Arriving at Palangkaraya we were met by our guide for our Wow! Borneo excursion for the start of our five day cruise up the Rungan River. Our first stop was a supermarket to buy alcohol as it was a dry boat!
Within minutes we were starting our cruise and being shown to our comfortable but bijou bedroom with air conditioning, en-suite shower and marine loo.
Passing stilted houses upriver to see hornbill and monkeys playing in the trees and floating on logs beside the houses, what a racket the parrots made in the trees as we gently trundled up river with Houses becoming more sparse. The river winds gently for an hour. Butterflies come and flutter by the boat in every shape, size and colour.
The strange tower blocks on the river banks, we found were for swifts to build nests with the nests then being sold to the Chinese for birds nest soup! The birds song echoed across the water as they dived and swooped around, teasing us to catch them in a photo.
After a three hour sail up river lunch is served freshly cooked by the on-board chef. Corn fritters, chicken wings, Kohlrabi and rice all served with a spiced soy sauce. I am not usually one for tofu but how the delicate strips were seasoned was absolutely delicious and finishing with sweet banana.
We branched off into a smaller river for a further hour to a small village of where we disembarked to be met by our initial driver who drove us to a sacred burial place called a Bone House, elevated on stills, then on to meet one of the oldest residents of the village. Sitting cross legged and weaving rattan bags, her brother keeping an eye on proceedings while she ate lunch consisting of ground nut, tobacco mixed in a paste and wrapped in a leaf similar to Betel found in other parts of Asia.
Back to the boat for a gentle cruise in the search of an anchorage for the night. This turned out to be a branch of a tree which kept us secure all night!
Citra our guide spoke good English, however her accent took a little getting used to. Being a Dayak, they have their own language, one of three languages spoken in Indonesia.
The bedrooms are small so take minimal luggage, even with a/c in the rooms, they can be stuffy but we were there in the rainy season.
Waking up the first morning to the dawn chorus and gorgeous fresh java coffee on deck was a delight.
After a leisurely cruise upstream to a picturesque village, Katimpun, with stilted board walks, we were taken to the children’s library where we were given a dancing lesson in traditional dance and greetings. Yes, good morning is Selamat Pagi. Their awareness of the environment was inspiring as children are asked to return plastic for recycling by weight and given pens and books in return.
What a delightful visit even the cockerels on little islands stranded by the rising waters seemed happy with life.
After another hour by boat, we came to the 70-hectare island known as Palas island an orangutan reserve and our guide points to a tree and whispered “there’s one!!!” as we rush to try and locate the bundle, which tree? Oh, the moment is past! Had I missed my chance?
We then transferred to a smaller canoe and we retraced our route where rustling in the bushes we spot a male then another and then the whole family, all seven in one group. The male descended the tree and lumbered towards us through the bushes down to the edge of the water, he seemed as interested in us as we were in him.
The whole family took turns in joining him as one naughty teenager spent time doing gym and aerobic exercises in the tree and irritating others in the group by dropping sticks and leaves on those below. One baby started to misbehave and was cuffed by the dominant male, landing in the water he then fled back into the tree, wet and looking embarrassed.
Time stood still but we must have spent an hour peacefully watching their antics. Then one female decided to take a rest in her nest above the river and the dominant male similarly indicated it was time for us to leave as he bounced on the bushes, so the guide quickly started the engine and we were off.
Normally orangutans live a solitary existence in the wild and as this group interacted with us indicated they were not yet ready for release into the wild. What an experience!
A short canoe trip through the backwaters to the rehabilitation centre and the forest school where the programme of reintroduction of orphaned youngsters is managed by the NGO, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.
Their inspirational work encouraged me to adopt Male (pronounced Marlay), the naughty teenager I had observed earlier, in an effort to support their important work.
Another day begins with a short cruise to a village and a walk through the jungle to observe wild life, then on to see a second sanctuary where rangers put out food twice a day for the orangutans who wait patiently by the food station for a home delivery or corn, banana and fruit. We were lucky to observe the orangutans again and spend an unhurried time in their company.
The colour of water of the river is a mustard brown and it was with trepidation we were told we would be going for a swim. The boatman steered his craft further up river and then veered off into a tiny tributary through thick jungle where we struck submerged log and violently shook the canoe! All safe, we proceeded though the jungle where the colour of the water turned black and ahead a small sandy mound. We stopped and enjoy a glorious swim where the peat of the water made our skin look red.
Hornbills, renowned for being shy and the national symbol of this area of Borneo was on the wish list. To our delight a tree full of these elegant creatures was spotted however, as soon as the engine was slowed they flew off en masse, leaving a Proboscis monkey in peace.
Returning to our boat, we set off the find a safe anchorage for the night. There in the shallows was a tree with an adequate branch. One rope secured us for the night! The captain observed a nearby wild mango tree so he set off in our canoe with the cabin boy to collect an additional delicacy for supper. As they left the tangled shore the cabin boy stepped aboard the canoe almost tipping the captain into the murky water. Capturing the escapade on video I played this back to the crew much to their huge delight.
The next day we anchored in the village centre to be met by the elder, Pak Anden, in traditional robes with children who participated in a welcome ceremony, which we later discovered was to encourage the younger people to learn about the traditions of the village.
With no access to the village by road and with no mains electricity their communication with the outside world is by boat and the nearest town will be a five or six hour trip by canoe. After being sprinkled with jasmine scented water, rice being put in our hair, painted with rice flour, we were invited to return the honour by painting the villagers and finally given a headdress to wear. This was without doubt a genuine ceremony as visits by tourists are unusual and we were treated with great respect.
We were taken to the village elders house and entertained with coffee. Pak then discussed his concerns about the environment, destruction of the forest and wildlife habitats. He said the forests provide all their needs and he then took us through the jungle showing us all the fruits and spices that are readily available. As we said our goodbyes, Pak’s passion for the environment and his village left me with a sense of comfort of the future of his village.
- Wow Borneo!
- Our bespoke three and a half week tour was arranged by the London office of Jon Baines Tours under the guidance of Jon himself who is based in Australia and has specialist knowledge of Indonesia. Our tour included all airport transfers and pick ups which were managed perfectly. on Baines Tours can organise specialist tours and cruises throughout Indonesia from £1500 to £4000