Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tanjung Puting National Park - Borneo

To celebrate my 30th birthday Melissa and I went on a 3 night 4 day boat trip through Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo. Tanjung Puting is famous for their orange orangutans. We drove 3 hours from Yogyakarta to Semerang, then took a 1 hour flight to Pangkalan Bun, Borneo. From there we headed to the police station to get our permits for entrance into the park. We booked 3 night 4 day boat trip on the Satria I from Suyono Majit, the boat manager.

After staying the night in PB we headed out early the next morning for Kumai (20 km away), which is the harbor where our boat was docked. Melis and I set sail, well, not sailed but "motored" our way to Tanjung Puting with 3 crew members, a cook, captain, and a guide. From boat it took a few hours to get into the park. Around 2:30 we arrived at Tanjung Harapan, a camp where once captive orangutans get fed daily. Tanjung Puting has 3 camps where rangers put bananas on platforms for the orangutans to eat. Most, not all of the orangutans were once held captive and later released into the wild, however, once they were domesticated with food from humans they had a hard time reverting back to their natural habitat. So, even though they have been released into their natural habit, free from any restrictions they do still depend on these timely feedings. At camp Harapan we hike about 15 minutes to the feeding area. The ranger put a bunch of bananas on a 10 foot high platform and we waited patiently for the orangutans to come. Just to set the scene, these "camps" are no more than a few benches made from fallen trees and slats of wood. There is a platform that is about 100 square feet and a 25 foot section of string about chest high that indicates how close you can get to the platform (about 12 feet). No fences, no fancy signs, no walls or any sort of confinement whatsoever. After about 20 minutes and guides making loud crys to attract the orangutans, they started to appear. First we heard rustling of leaves, then trees started to bend and suddenly we caught our first glimpse of an orangutan. One after the other, about 8 in total swung from tree to tree bending them perpendicular until they got close to the platform. Once in sight of the platform they lowered themselves down from high in the trees and enjoyed bananas left of the platform. Some ate on the platform and some took the bananas back into the trees to eat. Some had babies on there backs and some were shooed off my a more dominant male.

Melis and I were in awe, unbelievable. Yeah, I grew up in San Diego with the great zoo and wild animal park but I had never seen anything like this before. Melis and I snapped photos and were amazed at the beauty of these creatures. After a little bit we both sat on a make shift bench and just watched. The feedings at the 2 other camps were very similar to this one, however, camp Leakey had alot more orangutans and were more domesticated.

After an hour of watching the orangutans we headed back to our boat where we relaxed, read and had soda and wafers. The captain fired up the engine and we left the camp. The sun was going down and the proboscis monkeys started coming out. They were all along the shoreline high in the trees. These odd looking creatures have pot bellies and long shaped noses, they can only be found in Borneo. Once it got dark we found a spot along the side of the river to tie our boat to and enjoyed great food prepared by our awesome cook. We ate all our meals on the boat, fresh fruit, tempe, rice, eggs, chicken, veggies, tofu, toast, crab, beef and more. The crew set up a huge mosquito net and a mattress for us to sleep on every night. Very pleasant. The stars were out and the forest was louder than ever with animals talking. Melis and I took an immediate liking to our choice of staying 3 nights instead of only 2:-)

The next morning we headed up to camp Pondok Tangui to view a 9am feeding. The feeding was just about the same as camp Harapan, a 15 minute walk to the camp and about 8 to 10 orangutans showed up from tree limb to tree limb. Still, an amazing experience. Our guides say they never get tired of watching the feedings and I believe them.

By midday we were back on the boat enjoying a great lunch and heading to camp Leakey, the most popular camp of them all. This feeding (2 pm) was spectacular. There were orangutans hanging out in the middle of the trail, completely unafraid of humans. We literally had to walk past them, no further than a foot away. There were probably about 15 to 20 orangutans around camp Leakey. Some stayed on the platform some sat in the middle of the trail and some relaxed in trees 5 to 10 feet away from us. We even saw "Pedro" mate with 2 different females with in a 10 minute time span!

Day 3 we woke up and went on a 3 hour hike through camp Leakey. We didn't see much wildlife but it was beautiful none the less. At feeding time we went back to camp Leaky to view the feeding in hopes to see "Tom", the king orangutan. Tom is the dominant male who rules the region, he was a no show the day before. About 10 minutes into the feeding I saw Pedro scamper away from the feeding area, here came Tom, a HUGE 200 plus lb male orangutan. Wow, what a sight it was to see him. He mated with someone and then began eating bananas.

After taking a few pictures of Tom I turned off my camera and had a seat next to a local guide. We quickly started up a simple conversation in Bahasa Indonesian. With me able to speak only a little Bahasa I focused completely on trying to find the right words and not sound like an idiot. A few minutes later I hear fellow guides yelling "move, move, leave, GOOO! " I look up to find people fleeing to a narrow path out of the feeding area, then I see Tom heading straight at me! He wasn't coming fast but I would call it a brisk walk. I quickly got up and skirted away to the side. I couldn't make it out of the feeding area because it was clogged with 50 people trying to get out. A few kids started to cry. I got as far as a I could without crushing someone, maybe 15 feet away from Tom. I didn't know his intentions, my heart was beating fast. Tom proceeded to hurdle the bench exactly where I was sitting less than a minute prior and headed back into the forest. Wow, that was a close one. On our hike back we were greeted by a few orangutans that didn't feel like moving off the trail so we carefully walked past them.

Our last night on the boat we parked near fire flies who where lighting up the overhanging plants. It was breathtaking, Melissa and I enjoyed a candle lit dinner watching fire flies fly around, sometimes even on our boat. The next morning we took our time and headed back to Kumai.

This trip was amazing! We had an awesome crew and great weather. Melis even threw me a mini birthday party on the boat the second night. The crew and a few other travelers we befriended had cake and sprite.


Holly said...

WOW - and that's putting it mildly! Incredible trip and fabulous fotos. I love the link you provided for the Tanjung Puting Nat'l Park and also the continuous slide show and Melissa's video. Esp. cool, too, are the little Youtube videos that pop up after viewing M's video. You are the blogmaster, Todd! A++ for quality and content - and I'm glad Tom decided to just give you a warning!!

Erik said...

Excellent report and stunning photos. Truly a birthday to remember!

CalBadger said...

I think Tom has the right idea on how to live: Women, food, and scaring an entire crowd half to death! I wonder how I get his job--I love bananas and I even look like Tom, alas, however, I don't quite qualify in all departments. Great post Melis and Todd. I doubt if you'll ever forget you 30th birthday Todd. Thanks for sharing a bit of it with us!

Maggie said...

Hi Todd- Wow, great stuff! I was wondering how you arranged your klotok. Did you do it before getting to Kumai? Either way, do you have any recommendations? We're planning to go towards the end of May this year.
Thanks, Maggie