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INDONESIA | Monday, 2 February 2009 | Views [1328]

What we are about

What we are about

Balikpappan is an oil town in East Kalimantan with all of the ambiance that conjures up.  There are oil platforms offshore and the smell of open sewers in town.  You would be right to wonder what we are doing here.  This is the tropical forest office for The Nature Conservancy, Indonesia, and we have volunteered to work in the forest for the next six weeks.

We have learned not to anticipate what is to come, and for good reason.  Since Erik was away in Papua New Guinea our new contact was Evan.  What we didn’t suspect was Evan is a woman.  So is Ira.  Stanley is a guy but none of them really knew what to do with us.  Even Nardi who has field experience wasn’t sure except that we would be spending time at the Wehea, either a 12-20 hour drive or a short flight followed by an 8 hour drive to reach the site.  Nardi showed us some photos of the building we will live in and the waterfall where we will bathe.  We have been in worse places but this time we will have TNC workers with us.  Too bad they don’t speak English.  They will also do the cooking so it will be nasi-this and nasi-that – rice and more rice! Living conditions will be Spartan but Nardi says there are no mosquitoes.  Nothing was mentioned about leeches though. 

We splurged on a room at the Pacific Hotel.  It is the plushest place we have stayed in on the entire trip but we were able to negotiate the weekend rate for all five nights.  We have found a couple of decent restaurants and with a lot of sign language and laughter managed to get our laundry done.  But there isn’t much to occupy us except for the internet and TV.  Tourists are a rarity in Balikpappan and not many people speak English.  Kids stop and stare when they see our blue eyes and even their parents do a double take.  We have seen only one other non-Indonesian here.  Jo Wilson is an Aussie who lives in Bali and works for TNC.  Small world, no? 

When we stopped by the office this morning Ira was finishing our applications for permission to visit Wehea and Nardi gave us our tentative schedule.  We are looking at three weeks at Wehea working on a bird census.  Then we go on to Pulau Derawan for some diving and snorkeling.  We should be back in Balikpappan to spend a few days with Erik around March 6.  In Derawan we would be tourists and the resorts are pricey so we think we would prefer to spend more time in the forest instead.  We will wait and see.  There is no sense obsessing yet.

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