Aug 24, 2011


We procured a flight to South Central Kalimantan the other day, intent on witnessing one of man’s close relatives living in the forest in Borneo. Borneo contains some of the world’s largest rain forests. These lungs of the earth are under constant threat as they are illegally burned to the ground in order to grow cash crops such as palms for oil. Tanjung Puting National Park is a vast reserve of rain forest set aside for rehabilitating orphaned orangutans. When the forest burns, the orangutans lose their homes. They come here, often without their families, to thrive in a protected region.

Six tourists, ourselves included, boarded a wooden klotok from Kumai, a town heavily occupied by massive concrete windowless houses. They are homes to the swallows whose nests are then harvested for the infamous bird’s nest soup, a Chinese delicacy. The constant hum of Muslim prayer emanating forth from the mosques scattered about were masked by the pre-recording sound of flocks of swallows blasting from the openings of each house, an effort to lure more birds and more profit from the skies above.

The competing sounds of this vibrant river town quickly faded as our klotok chugged down the river destined for Camp Leakey, an orangutan observation and research center. We had before us three days of a true boat safari in the grandest fashion. We were treated to wonderful meals, endless tea and coffee, new friends from Spain and Russia, and superb monkey viewing on the shoreline trees high above the river.

The Orangutans were amazing creatures to behold. It was as though we were watching our own kind, albeit much hairier, climbing around the vines and canopy, devouring bananas at the feeding stations. When the orangutans first arrive to the park, they are fed daily while they acclimate to their new surroundings. Nearly every female carried a baby on her back.

As the days came to a close, we would re-board our boat for a sunset cruise to witness the proboscis and macaque monkeys along with the elegant kingfishers and the elusive crocodiles. As we headed back to port on the final day we caught a glimpse of the largest male orangutan of the trip sitting in a tree over the water. He likely weighed over 250 pounds. We could almost see him waving goodbye as we left the tranquil rainforest of Tanjung Putting and headed back to the madness of Asian city-life.

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