I look out of the window of the plane and see that we are flying over what looks like a sea of green, stretching out as far as the eye can see. I almost mistake this scenery for water when I note a river meandering through what I can now identify as tree clad land and realise that we are flying over the jungles that make up Indonesian Borneo: known to the world as Kalimantan; another one of the many islands that make up the archipelago of Indonesia. Howdy fellow wanderlusters, and welcome to my series of adventures that I had in this fascinating country that is so much more than just Bali!
Rugged and intrepid, the raison d’etre setting footsteps in Kalimantan are the Orangutans of Indonesian Borneo, and to find them, M and I will be embarking on a river cruise in the jungles of Central Kalimantan, aboard our private charter, the Ruhui Rahayu, skimming the waters of the Rungan River towards the Kajas and Bapallas islands where these orange primates reign supreme. I am quite excited to be “stuck” in the middle of nowhere, calling this boat home for a couple of nights, with just my Wanderlustmate, the boat crew, our guide Indra and thick jungle and water surrounding us. The fact that the starboard side of the boat is decked in a bright yellow mattress and adorned with colourful cushions has me smitten and I find myself looking forward to this adventure with eager anticipation: it’s been a while since we were on a cruise, the last one of this nature was in Halong Bay and I have an affinity towards this part of the world that I cannot quite describe!
The Orangutans in Kalimantan are a little harder to spot than those in Malaysian Borneo, however from what I have read, the concept in both parts of the world is the same. This species is endangered thanks to the palm oil industry, which chops down their natural habitat and so organisations have taken it on themselves to try and rehabilitate Orangutans by preserving specific jungle terrain just for them. The only way to see these primates is by cruising down the river in the hope that they will come to the banks to forage for food and water and sighting isn’t guaranteed but we are quite hopeful as we set sail.
It is a therapeutic feeling to be on the boat, sat on the deck, listening to the chirping of the birds interspersed with the gentle whirring of the engine and the sound of the water lapping of against its side, while watching out in the green trees on either side of the river for orange fur balls. I feel like I am reconnecting with nature after being in the city for way too long and that is a feeling that I could quite easily get used to! We manage to spot our first Orangutan after an hour or so of sailing, however today is about indulging in culture as we head firstly towards a Dayak Village to immerse ourselves in another world for a while.
Clambering out of the boat, we see the village Chief waiting to greet us, and once that formality is dispensed with, the cutest little girls perform a coronation ceremony and adorn our heads with crowns and anoint us with rice paste as a gesture of welcome. We have to do the same for them, symbolising that we are one and we have accepted each other as friends. I must say that whilst I do enjoy these kind of interactions, sometimes they feel a tad bit staged and I can just hear people screaming “tourist trap”, but, whether this is true or not their smiles melt our hearts and we can’t help playing along, touring the village and seeing how another culture lives. The chief invites us into his home to indulge in a cup of spiced coffee that he has harvested from his own garden, and then shows us his rubber plantation and how he taps rubber from trees: an experience that very quickly turns uncomfortable as we get attacked by the most vicious mosquitoes which send us post haste to the safe haven of the boat! Itching subsided, a couple of hours later we anchor at a second village where we get to partake in a cultural dance and given that I am a robot even on my “best” days, this is not the most pleasant activity for me but I am a good sport and my lil teachers are patient and I end up having quite a great time before it is time to say goodbye to the villagers and head back to the Ruhui Rahayu.
A knock wakes us up at the crack of dawn the next morning. We will be leaving the comfort of the Ruhui Rahayu and adventuring towards the island of Kajas in a much smaller boat, on the lookout for Orangutans. This is a boat that is paddled with oars, and other than the splish splash of the water, there is pin drop silence on the river. This morning not even the birds seem to be chirping and I can’t help but wonder how many humans have set foot on jungle either side of us as we cut through the still water of the Rungan River. An hour later, we see one Orangutan swinging in the trees and watch him for a while, before making our way back to our boat to carry on our cruise.
It feels like we have been cruising for a while, when we stop again. Indra our guide tells us that we are now near the Bapallas Island where most of the Orangutans are found, but our boat is too big to cruise those waters and so we transfer into another smaller boat. I am awash with excitement and nervousness at the same time, as I skim the tops of the trees watching out for hanging monkeys! I remember feeling like Indiana Jones about to set off on a quest to find some sort of treasure and pretty soon, we come to a clearing where there is a beautiful female Orangutan sat in the thick grass, obscured by a bunch of bright red berries.
She is quite an exhibitionist and as curious about us as we are of her, and she comes quite close to the side of the boat and I am worried for a second there, that she is about to jump in. She stays on her side of the island though, peeking out now and then from between her safe haven before she gets really comfortable and starts to swing around and show off her talents, and it really is fun watching this show that seems to have been choreographed and put on especially for us! We aren’t allowed to use our long lens to take photos of this beauty because long lens photography is prohibited, but we manage to get some really decent shots and are glad to have had this experience in the wild. I can’t get over the fact that these orange creatures look like strange versions of humans with extra-long arms and Garfield like fur!
The adventure isn’t over yet, as we start to explore the backwaters of the rainforest, winding our way between reeds and bamboo and I have a feeling of pure bliss coasting through me as I sit at the helm of this little boat, captain of my ship and my soul! I haven’t felt this elated or in the moment for a while and I am thoroughly enjoying the emotion, looking forward to spotting more Orangutans in the coming hours and spending time observing these special orange fur balls.
Cruising on from a day full of adventures, between hanging out with Orangutans, exploring the mangrove rainforest and making new acquaintances in a remote part of the world, the waters of the Rungan River feel like glass as we glide along it, watching one of the most spectacular sunsets that we have seen. Indeed, I am glad that we have experienced some pretty unique and special moments in an intrepid part of the world, and been part of another dimension for a space in time. Anita Desai put it aptly when she said
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow….
Setting Footsteps in Kalimantan has been a special journey and our time on the Ruhui Rahayu and all the incredible experiences we have had have become a part of us, a part of our wanderlusting genes and our memories, making us that little bit richer. I am glad that our adventures in Indonesia are not yet over and there’s more fun to be had in the coming days, which I cannot wait to tell you about in the next few posts!
-On getting there
We flew from Jakarta to Kalimantan on Garuda Indonesia Airlines, landing in Palangkaraya. We spent one night here before heading out to Tangkiling to board our cruise. All our flights and accommodation were arranged on our own prior to travelling from Nairobi.
-On organising our trip
We did a lot of research online prior to arranging our trip, and booked this directly with WowBorneo after confirming their reliability from TripAdvisor. M and I very rarely do any package tours and so we opted to do this cruise by way of a private charter so that we could be flexible with our exploring. This is a more expensive option however WowBorneo does have other shared options available. Our experience with them was fantastic and we found them to be extremely reliable. WowBorneo organised to pick us up from our hotel in Palangkaraya and transferred us to Tangkiling, where we boarded the Ruhui Rahayu with Indra, our guide who stayed with us during the entire cruise. Note that this isn’t a sponsored post: my experience and my opinion of WowBorneo is my own.
-On the actual Itinerary
Our cruise was a 3 day 2 night affair, which started off from the tiny port of Tangkiling. Day 1 was spent cruising along the Rungan River towards the main islands where the Orangutans are found and we spent more time doing cultural visits to 2 Dayak Villages. Day 2 was where all the excitement happened and we sailed to both Kajas and Bapallas islands to observe the Orangutans, and had our amazing backwater cruise after visiting these islands. On day 3, we cruised back to Palangkaraya and flew from here to Jogyakarta, via Jakarta. You could do this cruise in 2 days and 1 night however we enjoyed the down time and experiencing the rugged wilderness of the river and its environs and this is something I would not hesitate to recommend.