The little wooden hornbill at the mast of our boat held his head aloft, wisely and knowingly guiding us in the right direction with his bright, banana yellow beak. A tangled, dense forest full of clicks, squeaks, howls and chatter towered around us from all sides. The water below us snaked through the wilderness, weaving through the jungle and too brown and muddied to even guess what swam or slithered beneath the surface. The air was saturated with silence.
My sister and I looked at each other; we’re in the middle of flippin nowhere.
A few months earlier when flights had been booked and dates had been agreed upon, Kalimantan (Indonesian owned Borneo) seemed like a distant, fanciful dream – orientalist images of beige clad, safari hatted men with magnifying glasses and butterfly nets swirled through my mind – only the most intrepid and lionhearted as the likes of Sir David Attenborough dauntlessly ventured into the dark jungles of places like Kalimantan, right?
But the day came last May, where my sister and I, after an hours’ flight from Jakarta, set foot in Kalimantan and stood curiously before our boat home for the next three days. Having a fondness for David Beckham, Channel 4 dating programs and Tim Tams, lionhearted and intrepid we may have not appeared to be, but excitedly nervous we most definitely were.
Let’s get this out of the way first; my sister’s name is Beyonce. Yes, she is called Beyonce. Is she? Is she really? I hear you cry with disbelief. Yes. No. Maybe. Who knows? On here in the realm of the internet, her name is Beyonce. *Swishes hair*. Boom.
Beyonce and I had booked a three day boat trip with WowBorneo to go and explore the jungles near to Palangkaraya, and fingers crossed, get to see some of our copper haired cousins; the orang-utans.
Big, wooden and bold, our boat stood serenely in the river. With the kitchen and boat staff and our guide, Nita, we clambered on board the boat and became acquainted with our new home for the following three days. A cosy cabin awaited us in the lower deck, as the main deck was furnished so ornately it was reminiscent of something I’d imagine the Western explorers would have used in the Tarzan stories; wooden and finely carved, plush and comfortable. Above, you could climb onto the roof for a full 360 view of the jungle. Honestly speaking, I had picked the tour company quite randomly and we most definitely lucked out, especially as we were the only two people who had signed up for the those few days. The whole boat to ourselves, with our own personal guide and complete staffed kitchen; we felt like princesses.
Sailing through the forest, we stood on deck, next to our wooden hornbill mascot as we gazed and absorbed every detail of our new environment. White barked trees spindled through the air as if trying to reach the clouds, a few succumbing to soil erosion had fallen and were now part of the river. Where the river branched into tributaries, road signs protruded from the river surface, guiding our captain as to which part of the river to take. Bold red and white, they stood straight and authoritative, as if they were upstanding officials sent to enforce structure upon the wild and untameable jungle.
We sailed for around an hour from Pelabuhan Rambang right into the heart of the forest. Before stopping at our destination point, Nita informed us we would first visit a small island which was used for reintroducing captive orang-utans back into the wild – like a kind of halfway house, so that they could relearn all the necessary skills to become the true jungle VIPs they once were. After she delivered that scintillating piece of information, Beyonce and I had our eyes fixed upon the verdant horizon ahead, racing each other to see who could be the first one to see a wisp of red hair that might belong to our primate friends.
It wasn’t long before we came to a bend in the river that we saw a few blobs of reddish orange in the distance. Nita smiled and pointed them out to us.
‘Look, ‘she said, filled with excitement herself, ‘there’s quite a few out today.’
My sister and I raced to the edge of the deck to see – and there they were, three orang-utans; two plonked upon some decking, and one hiding in the bushes – all spectacularly red and hairy. We kept silent as watched them in awe. Splayed onto on top of the decking, they lay luggishly, with contented, lazy smiles on their faces. Upon seeing the third orang-utan pick up a banana, it struck us both as to how similar to us they really were. Opposable thumbs and curious eyes, they walked hunched, like little hairy red men and watched us with passing interest.
‘Are there many more around here?’ I asked our guide.
‘Lots. Lots of them. Tomorrow we will see more,’ she said.
Go Go Go!
Where: Palangkaraya, Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo)
Why: Immense wildlife, jungles and unique cultures.
How: Flights from Jakarta to Palangkaraya are daily and available with all the main airlines with a duration time of around 1 – 2 hours. We travelled with Air Asia, a return ticket costing 650,000 Rp (approx. £35).
Visit www.wowborneo.com for more information as they have a wide range of itineraries available. Our three day tour cost around 10,000000Rp for 2 people (£500) with food, transportation and park entrance fees all included. I have been told by friends you can get deals much cheaper through independent tour guides, but I cannot recommend WowBorneo more for their range of knowledge, enthusiasm and professionalism.