The wild man of Borneo!

Wednesday 15th October

As Blue Moon slowly wound her way up the chocolate brown waters of kumai river we sat back and took a moment to breath in the sights and sounds of a real life Rain Forest. We were heading deep into the heart of Kalimantan, the southern part of Borneo island belonging to Indonesia, to visit our closest living relatives the Orangutans. Seven years ago I made this same trip and it was an experience that I was really excited to repeat.

Our ultimate destination is Camp Leaky; in 1971 a young woman called Birute Galdikas persuaded Dr Louis Leaky, along with help from the National Geographic Society, to fund a research camp in Borneo so that she could study the illusive Orangutans. Dr Leaky who is famous for discovering fossils of early humans in Africa was also supporting Diane Fossey in her studies of Mountain Gorillas and Jane Goodall with the behaviour of Chimpanzees. Galdikas set herself what many scientists claimed to be an impossible task, tracking wild Orangutans through some of the most inhospitable jungle in the world. Nevertheless she succeeded and would spend days living and following these amazing animals through the canopies while she wallowed in leech filled swamps and fell ill to malaria numerous times.

As night fell over the jungle we motored up river and dropped anchor off the town of Kumai, the base for organizing our trip into the Tanjung Putting National Park. We'd just missed the Indonesian Rally's official stop here so there were still a lot of cruising yachts anchored in the river which was great as we were able to catch up with a lot of friends who we hadn't seen since Lembata nearly two months ago.

The following morning we set straight to work finding a Klotok (wooden river boat) and river captain who could take nine of us on a two day trip up to Camp Leaky. Brenda and Brian on Galliano had just come back from a trip and recommended their boat to us and for just $80 per person for two days including all our food and drink so we organised the trip for the following day. In the afternoon we jumped into a bemo (minibus taxi) for a 40 minute ride to find an ATM in the bigger town of Pangkalanbun. Pangkalanbun is a really interesting bustling town with the river at it's heart, the people live on it's banks and use it for transport, washing clothes, bathing and just about everything else you can think of!!

At 7 am the next morning we were picked up by the klotok from our boats and a guy dropped off who would stay on the boat while we were gone for security...we just hoped it wouldn't rain as he had to sleep in the cockpit! Our Klotok was probably the nicest on the river with teak furniture and a covered toilet and Separate shower. This may not sound surprising but many a time we pulled up to another boat and had a clear view of someone in the shower! We slowly wound our way up the Sekonyer River and as cruisers sat back to enjoy being passengers on boat for a change. The scenery was beautiful and constantly changing with pampas grass and swampy forest becoming thick secondary forest...more green than we've seen in a very long time.

With our eyes peeled for fresh water crocodiles, Dugongs, leopards, all kinds of monkeys and of course the Orangutans themselves. We enjoyed a lunch of local delights that our cook produced from the tiny gally below decks. Our first stop was Camp Leaky itself, after four hours on the boat it was great to finally get to walk into the jungle to explore. There are three camps in total but camp leaky is where we were to find most of the Orangutans. After walking down the long wooden board walk we visited the Information center to meet Tom the current king Orangutan.

Orangutans live most of their lives alone only coming together to mate or by at the camp it's slightly different as many of these were rescued from captivity by Galdikas as babies. One of the greatest threats to the Orangutans is illegal logging and the destruction of lowland forests. Often the young orangutans are taken from their parents by the loggers and sold as pets. Galdikas would hear of a house keeping a wild Orangutan and with the help of local officials would rescue them and reintroduce them back into the wild. Each day the foundation provides a feeding for the orangutans consisting of bananas and milk for those who are not yet fully self sufficient.

While waiting to be taken to the feeding station we were blessed with a visit by a young male who came to have a look at everyone and grab hold of whatever he could! Jimmy had a close encounter with a rather large adult male on his way out of the toilet (Jimmy on his way out of the toilet not the orangutan!). The assistants employed by the Orangutan Foundation are mostly men from the local Dayak tribe, once known as head hunters they now enjoy working to preserve the wildlife around them.

At the feeding station we didn't have to wait long before the trees were crashing down around us and a group of female orangutans carrying babies came to feed. They have very little fear of humans and were a lot less interested in us than we were of them. Orangutans share 98% of our genetic make up and are our closest living relations and it's easy to see when they walk standing up. They're hair is a beautiful Auburn colour that curls in the rain and makes the babies look adorable! We sat and watched them for over an hour and then were escorted back to the camp by a mother and baby out for a stroll. Astrid had a fright when the mother grabbed hold of her arm but the ranger quickly told her to hand over the water bottle she was carrying and the orangutan unscrewed the lid, drank the contents, put the lid back on and handed it back!

Camp leaky was our only stop the first day so we had time to wander around the camp watching the gibbons playing in the trees and hoping to catch a glimpse of 'Princess' the female orangutan made famous by national geographic and the fact that she can use sign language to communicate with the rangers...but no such luck. So it was back on the boat to move back down the river to anchor up for the night in a spot all on our own. As night fell we watched DVD's of documentaries made by Julia Roberts and Joanna Lumley who both visited the camps. Our captain took them both up the river and shared stories of the filming and some close encounters they both had with the orangutans. That night we fell asleep under our mosquito nets listening to the Proboscis Monkeys playing in the trees and the chorus of sounds coming from the jungle!

Our second day we visited two more camps and hiked into the jungle to the feeding stations, at these the Orangutans are more wild and so we were really lucky to get a glimpse of more mother and babies and one very large male. The Orangutan population may have fallen by 50% in the last ten years and with 50,000 to 60,000 remaining in Borneo and Sumatra. It's important that they do not become to familiar with humans as we are their greatest threat so its good to see that fewer are coming to the feeding stations and are supporting themselves instead.

The jungle itself was beautiful with Birds of Paradise and wild orchids hanging in the trees and such a diverse amount of vegetation, great to know that someone is out here trying to preserve it for future generations. We arrived back at our boats by night fall and had an amazing trip, if we could do it again we'd probably do the three day trip but I guess that gives us a reason to come back!!

If you want to know more about the Orangutan Foundation just go to


1st October 2008

We're currently in Bali the cultural center of Indonesia, life has been good, we're tied up to the Marina in benoa harbour and are finally getting a chance to sit still and relax! Hinduism is the largest practicing religion on the island and it really shows. With temples on every corner and offerings lining the streets it makes for a really colourful setting.

The marina is a ten minute taxi ride from the town of Kuta and bali's most touristy absolutely crazy place to be after the peaceful islands of Lombok and Sumbawa. Legian Street is the central area for shopping and boy is there a lot of shopping to be done here! For $20 dollars you could fill a suitcase with clothes and housewares and still have change left over.

We took a side trip up to the artisan town of Ubud up in the hills and for the first time in years we spent a night off the boat. Our hotel was slap bang in the middle of town but we still had great views of the surrounding rice paddy fields and a beautiful pool to chill out in. Again we shopped till we dropped finding the best prices in the local market and then checked out the monkey Jungle at the end of the main street. We hired a driver to take us up to the volcano where we had lunch overlooking it's crater and of course more beautiful paddy fields. The driver insisted that we stopped at a couple of temples and it was well worth it with beautiful carved rock figurines and more importantly the chance to see Jimmy wearing a skirt!

It's something you can't say about many countries in the world but we can honestly say that we haven't met an unfriendly person since arriving in Indonesia and Bali is no exception. Smiling faces greet us everywhere we go and even though they're hard bargainers, buying an item of clothing can take 30 minutes to get to a price you can both agree on, you still come away with a feeling that their having as much fun as you! So it's hard to believe that in 2001 something happened here to rock the foundations of every ones lives when the Sari club on kuta's main street was bombed and over 200 people were killed causing complete devastation.
In August 2001 I celebrated my 21st birthday in the Sari club and to see now what locally is called 'ground zero' is extremely moving knowing it could so easily have been us. Across the street a beautiful memorial has been erected with the names of all those that lost their lives and is particularly moving. Tourism was hit hard at the time but things are starting to get back to the way it was, locals stop us in the street to let us know how happy they are that we're here and not to worry as it will never happen again...strong words!

We've loved our time here in Bali and my recommendations are:
~ Having as many cheap massages as possible.
~ Hiring your own moped so you can avoid expensive taxi fees.
~ A trip to Ubud for more shopping.
~ Getting out into the countryside for the amazing views.
~ And most importantly trying all the great food that's on offer!
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