Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Days of Silence – A trip along Sekonyer River at Tanjung Puting National Park

“There’s a long weekend around the corner, let’s go to Tanjung Puting, what say you?”, Cip, a week before. 

I was startled at first because my idea for that long weekend of Easter was just relaxing in our Coccoon. But, as usual, I have never been difficult to be lured into another adventure. And especially not going to say No to one that involves Kalimantan, sleeping on a boat, walking into the rainforest, and seeing orangutans in their true environment. 

Quickly, everything was arranged. And another new experience, started.

Dolphin – Our Home for 3 Days 

There are three orangutan feeding stations to visit in Tanjung Puting National Park: Tanjung Harapan, Pondok Tanggui, and Camp Leakey. The latter is an orangutan rehabilitation centre built by Professor Birute M. F. Galdikas, back in 1971. A remarkable woman – the student of Louis Leakey who also mentored Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.

You will have to book a boat that will also come with a guide to go into Tanjung Puting National Park. They will take care of all the permits. And anyway you are not allowed to go in by yourself.  

We booked ours from Pak Ali (alimashuri77@gmail.com), who after I compared it with two other operators, had the best price for a 3 days and 2 nights trip.  

And at Tanjung Kumai, we first met her. Dolphin. 

Dolphin is a traditional wooden boat, or klotok. It fits the four of us very comfortably. This boat is equipped with a toilet and bathroom, with a sitting toilet (!!) and a shower. At night there is electricity.  

The upper deck is our living quarter while the boat crew (4 of them) sleep in the deck below us. And I think we were very lucky to be given this boat – where the ‘dining’ room is separated from the ‘living’ room by the captain’s control room. We saw other boats around and none actually has such luxury. Considering the price – I was very happy!.

The front upper deck - our living room

At night, it is turned into 'bed chambers' - closed with mosquito nest
I easily fell in love with this trip!

The rear upper deck - our 'dining' room

At the lower deck - the crew's quarter

and the bathroom...

...with sitting toilet and a shower!
The kitchen in front of the bathroom

Apart from the very comfortable boat, we were really pampered with delicious food. Susi, the cook who is also the wife of Jepi, the Captain, is a marvelous cook. Simple dishes yet so delightfully tasty. And with plenty of time spent on the boat, and little physical exercise (all the walks to the feeding stations are not tough at all) – I am sure I could have easily gained a kilo, or maybe even two!. 

What I really enjoyed were the candle light dinners. Imagine: having dinner on the boat surrounded with a peaceful nature filled with voices of insects and monkeys in a distance, with fireflies sometime fly around you, or you could see them flocking on a tree not far from where your boat anchors for the night. It was just an unforgettable experience.

This was just one of our festive lunches. We considered it festive, we never even had this much at home!. And it was always delicious!

We all enjoyed the candle light dinners

Sekonyer River – a Distant Cousin of Amazon  

With no mobile phone signal, limited access to electricity (the generator was only turned on in the afternoon to activate the shower, so that was the only time we could charge any devices that need to be charged), and the peaceful nature around us, I felt liberated. I really enjoyed the 3 days of cut off from the rest of the hectic world – enjoying the silence of the gadgets and reconnecting with nature. 

It was interesting to observe that the vegetation changes as we went deeper into the river towards Camp Leakey. The water, also changes as we turned into the the path that leads to the Camp – from brown, to the seemingly pitched black water. But if you look closer, the water is orangey-brownish, and it is the soil that is black. It is called ‘tanah gambut’ – or black peat. 

The black water makes the view quite amazing – it becomes a mirror that reflects the surrounding back. 

Entrance to Tanjung Puting National Park. As soon as we took the turn, voila! - all mobile phone signals went off!. Seriously!...I was very amazed...

This part of the river the water looks brown - and it is all because of the soil is still brown

Our first stop: Tanjung Harapan

A tree of bekantan - we stopped here and watched them played. They are very noisy nearing dusk, and soon after dawn

The morning after where we anchored near Tanjung Harapan

This was the turn towards Pondok Tanggui then Camp Leakey - the water began to change from brown, to black

The vegetation also changed. I don't know the name of this plant - the guide told us but I forgot

It was quite eerie to see the black water

It did feel like going through the Amazon river (in my imagination...never been to Amazon!)

The water is actually orangey, the black peat below makes it looks black. But the lovely thing is, it reflects everything perfectly as it becomes similar like a mirror
The last morning where we anchored about 2 hours from the entrance of the National Park. The water was very calm that day...everything was reflected on the water

Though appears to be very tranquil and peaceful, this river is not to be swum in. There are crocodiles in it. Our guide told us there was an incident in the 90s where a foreigner swam in the river near Camp Leakey, and he was dragged down by crocodiles only to be found the morning after. Dead of course.

As we drifted through the river, we couldn’t help thinking of the Amazon. I am sure it feels even more majestic to go through the Amazon, but at least we got to sample a piece of maybe similar experience albeit a much smaller scale :)

Respect the Orang Utans

I had been to Bukit Lawang’s orangutan rehabilitation centre in North Sumatera. That experience sticks with me till now. Seeing their slow yet majestic move, their gentle eyes and timid manner, is a strong reminder of why we should do our best to keep them alive.

Thinking of seeing them again in the wild, was exciting.

Our guide has warned us that February to April is still the forest’s fruit season. So there is plenty of food in the forest and thus sometimes in these months, the orangutans will not come to the feeding stations at all.

What are given at the feeding stations are not their main stock of food. They are just supplementation in case they are still looking for food. In the months where forest fruits are not in season, these feeding stations help those orangutans to get additional food.

So we were informed to be prepared if we did not see anything at the feeding stations, not to be disappointed.

But, I think nature was really kind to us.

There were many orangutans at our first stop at Tanjung Harapan, including one of the dominant males in this camp named Gundul. Not only that. As we walked back to the boat, we came close and personal with Kacong, another male orangutan in Tanjung Harapan, who was walking towards the feeding station that we have left behind us. 

We were walking when Cip who has gone quite far in front of me and Tara, suddenly ran back and said, “There’s another male orangutan in front of us”. 

So we watched him in wonder, as he walked on our trail – only some centimeters away.

Going to the feeding station in Tanjung Harapan. If you doubt if little kids can take this walk, trust me, they can. Lila was a bit tired since we woke up early that morning to fly to Pangkalan Bun so she asked Daddy to carry her. But the trail is easy and flat - no going up the hill and all. It is muddy at some parts because of the rain in the morning, but it is an easy walk.

Gundul, the dominant male in this place. Different from North Sumatra's orangutans, the hair of those in Kalimantan appears to be softer and more brownish; while their cousins in North Sumatra has reddish colour and coarser hair

Some females came in...but they approached very very carefully

Gundul in action. I think he loved being the center of attention, before disappearing into the forest again

Kacong, about 2 metres in front of us

It was unreal to stand this close to a more than 15 years old male orangutan

No orangutans came when we were at the feeding station at Tanggui – but as we walked towards the station, there were 3 females hanging around on the trees above us.

One of the female orangutans we saw as we walked to the feeding station

It is even easier to walk to the feeding station in Pondok Tanggui - dry and hard dirt road. But the heat, is a bit overwhelming - after all, it is Kalimantan!

The empty feeding station - they decided not to come today. In many ways I was glad as that meant they have plenty of food in the forest. May it stay that way and forests are not turned into plantations...

But the best part was as we walked to the feeding station at Camp Leakey – there it was in front of us: Tom, THE King of Camp Leakey. It was almost unreal to stand a meter away from his gigantic body.

It is about 30 minutes walk to go into the feeding station in Camp Leakey

The Information Centre - which will tell you what Prof. Galdikas did, and who are the orangutans that have been identified by the staff

And there he was, Tom...The King of the pack

If meeting Kacong up close and personal was exhilirating, standing that close to Tom was even more fascinating

No other orangutans came to the feeding station that day. And even Tom only stayed for about 10 or 15 minutes, then he walked back to the forest behind him

Later Cip talked to the ranger at Camp Leakey and he said we were indeed very lucky to see Tom – who rarely comes to the feeding station especially in this forest fruit season. And he also told us in the months of February to April, feeding stations at Tanggui and Camp Leakey are usually the emptiest because these are located deeper into the forest hence easier for the orangutans to find their food.

And so another journey ends...to be the start of another... And from every journey we’ve made, there are places in our minds and hearts that are filled with wonderful memories. 

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

(R I R I)

The travel log

Take a direct flight to Pangkalan Bun from Jakarta. There are two airlines servicing this route: Trigana Air or Kalstar. 

For this trip we took the 9.15am Trigana Air on 3 April, arriving at Pangkalan Bun at 11.30 (the flight was delayed. It only took 1 hour and 5 minutes in reality). We were picked up by Dodi, our guide at the airport. 

We took the 1pm Kalstar flying back to Jakarta on the third day, 5 April. 

That gave us plenty of time, with no rush at all, to enjoy the 3 days 2 nights package in Tanjung Puting National Park. 

We booked our boat from Jakarta by contacting Pak Ali (alimashuri77@gmail.com; more information about his package: http://wisatatanjungputing.blogspot.com/p/park-information.html). He was very helpful answering all sorts of my questions via email before we left Jakarta - and he was quick in responding too. 

The whole package for 3 days and 2 nights consists of:
  • The car that picks you up from Pangkalan Bun's airport, and one which will take you back there for departure
  • All permits to all the camps 
  • All expenses for the boat
  • Fee for the guide, the ranger, and the crew
  • Foods and drinks for the whole journey (and Cip was delighted to see AQUA is the water consumed for the journey :))

The crew of the boat was just wonderful. And our guide, Dodi, has tempted us to do the 5 days 4 nights that will cover the trip to Tanjung Keluang to the turtle rehabilitation center. Well, we might do it one day... 

From our left: Dodi - the guide, Susi - the cook, Anang and Aidi - the assistants, and the man in the orange shirt is Yepi - the Captain

And our little entertainment: Fazilla, the 2nd daughter of Yepi and Susi. Such a cute and happy baby :)

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