This is a klotok, a traditional river boat, which we chartered to take us 20 miles further up the river to see the orang-utans. For those of you old enough, if was very reminiscent of 'African Queen' with a diesel engine!
It had 2 levels - the lower, enclosed, level for the crew (skipper, mate, cook and guide) and the top, open level where four of us (we were with Ian and Viv from Paramour) rode, ate and slept. Every afternoon the heavens opened and we got a truly torrential jungle downpour (even Manchester rain bears no comparison to this!); at this point tarpaulins were dropped around the sides so that we proceeded in stately splendour in a pale blue cocoon. The 'western style toilet' (which was flushed by pouring a bucket of river water down it!) at the back of the boat had a door but no roof so we could wave at Peter and Ian (both 6' plus) when they took a pee!
It took us four hours to get to the head of the river -with the banks slowly closing in until the pandan palms and jungle trees that line the banks were brushing the boat on both sides.
Once we turned off the main tributary into the side channels, the water, which had been muddy with all the sediment from the logging and mining upstream (more of this later), turned a wonderful clear, clean tea colour.
At night we tied up on our own on the river bank, with strict instructions not to go swimming as there were crocs in the water (though unfortunately we didn't see any)! We had an amazingly varied and tasty supper (considering it was cooked in a tiny, hot cramped space below deck) accompanied by a cold Bintang (Indonesian beer) from the coolbox. By 8.30 (it goes dark at 6!) we were lying on lumpy mattresses draped with mozzie nets made from 1950's pattern lace curtains! We were assailed by the sounds of the jungle - calling frogs, chain-saw crickets (yes, that is EXACTLY what they sound like!), the sudden loud splash of a crocodile grabbing a midnight snack, and a rowdy dawn chorus of birds, supplemented with the most fearful territorial fight between two troupes of macaque monkeys.
What do you mean, how did we sleep?
We spent today exploring the towns of Kumai and Pangkalan Bun, just up the road.
Kumai is a river town, with a long street strung out along the bank, packed full of ramshackle buildings of all shapes and sizes. It looks like the film reconstructions of London in the 1600's.
By far the most bizarre buildings are the tall, square, barrack-like concrete constructions which, it turns out, are swallow hotels. They have been constructed to encourage swallows to build their nests in the eaves so that the nests can be collected and sold in China to make bird's nest soup. Apparently all the spit and grot is what goes to give this soup it delicious gelatinous consistency! Lovely!!
We have discovered that if you hire a taxi in Indonesia (the best way to get around) and ask to be taken to see the elephants/to a supermarket/to a restaurant/to buy some wood carvings etc, then you will not necessarily be taken to the place you asked for - you will end up at the establishment from which the driver gets a kick-back!
We have sometimes needed to be very firm (and on one occasion get out and walk) to get to the right place!
We had lunch in Pangkalan Bun at our driver's recommended restaurant "the best one in town". They were clearly expecting us (!) and, in fact, produced an amazing table-ful of mixed dishes, which we tucked into.
The (sort of) highlight was a dish that Peter tried and pronounced to be tasty but of a rather odd, soft consistency. The surgeon in our group carefully dissected it and announced it to be bull's testicles.
Peter looked a little green!
October 31 2008, Kumai, Kalamantan
This evening we are anchored 15 miles up the Kumai river in Kalamantn, which is the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo. We have booked a 3 day trip on a kelotok - a sort of rudimentary river boat - to see the orang-utans.
The trip up the river was a real experience. After a 450 mile trip from Bali, we arrived at our landfall... and couldn't see land. We were in the middle of a huge river delta and the land was so low lying that it was not until we were within a couple of miles that we started to see trees appear on the horizon.
From 10 miles out we had only a few metres of water under the keel, and at the mouth of the river we had to wend our way through a tortuous series of turns to find enough depth to get us over the sand bars and into the river - nail-biting stuff!
Then for 3 hours we motored up the river with the jungle and its noises gradually closing in on both sides, dodging little river boats criss-crossing in front of us, and the occasional unwieldy freighter (one of which had run aground!). These look unstable when empty because they are so high sided, and unstable when they are full because the sides are only inches above the water!
A sudden thunderstorm after we had anchored completed the atmosphere - the jungle is now dripping and green and buzzing!