The next day we were busy working on the boat and meeting with Harry of Borneo Holidays to plan our three-day trip up the river to see the Orangutans at Tanjung Puting National Park. Nine of us would be together on one klotok or boat, which included Tin Soldier, Baraka, Air Stream, and us. We packed our bags and got the boat secured for our absence.
At 8:30 a.m. on October 2, Harry dropped off our boat boy, who would be staying on the boat to watch it and do some stainless polishing for us, and then he dropped us off on our boat named Dolphin. We would be sleeping and eating on the upper deck of the boat, while the crew stayed on the lower deck.
We enjoyed a relaxing ride up the river and did see one Orangutan and a macaque monkey on the trip. We arrived at the park in time to change and go ashore for the 2 p.m. feeding. There was a long, elevated wooden walkway from where the boats tie up to where Camp Leakey is located. Camp Leakey, the primary site, was established in 1971when Canadian researcher Biruté Galdikas began taking in rescued orangutans with the assistance of the Leakey Foundation, the U.S. philanthropic foundation.
We were half way there when a female Orangutan named Swisi was sitting in the middle of the walk and would not move. One by one we made our way past her, but when Janet went past, Swisi grabbed her arm and stopped her. She had a captive audience for about five minutes before letting her go. The next captive was Steve. Swisi grabbed his leg and proceeded to unzip his pockets and leg zippers in order to look for food. When Steve tried to pull away, her grip got stronger but not painful. Finally, Steve was able to extricate himself from her grasp, and then the rest of us made it by Swisi without any problems.
Our next thrill was seeing a Gibbon monkey up close. He was hanging down from a tree and was entertaining the tourists while eating bananas. They have a very interesting looking face, and it was great fun to watch him for awhile.
We proceeded to the viewing platform and took our seats on one of the benches. There were several females, some with infants, sitting on the platform eating bananas. We did not have to wait for very long before the “King” appeared. Tom is a 25-year-old male who is the dominant or alpha male. He is very large, very powerful, and just amazing to watch. He went up to the platform, sat down, and began to eat bananas. The females who were on the platform took to the trees to keep a safe distance from him. He spent about 10 minutes eating and then took to the trees and vines and put on a spectacular show for us. He would hang by all fours and just look at the group, and it was amazing how unsettling his stare was. He entertained us for a good 30 minutes before he took off after one of the females, who started screaming and climbed as high as she could to the small branches that would not hold Tom’s weight. We were told by our guides that Tom can be quite a bully.
By now it was 3:30 and time to return to the klotok as we were all tired but thrilled at the day’s events. We had just set out some chips and peanuts when suddenly Pan, a male and son of Princess, came aboard the boat, climbed to the top deck, and swiped the chips from the table. He then ran off the boat and climbed a tree where he sat eating the chips with great pleasure.
That evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner and several hours of just relaxing. The crew then put down our mattresses with mosquito netting, and we all prepared to crash. It was only 8:30; however, we had put in a long, full day and were all very tired.
The second day we ate breakfast and then went ashore to visit the Information Center, where we watched a wonderful documentary on Kusasi, who was the previous alpha male. He was orphaned at two, rescued and taken to Camp Leakey, ran away to the jungle and survived without a mother for
18 months. He then returned to the camp for several years, which is when Dr. Galdikas was able to study him. He left the camp as a young adult male and became the alpha male at 25 years of age. Tom then became the alpha male about eight years ago after winning a fight with Kusasi. The guides at the camp are not sure if Kusasi is still alive or not because no one has seen him recently.
The guys went for a two-hour trek while the ladies took a shorter walk around the grounds. We then wentback to the boat for a rousing game of Scrabble. The guys soon returned, and Steve showed me a leech thatwas trying to burrow through his sock to get to his skin. The leech looked like a small earth worm—about an inch long and very thin because it was not gorged with blood. He picked it off and disposed of it quickly. Steve told me that on the trek they had encountered Princess, a 35-year-old female, and he was able to actually hold her hand for awhile. He thought that it was an amazing experience and was thrilled by it.
We just had time for a delicious lunch before it was time to go back to the 2 p.m. feeding. On the way I was met by Percy, who is Princess’s son. He took hold of my little finger so I stood quietly for a moment, but when he tried to grab me to pull me closer, I decided that it was time to leave.
At this feeding Tom appeared from behind the viewing benches so we all had to scatter in order to clear his path. He just sauntered up to the platform, sat eating his bananas for about ten minutes, and then left. We were so glad that we had seen him the day before because this appearance was not nearly as good. We watched the females and infants for awhile and then headed back to the boat.We returned to the dock walkway to find Peta, a female with her infant, standing to the side but hissing and swiping at people as they walked by. We waited for a minute and then each of us quickly made our way past her. At the head of the dock, Pan was once again lounging close to the boat boys who were sitting under the gazebo. He was so relaxed that it was funny.
Once again we set out our snacks but this time we kept an eye on Pan. He didn’t try to come on board that day. We let go the mooring lines and motored downstream a short distance where we tied up for the night, and then we enjoyed another delicious meal. It was another early night, but most of us did not sleep well because it rained heavily almost all night.
tely, because of the rain the village was flooded. Luckily, most of the homes were built on platforms, so they were not flooded inside, but most of the walkways were under water.
Our last stop was at another camp with a feeding platform for Orangutans that were a bit wilder. We ha
d to walk on a wooden walkway that was under water to a home and then get into a canoe that was pushed by our guide to dry land about 500 feet away. From there we walked to the platform and
watched the Orangutans come quickly down from the trees in order to stuff as many bananas into their mouths as possible and then run back up to the safety of the trees. It was very interesting but nothing compared to watching Tom on our first day.
There was one more feeding station; however, the mosquitoes were supposed to be quite bad there, and we decided that we were very happy with what we had seen so we skipped it. We decided to just take a leisurely boat ride back to the anchorage so that we could relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery of this beautiful and interesting land.
We arrived back at the boat around 4:30 and were thrilled to see that the work our boat boy had done was excellent. The stainless looked fantastic so it was well worth the 210,000 rupia that we paid him. We quickly unpacked and then downloaded our 100 or so pictures.
The last day in Kumai we were taken to a memorial in Pangkalan Bun, a large city a few miles from Kumai, where we helped to plant trees in a reforestation effort. From there we went to a soccer stadium to attend a local festival. There was the usual dancing, but we were also treated to a soccer game that was played with a burning coconut instead of a soccer ball. Now those were real men! There was also top spinning, and I tried out my aim with a blow dart gun. It was really interesting and fun, and the locals welcomed us very warmly.
Our lunch was with the Regent of Kotawaringin Barat Regency and was held at a local restaurant. The buffet food was good, and singers and dancers entertained us. After lunch we were taken downtown so that we could do some souvenir shopping. When we returned to the boat at four
o’clock, I was exhausted. Steve had stayed on the boat because of a stomach ailment, but it had been a very long day for me. I collected my laundry from Harry and then began preparing the boat to leave the next morning.
Our passage from Kumi to Belitung got off to a rocky start. We headed back down the river following the same course as when we arrived. We were doing fine until the last turn in the river where a tug and barge, as well as a freighter, were coming up the river. We moved to the right to give them plenty of room and were okay until the freighter decided to pass the tug. This put him between the tug and us and forced us closer to the shore. I was watching the depth meter and saw it start to shallow quickly. The next thing we knew we were aground. We immediately dropped the main sail because the wind was blowing us up on the shoal, and then we used the engine to try to push us off. Luckily, the waves actually helped to rock the boat so after a few minutes, we broke free and were off. As the freighter passed us, all the guys were waving and yelling, “Hello” to us. A few minutes later, the freighter was aground on the same shoal and the tide was falling. It appeared that it would be there for awhile.
Our trip took three days and was challenging because of squalls, fishing fleets, and commercial cargo ships. At dawn one morning I was on watch and was trying to weave through about five fishing boats. Not until the last minute did I see a line of floats attached to a drift net. I immediately put the engine in neutral and coasted over the net. Not five minutes later I went over another net. Our keel design makes it easy for us to pass over the nets without catching them on the propeller so we were lucky.
Next we started to receive AIS alerts from commercial ships. We had two coming from starboard and two from port. The fifth alert was from a vessel coming towards us. Our closest point of approach was very slim on several of these ships, so we had to time our direction and speed to cross the shipping lane without getting too close to one of them. We spent an hour dodging these ships before we were safely across.
The last night out was difficult because of all the small fishing vessels, but we made it though and arrived at Belitung in the early morning. The anchorage is large and shallow so we had no trouble anchoring. We settled in, straightened up the boat, and then slept for several hours. Now we will prepare to attend the last events on this rally. Three months have gone by very quickly.