Planes, taxis, ojeks and keteks, Part II

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September 22nd 2013
Published: September 24th 2013
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The next morning we were whisked away by speed boat back to the city of Palembang. We resupplied and had dinner again with Mr. Arifin, our main contact. After our 1st dinner, Mr. Arifin had insisted on taking me out to try my 1st durian. Many, including myself previously, find the smell quite revolting. Wikipedia sums up many peoples senses with the descriptors, "rotten onions, turpentine and raw sewage." I was holding my breath as we pulled up to a durian stand fittingly next to an open sewer. The 1st piece I cautiously put in my mouth was indeed bitter. My only thought was to maintain dignity and not provide a retching spectacle. They opened another and offered it to me. I was more than skeptical now, but courtesy outweighed common sense and I went for it...surprisingly sweet! Now I was quite curious and proceeded to eat 6 pieces, quite a hall for a first timer I was later told. So on this 2nd outing in Palembang we went to a sit down durian eatery, basically a covered area with low tables and buckets to toss your seeds. At this point I was out eating half the Indonesians at the table.
Kargo the LegendKargo the LegendKargo the Legend

Ketek builder and crocodile hunter!
Hero status.

The next day we departed for camp Kuala Lumpur, which was 2 hours by SUV and another 2 hours by boat. The birding along the way was excellent, and we saw our 1st black bittern. Upon alighting at the camps dock the 1st thing you see is their futsal field. Oh a sight for sore eyes, after an hour of logistics meetings, I joined the staff for their daily game grabbing a couple of assists and a cracking goal I might add! The next day we floated the Ketupak River by ketek (traditional boat). Most memorable was our midday break at Kargo's house. Yeah by the way in rural Indonesia you can just roll up to peoples huts or houses and have a chat or just sleep in their home or the shade, even if they are not there! I duly warned Satriya of how this would go over in rural America and many other parts of the world. Kargo, our host, was the 3rd generation of his family to live along this stretch of the river. His father had taught him everything he knew including how to hunt crocodiles and how to build keteks! He had
What a LifeWhat a LifeWhat a Life

Photo credits to Agung Satriya Wibowo.
just finished one which he would profit 300 USD from, and it only took him 2 weeks! Kargo was in his mid 60's, but had the laughter of a child as he sat with his knees pressed up against his chest. He'd also lost all but one of his domestic ducks to crocodiles, karma maybe?

Our last day in this area was spent exploring further afield with nearly 12 hours spent in the ketek. While holed up during a morning storm, I saw one of the more unfortunate sights you can along these rivers. The sweet family that had merrily welcomed the 1st American to ever visit their home, were also keeping 2 vulnerable species in a completely inadequate cage outside their home. The lesser adjutant is large stork that can stand at nearly 4 feet tall. Now I was looking at 2 crammed into a cage that barely reached 2 feet in height. They were feeding them fish, their preferred diet until they were deemed big enough to eat. It appears not to be terribly uncommon as we experienced this again in the final area we surveyed.

In this area we were put up by locals in the village of Sungai Menang. Satriya was soon conducting another informal interview. He was also translating to me what 2 of the locals were telling him about the local bird life. One was a hunter and hunters are often a great source of information about all sorts of wildlife, not just what they hunt. Comically though our host, who was sitting on the other side of Satriya, would give the price per kilo for every bird or mammal the hunter mentioned!

Ever since we had arrived in Sungai Menang every one had been incredibly interested in the foreigner. It turned out that I was the 1st American and I believe the 1st westerner to ever visit their village! This had only knowingly happened to me one other time in rural Turkey. I am pretty sure I ended having my photo taken with half of the village here. People would stop by in the middle of the day dressed up for a picture, and there I was in drenched in sweat, wearing my work clothes! People would also bring their babies to pose with me as well, celebrity status. I was over it by the 2nd day, thank goodness for the general anonymity of my existence.

We were served very traditional and very fresh food by our hosts. Satriya told me that this sort of meal is hard to come by these days and people pay big money for it in the cities of Indonesia. It was always a fantastic spread with baby eggplants, steamed sword beans, cashew leaves, multiple fish dishes and a curry or two. Before we ate our 1st dinner everyone kept telling me to have a shower 1st. It had been a long drive (6 hours) along some the worst roads I've been bounced around in a long time. I soon realized though that I was going to have to overcome another fear of mine (durian was the 1st). The villagers all along these rivers have clever little outhouses that barely shield you from the glare of the public and deposit your refuse right back into the river. I'd seen and used a few at this point. What I could never get over though was that they also washed their clothes, dirty dishes and themselves right by these toilets! Well I was going to have to get it over it real quick. I swallowed all
White-headed stiltWhite-headed stiltWhite-headed stilt

Photo credits to Agung Satriya Wibowo.
my western sensibilities for this one and lowered myself down the ladder into the water. There was also a bucket, but I had a hard time putting much water on my head! Conquered, I could almost enjoy the shower by the 2nd evening, mainly because the back of their house was surrounded by huge trees and stars twinkled in the water.

Our surveys over the last 2 days there were done by motorbike and speed boat. We managed to add 7 new species to our total the 1st morning which was now over 100. We also saw a really beautiful, white species of leaf monkey that the locals called Simpai. That afternoon one of the motorcycles got a flat tire. The area was not thought to be completely secure, so Satriya and I had to stay off the main road and bird while our guides went to fix the bike. It unfortunately made for a slow afternoon bird wise. After our last day in the field we gleaned some more fascinating information from our host. We had been told that the people in this area made their own guns which we had already seen, and that they were masters of a certain poison. The poison it turns out is a mixture of a certain species of mangrove tree and a specific part of an elephant's brain! Some potions are said to be potent enough to kill someone in 5 minutes.

We counted ourselves lucky on all accounts as we bounced our way back to Palembang the next morning. That was a wrap for our high conservation value assessment. It was a very productive, exciting, if not slightly exhausting 17 days. I'd like to thank every one who helped along the way, especially the staff at Ekologika and UMF, all of our drivers, guides, cooks and finally a big shout out to my field partner Satriya for sharing all his knowledge and being a great companion.

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 27


Fishing by the PottyFishing by the Potty
Fishing by the Potty

Photo credits to Agung Satriya Wibowo.
Indonesian House BoatIndonesian House Boat
Indonesian House Boat

Used by timber company employees when working far away from camp.

25th September 2013

Love the blog. Makes me feel like I was there.

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