Indonesia Part I: Jakarta
We did not get to see the city of Jakarta, but upon arriving in Indonesia we were met by our tour operator, Rya, and a driver and taken to a very strange hotel near the airport named FM7. There were entire wings of the building that we could see from the roof, but never figured out how to get to. There were entire floors that some staircases never reached. Much of it was still under construction. I felt like I was in a labyrinth. The next morning, the same driver and a different guide named Harry (maybe) took us to the domestic terminal of the airport to hop over to Borneo; it took us 45 minutes to go 2 miles. Welcome to Jakarta (outskirts) traffic. I wanted lunch, but had no idea what the menus were offering, so I decided to order by picture. I picked a picture and pointed to it. Turned out I’d ordered something like a “combination rice plate”… so they just picked some options for me. We also noted that it was mostly tourists eating at the food court, likely because we are here during the month of Ramadan. We were not expecting so many tourists in the domestic terminal. We also got to experience the excitement of a delayed flight and of being told that the reason the gate listed on our ticket (C6) did not match the gate listed on the monitor (C3) was due to “monitor error”… and then we left through gate C7 instead. This was as opposed to the previous flight whereupon we were told “the monitor is always right” when there was a mismatch…
Indonesia Part II: Borneo
Borneo is full of rainforest. We flew to the town of Pangkalan Bun, which is the largest town on the island, with 8000 working adults (the only people counted in the census because they have IDs, which, incidentally, state their profession). We were met by our guide Sony and took a taxi to the smaller town of Kumei, 2000 working adults. At Kumei, we boarded our boat, by first walking through a family’s home, out the back of their home, and across the 4 boats that were parked closer to the dock. On the boat we were joined by a family of 4; the father is the boat captain, the mother is the cook, and they have 2 small children, Andres and Mira. The boat is about 2m by 10m, and has 2 decks; the crew stayed on the bottom deck and we stayed on the top deck, which was equipped with a table, 2 chairs, and 2 mattresses for us to sleep on at night. In the back is a space with a door, inside of which is a toilet bowl that empties to the river and a shower head that pumps from the river. Since we’d ended up with a (delayed) afternoon flight instead of the morning flight that got canceled, it was dark by the time we reached the boat. We set sail towards the river that would take us to Tanjung Puting National Park. We sat up at the bow of the boat and watched the jungle sail by, saw a few monkeys in the treetops that the captain pointed out with a flashlight, and counted myriad stars overhead (I estimated about 200 in my immediate field of view) while Sony told us about the history of the river and national park (e.g. the first portion of it is brown because there is a gold mine up ahead dumping mercury into the water; the cleaner fork later on is coca-cola colored). We were served tomato-fish, vegetables, fried… something (soybean?), and watermelon for dinner, and retired shortly thereafter around 9pm. We docked in front of a village about 2 hours down the river, and the crew draped a mosquito net around our mattresses. We fell asleep sticky and dirty, but too tired to care.
The next morning, we woke up with the sun and roosters (apparently the sun rises at 5:30am and sets at 5:30pm year-round here) and wandered around the dock until the mother (who said her name was something like “Ms. Watli”) served us breakfast at 7. A mother and child came to the dock from the village to wash clothes and bathe, and a father and son came to take off in a small canoe. Breakfast was (over-)buttered and grilled toast, eggs, and really good banana pancakes, with orange juice. After breakfast, we motored another 2 hours down the river, this time in daylight, and watched the jungle sail by and saw a few more probiscus monkeys until we arrived at the second orangutan research station in the national park. The first one, the one with the wild orangutans, we missed due to our late arrival the previous night. The second two have semi-wild orangutans that are being rehabilitated after being taken away from people who had them as pets. We trekked about a kilometer into the jungle to the feeding station, where a park ranger set out a large mound of bananas and bowls of milk onto a raised platform and the guides made ape-calls. We waited for a while, and then a large male orangutan came lumbering up to the platform from the jungle, plopped himself down, and started snacking. Three females, one with a baby, came after him, but one of the females stayed in the trees until everyone else had left before coming down to find the leftovers. Later, another female with an older child came as well. The females would often drink some milk, and then shove a fistful of bananas into their mouth and climb a tree to eat them before coming back down for more; the male just sat there like he owned the place. We then set sail farther down the river to the third research station, eating lunch along the way (chicken and tofu in coconut curry; peanut sauce and egg over vegetables; fried shrimp; pineapple) and enjoying a nice natural shower in which I danced around at the bow of the boat. At the third station, the apes were even less wild; we had to walk around one that was sleeping in the middle of the path with a pile of branches on his head to block the rain, and at the feeding station, the orangutans would just walk through the crowd to get to the platform. A much larger crowd of orangutans gathered at this feeding station, as did a gibbon and a wild pig that hung out with them, a la Lion King. Towards the end of their snack, the alpha male chased a female up a tree, dragged her back down the tree, and mated with her… another family’s guide told them that she had been flirting with him, but she didn’t seem too happy when he decided to take her up on the offer. After feeding time was over and the orangutans had all wandered off, we set sail back up the river towards Kumei and enjoyed the most wanted shower of our lives (being warned to finish before we entered the part of the river full of mercury, as it would irritate our skin). Dinner, early sleep, early rise, and a day of transit: chug-chug 2 more hours to Kumei, drive to Pangkalan Bun, fly 1 hour to Semarang on the island of Java, drive 3 more hours to Borobudur.