us considering again that this is travel in Asia. We lucked out that the Surabaya airport had a great cheap hotel that had rooms like space pods so we had a great sleep before our 7:00am flight to Lombok. It turned out to be a bit of an ordeal to get out of Kalimantan with the Idul Fitri holiday but we are finally on our way to the beach.
PS- We strongly feel that we had the most knowledgeable and most badass guide on the orangutan trip and we would really like to recommend him. The caveat being that some of his tricks that make him an awesome guide are also against the park rules - no feeding, no touching, no getting too close, yada yada. If you would like a recommendation please private message us and we will be happy to oblige! We don't want to get anybody in trouble by posting their names on the internet.
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