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    ORANGUTANS OF BORNEO -  INDONESIA SAILING  

October 19 Sekonyer Riverboat Trip

At 8 am we boarded our boat for our two day "African Queen" style expedition up the Sekonyer River into the jungle to see the orangutans. A boat guard was assigned to each boat. Our boat boy stayed in our cockpit 24 hours a day. We left him snacks and a pillow and instructions to start the engine for an hours a day and polish to clean the boat (for an extra 60,000 rupiah). We waved goodbye to Ascension watching our guard already at work scrubbing the cockpit in the smoky air.

Six of us shared a klotok (Indonesia river boat named after its sound).
  The 2 meter wide wooden 2 cylinder driven boat was to be our home for the next 2 days. In the cramped quarters we became fast & close friends!

The lower reaches of the Blackwater River were brown and muddy its water a high acid content.

 

Speedboats zoomed past us carrying cargoes and miners for the silicon mines up river. As the river narrowed, the Nipah palms gave way to rain forest. We started to see macaque monkeys (grey small ones with tails), frolicking in the treetops.


Our guide, outfitted with his face mask to combat the smoke, briefed us on some facts about the Orangutan and their habitat.

Proboscis Monkeys

Then we started to see the most famous creature, the Proboscis Monkeys (large and red  with big Jimmy Durante noses). Found only in Borneo, the male of this species has a large pendulous nose, fat belly, thick white tail and webbed feet. There were also some interesting birds, including heron, brilliant orange & blue kingfishers and hornbills. Eventually we turned into a small branch where the tannin colored water would take us to Camp Leaky.

While we lounged on mattresses under awnings on the roof of our narrow craft, our crew manoeuvred the boat up the river and our cook labored on a two ring kerosene stove on his knees in the galley/engine room below to produce an endless stream of gourmet breakfast lunch and dinner.

The driver sat at the bow cramped into a tiny wheel house that afforded limited visibility out a restrictive window.

The shower and toilet were located in a "look over" cubicle on a slatted platform at the back of the boat. It was referred to as a western style toilet but you had to flush by pouring bucket loads of river water down the toilet. the bucket usually came complete with fish and often one would be flopping around the floor under your feet as you were trying to do your business! While having a shower (using the brown river water) you could chat away with everyone else on the boat.

Tanjung Puting National Park

Our first stop was the Ranger station to check into Tanjung Puting National Park, a conservation area that covers 415 ha. and preserves the endangered species of Orangutans. We climbed off our boat and ventured to the Visitors Centre where we learned that the wild and natural Park is home to 38 kinds of mammals including 9 primates which include Orangutan, Proboscis monkey, Long tail Macaque, Pig tail Macaque, and Gibbon.

River Barricade

Back on the boat we continued down the waterway, the river getting narrower and narrower until it was barely the width of the boat.

Many trees have stilt roots or aerial roots as adaptations to frequent flooding.

Being that it was approaching the wet season, we soon encountered  an entire "island" that had broken loose from the bank and rooted itself in the middle of the river, blocking our way. We tried unsuccessfully and repeatedly to plow through the debris, transferring a lot of paint from the hull of the boat onto the thick roots and branches protruding from the dense mass of growth barring our route.

Crocodiles emerged around us curious as to the going-ons. Most were only small but they had sharp teeth just the same!

After much manoeuvring and determination, we were able to break through the barrier and continue down the river. We reached Camp Leaky at mid morning.

Camp Leaky

Camp Leaky was established in 1971 to study wild orangutans in the forest of southeast Asia and has become the largest continuous study of any animal in the history of science; over 100,000 hours has been dedicated to studying the reintroduction of orangutans into the jungle. Many were rescued from their illegal captivity,  babies taken from their mothers and sold as pets or ending up as a side show attraction others whose habitat was destroyed to plant Palm Oil plantations and by logging. Thousands of acres of rainforest in Kalimantan are destroyed each years so more plantations can be established to meet the world appetite for the oil used in household products and cosmetics.

At the feeding station we departed the boat and walked through the rain forest until we reached the main camp. We immediately saw one of the resident Orangutan boldly entering the camp kitchen in search of bananas. He was followed by a tirade of macaque monkeys, also in search of breakfast.

Several other Orangutans appeared, all fairly tame having been captives or orphans that were raised at the camp.

We watched their antics with amusement, while the wild boar hung back, waiting for leftovers.

 

 

The only members of the great ape family outside of Africa, it is estimated that only 10,000 to 20,000 remain today, their numbers diminishing due to the loss of their natural rain forest habitat.

In the trees around the clearing, gibbon monkeys watched and macaques swung from the branches.

Hello! Want to see what I can do? I know lots of  stretches. You try! I can teach you. Like this..... Yes! Do the monkey dance!
We set off down the trail, followed by several monkeys, bound for the platform where bananas and milk were fed to the Orangutans. Many animals were already there awaiting their free meal. The rangers made loud animalistic calls and one by one more apes came. We would see rustling high up in the trees, then the branch would slowly bend, they'd grab onto the next tree, climb down a bit, bend that tree, grab the next, and so on.
Before long Sampson sauntered down the path behind us to join in the feed

Perhaps emerging from the tree nests that they build daily, Orangutans appeared from all around, sliding down the trees and joining the normally solitude apes at the dinner table.

Got Milk?

Obviously, the milk was the favored treat for the animals. One monkey quickly snatched a whole bucket and clambered up a tree, greedily trying to keep from sharing only to spill most of the coveted delicacy!

It was hilarious to watch as they would grab as many bananas from the platform as they could stow in their mouths, hands and feet before climbing a tree to scoff them or drop a couple on the heads of the scavenging wild boars below.

Only found in Sumatra and Borneo, the Orangutan is an endangered species.

The elusive, often comic red creature is the largest primate and the only great ape occurring outside Central Africa.

Lots of mothers with babies from 1 month to 5 years old.

The King of the Forest

We noticed that the orangutans were suddenly dispersing, running off into the bush. Only one young animal remained but held tightly to a hanging branch for a quick get-a-way.

Al of a sudden our guide and the rangers were pushing us back out of the way as we heard a crashing through the bush and a huge 200 kg male appeared. He was definitely king, the huge pouches of his cheeks well developed, his muscular body commanding respect.

The big fellow apparently preferred the milk, although by now there were not too many bananas left. We watched from a distance as he drank and ate his fill, then retreated back to the cover of the rainforest.

Show over. So we hiked back toward the riverboat along the boardwalk.


A Too Close Encounter

Suddenly ahead, coming straight down the narrow boardwalk toward us was a large Orangutan! What do we do?

The Orangutan quickly set sights on Bob's pack and grabbed him by the shorts. Our guide told Bob to be still (not so easy to do with a huge ape attached to your shorts!)

Pleading verbally with the ape was clearly doing no good so our guide threatened her with his flip-flop!

She took exception to the annoyance and set her sights on Annie's pack, an easier target.
"Oh no!!"
cries Annie..."our money, our boat keys, our passports!"

Liam intercepts & our guide arms himself with a stick as the Orangutan rips open & rifles through the pack

After surveying the contents of the pack, she  is drawn to the bottle of very expensive perfume in the pack (as any woman would!). She abandons the rest of the contents to spray herself with the fragrance!

After much negotiation, the Orangutan accepts a drink of water in exchange for Annie's pricey perfume and willingly hands it back!

 

 

 

We continued our trip, turning around to retrace our path down the river. When we reached the blockade, the boat was tied to the riverbank for the night.

 

 

As we were pulling away from the dock, Sampson came to the riverbank as if to say Goodbye to us!

Not the Hilton!

We slept on the top deck under mosquito nets, listening to the jungle sounds. Monkeys come to the river to sleep in the trees at night and the tree just above our boat was full of squabbling Proboscis Monkeys fighting over the "best" branch.

We did not originally understand why the crew all retired before 7 pm that evening so we stayed up partying until much later. But being that it was Ramadan, none of the crew could eat, drink or smoke from 3 am until 5pm so we were all awoken by the activities of their cooking, cleaning and bathing starting at 2:30 am!!
5:30 am came quickly and it was time to dismantle the beds, gulp down some strong Indo coffee and have a breakfast of eggs and toast. Then the noisy 2 cylinder diesel engine was fired up and our first order of business was to once force our way through the island blockade that had barred our way during our trip up the river the day before. The crew had obviously formed a plan this time. With ropes attached to the shore, the island was fastened firmly and slowly dragged into a wider opening in the river. This entailed one of the boys to be in the water securing the ropes, and we remembered that we had seen the crocodiles in the water at this location the day before!

With task finally accomplished we chugged down the river through the low lying hothouse of ecodiversity, peat swamp forest, elephant grass and ferns to another feeding station. Along the river interesting plants included the fruit of the Pandamus plant (right), unfortunately inedible.

We arrived at Pondok Tanggui Research Station just before lunch

Pondok Tanggui Research Station

As in the case of Camp Leaky, this rehab centre was also set up to help orphaned or captured orangutans recover and readjust before being returned to the wild. Several primates were hanging around the camp, having figured out where the food actually comes from!

A curious animal decides that the dried fish is not appealing

And as always, feeding time is the highpoint of the day, so we followed the rangers, laden with bananas, down the path to the platform. After a few animalistic calls, the orangutans started to appear.

The uninhibited primates swung in from all directions to demolish the bananas and have a quick frolic, blowing a raspberry or two at the visitors.

The apes conquer everyone with their inimitably human gestures, grimaces and appeals for food.

They start breeding around 7 to 10 years of age but females only produce 3 or 4 offspring in their lifetime. The young remain dependant on their mothers for at least five years

As before, when the old male appeared, the females scattered.

The older Orangutan resemble a shaggy sumo wrestler. These giants can live for 50 years.

Ironwood  Reforestation Project

We left the Ondok Tangguy Station and made a stop at an Ironwood Reforestation Project. A short hike through the hot jungle brought us to a tiny establishment where Ironwood lumber is cultivated for local use.

The trees are grown from seed (right) and the saplings are transplanted during the wet season. They are then cared for and watered by hand until they mature.

Before our tour was complete our guide felt compelled to take us to a village along the river. The village was unique in that the site was provided by the government to accommodate all the people relocated as a result of making the area a Natural Reserve for the Orangutan.

The main street boasted a beautiful laid cobblestone walkway but there was little else appealing. The people were visibly very unhappy, their eyes hopeless and unfriendly, totally disparate from other villages we had visited. They were extremely poor although initially the government had promised much to entice them to reposition their lives.

We felt saddened that such a sacrifice had to be made to save the orangutans from distinction.

Eco-Centre Resort

The backpacker type resort is built on stilts in the forest. When we arrived there were no cold drinks for us because the power did not get turned on until 5:30 pm. Likewise, there was no air conditioning in the rooms until then.

We amused ourselves watching the antics of the monkeys swinging in the trees across the river. It seems that they were having a competition to see who could swing to the furthest branch. Unfortunately some missed and when tumbling into the bushes below.

At dusk, the macaque monkeys made their appearance on the dock, boldly approaching to see if we had any food.

We were the only ones staying at the resort so made arrangements for dinner that evening. We suspected that the regular cook was unavailable so we wondered what chamber maid was given the chore for the evening!

The restaurant was enclosed by lattice that was covered with hopeful monkeys, clinging to the walls and peering in.


Before our morning departure, Becky and I went for a hike through the forest. The boardwalk trail quickly diminished to a narrow raised plank that disappeared into the trees. We precariously balanced along the board until we reached a ladder that ascended into a huge tree. We climbed the steep steps and came upon a platform lookout where we could see the resort dock in the distance along the river.

We returned to our boats the quick way...by speedboat.

Loaded into 2 boats we sped down the river and returned to our boats, still encased in smoke, lying peacefully in the anchorage.


We bought fuel, which was brought out to us in drums and dumped into our tanks. After securing our checkout papers we were ready to leave....or so we thought!

The pulley for our water maker pump came away from the engine, stripping the screw in the process. It meant that we could not make water and we were low on our stores. It also meant that the alternator could not work efficiently as the pump operated the secondary belt on the engine.

On top of that, the auto-pilot would not come on. It was stone dead!!

Our boats boys were perched on the rails, very ready to get off the boats!