Thursday, November 12, 2015

Back to Yourself in Borneo! - Riding down the river Rungan

There are 17,508 islands in Indonesia, and only 6,000 of them are inhabited. It still means, of course, lots of scope. One will consider the cultures of Java and Sumatra, the long-discovered Bali and all the rest depending on temperament.

But one should not forget Borneo, which is easily accessible from Jakarta by boat and daily flights to Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan, which is the southern part of Borneo. Among other things, Kalimantan is the home of the orangutan.

After the beach suntan has been won, the temple visited or the volcano seen, Borneo is where one can get back to nature at its arguably most natural and easily find one’s simian ancestry simply staring you in the face.

Kalimantan to the west, middle and the east largely comprises jungle that is subject to an extensive river network. This green and watery density is also the home of the Dyaks who still maintain their traditions, their longhouses and, despite all, their culture.

Alongside the Dyaks, of course, live the orangutans. One can trek the jungles to meet any and all of Kalimantan’s inhabitants, but a rather more practical way is to explore and meet them by boat.

Enter Gaye Thavisin and Lorna Dowson-Collins, two ladies who have long been determined to make tourism more than, well, just tourism. It has been reasoned that people will be fascinated by jungle travel because time would appear to be running out and the remote spots of our planet must be seen soon or perhaps never.

The River Rungan

The operation run by Gaye and Lorna comprises three river boats suitable for exploration of as much as 100 kilometres to the upper reaches of the River Rungan. Three Dyak villages are visited and local guides will take one through them, giving explanations in commendable English.

Excursions can be booked from one to four days. A river trip includes a transfer to canoes to explore the tributary oxbow lake system. This will bring one even closer to your already accelerating heartbeat and to hear the eerie silence suddenly shattered by a horrifying screech as a creature unseen gives vent to some jungle frustration.

Also to be seen are the spectacularly marked clouded leopard and the sun bear, both of which are classified “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In residence are members of the Tarsiidae family, which are any of the several nocturnal arboreal prosimian primates of Indonesia and the Philippines, having huge eyes, long hind legs, and digits ending in pads to facilitate climbing. Long-tailed macaques and forest squirrels are also at home there.

The watery channels through the jungle enables one to undertake some spectacular bird-watching - above all several varieties of hornbills - one of them the oriental pied hornbill (most likely to have emitted the screech), Brahminy kites, stork-billed kingfishers, ibises and coucals.