Thursday, May 23, 2013

Journey to the Heart of Borneo with WWF

I'm writing in blog in two languages, Bahasa Indonesia and English, because I hope there are more people who read this and are interested in knowing more about the beauty of Indonesia

My adventure to the peatland jungle of Borneo started with an email from WWF, which offered a spot in their Supporter Appreciation Trip to the Heart of Borneo.  It was a tempting offer, but at that time I was also considering another offer of a trip to Macao for more of less the same cost. 

After I checked my schedule, which was conveniently free, and after meditating for one night, I decided to try something that has been part of my bucket list, namely going into peatland jungle in the heart of Kalimantan and seeing orangutan in close quarter at their natural habitat.

I have been interested in orangutan for a long time.  Ever since I interpreted for CARE Indonesia in a workshop conducted at Schmutzer Primate Center in Ragunan, where I bought a stuffed orangutan that I christened as Pierre, I was interested and wanted to know more about orangutan.  This became even more so when I read from the literatures in Schmutzer how orangutan was chased away from their habitat and exploited by humans for attractions, being sold as pets and even used as prostitutes in logging camps in the middle of the jungle. 

This was my chance to go into the jungle and see them in their natural homes, in the heard of Borneo.  Since WWF said that there were only nine slots available, I immediately signed up and paid to ensure a spot.  So, that's done!

After I received confirmation email from WWF, I realized that my gears were outdated.  I had no proper backpacks, no clothing, no wetbag, no field trousers, no poncho and no idea what a peatland jungle look like.  WWF sent a list of things that were needed in the jungle, so I went on a shopping spree to buy the gears.  I bought a backpack at Tandike Shop in Jalan Cipulir Raya, Seskoal, I went to Outdoor Station in Mayestik for wetbag, to Sports Station for football socks, bought some ponchos, some quinine enough for one week dose, and bought Parakito mosquito repellent bracelet at Mothercare. 

Also important was my first aid bag, namely Tolak Angin, Panadols (paracetamol), anti-diarhoea medicine, cajuput oil, ointment and Hansaplats hot plaster.  Also packed was my Olympus Pen 2 camera with its three lenses, which I was not familiar on how to use it. It's better to bring them along and not need them rather than wanting them in the field.  I also brought two 8000 Amh powerbanks since I was told that electricity in the camp was a bit limited.

On the D-Day, May 16, I went early in the morning to the airport, almost missing the flight due to some road construction work on the airport road.  I should have arrived by 4.45 AM, but I arrived at 5.15 AM.  It was a good thing that I could still check in my big pack and only brought the wetbag into the cabin.  On the plane I was sitting next to Mario, a Canisian from class of 99, who happened to be a bit crazy on car adventure travelling.  When we arrived in Palangkaraya, still a bit sleepy since I was talking most of the time and did not sleep at all, we were brought to Soto Banjar Restaurant for breakfast. 

This is where we were introduced to other participants, which now numbered 15 people, since there were three journalist, Mbak Ari from National Geographic Indonesia, Indra from Jakarta Post Travel and Ficky from Femina Group.  There was also a rather elderly couple, Pak Chairil Anwar and Bu Luthfia and the WWF Fundraiser Twins, Irvan and Aswin, whose job was to knock on residential houses offering opportunities to be WWF supporters.  There was also a honeymooner couple whose name I never knew even after the trip was over since they did not mingle much with the rest of us. 

From WWF Jakarta office there were Bang Oi alias Panda Ceria and Jilly, and in Palangkaraya we were picked up by Pepi, who had flown earlier to prepare for out arrival.  The rest of the group I have trouble remembering the names since I have problems in that department.

From Palangkaraya we drove for about three hours to Baun Bango village.  The first two hours, were were still driving on asphalt up to Kasongan area.  At the end of the asphalt road, we entered truck trails one hour away from Baun Bango village.  It felt like driving on Kalimalang road, there were so many huge potholes on the road.  On the roadsides we saw the areas that used to be gold mining. 

It was barren and desolated, covered with white sands and mining pits full of stagnant water.  It was so sad to see an area like this, although in a glance it looked beautiful, white sand contrasting with the green low vegetation and leafless tree stumps.  We also saw areas that were cleared through slash burn method.  Burned tree stumps, charcoal black, stuck out everywhere. 

I saw a lot of name plates staked on these lands, with names and numbers written on them.  Our driver, Bang Agung told me that this was ownership plates.  The amazing thing was that the numbers written there could be 500 x 500, which meant the land owned by such person was 500 m x 500 m, or 2.5 KM square!  Of course, the ownership was not legally valid, there was no legal ownership documents and the borders were overlapping with one another.  Baun Bango was the last village where we could use a car before we had to transferred using a boat towards Sebangau National Reserve.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Journey to the Heart of Borneo with WWF