No tourists and no forest in Samarinda
I fly straight via Jakarta to Balikpapan in East Kalimantan and take the next bus to Samarinda the same day. After two weeks in Singapore I don’t want to stay any longer in a city but in the dschungel among natives and Orang Utans
Well, I have to be in another concrete dschungel first. Arriving in Samarinda I hope to find other tourists for a nice trek and to share the costs for guides and boat chartering. But there are no other whites in town, what I find is guide over guide over guide, all looking for a job. Or better, they find me. I experience there is a well working network in town: If a tourist arrives they start ringing up each other. The first guide gets the fish in the majority of cases since most tourists are too lazy to compare prizes and want to leave soon for a tour.
I have been waiting for 3 days and still there is no other tourist. I take the guide who had shown up first in my hotel, cause I’m also a lazy tourist and because I’m already staying in his house. Jumaid had invited me to stay with his family while waiting for other tourists. Good trick… For Indonesian rates I pay a fortune for a three day trip to the Lakes of Tanjung Issuy. Compared to western countries it is still ok, and since I could have a look at his poor living standard I don’t feel to bad with the high price.
Just the night before we leave there is a new tourist in town! The information is given by my guides daughter who works next to the hotel. I manage to meet him but he doesn’t want to come with me due to his own money restrictions. John is a student of philosophy from London, 23 years old. He wants to go all the way up the Mahakam River to Long Bagun and stay there for a week. Since I have already paid my guide and cannot cancel the tour anymore we arrange to meet in Muara Muntai three days later.
Two weeks on the Mahakam River and hunting with the Dayak people
Borneo is not the exotic wild sight I had expected. You have to go a long way into the country to see forest in Kalimantan. Along the river there is almost everywhere farmland instead of dschungel.
The lake trip with my guide Jumaid is nice though, I see many birds like Kingfishers and Marabus, stay in traditional Longhouse (there don’t live native Dayak people anymore though, it’s a home stay now) and watch the life in the fishing villages. But Jumaid seems to be bored to do his job and we don’t talk a lot although he speaks quite well English. I am happy when he leaves me in Muara Muntai, where I’m waiting now for the boat with John on board!
There are only two boats a day going upriver from Samarinda to Long Bagun, and I don’t know exactly what time they will drop in at Muara Muntai. I spend exciting 4 hours at the pier waiting for the boats. He is on the second and I jump: On the moving ship in the middle of the river- from a small boat that brings me.
For that you can figure the distances: Getting to the village of Long Bagun takes 3 days from Samarinda, getting back to Samarinda another to days.
John and I stay there 6 days among the Dayak people in Long Bagun. Don’t expect a tribal living there, those people are quite modern these days. More (or less) officially they are all Christians, cause everybody in Indonesia has to have a religion. And they can’t be Muslims since they love eating pork.
But for two days we go hunting pigs and deer with born-and-bred Dayak hunters, running through the rain forest with spears and dogs (those small people are quite fast, eh!), up and down, through small rivers, using machetes to make our way. Is that fun? Being dirty, dripping with sweat and collecting leeches on our legs, washing the sweat and dirt down with the water from the river, sleeping in a houseboat with 15 persons, watching TV in the midst of the dschungel, eating tradional food made in banana leaves – is that fun? Yes, it is fun! If you don’t mind blood, sweat and mud 🙂
I’m happy though that we neither catch a pig nor a deer, that we don’t even see one of them. To be honest, I didn’t really want to be the wisdom of a killing… But, unlucky pigs! The hunter find them on the next day and bring us the meat into our home stay. Already cooked.
Visiting the black Orang Utans of Kutai National Park
Before I leave Kalimantan to go to Sulawesi I head for Sangatta in the Kutai National Park, 6 hours north of Samarinda, to see Orang Utans. That’s what you actually come for in Borneo, don’t you?
I bring my own food and a mosquito net and stay 2 nights in the Orang Utan Research Center, that was founded by an Japanese scientist in the 1980ies. The monkeys are always around there and easy to see. They sit in the trees eating Jackfruit or sleep. And they are black! I didn’t know, there are black Orang Utans!(I’m happy now I bought a new camera with a good zoom in Singapore…)
It’s almost a bit like in a zoo, they are used to humans. But, well, they still live in the wilderness even if it is only in a small area of protected forest. One of the last places, Orang Utans can live wildly. There’s not much forest left in Borneo. There were bad fires some years ago that destroyed a lot of old, big trees. And there is logging, illegal and legal.
When you go to Sangatta from Samarinda there is only logging and burning, even in areas that are part of the Kutai NP. It’s so sad to see that. And it is not better in other parts of Indonesia or Malaysia. Most people here just don’t care. They have to deal with their current lifes and refuse to think of the future.
What can we do?
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