October 2015 - Indonesia to Singapore - Page 2

9 October 2015   Karimunjawa to Kumai, Borneo (Day 1)
We were up with the pre-dawn Call to Prayer and left at 0515. Once clear of the island, we had a 15-20 knot wind from the ESE which put us close-hauled at 60 degrees to the wind.  We were hoping that we'd be on a beam reach, but hey ho!  It was very boisterous, and we were heeled over at 20 degrees, but at least we were doing 6-7 knots.

Bashing Upwind to Borneo

During the day, we had a few fishing boats and some tugs, but it wasn't too bad.  We caught two Dorado and then hove-to for half an hour while I filleted them and Glenys made Fish Tortillas for lunch.

My 7-10 night watch was very busy because we crossed a major shipping lane, which was made considerably worse by hundreds of brightly lit fishing boats slowly dredging across our path.  I'm surprised that there are any fish left in Indonesia.

Even after dark, it was very hot and humid and we were taking the occasional big wave, so the main hatch into our aft cabin was firmly closed.  This made our bedroom very hot and stuffy, so it was difficult to sleep.  We decided to open a small hatch in the aft heads to try to get a little bit of air flowing  - BIG mistake.  

We took a huge wave over the bow, a wall of water swept along the side deck, hit the small hatch and gallons of water hosed through the hatch.  I just happened to be down below at the chart table when it happened.  The shower tray in heads was completely flooded and we had one inch of water on the floor of the aft cabin, which then flooded along the corridor towards the saloon. Fortunately, it didn't quite make it past the chart table.  

The carpets were soaked and the woodwork in the aft cabin was wet up to waist height - what a mess.  I closed the hatch, drained the shower tray in the aft heads, pulled up the carpets and then dried everything with a few towels.  We'll had to wash everything down with fresh water when we get there. 

We survived the rest of the night.

10 October 2015   Karimunjawa to Kumai, Borneo (Day 2)
Kumai is 15 miles up a river and, at dawn, we only had 25 miles to go to the River entrance - we'd made excellent time averaging well over six knots.  It seemed to take forever to get to the entrance and the last ten miles was in water under ten meters, which was a little perturbing, but it shallowed very, very slowly.

Anchored in Kumai

I'd plotted a route up the river using a set of waypoints gleaned from various sources and there was no problem.  The minimum depth that we saw on a rising tide was about 3.5 metres. The waypoints were:

    03°11.21S 111°35.49E
    02°58.12S 111°40.58E
    02°56.49S 111°41.70E
    02°54.26S 111°42.58E
    02°53.62S 111°42.16E
    02°51.99S 111°43.08E
    02°50.69S 111°43.65E

The route goes close to a headland and then does an s-bend around a sand spit and a buoy.  As we were going along the headland, a big freighter was slowly catching us up, so I slowed down and let him past.  This wasn't solely for courtesy, it allowed me to "cheat" and follow him through the s-bend, which is the shallowest bit.

Once in the river itself, life was a lot easier, but the visibility reduced to a couple of hundred metres with some hazy smoke from the forest fires.  We also had to dodge a few fishing nets strung across part of the river, which were marked by a flagged buoy on one end and a small fishing boat on the other. 

At about three o'clock in the afternoon, we anchored on the opposite side of the river to Kumai town, next to “Firefly” and “You You”.  Kumai is a major port with many freight ships at anchor and alongside the various port jetties.  Small “Klotok” local boats chug up and down the river and there’s a jetty just across the river from where we are anchored with river boats rafted up ready to take tourists up to the National Park. 

We had heard that there was some kind of trip planned for tomorrow, so instead of relaxing for the afternoon, we dropped the dinghy in the water and went ashore to see Harry’s Yacht Services.  Harry is the main point of contact here for visiting yachts and is the local coordinator for the Sail Indonesia Rally.  

There have been some Sail Indonesia events over the past few days, but now there's only "You You"  and us to go on the final trip to see a Dayak village and a festival tomorrow.  The bad news is that we have to be on a coach by six o'clock in the morning.  While we were ashore, we confirmed with Harry that we want to go on a three day boat trip starting on the 13th.

Palm Oil Plantation

Back on the boat, the smog became considerably worse as evening fell and the town of Kumai disappeared into the gloom as visibility dropped to less than 50 metres.

11 October 2015   Kumai, Borneo
We had another early start and were ashore just before six o’clock.  Together with James and Cindy from “You You”, we were put on a coach and travelled for FIVE hours to a village, 160 kilometres north of Kumai.  It should have been 3½ hours, but at least they stopped half way and bought us breakfast - turmeric rice, fish and a spicy boiled egg (yummy!)

It might have been a long drive, but it was interesting.  We saw patches of native rain forest, but the predominant vegetation was Palm Oil trees - miles and miles and miles of them.  

When I first heard of the Palm Oil plantations in Borneo, I thought that it would be local farmers with small plantations.  Not so, this is a huge industry and it’s responsible for massive destruction of the Rain Forest and the current fires and smoke affecting not only Borneo, but neighbouring Singapore, 500 miles downwind.

One of the biggest drivers of deforestation in Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo) is the growth of oil palm plantations.   Palm Oil is the most important and cheapest tropical vegetable oil in the global oils and fats industry.  Malaysia and Indonesia account for over 90 per cent of the world's total oil palm production area, and the importance of these countries for this commodity is likely to increase in the future as demand soars. 

Within Indonesia, oil palm production expanded from 600,000 hectares in 1985 to over 6 million hectares by 2007 - that’s HALF the size of England.  The demand is expected to double in the next decade, and the Indonesian government has responded by setting a target to increase oil palm production from 20 million tonnes in 2009 to 40 million tonnes in 2020.

Oil palm development contributes to deforestation - directly and indirectly.  About half of all presently productive plantations in Kalimantan were established in primary forest and bush areas.  The traditional (and most common) way of clearing the land is by “Slash and Burn”, this is a cheap method and the ash fertilises the land, but the process causes huge areas of Borneo to be covered with choking smoke.

Opening the gate into a Dayak village

When left undisturbed, Borneo’s natural forests are not usually prone to fires.  But as forests are opened up by humans, they dry out and are increasingly susceptible to fire.  Fire and haze produce many adverse effects ranging from impacts on human health, short and long-term medical treatment costs, losses in tourism and forfeited timber revenue.  The ability of forests to regenerate following large fires is greatly weakened. 

The roads that we travelled on were new and very good, no doubt built by the tax revenues that the Palm Oil industry generates - one good side effect.  We saw truckloads of the Palm Oil Fruit being carted off in open top trucks heading for the ports. 

After five hours on the road, we eventually arrived at the small village of Riam Tinggi in the Lamandau regency.  This is a traditional village of the Dayak people, high in the central hills of Borneo, next to a river.

The Dayaks are the indigenous people in central Borneo, having arrived in Kalimantan as a migration from other parts in Asia about 3000 years ago.  The early European settlers in Borneo had problems with the tribal and sometimes aggressive behaviour of the Dayak people, who were feared for their traditional headhunting practises. They kept the heads of their enemies in sealed jars that could only be opened by another warrior who had taken another head.

After mass conversions to Christianity, and anti-headhunting legislation by the colonial powers in the late 1800s, the practice was banned and appeared to have disappeared.  However, it's  reared its ugly head a few times when there has been unrest and was actively encouraged by the Allies during the Second World War against the Japanese Occupation of Borneo.

Incredibly, as recent as 2001, there were some conflicts between the Dayaks and settlers from a nearby island of Madura, where over 1,000 Madurese were massacred, many being decapitated and the heads displayed as trophies.  The Indonesian authorities tried to arrest the ringleaders, but the Dayak people rioted and the police backed off.

The Dayaks live in longhouses, which are elevated wooden buildings that can be hundreds of meters long, often located along a river bank.  These longhouses are home to multiple families and are divided into a public area along one side and a row of private living quarters lined along the other side. 

We were greeted at the entrance to the village with a traditional ceremony.  The entrance into the village was blocked by an arch under which lay two bamboo poles as a barrier.  Three of our party had to approach the barrier and ask for permission to enter.  These three people (including Glenys) were dressed in traditional outfits including a sarong, a sleeveless jacket, a machete and a weird pointed hat.  After drinking some strong alcoholic drink, they chopped through the barrier and we were allowed into the village. 

Dayak Mask

We wandered around the village for a while and were shown the village’s head-hunting pot (which is treated as a kind of shrine) and several Long Houses.  They also have a number of small buildings in the village that are used specifically to store rice, which are on wooden stilts and have a wooden disk on each stilt to prevent rodents getting to the rice - very similar to the rat catcher disks used on the shore lines of ships.

The coach took us back to Nanga Bulik, the main town of Lamandau regency - another two hours sat on a coach.  When we arrived, an event called the "Festival of a Thousand Masks" was in full swing.

Kalimantan is a centre for immigration of Indonesians from more populated areas, so there are many ethnic groups and tribes in the area.  This festival is a new event and aims to allow all the different ethnic groups to display some of their culture including traditional costumes, music and dances.  The Dayak tribes have a tradition of using brightly painted masks for ceremonies and traditional dances, which depict animals and spirits, hence the name of the festival.  

We were very late so didn't get to meet the Regent and other honoured guests, but at least we didn't have to sit through the interminable speeches.  We were allowed to sit at the front of the guest pavilions to watch the traditional dancing and parades.  It was very interesting and, again, they don’t see many orang-bules here, so we were constantly being asked to have our photo taken with the locals.

After a grand parade marking the end of the festival, we were loaded back on the coach for a 3.5 hour trip back to Kumai.  Back on Alba, we found that Harry had put a young guy on-board to look after the boat while we were away, which is a great service.  We had a quick sandwich and collapsed into bed.