Monday, November 6, 2017

Indonesia Part 2: Orangutans and Komodo Dragons

soulful eyes in Borneo (all photos by Dave Rhine)
In our 7 years together, Dave has turned me on to the allure of the wild animal encounter.

Sea turtles, kangaroos,  platypuses, an echidna, mongooses, water buffalo, jackals, monkeys, wild horses, elephants, peacocks, monitor lizards, macaques, crocodiles...and an amazing 40 minutes with a leopard, just to name a few.

When we decided to travel to Indonesia, he said we must see:

a) orangutans and
b) komodo dragons

Komodo dragons? I'd never heard of them. And I hadn't known that one of the last places in the wild orangutans live is Borneo.

I also soon learned that Borneo--the third largest island in the world--is divided into four regions: Kalimantan (part of Indonesia), Sabah and Sarawak (Malaysia) and Brunei (an independent sultanate).

Our trip took us from Amed, Bali to Kalimantan by way of Jakarta, where we met up with our friends Paul and Fran, who'd taught with me in China.

with Paul and Fran on the klotok
From Jakarta, we flew to Kalimantan, where we were taken to a dock to board a klotok that would be our home on the river for the next three days. We spent hours drifting down the river, watching the humid jungle float by, enjoying the boat-produced breeze.

At times the captain slowed for us to watch creatures in the trees. Especially fascinating were the proboscis monkeys with their Jimmy Durante noses.

There isn't much human population, but we saw a few homes on stilts whose inhabitants fish for a living.
We hung out on the top of the boat, while the cook crouched in the tiny, low-ceilinged kitchen below, preparing meals. It was incredible that such an array of good food poured out of the cramped space.

We spent one night on the boat shrouded in mosquito nets. What I'd imagined would be a romantic night cocooned in jungle sounds turned out to be virtually sleepless. The bedding was uncomfortable, and the hot, humid night was stifling. Although I am someone who generally doesn't equate comfort with happiness, I was thrilled that the next night we'd sleep in a hotel bed with A/C and warm showers.

Well...the hotel had no hot water. (And that was the start of almost two weeks without a warm shower, which will be explained in the next blog.) And no A/C. But a fan kept the air tolerably circulating, and the bed was big and comfy. I admit it; there is part of me that's a spoiled softie.

Yet it was all worth it. Any unease was abated when each day we hiked into the forest and came eye-to-eye with these amazing creatures:

According to our guide, this was a 7-year-old female, recently independent from her mother. I wondered if she was as delighted in us as we were in her? Curiosity and fascination surged through me. I hope it was mutual.

Our treks took us to orangutan feeding stations.
In spite of this warning, the young, male Indonesian guides bathed in the river.
At the stations, the workers dump out passels of small bananas. Soon, orangutans come swinging from the trees to drop down to the platforms. The big ones eat what must have been close to a hundred in steady succession. Afterward, a worker sweeps the peels off the platform for a patiently waiting warthog to dive in.

The mothers smashed a bunch of banana in their mouths and then pulled out the wad to feed the babies.

On our last day, at the final platform, we waited and waited after the banana distribution, wondering if the orangutans would ever show up. Then, suddenly, high in the trees: movement. There! And there! And there! Dozens of these red-furred humanesque creatures scurried over on the treetops, more than we'd seen in one place. A few large females dropped to the platforms, while tangles of children played high in the trees. Some plunged in death-defying drops from limb to limb. It was like we were watching play-date for the kids while the moms went "shopping." It was incredible to be able to view this community in action.

Fast forward a couple of weeks...and we were ready for our next wild animal adventure. From Flores, we took a day trip to Komodo National Park on Rinca (pronounced Rin-cha) island.
Kalimantan in the north: orangutans. Rinca in the south: komodo dragons.
The 90-minute ride was peaceful and spectacularly blue.

The little I learned about komodo dragons in advance of the trip included that they can grow up to almost nine feet long, they can move quickly, and their prey doesn't die from their vicious bites but from the komodo gift of deadly bacteria. Needless to say, it made me a little nervous when I saw that our guide was not carrying a gun or a machete...but a forked stick. I was skeptical that a nudge could keep these creatures at bay.

The stick is long...but how fast is the guide?
I did what I used to do when flying made me nervous: watch the guides (flight attendants) who do this kind of thing every day, and note that there are dozens of other people (passengers) going along nonchalantly for the ride.
Time for a manicure?
Our first glimpse of these dragon-y creatures occurred at the ranger station, where they casually hang out. A taxi driver (prompted by Paul) had told us a Halloween-like story about a ranger, who neglected to shut the door, being attacked in his office. When we passed the station and walked along a forested path, my skin crawled. Terror laced with thrill. It wasn't a horrible feeling.

Our guide pointed out a mound of dirt, a komodo egg nest. As he spoke, I saw a bit of dirt fly out of the nest. "I think there's one in there!" I said. Startled, everyone turned to look. Sure enough, a large female lifted her head out and eyed us. My heart skidded. Then she opened her mouth and hissed...a moment Dave, steady as always, caught on camera.

He also snapped this incredible shot of a swarm of bees we'd walked right past. Komodo National Park ain't no Disneyland. And for that, it's pretty amazing.

On the boat back, I thought how how, like the U.S.'s national parks, many people are involved in protecting these parts of the world. I'm grateful to them all.

leaving Komodo National Park

No comments: