12 October 2015 Kumai, Borneo
We had a late start pottering about. Tom and Susie on “Adina” arrived mid-morning, so tomorrow, we’ll definitely be going on our planned 3-day trip up-river to see the Orang-utans.
After a quick chat with Tom and Susie, catching up on the last year, we walked into town. Despite the shipping activity on the waterfront, Kumai is a dusty little place with a single road that follows the riverside, lined with the port activities on one side and small single-story shops and Warungs on the other side. Towering above the shops are drab concrete buildings some five or six stories high.
The bizarre thing about these towering structures is that they have no windows. Instead, the walls are dotted with small holes and are actually huge bird houses, designed to attract White-nest Swiftlets. These small swifts are native to the region and use saliva secreted from glands under their tongue as binding material to build their nests. It’s these Edible Bird Nests, which have led to the profusion of the dreary buildings that dominate the skyline.
The bird farmers are secretive about how they attract the Swiftlets - but part of the method is playing recordings of their song through loudspeakers, which creates a constant, twittering background noise. Each building houses an average of 1,000 birds, so the skies are full with tens of thousands of birds flitting about.
Bird’s Nest Soup is considered a delicacy in China and has been a part of Chinese cookery for more than 1,000 years. Used largely as a thickener, it can be simmered with sugar for a dessert or cooked with meat for a savoury soup and fans dub the soup the "Caviar of the East". I can eat most things, but I’m afraid the concept of eating dried bird spit revolts me.
We wandered to the market and bought some vegetables. There won’t be much opportunity to buy food between here and Singapore, so we were hoping to do some major provisioning to last us for the next three weeks. Alas, the pickings were very, very slim indeed. We struggled to buy simple things like orange juice and there was no way that we could find western luxuries like breakfast cereal - it looks like we'll be eating boiled rice and hard-boiled egg in chili sauce for breakfast from now on.
After a huge, cheap lunch at a Warung, we headed back to the boat and chilled out for the afternoon. It’s been very hot all day and the humidity has been oppressive.
In the middle of the afternoon, we heard the loud rumble of thunder and the occasional flash of lightning, but we only had a short splattering of heavy raindrops. It would be nice to have a heavy down-pour to clean our decks - we haven’t see rain for months. However, the thunderstorm seemed to clear the air and it was (thankfully) a little cooler in the evening.
13 October 2015 Kumai, Borneo
The 50 foot long Klotok (river boat) pulled alongside Alba at half past eight. We jumped aboard with our small bags of luggage and a young man stepped onto Alba to look after our home while we are away. We've locked the boat up, so the guy will be living and sleeping in the cockpit for the next three days. Food and water will be delivered out to him regularly, but we've left him some packets of biscuits and a bottle of coke as a treat.
Together with Tom and Susie from "Adina", we're going on a 3-day, 2-night trip up a jungle river into the Tanjung Puting National Park hoping to see the endangered Bornean Orangutan. This National Park covers an area of 4,000 square kilometres and is one of five such reserves in Kalimatan.
Here's some information that I've gathered on the Bornean Orangutan from various sources:
The Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is a species of orangutan native to the island of Borneo. Together with the Sumatran orangutan, it belongs to the only genus of great apes native to Asia. Like the other great apes, orangutans are highly intelligent, displaying advanced tool use and distinct cultural patterns in the wild. Orangutans share approximately 97% of their DNA with humans.
They live in tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests in the Bornean lowlands, as well as mountainous areas up to 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) above sea level. This species lives throughout the canopy of primary and secondary forests, and moves large distances to find trees bearing fruit. It is an endangered species, with deforestation, palm oil plantations and hunting posing a serious threat to its continued existence.
The Bornean orangutan has a distinctive body shape with very long arms that may reach up to 1.5 metres in length. It has a coarse, shaggy, reddish coat and prehensile, grasping hands and feet. It is the third-heaviest living primate after the two species of gorilla, and the largest truly arboreal (or tree-dwelling) animal alive today. A survey of wild orangutans found that males weigh on average 75 kg (165 lb), females average 38.5 kg (85 lb).
The diet of an orangutan is composed of over 400 types of food, including wild figs, durians, leaves, seeds, bird eggs, flowers, honey, insects, and bark. They get the necessary quantities of water from both fruit and from tree holes and occasionally eat soil to get minerals that may neutralize the toxins and acids they consume in their primarily vegetarian diets.
Bornean orangutans are more solitary than their Sumatran relatives. Two or three orangutans with overlapping territories may interact, but only for short periods of time. Although orangutans are not territorial, adult males will display threatening behaviours upon meeting other males, and only socialize with females to mate. The Bornean orangutan has a lifespan of 35–45 years in the wild; in captivity it can live to be about 60.
Males and females generally come together only to mate. Sub-adult males (unflanged) will try to mate with any female and will be successful around half the time. Dominant flanged males will call and advertise their position to receptive females, who prefer mating with flanged males. Adult males will often target females with weaned infants as mating partners because the female is likely to be fertile.
Newborn orangutans nurse every three to four hours, and begin to take soft food from their mothers' lips by four months. During the first year of its life, the young clings to its mother's abdomen by entwining its fingers in and gripping her fur. Offspring are weaned at about four years, but this could be much longer, and soon after they start their adolescent stage of exploring, but always within sight of their mother. During this period, they will also actively seek other young orangutans to play with and travel with.
The Bornean orangutan is more common than the Sumatran, with about 54,500 individuals in the wild, whereas only about 6,600 Sumatran orangutans are left in the wild. Orangutans are becoming increasingly endangered due to habitat destruction and the bushmeat trade, and young orangutans are captured to be sold as pets, usually entailing the killing of their mothers.
A survey, based on interviews with 6,983 respondents in 687 villages across Kalimantan in 2009, gave estimated orangutan killing rates of between 750 and 1800 in the year leading up to April 2008. These killing rates were higher than previously thought and confirm that the continued existence of the orangutan in Kalimantan is under serious threat. The survey did not quantify the additional threat to the species due to habitat loss from deforestation and expanding palm-oil plantations. The survey found that 73% of respondents knew orangutans were protected by Indonesian law.
However, the Indonesian government rarely prosecutes or punishes perpetrators. In a rare prosecution in November 2011, two men were arrested for killing at least 20 orangutans and a number of long-nosed proboscis monkeys. They were ordered to conduct the killings by the supervisor of a palm oil plantantion, to protect the crop, with a payment of $100 for a dead orangutan and $22 for a monkey.
According to an anthropologist at Harvard University, orangutans are expected to be extinct in the wild in 10 to 20 years, unless serious effort is made to overcome the threats they are facing.
It took us four hours to travel 40 miles up the winding river to Camp Leaky, the first research camp that we visited. This camp belongs to the Orangutan Foundation International, founded by Dr Birute Galdikas in 1971, to study orangutans in their natural environment.
The foundation also rescues and rehabilitates orangutans from all over Borneo, preparing them for release back into protected areas of the Indonesian rain forest. There are currently over 300 orangutans in their rehabilitation centre about 20 miles inland from Kumai. Injured or captured orangutans are treated in a world-class veterinary clinic and then helped by 200 volunteers to cope with being re-released into the wild. The major focus is to teach young orphans by giving them daily lessons in a controlled rainforest environment.
Most of the orangutans in the Tanjung Puting National Park are wild, with some having been released after rehabilitation. At three of the research camps, the staff have daily feedings to supplement the diet of the newly released orangutans (and any others who want to turn up.) Bowls of sweetened cow's milk and piles of bananas are placed on a rough wooden platform and the 10-30 tourists keep their distance, sitting on rough wooden benches behind a rope fence.
It seems to be a contrived tourist attraction, until one remembers that these are wild animals that live in the rain forest. Being solitary animals, they turn up individually and randomly, and some days none come at all.
We were lucky, four individuals turned up at our first two-hour long feeding session, including two mothers with their youngsters clinging to their fur. The first indication of an approaching orangutan is the sound of tree branches rustling. Then movement can be seen as the large ape swings slowly between trees. We watched in fascination as one orangutan perched high on a slender tree above us and then used a pendulum-like motion to slowly swing closer and closer to the next tree.
Descending from the trees, the orangutans were very cautious, seeming to ignore us tourists, but stopping eating at the slightest noise from the surrounding dense rain forest. The babies are very cute and the youngsters are playful. The human like gestures and facial expressions are amusing and our two hours was soon over, so we returned to the boat looking forward to more feeding sessions tomorrow.
The boat has two decks and is well designed. The roofed top deck is for guests and has a long dining table, two toilets and an open foredeck with four comfy wicker chairs, where we can sit in comfort to gaze at the rainforest passing by. At night, four mattresses are brought up onto our deck, made up into double beds and surrounded by mosquito nets. It's very comfortable. The lower deck houses the kitchen, the engine room and accommodation for the four crew, consisting of the boat captain, a deck hand, a cook and our guide (Rusty).
Our boat chugged back down the river to another camp, where after dark, we went out for a short night hike in the rain forest, where we were shown nocturnal Tarantulas, fluorescent fungi and strange caterpillars. After a fabulous dinner, we retired to bed.
14 October 2015 Kumai, Borneo
We were all awake just after dawn. The narrow river was covered by a dense fog caused by the smoke from the forest fires, but we could hear the songs of birds echoing through the jungle and saw the occasional flash of one of the four species of kingfisher that live along the river including the very colourful Stork-billed Kingfisher.
After a very western breakfast of omelette with French toast, we chugged further down the river to Camp 2 (Pondok Tangui). The river is fascinating. At the lower reaches, we saw secondary rain forest, which is recovering after the extensive logging in the area. Higher up the river, we were in primary rain forest and the river banks were lined with Pandanus growing in the fresh water. Water Hydrangeas float by in dense rafts and are pushed out of the way by the passing river boats.
The Pandanus is growing out from the river banks and, at times, the width of the water was less than the width of our boat, so we had to force our way through. Up in the trees, we spotted two types of monkey. Long-tailed Macaques chattered away and dashed about the trees close to the river bank, while the larger Proboscis Monkeys were more stately, sitting high in the trees and keeping well away from humans.
There was a feeding session at Camp 2 at nine o'clock, which was attended by quite a large group of 30 tourists, including some young Spanish ladies. Every one was very quiet at yesterday's feeding, but these young people had a very low threshold of silence and kept talking (despite Glenys telling them to shut up). I don't know if it was the chatter, but no orangutans turned up.
Disappointed, we went for a one hour walk with one of the camp staff, which was interesting. The guide pointed out several old orangutan nests. Orangutans are solitary creatures and, every night, they build a new nest every night from branches and leaves, high in a tree. They never use an old nest, but sometimes may stay in a nest several nights if there is plentiful food about. He also pointed out a Chameleon, beautifully camouflaged on a tree.
We were given another huge and tasty lunch consisting of large prawns cooked in a sweet and sour sauce, chicken curry, stir-fried vegetables, fried Tempe (a kind of soya), boiled rice and water melon for dessert. My waistline is visibly increasing.
Our captain moored us at Camp Leaky amongst eight or so other tourist boats and we walked to the feeding station with our guide Rusty for the afternoon session. What a show. The animals all seemed to arrive singly, eat their fill and then leave. Sometimes there was one orangutan on the platform, at other times up to three.
You could almost imagine a stage manager controlling them. "Berty, you go next. Try the high pendulum approach this time, they seem to like that. Emily, wait for a few minutes then go and sit on the other end of the platform, don't forget to show the baby to the crowd. Fred....."
The show was started with the arrival of a Black-handed Gibbon (called Boy). He came swinging in, making incredible leaps between the trees, plummeting earthwards and then just snagging a branch in time. He reached a tree at the side of the feeding station and after checking for threats, dropped onto the platform, grabbed two bunches of bananas and scurried back up the tree, lounging nonchalantly in the crook of a branch while he ate his fill. After a couple of trips to the feeding platform, he exited stage right.
We then had a steady procession of orangutans - mothers with babies, mothers with toddlers and adolescents. One of the young males wandered onto the platform and amusingly, before eating, went over to Boy's tree, leaned against the trunk and stared up, obviously checking for the Gibbon. I'm guessing that he's had a previous altercation with Boy. Our guide Rusty tells me that the Gibbon is a bit naughty and sometimes pees on people who walk under his tree.
All the orangutans seemed to love the sweetened cow's milk and the camp staff had to refill the large bowls several time. There seemed to be three techniques for drinking - the basic Head Plunge, the greedier Tip-the-Bowl and the hilarious Lower-Lip-Drip, where the milk is dribbled from the cupped hand into a protruding lower lip.
After the last of the orangutans wandered off, we heard rustling from the bushes and a small group of Wild Boar cautiously stepped into the clearing and headed for the platform, where they began to eat the discarded banana skins. A nice end to the day.
Back on the boat, we chugged down river to a very quiet spot, where we tied up in the Pandanus, with a great view of primary rain forest. After another tasty dinner and a few cocktails, (which we'd thoughtfully brought with us), we had an early night.
15 October 2015 Kumai, Borneo
After breakfast, we were taken back to Camp 2 again for the nine o'clock feeding. This time we were lucky. A young female met us on the board-walk going to the feeding station. She was sat quietly on the side and seemed unperturbed by our presence. After a couple of minutes, she climbed up into the nearby small trees and started eating leaves. It was fascinating to watch her so close by.
She then decided to swing across the trees just above the board-walk and ended up spread-eagled six foot above the platform. This was an ideal photo opportunity, so Susie and Glenys posed beneath the orangutan. It was all jolly good fun until the small branches gave way and the orangutan fell onto the board-walk a couple of feet in front of Susie. There was a tense moment while the orangutan shook herself and padded past the girls and stalked into the bush.
It took a while for the orangutans to arrive, but we soon had them in the trees all around us. Unlike at Camp Leaky, these orangutans seemed to like to hang around before coming to the platform, with juveniles playing acrobatic games with each other while mum sat watching or nibbling on tender leaves.
After our two hour orangutan fix, we were taken back down the river to a village where we went for a short stroll around. The village used to be on the south side of the river, but when the area was turned into a National Park, the villagers were relocated to the north side. There wasn't much of interest in the village - most people were out working at the nearby Palm Oil Plantation.
A few of the villagers had some souvenirs on display, but they were mostly poor quality carvings and baskets, so we didn't indulge.
After another excellent lunch, we went across the river to Camp 1 for an afternoon feeding session. Only a couple of other tourists were there and I didn't hold out much hope because Camp 1 (Pondok Tangui) is close to the village and is also the nearest camp to Kumai town.
The session started off very quietly, but then there was a slow but steady procession of orangutans wandering to the platform with the usual mothers and babies. Before long, there was some loud rustling in the trees and we all held our breath as a huge dominant male pushed his way through the bushes and onto the platform.
A dominant male controls a territory, which is gained by fighting other males. They develop "Flanges" on the sides of their face, which make them look very fierce. The male squatted on the edge of the platform, placidly eating bananas, ignoring the females and juveniles sharing the platform with him. After a while, he wandered off, but we could occasionally hear him in the bushes.
Another fully grown, but younger male started to quietly approach to the right of us. Suddenly, the dominant male started to crash through the trees towards the new arrival making loud rhythmic, whooping noises. The new arrival immediately turned tail and scooted off through the trees. The dominant male having seen his potential rival flee, stopped in a tree to the right of us and continued with his whooping call, but the frequency and volume slowly decreased like a steam train slowly stopping.
It was a scary reminder that the orangutans are wild animals, and it was a fabulous end to our time with these interesting animals.
We wandered back to the boat and were taken down river towards Kumai. The smoke became noticeably worse as we headed out of the rainforest and got to the point where my eyes were stinging and Susie & Glenys put on face masks.
It was just after dark before we arrived back at Alba. Thankfully, everything looked okay on-board. The trip has been fabulous and, at $175US per person, it's an incredible bargain. The food has been excellent, the quality of Rusty's guiding was superb and the boat was very comfortable. Harry’s Yacht Services provided a fabulous service (harryyachtservice.blogspot.co.id)
16 October 2015 Kumai to Ketawi, Bangka (Day 1)
We were up at seven, getting ready to sail 400 miles to Ketawi Island on Bangka. Apart from the usual chore of putting the dinghy on deck, Glenys had to spend half an hour washing down the bimini and the cockpit to remove the ash that has fallen out of the skies from the forest fires.
By nine o'clock, the anchor had been lifted and we were heading off into the gloom. The smoke was very bad and we only had 100 metres visibility. While motoring down the river, we had a couple of encounters - once with a tug towing a barge and the second with a large freighter. Neither had AIS, so they were a surprise as they loomed out of the fog and required us to make immediate and radical changes in direction to avoid them.
It took us 3 hours to get clear of the river and then we hit 15-20 knot winds from the south - right on the nose. The bay is very shallow for a long way and there are lots of sand banks, so we had to motor for another 2.5 hours before we could bear away 30 degrees and were able to sail, albeit still hard on the wind.
Thankfully, the wind backed slowly as we sailed away from the land and, by late afternoon, we had a 15-20 knot wind from the south-east, putting us on a pleasant beam reach. The smoke slowly cleared and by sunset, we had five miles visibility, but the sky was still very hazy, with the sun a baleful red disk, which faded away long before it reached the horizon.
We're having to take a very circuitous route because there are shallow, shifting sand banks that stick out 50 miles from Borneo's south-western corner, plus small islands and shoals on the north-east corner of Belitung. Our route starts off with a 100 mile leg at WSW; then we turn NW for 120 miles along a busy shipping lane past Belitung; and then we turn to port heading West to Bangka.
We had a very peaceful start to the night, with the wind slowly dropping to 10 knots and backing a little more putting us on a broad reach. As usual, we spent the night dodging fleets of fishing boats. On my 1-4 watch, we turned the corner around the sand banks, putting us on a NW course and I had to pole the genoa out to port. Unfortunately, the wind kept backing, so at our 4 am watch change, I was dancing on the foredeck, gybing the pole, genoa and the main sail.
17 October 2015 Kumai to Ketawi, Bangka (Day 2)
We had a lovely day's sail with wind at 10-15 knots from the SE putting us on a very broad reach with the wind over our starboard quarter. We've soon slipped into our routine, with Glenys sleeping in the morning and me in the afternoon. The seas were only about 1 metre and it was so calm that I spent the morning writing my blog and making a start at reviewing and editing the 500 photos that I took while in Kumai and the Tanjung Puting National Park. My target is to reduce this to 20-30 photos, but it might be difficult - those orangutans were so cute.
Glenys caught a Wahoo in the late afternoon and dragged me out of bed to help pull it on-board. It wasn't the biggest Wahoo that we've caught, but at a metre long, it's plenty for the two of us. Unfortunately, Glenys had already defrosted some beef for dinner, so no fish tonight.
We had a 1 knot current against us all day, so despite sailing at six knots all day, we made slow progress. The wind dropped a little after dark, so with the adverse current, we were only making 4 knots over the ground. At one o'clock, we gybed the main to starboard and poled the genoa to port as we started to head west around the top of Belitung. Unfortunately the current was still against us at 0.5 knot and then the wind died at four o'clock, so we were down to 2 knots, forcing me to start the engine.
18 October 2015 Kumai to Ketawi, Bangka (Day 3)
At daybreak, we were still motoring and had 160 miles to go, so we're expecting to arrive midday tomorrow. The wind picked up at half past eight, so I pulled out the sails and we had a lovely sail, coasting along at 5.5 knots through the water, but still with the damn 1 knot current against us.
At 1130, after Glenys had finished her morning nap, the wind speed was 10-12 knots, but we were only managing 4 knots over the ground with all our sails out. With 123 miles to go, we'd have to average 4.4 knots to arrive before night fall tomorrow, so I dragged out the asymmetrical spinnaker. This only increased our speed over the ground to 4.6 knots, but at least we've got a chance of getting there in daylight.
Two hours later, the wind had picked up to 15 knots and backed, so that the spinnaker was slightly in the lee of the main. We dropped the spinnaker, pole the genoa out to port, pulled out the stay sail and added 0.5 knot to our boat speed. For the rest of the afternoon, we did made great time with 6-7 knots hull speed and only a 0.5 knot current against us.
By sunset, we only had 90 miles to go, so we needed to slow down - typical! I put a very heavy reef in the main and the genoa and managed to slow us down to 5.5 knots over the ground, so our ETA is now mid-morning, but we'll see how we go. It's a bit tricky approaching the anchorage off Ketawi Island with reefs and sand bars dotted about, so I want to have good light.
We had a lovely sail overnight. However, the chart showed a submerged oil pipeline and a number of oil platforms, but we saw no sign of any lights - very worrying. As usual, we passed through a couple of fleets of fishing boats and a few ships, but not as bad as previous nights.