Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Postcards From Borneo: The Boat Trip Upriver


I wake up. It’s a misty morning in Lexington, Massachusetts. But today that won’t matter because I’m leaving for the other side of the world. I’ve been waiting all year for this day when we make our annual family trip to Indonesia to visit my mom’s research camp in Borneo, where she studies wild orangutans.

I’ll be traveling with my mom and younger sister, Jessica, and after days of flying and sitting around waiting in airports, we will meet my dad in a little town in Borneo. Dad is a National Geographic photographer, and this year, he is already out in Borneo photographing orangutans for a new article.

Fast forward a week and I’m in the Indonesian town of Ketapang. I have reunited with my dad at last and it’s time to travel up to the research camp in Gunung Palung National Park. There are two ways to head up, one is by river and one is by hiking.

So that we can successfully bring up all our gear, we decide to travel up by boat—three Indonesian sampans, little dugout canoes that are rigged with motors seemingly held together by rubber bands.

As we pile in amongst our hoards of gear, I can’t wait to get moving. There’s a moment of foreshadowing when the motor takes almost ten tries to start up, but then the engine roars. I shove my earplugs into my ears so I don’t go deaf.

As we head down a little canal leading out from the small village of Sedahan, I wonder at the trip to come, thinking about the other summers I’ve done this—long hours of sitting in a cramped boat under the beating sun, anticipating finally arriving at camp. As we travel up the wide river I watch the birds scurry about above me and the fruits hanging over the water.

About an hour into the trip the motors start breaking down. We continuously have to wait for the other boats or to restart our motor. In the first four hours, we probably spent two hours fixing the boats. The most common word said by far is “aduuuu“, meaning “darn it” in Indonesian. I end up saying “aduuuu” every few minutes.

Around hour four the sun really starts to beat down. We left around 9:00 am and now, at 1:00 pm, the sun is almost straight above us. To make matters worse we start to enter the most unpleasant part of the boat trip—the grass. For miles we travel through a sea of long grass teeming with spiders and all manner of insects that jump onto us as we plod by.

We seem to stop every two minutes, untangling the propeller or bailing the boat so we don’t sink. The only thing that keeps me going is the thought of the forest ahead and the huge mountain in the distance that houses the camp.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Postcards From Borneo: The Boat Trip Upriver
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