Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Wild Encounters with Orangutan in the Whispering Rainforest of Borneo, Indonesia

Tom-The King and His Queen - Siswi

It was a smoky day when we landed in Pangkalan Bun, Central Borneo – the green land, the heart of world’s lung inhabited by multiple primates and the most-famous endangered species, Orangutan on Friday noon. The smog that has been covering many areas in Indonesia including Kalimantan since mid 2015 has lead to the chaotic of flight schedule, and it was also impacted to our flight on that day which delayed for about 6 hours. But thank God! After all the drama, we arrived at Central Borneo and ready to explore the forest! Our landing is not that smooth as we have expected. I though it will be my last day, we couldn’t see anything on critical eleven moment-when the pilot announced ‘landing position’, plus the smell of smoke occurred during our landing made us extra anxious, furthermore we couldn’t see the land, it’s all white outside covered by the smoke.

Pangkalan Bun is a small city with limited infrastructure, visiting this area feels like back to 80’s or early 90’s, but no worries, at least you can find taxies around the airport ready to take you anywhere. Most people here worked in agriculture area, mostly are working for oil palm plantation. With population around 250,000 (based on Indonesian Body of State data in 2010), Pangkalan Bun is served by Iskandar Muda Airport.

I really surprised that I finally here in Pangkalan Bun to experience the wild encounters of Borneo. I firstly noticed about Tanjung Puting story in a novel I adored so much, “Partikel” – the 4th sci fi series of Supernova by Indonesian author, Dewi Lestari. There was Zarah – a main character of the story who discovers herself by travelling along Sekonyer River and became a volunteer in Camp Leakey. Zarah continues her travels and finally reach her dream to be a photographer of National Geographic and recognized as ‘somebody’ in international level.

Peaceful afternoon at Sekonyer river

After safely landed, we were head to Kumai, a small harbor located at the side of the beach at south Pangkalan Bun to hop into our “Klotok” ~ a  river boat which the machine sounds “tok…tok..tok..”, so the Kumai people say it Klotok. The Klotok could be occupied by 8-10 people, 4 of them is the boat crew consist of the tour guide itself, the assistant of tour guide, the chef – to prepare our dishes during our trip off course, and the Capten – who operates the boat. Our “area” was the top floor of the boat where there was a bed and mosquito net, a table with chairs, and some lounge chairs out on the deck. The bathroom was a flush toilet on the first floor– where the contents are flushed to is another story and a another mystery for another day (LOL!). I stayed in this Klotok with 3 of my friends and other 2 visitors. So there we went…sailed the Sekonyer river to Tanjung Puting National Park.

Since the sun went down, we’re not able to visit any destinations in our first day, so we’re just simply immersed in the night, starred up the vast skies and glittery fireflies decorated the forest at the side of the river. The sounds of crickets and the song of the nocturnal creatures accompany our journey to the heart of Tanjung Puting, composing a drama that contemplating the night into something special that we’re not always experienced at our home or town, a beautiful “Jungle Sympony”. I took a sip of tea and enjoying the circumstance, forgetting about twittering or posting in Path (and by the way, mobile phone signal was not available) and all it had to offer. Our tour guide talked to us about the difficulties of finding jobs in the local economy, trying to choose between acting as a tour guide in the part (few jobs) versus perhaps getting a better paying job in one of the palm oil plantations that were encroaching on the part. Our tour-guide, Pak Pi’i moved from East Java and has been stayed at Kumai for more than 4 years, he used to be a chef for the boat but later on, he learnt to be a tour-guide, so there he was with us shared his experiences of being a tour-guide after 2 years. He also talked about the forest fires which happened almost every year in Borneo, droughts and drying peat-lands has put them in flammable condition, small friction between the dry twigs could easily causing fire and burn the forest creating harmful smoke, the worst location at that time was in Palangkaraya – capital city of Central Borneo.

The night was getting cold, the smog still blanketing our way along the river. After finished the dinner, the boat crew prepared our bed. They rolled the mattress and covered each with the mosquito-nett neatly. Hmm..I missed to tell you something, Tanjung Putting is one of the location of endemic malaria, so for a better prevention, I suggest you to take some treatment like consuming anti-malaria such as Reschocin or other prevention method before arrived in the location. We were so fortunate that we came in dry season, so there were almost no mosquitos at night and I could sleep well as a princess with the forest lullaby. We tighten our Klotok at the dock of Sekonyer Village, covered the half boat with tarp to avoid the monkeys that usually stole the food or tourist stuffs.

Heading to the heart of the forest


It’s usually hard for me to wake up early in the morning, but at this time, sure I didn’t want to miss our mystical morning at Sekonyer River. The morning alarm call is a shriek and a clatter. It is a noise that – I can only imagine – was the result of birds and monkeys inside the forest. The sound was amplified in the morning stillness, but by the time I have parted my mosquito net and leapt from bed to investigate outside near our Klotok. It’s quite peaceful moment looking around the river, the (local) women washing their clothes at the river-side, some children playing around…Most of people in Borneo are highly dependent to live aside to the river.

Misty morning at Sekonyer River, foggy but beautiful

After a breakfast with rice mixed with prawn and fish and takes a sip of tea, the klotok pops into life, and we proceed past banks lined with mahogany trees, palms and bandas fruit - a favorite of the orangutans. People used to see the alligator or other kind of reptiles such as crocodile or snakes, but we weren’t that lucky to meet all of them during our journey. We meet some of them, monkeys and Orangutan hanging on the trees, all the boats stopped for a while, the visitor popped into the nearest boat and started to shoot with their DSLR.

We spent our days traveling to the two platforms on the second day. The boat would dock and we would hike into the woods where some make-shift wooden benches were set-up for viewers. There were quite a few boats out on the river during our time in the park, but we never felt crowded. We were in our little oasis, taking pictures of monkeys and trees and birds and yah.. the forest was hot. We were sweaty after only short hikes out to the platforms. We waited with baited breath while the park rangers brought out bananas and coconuts and called for the orangutan with special and unique sounds, but unfortunately after waiting for 2 hours, no one came out, huft! The first platform was failed, thus we continue our journey to the second platform.

It needs about 2 hours to go to the next destination, the boat-crew served our lunch with vegetables and fried-chicken and spicy-sauce. We tighten the boats and hop into another boats parked at the dock and head to the wooden-bridge that connect us to the front of Camp Leakey.


Camp Leakey set up by the conservationist Dr.Birute Galdikas in 1971. Galdikas is a primatologist, a protégé of legendary paleontologist Louis Leakey and the founder of Orangutan Foundation International (OFI). Dr. Galdikas has joined so many expeditions and streched her efforts to save the orangutan from extinction through rehabilitation and habitat preservation. Camp Leakey itself is the oldest orangutan research and conservation centre in the world – and it has been critical in helping sustain their numbers in the wild. Other sanctuaries and feeding stations have been established along the river where these endangered animals eat harmoniously together. We met group of Orangutan after about 30 hours trekking from the front to deep down the forest.

Road to Camp Leakey

Camp Leakey - The front gate

Orangutan information center

Siswi The Queen - the female orangutan

Me with the primates just a few meters from where I stand, live from their habitat!

What I love the most about Camp Leakey was seeing infant orangutans in the arms of their mothers where they belong. Not only have ex-captive orangutans been able to successfully reproduce in the wild, their offspring have the chance to be truly wild. In Camp Leakey, orangutans are free. Free to forage for their favorite fruits. Free to build night nests wherever they choose, free from harmful poachers, illegal loggers and palm oil plantation. Free to be wild!

We met Tom – The King of Camp Leakey and its queen – Siswi the female orangutan, during their ‘lunchtime’. Tom replaced Kusasi which was no longer a King. Kusasi’s reign ended when Tom was able to prove his dominance. Tom is an enormous cheek padded male who has a very different personality from Kusasi but was no less qualified for the role. The only circumstances that frustrate Tom were only when females ignore him or when the wild pigs try and steal his foods (LOL!). When Tom is nearby, the other resident orangutans acknowledge his royal presence by getting out of the way. The field-staff said Tom’s face didn’t yet have scars that tell the stories of epic battles for supremacy or winning the attention of females like his predecessor, but Tom is still young and many years ahead of him, he’s now 30’s something.

After hours witnessing, photographing and video’ing Tom, Siswi and other orangutans near them, we head back to the boat and found some monkeys playing around us, some of them tried to get into the other boats and steal foods, but our boat were safeee…

Sweaty and filthy, the tour guide then finally find the best place for us to take clean water and…took a bath after 2 days cleansing only with wet tissues! Fyuh…the water was actually still taken from the river, the boat crew convinced us that it’s clean and fresh, so I just pretend the water is safe by pouring some disinfectant that I bought from Jakarta, wash my hair and refreshing the body. We stayed for one more night before heading back to our town.

Live of people around Sekonyer River

I believe that to see these unique primates is in their habitat, not at the Safari or Zoo or even at the circus, experiencing the forest with them hanging on the trees left a precious moment for us. I would say, a trip to Tanjung Puting National Park will change your life. You will understand just how small you are in this huge, huge world. It is a place for contemplation, reflection, and appreciation. If you are a wild one at heart, I strongly encourage you to do so, to go to Tanjung Puting National Park. Go, experience the world and the pure awesomeness that the park emanates, but please remember to leave only your footprints and take nothing but memories and off course photographs!

You could contact  tour and travel agents which open for group or private trip, most of them managed by NGO’s or local people. Don’t worry about where to stay before or after the klotok moments, there are good hotels available like Swiss Bell Hotel which located at the town. Or if you thought, sleeping in the Klotok won’t enough, you could stay at eco-lodge spread at Kumai, Sekonyer Village or Pangkalan Bun.

Pangkalan Bun could be reached for about 8-10 hours by bus or car from Palangkaraya (the capital city of Central Kalimantan) where you can take listed airlines like Garuda Indonesia or Lion Air from other areas. Since the airport is small, Iskandar Muda serves only pioneer aviation, like Trigana Air or Kalstar Airlines.

Rumah Panjang – Traditional house of Dayak, the tribe of Borneo

The live of people in Sekonyer Village which so dependent to the river

Trip Information :

3D2N Trip : US$ 132 (all in, incl. foods and beverages)
The tour is varied, it’s also available for you to explore Dayak Village with 5D4N tour or more.

Airlines Ticket (round trip Jakarta – Pangkalan Bun and return) : US$ 115 (Trigana Air or Kalstar Airlines)
Contact Person: Pak Pi’i – my tour guide ~ +6281352759739 or Pak Zulham ~ +6281299372424
Or you can also contact Mas Indra Setiawan from Tour Tanjung Tour ~ 0856651202195
Check for further info :)

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Witnessing The Crafts-making at Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara

 A crafts-woman processing Ketak to be a handicraft

These photographs you have seen here are actually taken for my report when I was visiting some craftsmanship making in Central Lombok. I went there to observe how these ladies work together with surrounding community, creating something valuable for their lives, for earning money purpose, or we called it Microeconomic Development.

There were many things I have seen, the humanity, about how people in rural areas now have courage to preserve the habit that traditionally done since long by their ancestor. I felt so lucky that I have been there to witness how they develop the small business with limited knowledge and resources through preserving the culture. I snap some of what I’ve been seen during our trip, hoping from one village to another village, passing the verdant, rice field, traditional market, hustle and bustle by the local villagers and off course stumble upon to what was actually their daily habit. They living a simple live, still depending to the nature and off course slightly touched by the technology.

My first destination is‘Cooperation’ (Koperasi) – a small economic institution initiated by the local that built to gather the craftswomen from surrounding community to drive local economy. This Cooperation has been made “Ketak Handicraft” as local commodity. Have you ever seen Ketak? If you ever go to Ubud Traditional Market, Bali, you might be familiar with this kind of handicrafts. Ketak is one of popular handicraft from Lombok made from Ketak – a kind of grass which grows in swamp area. Ketak looks like the roots of rattan with wavy shapes, but actually rattan and Ketak are 2 different plants. They usually took the raw materials from Kalimantan and Ternate, Sulawesi – the place where Ketak and rattan has grown well, bring it to their workshop then crafted in to various captivating pretty shapes.

Unfortunately, due to the limit of facilities, they can only shape the basic forms without good finishing which made its price is very cheap, cheaper that you’ve seen in the market. Per craftswoman may only make the profit up to Rp 200,000 – Rp 250,000 per month (US$ 19-20). Actually, Ketak could possibly more famous and more valuable than we could imagine, but due to limit of knowledge and infrastructure, Ketak (without finishing) can only be sold to the collector with very low price.

I hop to the second destination, Tenun Ikat Cooperation or Ikat weaving, a traditional handmade fabric made from special string and made by the valuable craftsmanship. Tenun Ikat has been very popular as one of cultural richness of Indonesia, it has inspire many of famous designers to create the fashion trend from this beautiful fabric. It’s not only about the pattern or the effort to craft the fabric that made Tenun Ikat famous and high valued, but also the history behind a piece of this fabric.

This woman has left by her children who work as a labour in Saudi, her child has never been never came back for years, she didn't even know where her daughter. To overcome her bad situation, she start join the Cooperation (Koperasi Stagen) for weaving and forget about her sadness.

Tenun Ikat with standard pattern 

It's not easy to made a piece of fabric, they start to set the string then weave them 

This girl is 12 yo, she helped her Mom to weave the fabric during her holiday, Her Dad has passed away since so long, so her Mom has to be a single parents and earning money by herself to bring this girl to School.

For the Sasak- the original tribe from Lombok, Tenun Ikat is a part of culture that means a lot for them. Its pattern inspired from animals and plants that they have been witnessed in daily life then attached to the fabric, the pattern is actually expressing the animism and dynamism and their praise to God, each pattern even has a special meaning, taken from Sasak’s ancient culture. Actually, The Sasak has to do a special ceremony before start weaving, but they don’t do it again at this time. Furthermore, a Sasak women will be allowed to marry if they can weave,  at least they have to weave a piece of fabric by their selves for their marriage ceremony.

It needs minimum a week to create a piece of fabric with standard pattern, or could be more like months for the special pattern made from silver or gold string which usually created for special purpose such as traditional ceremonies or special order. All these historical culture has shaping Tenun Ikat as a precious thing, which is why it has the high price and highly valued.

I also visited another places, like the artshop and the furniture workshop where the local made "Cukli"- the traditional furniture craft made from the shells.

It was a great trip! #happy

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Derawan : The Ultimate Gem from East Borneo, Indonesia

Gongozole Island, Derawan

What is firstly come into your mind seeing the picture above?? I’m sure that most people will think about ‘beautiful-pretty-idyllic-landscape scenery’ that looks like heaven! *exaggerated J LoL*. But, yap! Actually the beach is quite moreeeee beautiful than you’ve seen above. The sun was shining so bright, the seashore, sea water and the blue sky ~ all blended in a beautiful ambience, bring us the piece, recharging and indulgent our mind and soul.
It’s Gongozole Island on the picture above, the land which arrised when the tide is low, this still a part of Derawan Islands. Three hours by speedboat from Tarakan, East Borneo, Indonesia, Derawan is a tiny island holds an abundant of charm both its landscape view and the underwater scenery. Small community inhabits this island and forming a very strong kinship and welcomes travelers with open arms, they are called The Bajau ~ the native tribe from East Kalimantan or known as “The Gypsies from Borneo”. The majority of Bajau people of Maritime Southeast Asia can also be found in the Philippines and surrounding islands of Malaysia. The Bajau, who live on houses on stilts or house boats, have almost completely severed their ties with the land. They even measure the passage of time by the rhythm of the tides rather than conventional minutes and hours. Visiting the land very rarely, every member of this unique community has a close relationship with the ocean instead, that is what I have found in Derawan.

The view at our lodge, Derawan

Bike Rent Location at Derawan, only Rp 20,000/2 hours (US$9)

Enjoying sunset at Derawan

I took an open trip with friends, staying in the simply stilt-lodge for a few days. You can jump into the tranquil and crystal clear water from the balcony and enjoy snorkeling or swimming with the turtle when you get up, quite interesting! Now, almost all the lodges are equipped with air-cond and comfy-bed, if you want to enjoy the real temperature of the beach, there still lodge with fan. Derawan, although there built with limited infrastructure, this island has been developed well as the tourist destination. If you ever been to Gili Trawangan, you could also see the same ambience here..there was no cars available, only bike or motorbike passing along the way, people are going anywhere on foot- they usually greet each other as the relecftion of strong kinship. Bike rent also available for tourist with price IDR 20,000 or US$ 2/2 hours.

The view at the entrance lane to Labuan Cermin

On the second day, we went for island hopping, leaving Derawan on 8 am by speedboat and head to ‘Labuan Cermin’ or known as “a lake with 2 different taste” which took about 3,5 hours to get here. ‘Labuan Cermin’ is the lake with consist of 2 layers of water, the freshwater on the upper layer and the salty water at the bottom. The perfect time to visit the lake is from 10 am to 2 pm. Local villager said that it used to have a very beautiful reef but unfortunately it was destroyed. The surrounding island (Kaniungan besar and Kaniungan kecil) is also attractive, perfect placing to peace our soul; we can do some sport activity like snorkeling and diving. Local said there are also whale shark’s seen at certain times at the entrance lane to the lake.

Enjoy swimming at Labuan Cermin

Snorkeling at one of the spot 

Witnessing the landscape around Labuan Cermin, was also indulgent our eyes. We were offered by the scene of fisherman’s daily life which moves along the river lane. Done strolling around at Labuan Cermin, we continue our journey to Kakaban Island- the main destination of our trip, It took about 1 hour by speedboat to get to Kakaban Island. We were welcomed by the low tide when arrived at the harbor at Kakaban, so we have to swim about 50m to the reach the land. I reflexively switch on my pocket camera, didn’t want to miss the scene of idyllic landscape at the beach, and one by one of the team arrived at the beach and pose! Kakaban surrounded by high cliffs that are steep, so a landing had to achieve from flat and open areas. After going through the wooden stairs then the visitor will find one of the world's heritages, the home of "Stingless Jellyfish". Ornate Cassiopeia or known as Stingless Jellyfish living in close environment make the jellyfish do not have threat from vertebrate. Therefore this type of jellyfish does not need stings to protect themselves. Furthermore, these jellyfish will also issue a colorful light when it was getting dark. This jellyfish swim upside down with tentacles facing upwards. This is because a closed environment, so that food in the water becomes limited. Therefore, the jellyfish do symbioses mutualism with algae. Algae need sunlight to produce food. In the world, there are only a few places which is the origin habitat of Stingless Jellyfish, here in Kakaban Lake, the other one is in Palau, Chelbachev Filipina, It’s also can be found in Togean, South Sulawesi and Weh Island, Aceh.

Swimming and walk to reach the beach at Kakaban Island

Playing with the Stingless Jellyfish at Kakaban Lake

There were 4 types of Jellyfish inhabited here, the usual jellyfish you seen in the picture (above), the jellyfish which moves inversely, the transparent jellyfish and the needle jellyfish-which has the smallest shape and only can be found at the bottom level among the seaweed. Since I’ve been snorkeling a lot, off course this’s not my first time seeing this creature, but because it’s stingless which is enable us to touch it, this was new for me and ya..they were so cute, touching them is like holding the jello J, feels like I want bring it into my mouth and chew :D . Since the jellyfish is a sensitive creature, we’re not allowed to use fin here, because the moves of our feet with fin will harm them.
Done playing with the jellyfish, we moved to the outside of Kakaban Island to snorkeling around the trenches. I might say this’d the best spot for snorkeling or diving we ever experienced. The trenches decorated by beautiful corals and kinds of colorful fish and other marine creatures like the endangered green turtles, lion fish, kite fish and other fishes. The water around was sometime feels cold and sometimes feels warm, it triggered by the diverse temperature of seawater. The beautiful trenches with pretty coral reefs stretch along Kakaban Island, local said it has 300 m depth and inhabited by various fantastic marine celebrities more than we’ve seen on the surface.

Underwater view 
 We continue our journey to another spots for swimming or snorkeling and stopped by at Semama Island which has a loooot of coconut tree at the beach. The guide forbid us to swim, because there were a lot of Stingray, so we were just strolling around at the beach and took photos, one of our guide climb and plucked some of coconuts for us. Seeing a guy climbing the coconut trees was an unusual view, it became a very interesting spectacle and amazed us, knowing that we’re coming from the town where we tend to see people in a rush to catch up the public transport or lift instead of climbing the tree.

Strolling around at Semama Island, looking for the perfect coconut tree ;)

Dani, one of our tourguide. He climbed the tree and serve the coconut for us. Dani has a fantastic story of his life as a fisherman, he is a Dayak - the origin tribe of Borneo. His experience over the ocean amazed us!

The beach at Semama Island
The sun began to sink and the waves move faster, we took the anchor and sailing away from Semama Island to return to our lodge at Derawan. That day will never be forgotten, we also got bonus a dolphin show – live from their habitat, the flock of dolphins caught up playing around us in certain spots, nice…!
Besides of its wonderful sceneries, Borneo also famous for its gem stones. I took myself walked around the village after finish my dine and seeking for souvenir shop which could be found at anywhere. It’s not that pricey, you could purchase the gems with range price between Rp 100,000 – 500,000 (US$9 – US$48).

The sunset near our lodge at Derawan
On the last day, I accidentally woke up earlier in the morning to walk around the village and capture some local activities. It’s breathtaking seeing the village was so clean and pretty neatly arranged, passing the old man sitting at the front of his stilt-house enjoying his coffee and cigarette, meeting with the mother feeding her child who would go to school, and greet some people-having short chit-chat. They asked me why I went there to Derawan besides Bali which has a lot more attractive places. I said it’s quite different, meanwhile Bali has been crowded by tourists and infrastructure, Derawan offered a wonderful and quite atmosphere, far from the bustle of holiday.

Going Home ;(

Let's follow us to find another paradise :)
Picture taken at Gongozole Island

How to get to Derawan :
Take flight with Garuda, Lion Air or Sriwijaya from Jakarta to Tarakan, then take the boat to Derawan Island, or you could stay at prestigious lodge like 'Maratua Paradise' Lodge which cost US$99/person/night. Rent a car from the airport to the Harbour- it takes about 30-40 minutes to get to the harbour, or you could stop by at Tarakan Mangroove Center before get to Derawan. There's the abundant of seafood anywhere cost about 40-70/person/package, but you have to wait about 30 - 60 minutes to get the food, they still have not gotten used to provide food in a lot of portion, so it took quite long for them to serve the food.
I recommend my tourguide, you could contact Pak Ruslan - +6281257776426 or Pak Taher - +6281350172006 to arrange your trip.
Time to go : during April - August 

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