Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunset Sequence at Jimbaran Beach in Bali

This is a predawn shot taken from the beach at the Laguna Resort. Soon after the sun rises, the sea mist blurs the mountain in the background.
The tide is at its low point. At high tide the water moves about 30 yards inward, just 10 yards from the trees.

Miscellaneous Photos from Kalimantan

Granddaughter watching grandmother preparing rattan. Rattan is one of the major exports in Kalimantan.

A youngster that followed me at one of the Dayak villages.
Lots of things go up and down the river.
Young Dayak girl dancing for us.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Final Day on the River in Kalimantan

Early next morning, the boat was situated north-south so the sun rise photo with the sun reflected in the water was not a possibility. However, I was there to capture the first boat disturbing the still of the river.
We spent the day on the river and this turned out to be the best day to see the Orangutans up close. Saving the Orangutans is big business in Indonesia as witness by the billboard we saw as we walked from our plane to the terminal.
I found an interesting article on the Internet about the efforts to save the Orangutans in Borneo.
The Orangutan is the most introverted and antisocial of the great apes. They are solitary animals, spending most of their lives on their own. Even if a group assembles in a well-stocked fruit tree, they take very little notice of each other. Only the young enjoy playing with each other and indulging in mock fights. The males seek females only when they want to mate and play no part in the upbringing of the young or in family life.

They build nests, the only primate to do so, in high trees. The cutting of high trees taking place in most of Borneo is one of the greatest threats to the orangutans.

They are highly intelligent, resourceful animals, capable of amazing feats of memory and learning. In the wild, they can remember the exact location and fruiting seasons of a whole range of trees.

Orangutans have 96% of the same DNA as humans so they are a distant cousin to humans. Chimpanzees have 98%, so they are our closest relatives.
This orangutan has a small watermelon in his hand.
This one is sitting on a platform that the rangers use to deposit fruit. He had a large piece of cloth the size of a shirt which he then placed over his head as if to provide himself with some privacy. He anchored here for 15 minutes, and when he didn’t move, we moved on.
We visited another Dayak village where we anticipated being treated to some young girls dancing. When we docked, the dance troupe was not ready for us to we toured the village until they were. It was very hot and walked very slowly.
And I have added another item to my list of things that are changing the world, satellite dishes. There were several to be seen as we walked through a village containing about 30 houses and a school house and playground. The photo shows what are called “long houses”. They house an entire family. They are far enough from the water that they are not built on stilts.
I must say the dancing girls turning out to be a disappointment. They moved in a circle moving their arms and hands while their feet went, step, together, step-spin 180, together over and over again. And that all time the over-amped, distorted, repetitious music was blasting away.
It was a relief to then enjoy some coconut milk that was provided for us.
There was one girl a little older than the dancers who was a real beauty and when I asked to take her picture, she went into a flirtatious pose.
We moved away from the dock and anchored for the night on the river. The early next morning we ate breakfast as usual. The ex-pats always seemed to have a great liking for toast and on of them in particular usually had 3-4 slices. It reminded me that every breakfast table in the U.K. has a toast holder on the table. The meals on board were always excellent and we were reminded how good fresh eggs tasted. We traveled for 15 minutes at the previous dock at Tangkiling and again forded the plank to a van that drove us back to Pelangkaraya.

The van stopped at a small market area where the 8 of us found some real bargains. I bought a Borneo t-shirt for $2. Judith found an ornate used (which was desired) baby carrier that the mother straps on her back to carry her small baby. In Jakarta, it would have cost 4 times the amount.

The ex-pats were driven to the airport and we were driven to a new hotel, the Rungan Sari, 45 minutes away and enjoyed some food sitting around a swimming pool. The next morning we flew to Jakarta, then to Bali where we spend 4 nights at our favorite hotel, the Laguna in Nusa Dua.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Day Three on the River in Kalimantan

The danger of writing about an adventure while you are experiencing it is that things that seem important initially don’t quite hold up after the adventure is over. As an example, the photos of the Orangutans previously cited, afterwards are only slightly better than average. But the Orangutan photos that follow are superior and would have been used instead of the previous ones. Does this make sense?

I will cite another example. When we went into the Krueger game reserve in South Africa, the first thing we saw was a couple of zebra. I can still visualize the event. We were thrilled. Soon however, looking at zebra was about exciting as looking at your shoe laces. There were just so many of them and they aren’t all that exotic looking, really.

The boat’s six additional passengers (3 couples) showed up, stowed their belongings, and came on deck. Later, as we started up the river again they were thrilled to see this or that, which seemed to us almost funny. We didn’t think it was anything worth looking at because it was so commonplace. It reminded me of your zebra experience.

I told the zebra story to Amy (whose name I thought was Annie for a while) and how it applied to what was unfolding as our new passengers were pointing out things. She was greatly amused and later commented how funny the story was to her.

I will always remember however, the first time I saw Orangutans in the wild in the trees along the river. Even though later opportunities were even better, the first impression gets imprinted on some part of my brain that allows vivid color to remain.

Our three couples were UK ex-pats living in Jakarta and knew each other from previous trips together. I turned out that this was a different cultural experience for us as we learned about them as they talked around the breakfast, lunch and dinner table with us interacting with them along the way. They were all in their early 50’s or late 40’s, putting them almost in the generation of our children. The men all came equipped with newer models of my Nixon camera and bigger lens also. At times the 3 women would socialize together while the 3 men would be socializing together at the same time. It is common for sexes to separate like this but seeing it reminded me that I prefer being in the company where both sexes are represented.

Seeing this made me examine why this was my preference. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s at parties, I grew bored with man talk after a while (sports, cars, and other toys) and would sidle over to the women to listen. They were just as boring after awhile (children, husbands and other kin). At least I was interested in sports and could hold my own in discussions. If I moved in closer where the women talked, one of the women would thoughtfully include me in their discussion. And having a male included in the group would always move the level of conversation to different level, which I found I enjoyed more. Men’s discussions also change when women are included, for the better I think.

The ex-pats were quite enjoyable and everyone got along well and after two days of having the boat to ourselves, I was a pleasant change to have company. I had little time to write, however, so this post was written a week after returning from Indonesia.

As we were waiting for our new shipmates to arrive, we were docked by a small group of houses where two brothers played in the water along side their house. They had a great time splashing each other and sliding on some of slick vegetation just below the water’s surface. They were fun to watch and their enthusiasm was energizing.

After a while we had to move the boat however. Laying in the water along side our boat were two dead stinking pythons. They had been captured, skinned, and then thrown in the river where their carcasses got caught in some debris on the river’s edge. They were about 12 feet long and about 6 inches in diameter.

Our new companions arrived with little luggage as they were only staying 2 nights on the boat, but brought a cooler of beer, wine, and plenty of snacks with them, which they generously shared with us. Before we started up the river again, they were given a large canoe type motorized boat ride like we had the day before. We declined to go with them as we preferred to watch more orangutans on the opposite shore.
Once underway again, our destination turned out to be a village near the hills seen from the boat.
And this was our dock. We took off our shoes and walked gingerly over a plank laid down for us.
Villages come here to bathe, to wash clothes, to scale fish, to swim, and catch fish. These girls were quite shy about having their picture taken and only when they were not looking in my direction was I able to catch their faces.
We were driven to one of the hills and some of us climbed the bigger hill while some of us were driven to a Catholic monastery.
We climbed up a tended path to the top of the hill. Dispersed along the way were several statues which depicted the various stages of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion as described in the Bible. This I found rather sad to see such a waste of resources and effort, but I have little kind to say about religion, of any persuasion. It was also a hot day and the climb had many steps so we welcomed the van and the air conditioning upon our descent.

We picked up the others and then spent the rest of the evening on the boat and docked there during the night.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Day Two On the River in Kalimantan

Here is an overview map of Indonesia, showing Borneo’s relationship to the area. Palangkaraya is just above the “I” in Indonesia.

The next day we take one of several tributaries of the river and take note of the color change of the water with each new route. From muddy brown, copper colored, and black with various hues in between. All surrounded with an amazing variety of green from the shores with the sky providing the most change to the landscape.

Towards the middle of the day we encountered a tropical downpour and the crew scurried to put up protective plastic tarps completely surrounding the boat. I felt I was in a cave.

But before that suddenly the boat slows and the crew shows us several Orangutans. They are orphans who were discovered near the gold mines, their mothers having been killed by poachers. After they reach a certain age they will be transported to a larger protective national park where they will live in the wild. At any given time I could see seven out of the nine that live there. Three wardens are within 100 yards to watch over them and provide them with bananas and other foods.

The boat is anchored and we slowly drift a little closer and watch them for most of an hour.

The picture below shows four Orangutans. Can you find them? One is at the very top. There is a platform at the bottom where the bananas are placed. Several monkeys could also be seen but they seemed of small import.

And we got closest to this one in a Bamboo tree. Another is partially hidden but visible.
After the downpour we were treated to a motorized canoe ride similar to those constantly seen moving up and down the rivers. We ventured off the river into a maze of waterways some of them very narrow providing some up close views.

We dock for the night where the canoe came to pick us up. I arose early and captured this sunrise.

Up to now we have had the boat to ourselves. Today, 6 others will join us for the next 2 days.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Day One On the River-Kalimantan

I suppose life on the river in any country has many similarities. Houses are built to float or are built on stilts to accommodate the rise and fall of the river’s cyclic levels. Where there are larger villages, various shops are built for boats to stop and shop. Woman bathe their offspring and themselves in the river and laundry their clothes there frequently judging by the amount of items drying on clothes lines.

Our boat (the Rahai’i Pangun which can be roughly translated to mean the Big Enterprise) has five cabins below and of course Judith has chosen the best one and in the front of the boat. With the amount of luggage we have, we are able to pile our stuff on the single bed leaving us room to move about comfortably. The boat’s generator provides electricity for all cabins and the two very small toilets. There are cold water showers in the toilets. At night the generator is turned off for the sake of quietness and toilet flushing is done using a small bucket from the water barrel. Lights and an electric fan are still available through battery power.

Most of the day we enjoy the rain forest and beauty of the river while reading or starting a post for my blog, occasionally looking up to see if there is something of interest to see.


Borneo is the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea and three different countries occupy it. The why of this is related to which colonial powers did the most settling. The Western part was greatly influenced the English Spanish and Portuguese and the South-Western part by the Dutch. Mountains in the Northern part of the island formed natural boundaries and water sheds. The about 60 % of the land mass is Kalimantan, Indonesia with two Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah facing the South China Sea. Then there is the small separate country of Brunei, which lies between the two Malaysian states.

The native Kalimantan people are Daytaks and our first destination, after 4 hours up the river and ½ hour to fix an overheated engine, we arrive at the village. We dock here and will spend the night. Notice the partially submerged plank we must negotiate to reach shore.

We disembark and walk in the heat of the day, slowly, to view the site where ancestral bones are kept. Now days, the Daytaks are Christians but there are still those who hang onto the old time religion.

Feb-Mar 2001 the Dayaks participated in a massacre against the immigrant Madurese. About 500 people were killed and by April all the Madurese (about 100,000) had fled Kalimantan. Beheadings were witnessed as the Dayaks reverted to the old ways of violence. Granted the majority Dayaks were provoked by the government taking away their land for logging purposes and relocating the Madurese into their territory. I couldn’t help thinking that this happened not to long ago.

Anyway, we go to a place where ancestral bones are kept. Bodies of the dead are first buried, then 5 years later they are dug up and their bones are cleaned and put into boxes. Just another expression of rising from the dead, I suppose. Their descendants can come there from time to time to bring a token gift to keep their spirits placated. The ancestors are provided with some help to ascend into “heaven”. The object on the left is to help pierce through the clouds. The long pole on the right is to provide a springboard which must be an all time pole vaulting record if successful. The red colored statues are replacements for originals which were stolen for their antique value.

During the ceremony that accompanies the unearthing ritual, slaves were tied to the figure below and put to death so the deceased would have someone to tend to them. Now days, slaves have been replaced by animals that serve the same purpose, with minor adjustments I suppose.

A man there explained all this to us and then asked if we would like him and others to play music for us that night. We accepted. Keep in mind that the sun rises and sets about 6 in the morning and at night on the Equator. So when lighting is limited for reading there isn’t a whole lot to do. So sure enough the man and his merry band came and entertained us.

All the instruments were hand made and he was proud to show us each and every one. (Actually they sounded hand made).
Everyone took several group pictures. The young woman on the right was our English speaking guide. Her name is Amie. She met us at the airport and ate with us. She can speak four languages and her English was excellent.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Trip to Borneo

One of life’s more anxiety filled moments for the more fortunate, is to be waitlisted in Business Class for an international flight up to the very last moment of boarding the aircraft, hoping beyond hope that the upgrade comes through. The agent must wait until the very last moment to see if some shmuck shows up that has paid the full price for a Business Class ticket thereby eliminating one of the available seats for upgrading. United even has the list of names wanting upgrades on one of their computer screens so you can find where you stand on the priority. But when you are listed as #9 you have another anxiety moment because you don’t have any idea how many seats are potentially available and it sure would be better if you were in the top five.

My upgrade status fell from 1K (100,000 miles in one year) to Premier Executive (between 50,000 and 100,000 miles) on March 1st and it is March 2nd., explaining why I am #9 on the list instead of in the top five. Which again points out there is only so much you can control in your life.

There is a group of us huddled around the podium really to bolt to the man in power as all those who already have a secured First or Business Class seat board the aircraft. If you don’t get an upgrade, you know that you will have to go to the end of the economy class line which means by the time you arrive at your assigned seat, the best luggage storage spots will already be taken. And I will be muttering, “why me”?

But there I stand watching the agent’s every move. At that moment, if a halo appeared over the agent, I would fall to my knees and confess that I have been unswerving loyal to United Airlines since 1987 and beg that he has heard my prayers to be one of his chosen few. I realize I have no shame but could not care less.

My name is announced, I hand him my coach seat boarding pass which is somewhat by now anything but pristine, I the agent hands me the golden calf Business Class seat and his halo disappears. I sincerely thank him and an relieved that won’t have to think ill of him for the rest of the trip. My religious conversion is put on hold once again. Back to hedonism.

If you have never flown Business Class for a 10-12 hour flight, you have no idea how much better it is than coach. I could write many words about the benefits, but mere words are totally inadequate. But if recall, rat studies indicate when there is not enough personal space, they go berserk.

The first leg of the flight is to Narita airport in Tokyo and after less than an hour I am on my way to Singapore (Business Class) arriving Changi Airport (the city that never sleeps) shortly after midnight. From the time I get off the airplane to the time I get in a taxi is about 10 minutes. The efficiency, cleanliness, and orderliness in Singapore are models for the rest of the world to follow. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Singapore government takes an extremely dim view of sex, drugs, and rock and roll but if you can avoid these things (and chewing gum) life there could be pleasant. The city/country sits on the Equator so it is warm/hot year round. It is a tightly controlled democracy with less freedom for error or rebelliousness.

Hotel Re was selected due its price and customer comments as researched from the Internet. In the morning I find the clientele consists of Aussie and UK men in their 30’s who arrive at breakfast promptly at 7 AM, as I do, and are out the door to work with backpacks in hand within 15 minutes. As I wait for my taxi about for the airport between 10:15 and 10:30 several other guests coming into the lobby and they are tourists Western retirees. I imaged they chose the hotel the same way I did. The Internet is changing the world is so many ways. I suppose you have to be my age to be continually being awed this technology which could not have been imaged 30 years ago.

The flight to Jakarta is about 90 minutes and after I long line through customs, I gather my luggage and taxi to the Grand Hyatt to meet Judith who has been having a very successful business trip there while I was off skiing in Vail, the week before. At the Grand Hyatt, we had messages and mine was one of the best I ever had. I felt so alive and energized it took me a while to fall asleep that night.

But off we went at 6:30 in the morning to catch a 8 o’clock flight to Borneo, or more specifically the city of Pelangkaraya, Kalimantan, Indonesia. Kalimantan is north of the island of Java, so once again we are on the Equator.

Judith has booked us on a 4 day boat trip on the Kapuas River and its tributaries just outside Pelangkaraya. After four straight days of boarding airplanes, I look forward to some really, really nice relaxation.