Jungles of Borneo
19 November 2009 | Now Malaysia
After 2 nights at sea we approached the Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) coast but could see nothing of it due to the smoke haze and the low lying nature of the coastline. Even in the Kumai estuary we could see none of the coast. It took us most of the day travelling up the estuary to reach the start of the Kumai river where we were glad to anchor in a shallow bay as the trip up river to the town was 11 miles and we were not prepared to do this in failing light. Some of our friends were already in the town and radioed to tell us of a bus tour laid on by the local government and was leaving at 8am the following morning . We awoke at 6am and resigned ourselves to missing the tour as it would take us 2.5 hours to travel up the river, anchor and then get ashore, the tide was also against us. I then realised that with the 2day journey from Bali to Borneo we had changed time zones and the local time was actually 5am; we had an extra hour up our sleeves. The diesel engine on WdtW has never worked as hard, pushing us up river against the outgoing current, it is said that diesel engines like to be pushed hard and ours certainly got its wish for a few hours. We arrived a little after 8 am, performed the quickest anchoring ever and jumped into a passing dinghy to get to the bus just as it was about to leave. We were taken to a town 30mins drive away to see the annual river festival where all the locals dress up their boats and file past the Regent - we were again guests of honour and welcomed by the local dayak tribes people who danced in our honour, Jean as always likes to join in the dancing and was encouraged to do so. We were seated alongside the regent and his entourage and had a great view of the event which was full of fun and colour, well worth the effort to see.
This region of Borneo is not what I expected at all; we have seen some very poor areas within Indonesia and expected Kumai to be the same if not worse. It is one of the more forward thinking and socially modern regions in the whole of Indonesia. The current regent has ploughed money back into the community giving free health care and schooling for all - unique in Indonesia. He also instigated a refuse collection system that keeps the town clean, again rare in Indonesia.
Our main reason for visiting this area was to travel into the jungle to see the orang-utan sanctuary, only accessible by the narrow local boats (kloteks). With our friends from Pacific Express, Peter and Dell, we signed up for a 3 day 2 night trip up the river and into the heart of the reserve. The river started of quite wide but gradually narrowed allowing us to almost touch the trees on both sides. Along the way we saw crocodiles, snakes, lots of monkeys including the strange looking proboscis monkey, lots of birds - hornbills, kingfishers etc- and also caught site of a wild Orang-utan high in the trees. Our guide spent 7 years as a ranger in the national park and was a great source of information. After 5 hours travel we arrived at Camp Leakey, world renowned for their work with the rehabilitation of young Orang-utans who have been orphaned or rescued from illegal trading. There are over 200 Orang-utans that visit the camp on a regular basis and the rangers know them all by name, some of the rangers even converse with them. 3pm is the feeding time when the Orang-utans come in for a supplementary feed of bananas. It is astounding to see these huge creatures climbing the thinnest trees and slowly making their way to the feeding platform. All communities of Orang-Utans have a dominant male, in this area Big Tom, a 26 yr old was the undisputed king. Whilst we were at the feeding station we heard lots of activity along the nearby path and saw one of the rangers running in our direction shouting for us to get out of the way as big Tom was heading towards us. He was huge much larger than the females and juvenile males who hang around the camp. The other orang-utans quickly cleared the platform to give him free reign and just looked on while Tom ate his fill. As he climbed off the platform a young female caught his eye and he was off up a tree chasing her, she swung onto another tree and Tom followed jumping onto the same tree, his weight causing the tree to be up rooted and fall very close to where we were all watching, nearly hitting another of our friends who was unaware of which way the tree was falling. After a few hours at Camp Leakey we went back to the boat and motored away into a remote part of the river where the crew tied up against the bank and prepared dinner for us whilst we relaxed with a beer or 3 taking in the sights and sounds of the forest. One of the strangest sights is to see a fully grown Orang-utan climb to the top of a thin spindle of a tree and build a nest for the night, it is so incongruous to see these huge beasts in nests. Sleeping arrangements for us on the klotek were primitive but comfortable, the crew would clear the deck, layout foam matresses and place mosquito nets over the sleeping areas, there was plenty of space for 4 people to sleep. On our way back , just after dusk we went through a Nappa palm area illuminated with millions of fire flies, just like Collins St at Christmas. The 3 days we spent on the river were memorable and one of the best things we have ever done. The cost for the 3 days was about AUD$130 per person and included the guide, skipper, cook, and helper plus twice as much food as we needed. I call that good value.
Once back on our own boat I thought things would get back to normal but there is no such thing as normal in Indonesia as we found out on another organised trip the next day. After visiting the historical sites of a nearby town we were whisked off to what was described as a boat race where the participants go in opposite directions, we just couldn't work out what they meant until we arrived at the site and found the activity well under way. It was tug o war in a long boat were a pair of paddlers at one end were competing against a pair at the other end of the boat to drag the boat in their direction. Of course they wanted volunteers from Sail Indonesia to have a go and of course I put my hand up as always. Four of us (2 Frenchmen , a kiwi and myself) were ushered toward the starting platform amid the cheers of the locals, thinking we were to battle with each other. But no, we were to paddle against the local dayak men who spend all their life paddling around. The 2 frenchies lasted about 2-3 mins before they were beaten. Then came our turn and to everyones surprise including ours we beat the local tribesmen after frantically paddling for about 10 mins.
Later that evening we witnessed one of the strangest games I have every seen - fireball football- 2 teams of 6 per side playing soccer with a large coconut doused in kerosene and flames reaching half a meter. Once again they asked for volunteers and yes I did, shaming other sailors into join in too. After all, if the locals can do it why can't we. The only concession I made was to wear sandals and not go barefoot. Good fun was had all round and the locals loved us to participate. The only injuries sustained on our side were a bruised toe from one guy and singed leg hairs for all. (Some good photos see gallery). Its definitely time to leave Kumai before they have us wrestling Orang-utans or something else equally dangerous. So we head for the notorious South China Sea (perhaps I should wrestle an Orang-utan instead) and Belitung, the last stop in the official Sail Indonesia rally. We initially discussed not going to this stop and head straight for Singapore but are so glad to have visited Belitung; for us the jewel in the Indonesian crown. The island is beautiful, the people once again very welcoming and also organised (quite unusual in Indo). Jean and I lay in the water off a beach and wondered if we have ever been to a more wonderful setting. Our time a Belitung was soon over and here we signed out of the country to head for Malaysia, some 4-5 days away. Along the way we crossed the equator at 7:15 am on 26 October 2009 and later that evening celebrated the crossing with a fancy dress party on Cilantro our friends boat. Jean was dressed as a coral reef (Bommie lass) and I went as King Neptune. Good fun was had by all.
The next day we headed for the dreaded Straits of Singapore, one of the busiest stretches of waterway in the world. From our anchorage that evening I sat and timed the large tankers and container ships go by, there was one every 7-10 mins. These ships in the Strait are confined to traffic lanes, one procession of ships going one way and another in a separate lane going the other with a central reservation in the middle. It was necessary for us to cross these lanes to get into Malaysia. Our dilemma is that the lanes are almost 2miles wide and travelling at 6 knots it takes us 20 mins to get across the lane and the ships are passing every 7 -10 mins. When the morning came we motored towards the lanes and picked a gap in the traffic, full steam ahead we went for it. Going almost a full speed and well timed to get through the gap both Jean and I saw rows of white buoys on the surface of the water at right angles to our intended path, the local fishermen know where to place their nets to cause most havoc. 20 mins later we found a way through the nets, found another gap in the traffic and were across to the other side and into Malaysian waters without any other drama. All in all crossing the lanes was quite easy but being the first time in so busy a water way the fear was worse than reality.
It is with a tinge of sadness that we say good bye to Indonesia, we have had experiences way beyond our expectations. Do your self a favour and put this country on your list of places to visit, not Kouta Beach, Bali unless you want the nightclub scene but the other islands will give you the true Indonesian experience.
On the blog front page I have added a link under favourites titled "Where are we now" It transfers you to a map showing our exact location, I update this via a radio connection on a daily basis (unless we are staying for a couple of days in one location) so if you want to see where we are just click on the link.
Indonesia in a nutshell:
Wonderful scenery; genuinely friendly and helpful people; living culture (not just tourist entertainment); fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs from the local markets; cheap food in restaurants (although you may pay a premium as a tourist it is still very cheap).
Good beer (Bintang)
The people are very industrious and inventive.
Always felt safe during our stay.
Untidy, the curse of modern packaging but with out the means to get rid of it. You need to have your wits about you walking in the street or you will find yourself down one of the many holes.
Supermarkets where you can find them do not sell the range of items we have grown used to.
Notes for future Indonesian rally participants
If any future rally participants are reading, here are some points to consider.
Indonesian officialdom, whilst a pain in the neck at the time was not as bad as I first expected. Just be patient and smile.
About 70% of the time we motored, ensure you carry sufficient fuel.
Water from the tap is not for drinking but 20litre containers of purified water are available for about AUD$1-2 and can be delivered to your boat.
The normal way to buy diesel is to give your jerry cans to a boat boy or restaurant owner, they take them away and fill them. It would be a good idea to mark the containers so you know you are getting the correct amount. I filtered all the fuel I bought but it seemed to be quite clean.
Breakdowns were not uncommon, engines being the most problematic. It is very hard to get things fixed here. One boat had fuel injector problems that hadn't been fixed after 4 weeks or so, in the end the owner flew to Singapore to buy new parts. A number of boats were towed into port. Refrigeration seemed to be an issue for some boats in these high temps.
The only problem we had was due to the engine overheating and demolishing pump impellors. I traced this to an error by the installer in Hastings fitting a wrong sized component in the raw water feed. We also ran out of cooking gas in the last week or so but carry a camping stove which worked fine.
All electronic charts are up to a mile out in some areas, a friends navionics chart did not show the large reef that they nearly ran onto. The pirate version of CMap has very good detail but suffers from the same issues of accuracy as mentioned. You will be offered photocopies of charts for the whole sailing area whilst in Darwin, the quality is poor as is the paper they are printed on. There are other options, email me if you want to know more.
Beer is widely available, wine is not. Some towns are completely dry.
You will be anchoring in 25 plus metres at some anchorages, you need plenty of rode.
Can't think of anything else stay tuned for report on Malaysia.
David and Jean