Friday, August 10, 2012

A Breath of Fresh Air

Coming to you live from the edge of delicious rainforest, with this first report of life in the peat-swamp forest of Indonesia. And life is good.

The Sabangau forest and the facilities at Base Camp both are above and beyond my expectations – with a wealth of biodiversity and fun muddy terrain to greet me in the forest, and delicious food plus good company to welcome me back to camp each night. Though the highlight for me might be waking up to the singing gibbon duets almost daily ... more to come on that in a later post. 

Camp Bed
The mosquito-free accommodations where I'll be  kicking back in for a spell.

Base camp itself has no internet access (let alone electricity for more than a few hours per day), but every couple weeks I take a day off in the nearby town of Palangka Raya to recuperate and reintegrate (briefly) into the wired world. [Hooray for US Women’s Soccer and the landing of a rover on Mars!] Blog posts are born during these brief stays in town; I head back into the great green garden again tomorrow. 

A small little pitcher plant I managed to capture and take as my prisoner.

Gaining access to the canopy-covered camp, where the orangutans dwell, has three steps:

Step 1. Take a local taxi to the outskirts of town to get to the harbor.

Kereng, the town on the edge of town. They have the boats.

Step 2. Board a klotok (small outrigger canoe) for a delightful journey down a broad river flanked by dense palm-like pandan.

The sun and the breeze are quite divine when traveling by klotok.

Step 3. Hop out of the little boat and hop into a “lorry” (mini-train) to chug up an old logging railway and reach base camp once more!

Down the track, clackity clack.

On the charismatic megafauna front, many lovely beasts have made themselves known in the forest thus far – from gibbons to a wild pig (who I think is charming) to the star of the hour and/or next six months: the orangutans! My tally to date is three separate females, each with a young baby; one juvenile male; and one shockingly large flanged male.* I am still in training, learning how to walk in the muddy forest and search for the big red apes, and how to follow them once I find them. Add in a dash of trying to identify the different individuals by sight, plus learning basic Indonesian on top of it, and you’ve got one tired new orangutan intern. A daunting learning curve to be sure, but one that requires me to sketch lots of ape faces for practice! Photos are also encouraged. The project I’ll be working on will have me trying to find as many females as I can and hopefully witness some of them interacting to gain a better sense of female social networking out here.

Mom & son (Feb & Fio), snacking on some flowers, as orangutans are wont to do.

Other fun creatures seen include a whole bunch of new birds like the Brahminy kite (looks a bit like a bald eagle), a teeny pit viper or two among other snakes, praying mantises, tree shrews, fire ant armies, macaques, turtles, and a species you’re certain to hear more about from me: red langurs – cool little monkeys that are fun to follow too!

Babi the Pig is a stunner ... staring you down out behind the kitchen.

I’ve linked this post to some of my photos up on Picasa – they sum up my time going from Jakarta to Palangka Raya to Base Camp pretty well … but are a tad lacking in forest photos as of yet. Though I tossed in some baby orangs to make up for it for now!

Small Fio learning termite etiquette.

As well as the art of true downtime.

Enjoy the photographic journal I’ve made you, and “sempai nanti” (until next time), 

Jess, signing out!

*What the heck is a flanged male you ask? Here’s a sketch I did of one a little while back: 

Flanged males: they've got big cheek pads (flanges) and throat sacs, and some also sport inspired hairdos.


  1. it's gonna be awesome when your grasp of the Indonesian language is light years beyond mine, despite my having the vast majority of my relatives living there

    1. Haha, I think I'll end up with the equivalent of Tarzan's vocabulary, with words like "leaf", "tree", "rain", "big monkey up there". Conversations back in town & Jakarta should be fun... especially since all my clothes are gonna be tattered field clothes!