The large island of Borneo is divided into 3 countries, Malaysia, Brunei and the Indonesian area of Kalimantan which comprises 73% of the island. We were headed for Kumai, a large city situated 15 miles up the Kumai River in south Kalimantan.
We had a good overnight sail to the delta entrance to the Kumai River, but we had to be on constant lookout for all sorts of other traffic all night long. There were fishing nets strung between fishing boats, small open fishing boats, fish attraction devices (FADS), cargo ships, tankers, and large tugs towing barges loaded with all sorts of cargo. Many of these had no navigation lights, with no AIS to identify them with, so we were pleased to have Francoise and Loic helping keep a constant lookout. To make things more confusing, some of the fishing nets were marked by red or white flashing lights.
As we rounded the last corner of the narrow channel, the very unattractive industrial city of Kumai, lay ahead. Kumai is a city built on the banks of very dirty river, busy with all the boats we had encountered in the Java Sea on our way here.
We anchored in the river and were immediately aware of an unfamiliar screeching sound piercing the air. It sounded like birds in distress. We soon found out that it was the sound of millions of swiftlets coming and going from windowless, concrete “highrises” in which they have made their nests using their saliva. Hundreds of these unique buildings are found in the towns and nearby fields. They are everywhere. They are nearly all Chinese owned and the nests are taken back to China for the famous delicacy of birds nest soup.
We have been really looking forward to this part of the trip as we have booked a 3- day, 2- night jungle river cruise to see the orangetuns in their natural environment.
We left Mai Tai anchored in the river as we boarded our river boat, and where we would enjoy being catered for royally for the next 3 days. On the way up the river we stopped off at a local village, home of one of our guides. They are showing an awareness of the importance of protecting our planet.
The cruise takes us through the Tanjung Puting National Park, home of Camp Leakey, the largest wild orangutan sanctuary in the world. Fortunately, this 408,000 hectares of national park has been protected from the clearing of the native forests for palm oil plantations, which has happened over much of the rest of Borneo.
We saw dozens of orangutans swinging high in the tree tops, some with the young clinging on to mothers, but we also saw proboscis and gibbons monkeys, crocodiles and exotic birds, and even spent one night moored in the middle of millions of fireflies.
We all slept out on deck under mosquito nets.
The whole trip was more than we could ever have hoped for. Unforgettable.
Dr Birute Galdikas who set up the orangetun sanctuary back in 1971 has been living at Camp Leakey for the past 47 yrs. Camp Leakey is the site of the longest continuous study by one principal investigator of any wild non-human animal in the history of science.
We later had the privilege of meeting Dr Galdikas at a function in Kumai.
Back in Kumai we joined in the festivities of the rally group, which included a trip up one of the smaller rivers in an open boat, to see the back yards of these people living on the water’s edge. It was late afternoon by now, time to take a bath and do washing in the filthy water behind their humble houses and right next to the riverside toilets. None of them cared about us. They laughed and waved as we went by, covered in soap and shampoo. Such warm happy people.
The drive through town in the chartered buses was under heavy police and military escort, in front and behind, directing and stopping traffic allowing us passage to the Presidential palace where an elaborate gala dinner had been prepared for us. Traditional welcome ceremonies had been arranged, before we were introduced to the Governor, Government officials and Ministers of Tourism. Singers and dancers entertained us throughout the dinner.
Oct 9th, a very sad day for us, as Francoise and Loic fly back to Bali, while Lane and I go to provision Mai Tai for the next leg of our journey to Belitung, 300 nms away.
It has been so great travelling with those two amazing and fun loving “kids”. We will miss them terribly, but we still have a lot of Indonesia to explore.