Monkeying about in Borneo

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October 18th 2014
Published: October 19th 2014
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river tour, drive to Sampit, and sail to Belitong

Saturday 11th - we got picked up by a little speedboat and taken to the dock of the Park Tourist office and dropped straight onto our new boat for the next 2 days. It was narrow & wooden with 2 floors, the upper for us with a bed already laid out and a small table to the rear with a few chairs. Beneath was where the driver and assistant engineer (boatboy) and the cook hung out to do their work. While Mr Yono went to get our park permits we walked down the street of uninspiring Kumai to get some money from the ATM. It was a typical dusty road with hazardous paving and lined with small shops. What was different were large featureless block buildings- like apartment buildings where they forgot to put the windows in apart from a couple of small ones right at the top- apparently they play birdsong through speakers to attract swallows and capture them to be used to make cosmetics for the chinese.

We returned to our tour boat and met Imah our guide and the cook who’s name sounded something like a polite lady’s sneeze. Soon we were off down the river and then down the tributary that takes you into the park, drinking coffee & tea regally from the top deck, enjoying the breeze, and getting that relaxed holiday feeling - this was greatly helped by the fact that our guide spent much of the trip entertaining Alex. The river snaked around many bends and gradually narrowed until it was barely wide enough for 2 boats to pass. After a few hours the vegetation was floating all across the small river, sometimes forming little palm tree islands and the driver had to thread his way through the narrow gaps often scraping up against branches.

I had spotted a proboscis monkey swinging in the trees and soon after we came across one perched on a branch right on the river edge, munching away on some grass root, literally only 1-2 metres from our bow.

After 3-4 hours we came across many of our rally friends at Camp 3, although it is actually the original camp Leakey opened in the 70’s - apparently the longest running base for studying animals in the World. We hopped off the boat, along the jetty and followed the path into the forest to the feeding station and with about 20-30 other people waited for the OrangUtans to arrive. Eventually they did, some with babies, clinging to their mother apes as they swung down from the trees, to grab the food that was waiting for them on a platform. There was a choice of bananas and tubs of milk - some would scoff these at the platform, quickly peeling the bananas with their big lips, and some would grab a handful or mouthful and retreat up a tree - further from the 50 human eyes staring at them.

After an hour or so the number of orang-utans petered out and the human apes followed suit, and we strolled back to our boat, spotting another in the trees near the jetty.

We motored down stream a little, tied up to the trees lining the riverbank and stopped for the night.

Another filling tasty meal of rice, noodles, tofu & chicken was served by candlelight (this was because Naomi tried to get rid of the flying insects around the LED lighting with mossie repellent and it didn’t seem to suit the electrics as they started flickering). The meal would have been more enjoyable if half the
family picturefamily picturefamily picture

note Alex's hair - made by our guide
jungle’s insects weren’t trying to get stuck on our plates - we finished up and retreated under our mossie net for an early night with wriggling Alex between us.

The next day was much the same - we returned further downstream to camps 2 & 1, and waited dutifully at the feeding times to see more orang-utan appearances. The first was a little disappointing as there was a huge crowd as a small cruise ship was visiting that day and many of their 100 guests were there and not many apes showed up. We bumped into our cruising friends throughout the day. We stopped at a village for a little look around - it appeared a bit strange to me at there was a paved road with ornate street lighting, yet amongst this the usual humble wooden shacks that were peoples homes. We had another filling lunch and returned to Kumai eating a large plate of banana fritters, where we got dropped off at our boat where Mr Yono was guarding it. The 2 days cost $440 for the boat, 4 crew, all food, park entrances and a guard for the boat.

Monday was the day to go to the immigration office in Sanpit - or Armpit as it became affectionally known. This is about 200km away and Sam (our indonesian rally liaison) had booked the taxi at 7am with Jiri and Harry (a well known personality in Kumai for organising boat trips) who both drove like madmen. I slept half the way there but Naomi couldn’t as she she was in constant fear of a collision.

We arrived in Sanpit 4 hours later, an ugly dusty town, and to the immigration office. Things were all set up for us apparently so it should go smoothly. In all the discussions of the appointment no one mentioned that formal dress was expected and they refused to deal with me as I was wearing thongs and shorts! So we drove to some local shops to buy some second hand trousers - only some baggy nylon jogger bottoms were big enough for me, and at the shoe shop not one fit me so I settled on a pair of black & white leather crimp edged loafers which my heels hung over by about an inch.

Now feeling like I was dressed like an impoverished pimp I returned to the office to find the power was off which they needed for processing. We went for a drive around and then lunch. The power was still off on our return and there was no paper in the toilet - and I had to dress up for this dump!

We waited and waited, getting stressed that we might have to return tomorrow while the many staff sat around joking and smoking in the corridor next to the waiting room. The power returned just after 3pm and as instructed I went to the boss’s office only to be told to wait further.

About half an hour passed when Alex was called in finally to take his photo and electronic fingerprint… but there was a problem so we had to repeat it 15 minutes later after I got to do mine. The boss appeared to say that there was problems sending the information to the Jakarta office and as they closed soon we would have to return tomorrow. WTF! So we would either have to take a hotel in Armpit (with or without our 2 racing car drivers?) or have another day with over 8 hours driving.

I pleaded that it was difficult to do this with Alex and he said he told Sam we should come early in case of power problems like this, not at noon. I told him that it was actually Sam that had booked the taxi but to keep the peace didn’t mention we were actually there at 11am but had to go shopping because he wanted to enforce some fashion rule.

Fortunately I found out the passports only needed to be collected and we didn’t have to do this in person. Still it was very annoying, the extra expense of a courier and wasting another day in Kumai when time is so precious, and maybe all for the sake of a pair of shorts and thongs. Oh and I forgot to mention they are hitting us up for about $500 in late fees, and still why it got stuffed up in Bali is a mystery.

We got back to Kumai after 9 pm and had to get Harry to visit some houses to find someone to take us back to our boat.

The next day Harry organised a guy on a motorbike to collect the passports which should be ready by noon so we went to the market and got some supplies. I later got a text saying the rider should be back in Kumai between 4-5 pm so my plan of moving to the river mouth that day was looking less and less likely. More endless waiting ensued, with the rider finally appearing at 8:30 pm. I took the dinghy to the dock and met him in the dark street where he passed me the 2 passports in a plastic bag and I handed him half a million rupia - it felt very cloak & dagger but finally we had them! We were free to continue our travels but we only have about 2 weeks to get to the Singapore Straits 600 miles away.

We left at about 6 am the next morning, motoring down river through the smokey haze, avoiding fishing nets strung across our path. A bit of breeze picked up at around 10am and by noon we had turned west to follow the invisible Borneo coast. We sailed for just over 2 days and 2 nights in mostly light winds rarely more than 15 knots. The second day we were met by a faint blueness to the sky through the previously perpetual grey overcast haze. The light winds meant we motored a lot but the seas were not rough so Naomi made some gormet pizza, we managed to fill the water tanks up (first time since Darwin) and we had showers. As we left Borneo we dodged ships all day and night - in fact one came scarily close to us as it turned to go in front, I had to slow down and turn away by 80 degrees before it started to get further away.

During my watch I had noticed a bad smell coming from either the engine bay or the back of the boat, a bit like burning rubber. The last time I smelt this was just before a fan belt snapped but the engine appeared OK except the engine bay fan was making a rattling noise. I switched it off and on and it stopped the noise. When Naomi came onto her shift at 1am the smell had worsened and she tracked it down to the batteries in the aft cabin being cooked- and we then noticed the alternator regulator didn’t seem to be regulating so I disconnected it and the smell had gone by the time I woke up.

Our plan was to get to NW Belitung Island but as we passed by a good anchorage late morning on the 3rd day Naomi convinced me to turn in so we could rest and check the batteries.

I stood on the boom to direct us through the reef and dropped anchor in 20m off Pulau Nangka - a beautiful little tree covered island with a palm fringed beach. We went for a little swim and met a friendly couple staying in the building there who I think are acting as caretakers.

After a good nights rest we raced on the next day once I heard on the radio net that there was a farewell meal happening at the Belitong rally stop 55 miles west, though it sounded like most were skipping it. We motorsailed most of the day to keep up speed until the afternoon when the wind picked up to a nice 20 knots. As we steered into the bay storm clouds lay ahead and there was a sudden coolness in the air and the wind almost made a complete 180 degree turn. We motored into the chop and lay anchor next to the British group of boats that we know.

We all met ashore for a few Bintangs at a beachside cafe before heading to the ‘bighouse’ where we sat in rows and enjoyed a few speeches, some music, some dancing, some food and topped off with all the sailors singing Rod Stewarts “Sailing” to the local crowd.

We are going to spend a few days here as we will check out of the country. Normally this means you have to proceed straight to the next country but apparently its common practice here to just continue cruising as long as you don’t stop anywhere large enough that someone is officious enough to ask to see your papers. This means we will skip the rally check out spot, so do not have to rush to that, and gives us more time to make our way towards Singapore.



19th October 2014

Adventures of a lifetime
I'm always eager to read your blog when I see it in my mailbox. An amazing adventure you are on. The world has so much to offer and you are seeing some amazing things. Keep these blogs coming
21st October 2014

thanks for your compliments, it will inspire me on those days I cannot be bothered with it
21st October 2014

thanks for your compliments, it will inspire me on those days I cannot be bothered with it
19th October 2014
Proboscus monkey

Proboscus monkey
Excellent photos
19th October 2014

family photo
luke is that your second son hanging in the tree???, he looks just like you ............sorry .......Ginny ........xxxxxx
21st October 2014

cheeky monkey
thanks Virginia, hope you are recuperating well and with your new shoulder maybe you'll be swinging from trees soon! Luke Naomi & Alex
21st October 2014

Rogue barges and outrageous fees for "service" sounds like a good time for departure. Great reading though.

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