Our last day at Samboja, we took two tours outside of the facility to see some of the local wildlife. Our first tour was to the Black River and began at 0600 in the morning. We boarded a small motorboat and cruised along the river looking for Proboscus Monkeys. Not long after we launched, we spotted the first troop of monkeys, foraging in the trees along the banks of the river. The large male was positioned above the rest of his harem, which included females and babies. As we passed by them they all came crashing down into the foliage below and scampered off. The Proboscus monkeys are a comical looking breed of monkey. The males have big long noses and the pattern of their fur looks like they are wearing a vest. The females have shorter turned up noses and are much smaller. We saw several troops during our hour long cruise along the river. We also saw several monitor lizards swimming in the river and or sunning themselves on the trees.
Our second tour took us to the top of the forest canopy at Bukit Bangkirai. As we climbed up the trail leading to the canopy towers, the sound of the jungle cicadas resounded like a giant skill saw. Upon reaching the towers we climbed about 100 feet to the top of the canopy. There were 4 platforms connected by small swinging bridges. As the wind blew through the tree tops the platforms swayed and creaked but seemed to be sturdy enough. We lucked out and got to see 2 Great Hornbills. We were unable to see any other birds as we arrived too late in the morning for birding.
After returning to the lodge from our morning of touring, we were able to assist the workers at Samboja with feeding the Sunbears. We placed a variety of fruit in hanging tires, platforms, logs, and other hidey-holes. Apparently the bears like a little treasure hunt when it comes to meal time. Tomorrow we begin our long journey back home with our hearts and minds filled with memories of a fabulous adventure in East Kalimantan, Borneo.
We said good-bye to our dive buddies and headed for the bustling capitol of East Kalimantan, Samarinda. There we planned to see the Islamic Center which is located on the banks of the Mahakem River. We were told by our guide that this was the largest Mosque in S.E. Asia. We also planned to see some of the Dayak culture in a nearby village, and visit the Sultan’s palace in Tenggarong. We briefly toured the Dayak village of Pampang; long enough to meet the village chief, who offered to pose for 3 photos for $2.50. We all purchased some of the local artisan’s beadwork at the souvenir shop and just before leaving town, we stopped by to meet one of the elder women of the village that still sported the decorative long ears. Apparently, now a large percentage of the women who have the long ears are opting to have plastic surgery to reduce the size, due to increasing harassment by people when they are outside of their village. Our attempt to visit the Sultan’s palace was foiled due to the fact that the palace is apparently closed during the week. I guess they just forgot about that minor detail when we booked the tour. Oh well, these things happen, so off we went to Samboja.
Samboja is a 2000 hectacre private reserve owned by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS), located about 45 minutes out of Balikpapan. The primary function of the facility is Orangutan care and rehabilitation. The ultimate goal of the program is to prepare rescued Orangutans for release to their future protected habitats. To date they have rehabilitated and released 400 Orangutans back into the wild. They currently have 221 Orangutans living at the facility. They inhabit 6 separate islands surrounded by a mote. The Orangutans don’t know how to swim so the mote keeps them confined to the island. We were told that they learn quickly and that occasionally one does escape by cleverly testing the depth of the water with a stick and then measuring the level to their body to see if it’s shallow enough to wade across. While we were there, one such male escaped his island and was found cavorting amongst the females on the next island. They had to take him down with a tranquilizer gun. One of the islands contains Orangutans that have Hepatitis B. Cages located on a hillside far from the lodge contain Orangutans that have been treated for TB. It is uncertain whether they became infected by humans or contracted it in the wild prior to their capture. Orangutans share 93% of the same DNA as humans therefore disease transmission is possible. Contact with the Orangutans at the facility is limited due to their vulnerability to contracting human illnesses and because they are trying to re-educate them as to their relationship with humans to protect them after their release.
In addition to Orangutan rehabilitation, Samboja also rescues Sun Bears. Currently there are 52 bears at the facility. Typically the Sun Bears have come from much more abusive situations and have therefore never learned to be bears. The preserve is their home for now, but one day they hope to be able to reintroduce some bears to the wild also. In the year 2000 the land here was mostly deforested grassland, but now 9 years later due to an aggressive reforestation program, putting to work and educating the locals, there is a lush secondary forest throughout the preserve. Deforestation in East Kalimantan is a big problem and is related to illegal logging and huge fires that often originate from the multiple coal mines in the area. We have learned a lot during our short stay here at Samboja and now have a new understanding of the plight of the area and their hope for the future. We are wrapping up our adventure here in Borneo with just a couple more outings to go. Next entry will feature our trip to the Black River to see Probiscus Monkeys, and our climb to the top of the forest canopy at Bukit Bangkirai.
We just finished our week on board the Panunee live-aboard where we had a fabulous time and did some great diving. The boat was first class, with a crew that was both friendly and professional . The food was mostly Thai cuisine and although sometimes it was a little too flaming for our Western palates, it was tasty. Our first day was spent at Derawan Island where we found loads of macro life (nudibranches, pygmy seahorses, orangutan crabs, etc). We toured the island village at the end of our dive day and found it to be amazingly tidy and full of smiling children that greeted us with exuberant hellos and hands extended for a high five.
The next morning we pried ourselves out of bed at 4:00 A.M. to witness the Jawfish hatching that occurs a couple of nights after the full moon. We were each stationed just outside of the hole in the sand where the Jawfish would appear with its mouth full of eggs and proceed to spit them out into the current. After our early morning venture we headed to Sangalaki where we snorkeled with Mantas and were able to witness a huge green turtle digging a nest to lay her eggs. We also saw a baby turtle making its maiden voyage to the sea. We visited the ranger station on the island and were shown a rare albino baby turtle. The stars shown brilliantly in the clear night sky with no competition from the lights of civilization. The Milky Way and its constellations stood out as if we were looking at it through a telescope. The surf lapping on the shore was filled with the tiny glowing lights of phosphorescent plankton.
Our next stop was Maratua where the current is very strong but attracts lots of fish. It was there that we saw a swarm of schooling barracuda and large schools of Jacks. After Maratua we traced our way back stopping at Sangalaki and Derawan again and my favorite, Kakaban Island. I had been waiting a long time to experience snorkeling in the Jelly Fish Lake that is located in the center of the island. It is one of only two in the world. It was fascinating to immerse ourselves in warm clear water filled with millions of non-stinging jelly fish. They have been there for over 20,000 years and have adapted to become non-stinging due to the lack of natural predators. This was the highlight of the trip so far for me. After five days of great diving, we headed to our next adventure which was out of Samarinda to see some of the Dayak culture, local markets, and the former palace of the Sultan. Stay tuned for the next report on these landed-based excursions.
After 29 hours of travel, we finally arrived in Balikpapan around 1100 on Monday the 7th. We were able to get 5 hours of shut-eye and a shower at a transit hotel in the Singapore airport which was much appreciated. Our first day in Balikpapan was pretty much a blur. The town of 500,000 seemed strangely deserted. The majority of the population is Muslim and during the hours of 4:30 A.M. to 6:30 P.M. everyone is fasting, praying, and laying low, due to the month long religious holiday called Ramadan. Four times throughout the day you hear the call to prayer echoing across the city over loud speakers from the near-by mosque. Balikpapan is primarily an industrial town catering to the oil, mining and lumber industries. There is basically no tourist info structure here and therefore is not much to do. The majority of people here speak no English and the few that do speak very little. We had an extra day to kill in Balikpapan before heading on to Tarakan to start our dive excursion, so we attempted to see a little bit of what little there was to see. There were no organized day tours, so we selected a couple of locations off a brochure in the hotel and hired a driver for 4 hours to check them out. Our choices were slim. We ended up choosing the crocodile farm and the local market. Our driver, Mr. Budi spoke almost no English, but was able to take us to the locations that we indicated on the brochure. We first went to the crocodile farm where for $1.00 we were shown several small enclosures packed with crocodiles in a small amount of very stagnant water. For another dollar you could buy a chicken to throw to the poor buggers who would scramble to get the prize but only one would emerge the victor. In addition to the crocs there were two chained up elephants, 3 monkeys and several snakes, all in equally sparse cages. It was a sad set-up, so we quickly moved on to our next attraction, the market. To sum it up, there were lots of little stalls filled with tacky trinkets, and the persistent smell of raw sewer. We didn’t linger there either.Tomorrow we move on to Tarakan, and hopefully some spectacular diving. We’ll post the diving update in about a week.