Orangutans, the people from the forest

Orang Hutan  translates into Person and Forest, in both Bahasa Malay and Indonesia.

people and forest
people and forest

Leaving Banjarmasin we crossed the southern Kalimantan waters in low depths (we sailed for over 12 hours at 8 knots in depths between 5 and 10 meters) into a new river. Sungai Kumai.

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Sailing the South Kalimantan Waters, little depth and many wrecks.

This is the place we knew we had to sail to, if we wanted to see the orangutans in the Indonesian side of Borneo. But the reason why we where here started a year and a half ago. In February/March 2015 we had a few decisive meetings as a family. Initially we had planned to be sailing for 2 years and budgeted accordingly. But once in NZ we realized we had spent far less than expected and we discussed wether everybody would be happy to keep on sailing. The result of discussions and votes were unanimous. We all wanted to keep on sailing and exploring, the question was: Where to???

Should we stay in the South Pacific and sail to Australia or should we venture further. Among the discussions someone threw in a thought: Why don’t we go to see the Orangutans in Borneo??

We all looked at each other and no one had a concrete idea in it’s mind other than: Why not?

We all have heard, read and seen about Orangutans. We know they are very similar to us, we know they are some of the last apes on earth (ape as opposed to monkey has no tail, we all knew that, right?) and that they are close to extinction due to lost of habitat and hunting.

Well, next thing was taking out the big sea charts and see how to get to Borneo from NZ. For a couple of weeks we thought that we would sail to the Philippines and from there down to Borneo. When planning big crossings you have to take into account major wind patterns and currents if you don’t want to be fighting the elements, which in most cases is no fun, if possible at all. Typhoons and recent cases of serious life threatening piracy eventually had us look at alternatives and we worked out the way to sail from Vanuatu to the Solomon Islands and from there, North of Papua New Guinea into Indonesia, to reach Borneo through it’s southern coast.

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This is our route throughout Indonesia to reach Kumai

So we had finally reached Kumai, a small harbour town with the same name as the river which is the entrance to the Tanjung Putting National Park. It consists mainly of swampland and rainforest and the only feasible way to visit it is by boat. Fortunately Lumbaz is too big and wide to sail into these small rivers and that is how we got to meet Dessy & Arif. This young couple have established an agency to visit the park.  They are not the only ones, but Orangutanapplause  has something very special. Not only are Dessy, Arif and Bayu hard working and enthusiastic about their work, but there is a great consciousness about the urgency to protect before it is too late. Arif, as a biologist has worked with research teams and with different NGO’s in the field and his passion is bird watching, so travelling with him on a klotok (name of the local boats that make the trips up the river) is fascinating. Imagine having a living encyclopedia, with immediate answers to any questions and the capacity to recognize any sound (and believe me there are many, between the mammals, reptiles and birds) in the rain forest.

We spend 3 wonderful days in the river. Saw many things, learned even more. Got fed with some delicious food and we got to visit the Conservation Areas Dr. Galdikas created to study the orangutans. Now they serve to rehabilitate orangutans that have been hurt or displaced due to logging and palm oil plantations. The intention is to get them back into the wild. Truth is the whole setup is a bit touristy, but the experience to observe the fauna and flora and to see the monkeys and apes in nature is an unforgettable one.

Monkeys for the tail, probiscious for their nose.
Monkeys for the tail, probiscious for their nose.

We will post a few different post since we have many different pictures and things to tell.

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Banjarmasin, city of rivers

Travelling by boat through Indonesia is a real gift for the nature and people you meet, but the bureaucracy and paperwork involved with it is not always easy.

We need to renew our visas every month and it is a real curse for many fellow cruisers, but as we say in Spanish “no hay mal que por bien no venga”.

We prefer to take the positive side and realized that looking for harbors with Immigration Office gave us the chance to visit places we would have never sailed to otherwise.

Banjarmasin was one of those places.

Main town of South Borneo (Kalimantan) it is a bustling big city, located at the junction of the Barito and Martapura rivers.

Jacques Nicolas Bellin 1747: Carte Des Isles De Java, Sumatra, Borneo &.a Les Detroits de la Sonde Malaca et Banca &c (Benjarmassen on the SE corner of Borneo)
Jacques Nicolas Bellin 1747: Carte Des Isles De Java, Sumatra, Borneo &.a Les Detroits de la Sonde Malaca et Banca &c (Benjarmassen on the SE corner of Borneo)

Our experience is that the harder it gets to reach a place, the more rewarding it becomes to be there.

We spent two days sailing from Kangean to Banjarmasin.  We hardly had any sleep between squalls, lightning and unlit fishing nets that we had to avoid, slaloming all night long.

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As we approached Borneo, the color of the water started changing to a darker brown, letting us know that we were getting close to the Barito River, which is with 900 km lenght, Indonesia’s longest river.

We were almost there.

At the entrance of the delta, there were more than 100 big cargo ships anchored and barges and tug boats were moving all over the place, being emptied from its load, mainly coal and tropical hardwood that came from the jungle up the river.

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To get to Banjarmasin we had to follow a narrow channel dredged on purpose for the barges up the Barito river for 20 miles. Without clear water and the mud banks showing depths below a meter it was not something we looked forward to. We sneaked in between two tugboats towing barges.

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Barges loaded with coal. Full means going downstream, empty going up the river.

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Since we did not make it to Banjarmasin before sunset and we could not spot the debris and logs floating down the river, we decided to anchor next to a small island, out of the commercial traffic that moves day and night.

The following morning we lowered our dinghy to go for our first “monkey spotting” trip. It took us a while, but we were successful observing langurs and long tail macaques in the wild, but we found no trace of the proboscis monkeys. We would have to wait to get to Kumai to spot them.

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On our way back, we saw people on board Lumbaz. For the first time, since we left San Diego had someone gotten on board without our permission.

We heaved anchor and arrived in Banjarmasin.

Everything moves around the water here, so there is a dedicated Water Police. We asked them where it would be safe for us to anchor and they gently showed us a spot, close to the commercial harbors and in the route of one of the ferries that connects the shores of the River, so that we were basically always surrounded by boats and people moving. Not very private or intimate, but safe!

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Water police called Polair in Bahasa Indonesia Polisi (police) and Air (water)

The activity was full on, even on a Sunday afternoon. Freighters, barges, ferries, pinisis, klotoks or river busses, speedboats, all moved all around us, carrying people, cargo, animals, full, empty…

This is the ferry that sails past Lumbaz every 25 minutes. They keep an eye on us!!
This is the ferry that sails past Lumbaz every 25 minutes. They keep an eye on us!!

On the riverbanks there are places where the logs are parked, waiting to be hauled on to the barges. It is sad to see the amount of large cut trees floating around.

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Logs waiting to be taken downstream to the freighter for export. In the meantime, people use them as pontoons for fishing.

We could only think about what is happening to the rainforest and the big problem of deforestation and logging, which we have been seeing throughout the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

These go to export, to our terraces, bathrooms or living rooms.
These go for export, to our terraces, bathrooms or living rooms.

 

The following days were just amazing!!

Banjarmasin lies a few centimeters below sea level. In 1526 Sultan Suriansyah built a kingdom on the edge of the Kuin, Martapura and Barito rivers that later became Banjarmasin city and converted the people from Hinduism to Islam. Local people build traditional floating houses along the rivers called “lanting”, facing the rivers, which are made of wood or bamboo. Not much has changed in centuries.

We took several trips with our dinghy into the channels and could see how people live on the river.

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It is hard to describe the place: it is an “Indonesian Venice”.

Social, commercial and private activity happens along the canals and you can see people cooking in their kitchens, doing laundry, washing themselves or brushing their teeth in the river. Everybody waved happily at us.

We stopped in front of a beautiful Mosque that we visited. Masjid Sultan Suriansyah is one of Indonesia’s oldest (over 400 years) and it hosts an Islamic  school we got invited to visit. The kids were happy to see us and we started the picture sessions with all the teachers, students and parents that were around.

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One of the highlights was the floating market. We got up early and took the dinghy. At sunrise we were there, to buy our veggies and fruits.

 

Banjarmasin - 19The floating market of Banjarmasin is a traditional market at the estuary of the Kuin river, a tributary of the Barito. From daybreak boats come from villages around the rivers Tabuk, Jelapat, Anjir and Selapat, bringing vegetables, fruits and other daily needs and household utensils. Buyers and sellers come to the market in small boats and close their transactions on the water. It was mainly women that were rowing their canoes full of fresh beans, watermelons, mandarins and Indonesian spinach.

The colors were amazing, and despite the rain (we are in Borneo!!) we had a great time buying and having breakfast at the floating restaurants eating the delicacies that Indonesians bake every morning.

We ended up with a dinghy full of watermelons, oranges, and all kind of veggies and it was great, for one time, not to have to carry everything by hand and walking in the heat.

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One morning we had an unsolicited adventure.

The big logs get pulled up and down the river by small tugs and so they had been doing every day, past Lumbaz with no issue or concern to us.

But that morning, while having breakfast, we saw them come close to Lumbaz, a little too close. At the beginning everybody was taking pictures, but we all realized they couldn´t make it and the current was pushing hundreds of tons of wood towards our bow.

Banjarmasin - 76All the man standing on the logs ran towards Lumbaz to prevent what seemed unavoidable. One of them even fell in the water between the logs, putting his life at risk. With all men fending the logs of our bow and the tugboat pushing they managed to move along our hull without major damage.

People here are not used to yachts and our boat feels like made out of paper compared to local boats built out of hard wood, mainly iron wood, teak or bangkirai and practically indestructible. At the end it was just another adventure to add to our logbook.

 

The days passed and we went to pick up our passports. A last surprise!!.

They were all ready to go. Putri, one of the officials handed them over and then came Azita and handed us a present,  a local Banjarmasin crafted purse.We invited her over to visit us on Lumbaz and had a nice chat.Azita speaks great English which allowed us to gain some more local knowledge.

Can you imagine going to an immigration office in your own country and leaving it with a present?

Indonesia is such a wonderful place !!!

Banjarmasin - 77Thank you so much Azita!

 

 

 

As Azita said Indonesian have to be inventive: after delivering the coal to the big ships and on their way up the river, the barges get cleaned by man who sweep the rest of the coal, load it into their boats and sell if afterwards, making a living out of it.

 

Supermarkets can be great fun and always an occasion to be taken in pictures. Noa was asked to stand for pictures in the supermarket (her blond hair was captivating) in the same spot. She had people standing in line to take pictures with her. Then, when we went to pay at the cashier they all wanted to have a picture, stopping to deal with the other customers in order to have a family picture taken.

 

Lumbaz gets a bunch of visitors

After saying goodbye to Oma, Cristina and Gina we sailed north to Lovina, on the northern coast of Bali.
We enjoyed a few days of taking care of Lumbaz, catching up with missed schoolwork and a couple of visits to the Green School in Bali and even a trash walk with John Hardy. We got really inspired by the projects they handle.

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John, Benjamin, Eugénie, Daniel and Peter after their trash walk.

Our plan was to sail north across the Java Sea to the Kangean Islands, some 80 miles away. We had agreed to meet our friends on Nautilus there, who were sailing from Lombok.
The passage was great with beautiful sailing wind again after so much time!

Kangean Islands supply comes from traditional boats trading between Java and Surabaya.
Kangean Islands supply comes from traditional boats trading between Java and Surabaya.

We found a beautiful and protected bay surrounded by reefs, unfortunately the presence of salt water crocodiles did not allow for any swimming.
The anchorage was about 2 miles away from the main town of Saobi which gave us some privacy. But after a short visit to the local school everybody looked for a way to get to Lumbaz. Small longboats, diesel powered or under sail were coming from the village and from the neighboring villages to visit Lumbaz. We estimate that the two following days more tan 60 people came on board.

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At one stage, we even had to organize the visits, only allowing one boat per visit, while the others drifted waiting for their turn.

Boats taking turns to get on board. Mainly to take pictures of themselves, and of the girls!!
Boats taking turns to get on board. Mainly to take pictures of themselves, and of the girls!!

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Some younger students were approaching with small tuned canoes roaring at high speed, others were coming, sail up, with the wind and the teenagers motored to Lumbaz. On board, kids were excited, taking pictures of the boat, of all of us and for sure, of the girls…

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Small kids move independently, sailing their sail powered canoes into the sunset in crocodile infested waters. No bubble-wrapped kids in this area!

Three young kids came rowing on a small canoe on their own.

Kagena small 2nd - 3 (1)We invited them on board and they had taken their English exercise book in order to practice the language with us. We tried our best and talked in English and Bahasa but they did hardly speak it, since they mostly spoke Kangean, their local language.

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One of the visit took longer than expected, showing the interesting talks we got involved in. The problem is that the sun disappeared behind the horizon and our visitors, as all Kangean people, are devote Muslims and needed to perform their Maghrib or evening prayer. They asked if it was ok for us and after washing their hands and feet on board used the foredeck for their Salath.


It was a really nice atmosphere. All those spontaneous visits, that could have been tiresome, are a treasure in our memories and a box full of surprises.
We spent a long time with some teenagers that could speak some English and were really fond of football. For sure, coming from Barcelona was a treat for them and we spoke a lot about Messi, Neymar,…  message of Saobi boys to Messi  (thinking that because we come from Barcelona, we can talk to him.

 

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I think we cannot call them Catalans, but they sure wear those colors with pride!

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We could easily have spent some more time in this beautiful anchorage, observing the fishermen and slowly getting to know more and more people.
But Borneo was waiting for us. We had to renew our visas in our next destination: Banjarmasin, Kalimantan’s capital, called the “City of Rivers”.

Sperm Whale by Ainara

We were sailing from Komodo to Lombok and the sun was high up.

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There was no wind and you could hear the sails flapping from one side to the other, so we decided to pull it down and turned the engine on.

Dad was standing outside when he suddenly saw a big spout in the horizon.

We all went out and suddenly saw a second one. We slowly approached it and realized it was a whales blow. We were all really exited when we noticed that the blow was coming side ways.

I was certain that is was a Sperm Whale!  I could not believe it! I had not seen a Sperm Whale on this trip , and now it was there, a few hundred meters away! (although it was not the first time!)

When I was 5 we were sailing to Menorca an island in the Balearic Islands (Spain)

with my grandfathers boat Jadic, when we saw a pot of Sperm Whales. My Parents told Luna and me that we were amazed (Noa and Nils were not born yet) but of course I can only remember it from the pictures so I was really happy to see another one which I could probably remember my whole life.

I was jumping from one side to the other when we saw its back floating on the surface. It was sleeping so Dad and me jumped into the water to have a closer look at her. It was all so fast that I incidentally put my Mum’s and Luna’s fin on, instead of mine (We all three have the same type of flippers)

Dad and me swam closer and there she was!

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She woke up and looked at us with her beautiful big eye. I could see this rough skin and her amazing strength. She was slowly disappearing into the blue of the ocean and the last think I saw was her eye, looking at us.

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I was overwhelmed by feelings. It was such a powerful animal and yet so beautiful. These animals had been there for thousands of years, had seen things that none of us could ever imagine, had gotten out of being extinct because of the Whalers, and today they were still here for us to admire.

We started swimming back to the boat and I couldn’t believe what I had just seen.

Whales are just amazing animals!