Saturday, October 12, 2019


October 12 - 16

We arrived into Kumai, Borneo on October 12, after motoring for hours in shallow waters (5 meters). Shallow sailing always makes me feel uneasy, even though I know in my mind that our draft (depth underwater) can handle it. It felt strange to be so shallow for so long.

We anchored in the river near a group of rally boats. The river water is muddy and uninviting, definitely no bucket showers here. Across the river in the town of Kumai, we were hearing all sorts of bird calls. My first thought was, “Wow, I can’t wait to check out all the birds”. We found out later, that the sounds are just a recording, to attract swallows to the bird hotels. These particular swallows, make a nest that the Chinese use in soups, called bird nest soup. They pay a pretty penny per kilo for the nests. The Indonesians keep building more and more hotels to cash in on this "delicacy.

bird hotel
The main reason for our visit to Borneo, was to explore Tanjung Puting National Park aboard a local riverboat. This is where thousands (upwards of 6,000) of Orangutang's and other endemic creatures are living free in their natural habitat. This national park is a saving grace for so many animals that live in Borneo. It was created as a result of their habitat being destroyed by the palm oil industry.

With the palm oil industry rampaging in Borneo, the animals that live in the lowland rain forests are being decimated, and the indigenous peoples are losing their traditional way of life. I am very grateful for the national park and their initiatives. That being said, the Indonesian government really needs to take more of an interest in maintaining, renewing and caring for the park and its inhabitants. The palm oil industry is a very lucrative business. The locals are being paid well to clear their lands in preparation for palm oil plantations. Sadly, these "land preparations" are being done in a way that harms the local animals and encroaches on the indigenous peoples way of life. 

Before arriving in Kumai, Shaun had researched the various companies that offer the riverboat tours. He settled on a company called, Orangutang Applause. This company had over 600 positive reviews on Trip Advisor. We soon found out why.

On October 13 at 10:00 am, Dessy arrived at Element to introduce herself to us, and to discuss our tour. We finalized our payment, were introduced to all of the people that would be taking part, as well as the fellow that would be staying on Element during the evenings we would be away. We gradually loaded our gear on to the riverboat (Kelotok, named so, because it makes a tok, tok, tok sound), climbed aboard, and started our 3 day/2 night adventure.

Our guide Alan, is a soft spoken, 28 year old fellow from, Kumai. Alan is following in his families footsteps by being a park guide. Along the way, he was very knowledgable about the history, flora, and fauna of the area. He also, regaled us with stories from his childhood. He reminisced about when everyone in town, had an exotic pet in a cage, from Sun Bears, Orangutang, to Salt Water Crocodiles. He and his friends used to pay a small fee to see the creatures in these peoples homes. 

Throughout our journey, he showed us games that he once played as a child. One such game, was to take small ants, and put them on an Emperor Ant’s nest, wait and watch until the larger ant emerged. Another game he played was with a plant. This plant is a soft spiky green plant. Pieces can be broken off, and replaced else wear (kind of like a natural Lego). The object of the game is to find the piece the other person has “moved”. Jordan enjoyed trying to stump Alan.

On our first day, we headed up the river at a leisurely pace, past the first village named, Sakalaji. Along the way, Alan shared that, in the mid 90's the national park stopped accepting captive orangutans because of disease and competition. Captive Orangutan’s are being released in other locations in Borneo, to give them a chance to live free. He also explained that each evening, young and teenage Orangutang’s make a nest in a tree to sleep in.

As we reached the second part of the river, Alan shed light on the naming of the river. It is named, Sekonyer (named after a Dutch pirate ship) but, the local people could not pronounce the name so it became known as Sekonyer. 

Our aim on this day, was to arrive at the first camp in time for the afternoon Orangutang feeding. Upon arrival, we made our way along rickety board walks (in desperate need of repair), through the woods to an area with a raised platform. This is where the park rangers set out the food for the Orangutans.

statue where the park begins
signs indicating the direction the river will take
our first wild Orangutan 
meal time aboard

the first village
first feeding station dock
medicinal trees (the locals believe in holistic treatments to ailments)
Proboscus monkeys
lone Orangutan
After out first feeding station, we walked back to our boat, and were taken to our first overnight spot, the firefly trees. This was a big highlight for me. I was awestruck, and It felt like we were in Neverland, watching pixies fly amongst the trees. It was a magical experience. The girls were able to capture some flies in a jar to watch them up close before releasing them back to nature.

Day 2 began with, the haunting calls of Gibbons. The beauty and serenity along the river is breathtaking. We had an early start because, we needed to get to camp 2 for the 9:00 am feeding. As mentioned near the beginning of this blog post, the board walks are in terrible disrepair. As we were walking along the boardwalk, on our way to the feeding station, Paige spotted a wild Pitcher Plant. We had only ever seen this type of plant online or in a book. In getting a closer look, she stepped closer to the edge of the dilapidated board walk, the board seesawed and she fell a meter and a half in a bellyflop. She was shocked, bruised, and scrapped but, otherwise unharmed. It could have been so much worse. (Later on our night walk one of the guides found a green pit viper sleeping, very near to where she had fallen. She is extremely lucky). Jordan, Alan and I continued on to the feeding station while Shaun and Paige went back to the boat to clean up, and asses the damage. 

the pitcher plant
the Pit Viper that we saw later that evening
As we were walking along, I happened to notice a large bug that I thought Paige would love to see. Alan offered to pick it up and bring it back for Paige to see later. It turned out to be a giant Pill Millipede. As we were waiting for the feeding to begin, Paige turned up with Shaun, and was able to sketch this cool creature.


munching away
Praying Mantis
Pitcher Plants
Tarantula hole
Later in the day, we motored up the river to the third camp called, Camp Leaky. This is where German/Canadian/Indonesian professor Mary Berute M. F. Galdikas started working in 1971. At the junction in the river leading to the camp, we saw where the gold mining polluted river met up with the clean river water. This pollution has caused problems for the people that rely on the river for drinking water, and for fishing. It is a shame that the mining company doesn't take an active roll in minimizing the pollution. 
milky white polluted river meeting the clean river

During our visit at Camp Leaky, the information centre was great to see. Being able to see some of the Orangutan's lineage was exciting.

my hand in comparison to an adult orangutan
family trees
One of my favourite residents near Camp Leaky is, Bob the Gibbon. He is such a character. He has to be quick to sneak food during the feeding times as his relationship with the Orangutan's is a little bit rocky. He has to sneak down and grab as much food as possible before they arrive. It is quite the sight.


drinking cow's milk as an experiment to see if it helped with their bone density

Proboscis Monkeys
After our Camp Leaky experience, we headed back to camp 2 for our night walk. We made sure to be extra careful this time, so that there were no accidents. Our night guide was able to point out a variety of night creatures from frogs to sleeping birds.

sleeping bird
spider of some sort
Pit Viper close to the spot where Paige fell
Ball Python
On our third and final day, we went to plant native trees at the reforestation camp. Ladan, has lived alone at this camp for 17 years. He showed us all of the different trees, explained their names and purposes, and we each got to choose one. He gave us a plaque to write our name, country of origin, tree name, and date planted. He then took us to the area that he had prepared for the replanting. Small acts turn into something big.

our chosen plants

Below are random pictures taken during our visit.

a Storm Stork
local transportation
my view
a fishing village
a quiet river

ants on a mission
On the third and final day, we were dropped back to Element. The crew wanted to come aboard for selfies/group pictures. It was a wonderful and eye opening experience. I highly recommend a visit!

This is a list of animals that we saw while visiting Borneo: Long tailed Macaques, Hornbills, Proboscus monkey, Orangutan, Black Throated Babbler, Squirrels , Silver Leaf monkey, Fire Flies (known to the locals as "fingernail spirits), small Monitor that can swim, King Fisher, small fresh water Crocodile, Crows, tons of Swallows , Storm Stork (only 500 left in the world), Toilet Paper Butterfly, Armadillidae Pill Bug Millipede, Girdled Gecko, green Skink, Praying Mantis, black and red Broadbill, Pied Fantail, Bob the Gibbon, Wasps, Tarantula, frogs, countless spiders, Shaun's evil black spider, huge moth, Green Pit Viper (coiled where Paige fell off the wall), Python, 4 birds sleeping (the first was a big ball of yellow fluff, the others were just sitting in the open on branches), Stick Bug

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