Trekking in the Rain Forest (Part I)

Balikpapan Travel Blog

 › entry 1 of 2 › view all entries
This is the first part of the blog.
I once joined the Balikpapan Orangutan Society, Borneo, in the release of 33 orangutans back to their natural habitat. The orangutans had been taken care of by Wanariset Samboja conservatory for endangered species in Borneo, Indonesia, because recent fires were destroying their homes in the rainforest. The forest fires had finally put out, and the rainforest was declared safe for the orangutans to return. The environmental team recruited about 40 volunteers to help carry orangutan cages into the dense forest and release the orangutans in their designated place in the forest.

The trip started early in the morning and included 40-minute speedboat ride from Balikpapan to Kenangan sea port, 3-hour diesel truck ride from the port to Meratus Hills (a place in the rainforest where the orangutans were going to be released), and finally, an-hour trekking into the rainforest.

Btw, all this time the orangutans were not with us. They had a much better ride! A chopper flew them from the conservatory to meet with us in the forest.

Climatically, Borneo is tropical with average annual temperature approximately 80° F. Walking inside a rain forest was like reliving the images of a jungle you would create when you saw Indiana Jones flicks or Madagascar. Along the narrow trail there were huge trees, some felled across the walkway so we had to climb over them, and small creeks here and there. The air felt warm and damp, with occasional breeze from the direction of the creeks. Most interestingly, the sound the rain forest was probably the most fascinating aspect of the trip. It’s like a party of its own: the sounds of cicadas, tropical birds chirping, orangutans signaling to each other. The vegetation was also amazing. I'd never seen so many trees standing very close to each other. The sunlight did not touch the grounds of the densest part of the forest, so we kept walking by the vicinity of the creeks where there was enough light. There were epiphyts on the giant trees, and many kinds of fungus thrived on dead plants. Most of the plants there were endangered species, protected by the law. It was prohibited to take anything out of the forest. At one point we admired the rare Black Orchids that grew on the trees. They were beautiful. We were told that some irresponsible people had attempted to smuggle them out of the forest.

We finally arrived at a river so shallow and clear that we could see the riverbed and rocks around the bank. On the dry side of the riverbed, the chopper transporting the orangutans would drop off the cages and the volunteers would pick them up and carried them about 100 yards across the river farther inside the forest. The conservatory team had previously built a simple wooden “resting” tower for the orangutans and filled it with papayas and bananas. When asked about the purpose of the tower, one technician explained that the orangutans may need some time to adjust to living back in the forest after living sometime under the care of humans and during the transition they need to feel that they were not totally neglected although they would not see humans anymore.

The mission was completed by 4 in the afternoon, and all exhausted (but grateful!) volunteers - and the conservatry staff -headed back to the base camp and prepared to spend the night in the forest. A huge tent was erected and we just picked a spot for a night rest. A nice hot meal was provided, and soon enough people mingled and talked about the day's adventure. Conversations were mostly about Marco (the king orangutan -- read Part II of this blog) and Bento (the free-spirited orangutan). Night fell, and humans went to bed shortly after. The sound of people snoring competed with the sound of the forest nocturnals. :)

amazed says:
You *have* to upload more pics for this blog... but then I noticed it's from 1998, a bit before digital cameras got into vogue. Find and scan!
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013
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photo by: o_dog