Blog Archives: Borneo


Indonesian Borneo – The Future of the Forest

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Orangutan, Indonesian Borneo

Many of us already know that the forest is disappearing in Indonesian Borneo, due to the oil palm industry and forest fires. We see the devastation on television, in magazines and newspapers and the loss of habitat for wildlife such as the orangutans is worrying. We do what we can to reduce the demand for palm oil, however, the forest fires are often uncontrollable, once the local communities decide to burn land to encourage a better harvest. Travelling out to Indonesian Borneo allowed me to hear and see first-hand the efforts of groups like the Orangutan Foundation, whose aim it is to save the future of not only the orangutans but also the forests and the people.

I was travelling with Ashley Leiman, the OF founder, on the Steppes Travel small group tour.  It was through her that I got to meet key people who are on the front line in the struggle to save the Indonesian forests. I met vets who help rehabilitate rescued orangutans. Also, another NGO, Yayorin, who runs an education programme aimed at teaching the local community how to work harmoniously with the land to earn a living. Finally, I met OF staff who work tirelessly undertaking research, managing the release centres and manning posts around the park area to identify any illegal activities: a dedicated team of whom Ashley is extremely proud.

Their combined work is relentless, but progress can be seen in some areas, which was certainly reassuring. There is much still be done though and Ashley finds herself continuously meeting government officials and trying to keep on top of new policy developments in the area as well as overseeing the running of the foundation as a whole.

Clare and Ashley Leiman

Through Ashley I also got to meet other special characters; Terry, Tim Tom and two month old baby Monty to name a few. Saving these people of the forest; the orangutan, is a primary objective and seeing them in the wild certainly made me appreciate their unique qualities and fully understand why we need to save this endangered species.

During the trip, I was fortunate to have several extra special encounters. Seeing a pregnant female, an orangutan asleep in its nest and a cheeky youngster trying to get attention from a large male. However, it was the simple beauty of them swinging through the trees that brought tears to my eyes. When the treetops start to sway and the form approaching becomes clearer, you begin to appreciate the gracefulness of their moves. Their precision and balance is hugely impressive as is their apparent timekeeping. They often appear before the food at the feeding site has been placed on the platform but only with an approximate 10 minute wait. Pretty precise for not having a watch! The bananas are then devoured. Some orangutan decide to stuff the bananas between their toes plus grab a bunch or two and disappear up a tree for some peace and quiet whilst others relax on the platform munching away happily.

Getting to the feeding sites was also a joy. The boat locally named a klotok, cruised down the rivers allowing me to appreciate the forests in full glory with viewings of macaques and proboscis monkeys in abundance. The staff on board fully attentive serving meals and drinks along the way. Speedboats did become the order of the day to travel further afield but the James Bond-esque adventure of it all was thrilling.

On the water, Indonesian Borneo

For the main part I stayed at Rimba Eco Lodge, in the heart of Tanjung Puting National Park. A basic, no frills lodge that’s for sure but their policy to employ local villagers to offer an alternative to the palm oil industry is certainly commendable. Their recent addition of solar panels has also reduced their diesel consumption by between 85-90% so their commitment to helping the environment is evident too. It may lack refinement and luxury but as the gateway to an unforgettable experience, in my eyes, it was an invaluable base.

As I write this the orangutan are still swinging through the trees and I’d like to think that this will continue. However, without sustained work by organisations like OF and commitment from the government this could easily alter. We also need to continue our own efforts as the future of the orangutan, the forests and its people can be saved but the fight isn’t over just yet.

Join Ashley Leiman on our small group tour to see the orangutan in June 2019.

Indonesian Borneo Adventures

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My guide meets me at the airport, I recognise him immediately as I walk through arrivals, my eyes being drawn to the sign he’s proudly holding up and waving in my general direction – his name is Deddy.

This is a small airport, just one baggage carousel as long as three office desks pushed together. We wait patiently as it trundles into action, each bag being carefully thrown from the other side. Typically my bag arrives last with Deddy scooping it onto his back before I can grab it. ‘This way’ he says as we start walking towards the exit. Leaving the air conditioned building behind, I’m suddenly hit with that oven like warmth I’d momentarily forgotten about.

I’m in Pangkalanbun, a small city on the southern coast of Indonesia Borneo and am here to hopefully see the mighty Orang-utan that live in the dense forests of the Tanjung Puting National Park. Made famous by Professor Galdikas’s establishment of Camp Leakey and her pioneering study of the Orang-utan in the 70’s, images of her paddling deep into the jungle by dugout canoe stick in my mind. I can’t wait to get there!

As we pull onto the swept, tarmacked road leading out of the airport, it’s not long until the pot holes begin to appear, the road narrows and the beautiful little villages start lining the streets. Children wearing faded Manchester United tops are kicking footballs to one another and chickens are busily scratching around in the dry, dusty earth. ‘That’s my house!’ Deddy exclaims, pointing to the left. ‘My Mother lives next door, my wife’s family over there, my friend there, ooooh and that’s the shop, the butcher, internet, post office…’ Before I know it I’m having the tour de grand of his own village and it’s not long until the taxi pulls over and I’m invited in to meet his extended family.

Locally ground coffee is brought out on a tray accompanied by what can only be described as a treasure trove of deep fried delights. A small bowl containing a fiery red liquid appears next to it and I am encouraged to dunk one of these patty like treats into the sauce – all eyes are on me as I pop one into my mouth. Unsurprisingly the red liquid turns out to be Sambal, a local chilli concoction, with my taste beds soon letting me know of the heat involved. Looking around the room, Deddy’s family appear to be tentatively waiting for the decision. A thumbs up followed by a somewhat muffled ‘It’s very good!’ as I swallow the last mouthful gives way to an unexpected commotion, gold teeth peep through big grins and soon they are all reaching for the plate in front of me.

We bid farewell after a short while and continue our journey towards the port town of Kumai, where a traditional two-tiered boat known as a Kloktok is waiting to take me down river. It’s beautifully painted baby-blue and two Orang-utan murals are cheerily smiling back at me as I step on board. I meet the Captain, the Captains Wife who doubles up as the cook and the Captain’s assistant who is busily preparing for us to disembark. Up on top deck I slump into a deck chair and admire the view as the motors grind into action, ‘Tea Sir?’ the Wife’s Captain appears alongside me with yet more plates of goodies, deep fried banana, tea, coffee and biscuits. I could get used to this I think to myself as our Kloktok starts puttering down the Kumai River.

We pass ships of all shapes and sizes, a water taxi wizzes past loaded with passengers, a local fishermen appears disgruntled as the wake of our boat knocks his slightly off kilter and children along the river banks wave excitedly as we go. On the other side of the bank I see Mangroves stretching to the horizon. ‘Over there!’ Deddy’s pointing to a small opening far in the distance – ‘TANJUNG PUTING’…

Watch out for Charles’ second blog coming soon…

For more information on holidays to Borneo or to speak with Charles further about his travels please call 01285 880 980.