Our first day on the boat was spent largely in travel into the Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting, a Indonesian National Park designed to preseve the jungle wildlife. As we klo-tok-tok-tok’d down the river, our guide explained that the land on the right of the river was protected, but that poaching was still common. The land to the left of the river was not part of the national park, but that the jungle wasn’t largely inhabited, with only one local tribe still remaining in the area. Instead, nearby land was used for gold mining. While my guide couldn’t remember the company by name, he told me that a small Chinese company searched for gold in the area, and that resulting mercury and mud run-off made its way into the waters, polluting the area. (Doubtless, even the tourist industry I was taking part of contributed to this issue, since I am quite confident that our manual flush toilet emptied directly into the river.) At one particular junction of two rivers, a fresh stream emptied into the murky main stream in a surprising clash of colour.
We stopped at our first camp shortly after a lunch of fish (pulled, of course, out of my favourite mercury tainted stream), tempeh, rice and watermelon. “A kingdom of mosquitoes,” as described by our tour guide, I was glad to be wearing jeans, a slather of DEET, and a cardigan, regardless of the high heat and humidity of the rainforest. However, it was worth the slight annoyance to see our first orangutans. The primeapes are by no means domesticated, but instead tolerate the presence of humans during feeding times. Since most of the camps have a two-fold purpose (rehabilitation and tourism), the orangutans are used to a scheduled feeding of sugar cane once a day. The camp guides begin to howl about fifteen minutes before feeding time, and the orangutans slowly start to appear from the thickness of the jungle.
During the three days on the river, we visted three camps. The best camp, by far, was Camp Leaky. Our third and final destination, Camp Leaky is set back further into the park and deeper into the jungle. The orangutans seemed to be more adventuresome here, interacting in more amusing and human-like ways than at the other camps.
At the end of our observation, we went for a hike. “Three miles, one hour,” our guide said confidently, but ten minutes into our rainforest jaunt, it became obvious that we weren’t about to walk down a nicely groomed path. The ground was swampy and we precariously jumped from root formation to half- submerged board to tree trunk as we all tried to avoid a dip into the swamp. (Since my hiking shoes are oh-so-safely sitting in my closet in Michigan, I was wearing a Toms-esq pair of shoes that evently allowed one foot to take a five inch dip into the swamp. I had flashbacks to my HFCC days of swamp stomping as I quickly pulled my foot out of the muck. Of course, the guide behind me never faltered, and he wasn’t even wearing shoes…) Regardless of our rough start, the hike was exciting. While we didn’t see any wildlife, it was really refreshing to be outside in the fresh air instead of jumping over drainage ditches in Jakarta.
(Fun Fact: “Rimba” means jungle, which is one of my favourite words because in Bahasa Indonesia, the letter “r” is always rolled. “RRRRRimba!”)