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Published: October 17th 2009
Borneo has proven to be just as exotic as it sounds. We have spent the last week seeing floating markets, diamond and gold mines, and a jungle full of orangutans, proboscis monkeys and gibbons. It has been a wild ride.
We started in Banjarmasin, a city that relies heavily on the river system for all aspects of life. I was laying low trying to recover from some stomach problems when the Sams found a guide, Tyla waiting for them at our hotel. "I have been waiting long time for you here" ..."Oh...um. Sorry?" Apparently Tyla had heard tourists had arrived and was waiting to see if he could take us around the city. We recognized his name and told him he was mentioned in Lonely Planet as the best guide in the city. He laughed and appeared surprised and then said, "Oh yes, I am the king here. Everyone know Tyla." LP was right again and Tyla took us on a great tour of the canals, floating market and nearby mines. Life in Banjarmasin used to take place soley on the river so the houses are all precariously sitting on low stilts above the water. We felt like we were
in a parade as we floated down the river with every single person we passed yelling and waving at us "Hello Mister!" The river is extremely dirty and lined with latrines that open up directly into the river. We watched people bathing in the river sitting next to their own toilet. Worse than that we saw many people brushing their teeth on the toilet platforms with the river water. Tyla looked at us and reassured us that the people dont drink the river water; they only brush their teeth, bathe and play in their toilet. Later that day we went out to a diamond and gold mine to see some action, however we were surprised to see a much simpler manpower driven operation than we were expecting. Two of the men standing waist deep in a pool of muddy water let us try our luck panning for diamons and gold. Sam was convinced he had found hundreds of diamonds but the miners just brushed the sand out of his pan and laughed.
We took a very bumpy flight to Pangkalam Bun on yet another Indonesian airline and began a 3 day trip up the river into the Jungle. Sorry
dad, the real thing beats the Jungle Cruise...but I was on the lookout the whole time for hippos wiggling their ears. We took a hike around the first ranger station and our guide Yono proved to know less English than we thought as we passed a bridge with a large sign reading "Employees Only: Quarantine Area." We walked deeper into the do not enter area and finally asked Yono "Should we head back for the feeding soon?" Yono: "Oh yes feeding." we keep walking. "Yono, should we go see the feeding?" Yono: "no the feeding is that way" pointing behind us. Frustrated we broke it down "Yono? Now? feeding? Yes? feeding?" Yono: "Oh yes feeding soon. We go." We arrived a few minutes late for the feeding but we still saw close to ten timid orangutans up close before it started raining and we had to retreat to the boat. Floating down river we saw hundreds of proboscis monkeys right on the waters edge. The males have giant floppy noses looked like people in monkey suits.
The first night Yono showed us glow in the dark mushrooms. The boys wanted to venture deeper into the jungle to see more
so we set off on the plank walk into the pitch black night. I was pretty sure we were going to be eaten by some night creature or even just swallowed up by the jungle somehow but luckily we made it back to the boat where I promptly took several peptos to try to calm my wimpy stomach. The second day we arrived at Camp Leaky Research Station to find an Orangutan waiting for us on the dock. She was friendly and even grabbed Robs hand (An Australian guy we met who joined our 3 day trip). On a hike through the jungle we ran into another friendly Orangutan Suswi who sat next to Sam and seemed to pose for our pictures. She grabbed Sams hand with one foot and appeared to lean across him to give him a hug but trickster that she was she quickly grabbed his rain jacket from his hand and ran off. Our guide tried very unsuccesfully to coax the jacket away from her but this only succeeded in pushing her high up into a tree where she sat taunting us with the jacket. Meanwhile 2 gibbons had come to watch. We were torn between
watching Suswi attempt to put on the jacket and the gibbons swinging from trees. Stimulation Overload! Our guide ran back to get bananas to try to make a trade but suswi was having none of it. With one arm in the jacket she began to make a nest. "oh no...she is nesting...she will now sleep on your jacket...sorry Sam" As we watched Suswi use the jacket as the finishing touch on the nest and curl up, we decided to finish our hike and come back in an hour to see if she would leave it. Somehow luck was on our side and when we returned the jacket was up in the tree with Suswi nowhere to be seen. Sam climbed up the tree like a true monkey man and rescued his jacket. Sucess!
This feeding station had many more Orangutans and a few babies. The babies treat their moms like jungle gyms climbing all over then and hanging off their arms - cutest things ever. As we are all watching them drink milk and play with eachother trees begin to crash and move to our left and the guides all jump up yelling, "Tom! Tom!" The guides scattered to
reveal a HUGE orangutan. He lumbered over to the platform and took charge. The king of the jungle had entered the scene. He allowed one female and baby to continue eating, but the rest of the orangutans scattered into the trees waiting for the king to leave. Tom climbed up a tree directly in front of us and began swinging it back and forth so that it would bend over and he could reach the next tree. This usually works well, but Tom is huge, so as we all looked up in astonishment we heard a huge crack. It was like slow motion everyone ran back as a tree with a king male orangutan came crashing down where we had all been standing. Luckily only one man was hit by a branch and no one was seriously hurt. Tom was shaken and climbed up another tree moaning. Orangutans are awesome. I could watch them all day long. That night we had the craziest thunder and lightning storm I have ever been in. The thunder woke us up and shook the whole boat while the lightning briefly lit up the jungle around us.
On our way back to Pangkalan Bun
we were lamenting that the only thing we didn see was a crocodile. Oh well watching an orangutan steal Sams jacket pretty much made up for that loss. A few minutes later Samf and I thought we saw one. The guide didn believe us, but at that point we didn really believe him so they turned the boat around. As we were making our way back to the croc Samf and I began to second guess ourselves...maybe it was a croc shaped log, I have seen at least 2 of those. But as we got closer we saw the head again and it ducked quickly underwater making a fish jump straight out of the water and out of its way. Hurray we saw everything we wanted to see in the jungle! After sunset on the river just below town the driver pointed out hoards of fireflies. They stay mostly in the branches of the low palms and the trees look like tropical christmas trees all lit up with fireflies. pretty cool end to the trip.
We had a celebratory last dinner with SamF. It was sans alcohol though because this part of Kalimantan is dry. We couldnt clink a
beer for the farewell, but it was a good send off dinner none the less. Now Sam and I are getting ready to leave Indonesia and head to the Malaysian side of Borneo for a week before continuing on to mainland Southeast Asia. It is sad to say farewell to Indonesia after 2 months. We are excited for the next adventure, but we have had some really good times in this huge and diverse country. Selamat Tinggal Indonesia!
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