Our family of 6 – three teenagers and three adults – spent 4 days in the Indonesian jungle of Borneo a little while ago. I’ve already written a couple of blogs about a few of our experiences. In A Stunning Borneo Ecotour With Teens, I write about our first day in Borneo, where we stayed, and how we got to our ecolodge in the deep jungle. In Trekking for Orangutans In Indonesia, we continued our second day of our adventure by travelling by boat and then by foot into the rainforest to find and watch orangutans. Our close encounters of these majestic creatures were astounding.
In this last blog about our time in the jungles of Borneo, I’m going to describe our last day there before we left. We saw more orangutans, which was really cool, but we did a few other things that were a highlight for me on this day. For example, we learned about important trees and plants that grow in the jungle that are integral to modern medicine. Then, we got to plant those trees in an area devastated by fire. Nearby our lodge, we visited a local village where most of the employees live, learning a little bit about their lives. Finally, at dusk, we climbed aboard our boat and travelled around 30 minutes along the river and the rainforest. There, in the darkness, we ate dinner while thousands of lightning bugs glittered all around us. That evening was simply breathtaking.
Orangutan Rehabilitation Centres
We went to two orangutan rehabilitation centres and feeding stations in Tanjung Puting National Park called Tanjung Harapan and Pondok Tanggui. They were much closer to our Lodge than Camp Leakey, the one we spent visiting a day earlier. They were similar to Camp Leakey – a 30 to 45 minute hike into the jungle to a large platform set away from the visitors, and park rangers leaving “free” bananas for any orangutans that wanted to come and enjoy them.
I loved the walks and hearing from our naturalist guide about the various plants and bugs that we spotted along the way. We never knew how many orangutans would show up, or what they would do (whether we would have another close encounter or not). It was lots and lots of fun to simply sit back and watch events unfold. Nothing was as exciting as the first day encounter with the two females, the baby and the alpha male, but it was still fascinating to be there and watch these wonderful creatures.
In this blog, I won’t talk too much more about these orangutan experiences. Instead, if you are curious about them please read my earlier blog Trekking for Orangutans In Indonesia.
Pesalat Re-forestation Centre
In addition to visiting two orangutan rehabilitation centres, we also planted trees at the Pesalat Re-Forestation Centre through the Friends of the National Park Foundation.
Reforestation is trying to address two significant problems in the National Park. First, prior to the National Park being formed, a lot of the trees were slashed and burned to make way for traditional farming. This type of farming created problems with the soil and for natural tree growth to occur. Second, in 2006, a major fire severely burned parts of the National Park. Today, the park rangers continue to plant new trees, remove dangerously dry/dead plants and trees to reduce the risk of another fire, and maintain the overall park infrastructure.
I really enjoyed our time here. We hiked through the jungle for about an hour. The park ranger showed us all the types of trees that they are planting in the reforestation. Most of them have significant uses in Western medicine. Then, we got to choose which kinds of saplings we wanted to plant. We hiked another 15 minutes into the rainforest and started planting. It was a very small contribution to the rainforest, but it felt really good to be a part of this.
Songai Sekonyer Village
A short boat ride away from our lodge was the village of Songai Sekonyer. After visiting the last orangutan rehabilitation centre of the day, our guide took us there for a tour.
During our time in and around Tanjung Punting National Park, we barely saw villages or other forms of civilization except for the occasional tourist, the staff at the Lodge, and the park rangers. We boated up and down the rivers around the Park over four days, and only once saw a small collection of huts perched on their shores. So I was very curious to see what this village would look like.
The village was a strange mix of modern life and very poor living conditions. One of the first things we saw as we left the dock and approached the village was a really nice large volleyball court filled with young men playing volleyball. This ended up being the “centre” of town and it seemed like everyone was hanging out, watching the game, or chatting with friends. They were very friendly, dressed in western clothes, and many had smart phones.
However, as we walked through the village, we could see the difficult living circumstances. Some of the homes looked nice and solidly built, but more were ramshackle. All seemed to be virtually empty of rooms regardless of how they looked from the outside. In fact, they all seemed in very poor condition when we got glimpses of the interior.
Because of the proximity to the river, they all had water running around them. The water seemed pretty dirty with garbage flowing through it, and yet, this is where the children swam and bathed. Many were having a great time covered in soap swimming around, but it was difficult to watch when the water seemed so clearly dirty. Throughout the whole village, we saw one little store that sold a few shelf stable items, but really offered very little. It looked like a trip to the mainland would be necessary for significant supplies. I had mixed feelings visiting this village. I think tourism is generally helping to improve their standard of living, but there still is a ways to go before their lives will be more comfortable, with safer living conditions.
We had a fantastic final day in the Indonesian jungle of Borneo. I loved seeing more orangutans and watching these amazing creatures in their natural habitat. Exploring the local village was very interesting, and learning about and planting trees were highlights. However, dinner with the lightning bugs was truly an exceptional experience and a memory that I will always cherish.
If you are interested in reading more about our adventures during our three week trip to Indonesia, here is a list of all the articles that I have written:
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