Monday, December 16, 2013

Bucket list destination

On December 10th, we left our Bali anchorage. Our destination: Kalimantan (an Indonesian province on the Malaysian island of Borneo) to see the wild orangutans. About 3 years ago, we added this to our bucket so it was with keen anticipation that we set out.

The first 2 days were windless so it was motoring on calm seas. At times, it was a sad sight of garbage, mostly plastic, drifting at or near the surface. It was impossible to put out the fishing line while we travelled because right away it would pick up plastic.

About the third day, we got some rain and some wind on the nose, so we sailed a not so pleasant beat to make our way up to the lee coast where the wind and seas abated for us to make our way to the big bay that pre-empted our river passage.


The land all around was low lying and the charts showed very shallow depth for a long way out. As we headed in the direction of the river mouth, we passed 2 freighters anchored about 5 nautical miles offshore which seemed strange, but the depth dictated that. They were being loaded with product that was brought down the river and out by tug and barges.

As we got close to the river mouth, the charts showed that the area of navigate-able depth narrowed. It was getting late so we moved off to 1 side of the designated channel, out of the way of other commercial and fishing traffic. Watching our depth sounder, we found a place to spend the night (S02°58.946' E111°40.579'), ending our passage with a relaxing sundowner in the cockpit under the warm glow of twilight.

Up early, we left at 06:30 to navigate our way up the river to the small town of Kumai. At first, we had to do a bit of a dog-leg around a green marker. (Note of interest to sailors: in this part of the world, it's "green-right-return", not "red-right-return".)

We thought we were doing okay as we watched the GPS track on our digital charts, but then all of a sudden our depth sounder went to 2.5 metres (when it shows 1 metre our keel is at bottom). So we slowed, turned to gain some distance from the point of land on our left, and sure enough, the depth grew to 7 metres. So we could see the electronic charts were 0.5 nautical miles off.

Another sure guide was the small freighter that overtook us and we followed for a bit. Then an enterprising local longtail boater came alongside and offered to guide us up the shallow river. The cost of his service needed to be negotiated first. This difficult negotiating exercise would have to be done between 2 people - neither of whom speaks each other's language. It went as follows:

I showed him a 100,000 Rupiah note ($10 US), he nodded, 2 thumbs up, and the deal was sealed.

He then promptly tied his boat alongside and jumped aboard to man the helm. We had to watch to ensure that his boat did not dislodge the bumpers and leave marks on Sea Turtle. He had to hop down into his boat a couple of times to bail water out as it was leaking (many local boats do).

Udin was a quiet man but was dressed very bright in his yellow patterned pants. He also wore a wool toque (cap) with another cap on top of it even though it was very hot out - Jordan was shirtless and we had the sun canopy over the dodger. We find the Indonesian men to be very friendly but respectful around foreign women - when I sat next to Udin for a photo, he kept his distance from me - but when Jordan sat next to him, he claimed him as best bud.

Gregarious guide

About halfway up the river to our destination of Kumai, Udin said it was good for us to go it alone from there on as long as we stayed more or less in the centre of the river. We had originally negotiated a price for delivery all the way to Kumai but said our goodbyes and managed to complete the short journey without any problems by watching our depth and other commercial traffic.

Soon the jungle yielded to the busy riverside town of Kumai on our port side. As we started to scout for an appropriate place to anchor, we were approached by a speedboat directing us where to anchor and asking if we were interested in booking a tour to see the orangutans. We were of course.

Bain's Yacht Service suggested where to anchor (S02°44.419' E111°43.962') - off to the side of the river right across from town and in the midst of small freighters and barges. Once anchored, Mr. Bain jumped aboard, we set a reasonable price for his orangutan tour, and scheduled it to leave the next morning.

From Sea Turtle, we could see several high-rise buildings throughout the town that looked like windowless condos but in fact they were nesting houses for swallows. This is where they make their nests that are highly prized, and priced, for Bird's Nest Soup. Indonesia is the biggest swallow nest producer and exporter in the world.

We launched the dinghy for shore leave and internet. Right away, we could see that we were a rare sight for the town folk. They gave us pleasant stares and the occasional Indonesian greeting to foreigners "Hey Mista" framed with a bright smile. The 24-hour internet shop was quite a sight. In behind from the front desk was a dingy setting where there were a dozen or more cramped computer booths. The floor seating (a way of life here) was occupied mostly with kids playing interactive video games.

Jordan in an uncomfortable pose

We contacted Joel in Bali via Skype. He really wanted to join us in seeing the orangutans and said he would quickly arrange a flight to Kalimantan. Contacting us later, we learned that he could not fly until a day later so we re-booked our tour for the 18th so that he could join us. This river tour would last 3 days and 2 nights and include the trip up the jungle fringed river, stopping at 3 orangutan stations, before the return trip to Kumai and Sea Turtle. We were so excited and could hardly wait...

1 comment:

The Intrepid II Crew said...

So thrilled for you that you will be able to visit Kalimantan! I have a good friend who volunteered there some years ago and you can't help but fall in love with the babies....and be so disheartened about the situation that threatens the orangutans. Hoping all goes well. Carol