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In the Forest

INDONESIA | Saturday, 7 February 2009 | Views [662]

Morning in Borneo

Morning in Borneo

The first thing you notice about Wehea is its remoteness.  Few people will ever see this stand of virgin rain forest in Borneo – and for good reason.  Depending on road conditions Wehea is 12 – 20 hours from Balikpappan and it took us ten hours to drive here from Berau.  Before the logging roads were bulldozed, rivers were the main way to travel.  There are a few small settlements where the road crosses the rivers but not much else.  We are truly isolated from the outside world.  There is no two-way radio and the nearest place with cell phone coverage is a two hour drive away and we don’t have a vehicle.  Heck, we don’t even have a phone. 

As we have come to expect from other Nature Conservancy sites, the facilities at Wehea are simple yet comfortable.  It would make a nice rustic lake cottage back home; three bedrooms, a deck, open dining area and a detached kitchen and a generator that provides electricity for a few hours each night. A brook flows in front of the center and we get drinking water from a tiny jungle stream.  The pool beneath a waterfall is a great place to cool off or take a bath.

Despite its remoteness the forest is never quiet.  There is the constant babbling of the stream and burble of the waterfall.  Bubuls, babblers, hornbills and countless other birds serenade from the forest, occasionally punctuated by the steam engine whistle of the peacock-like great argus.  Gibbons scream “who? who? what? what? wh wh wh wh.” Then leap through the branches.  Overshadowing everything are the unseen insects.  They buzz, hum, whistle, drum, scream and bleat.  Some sound like horns, bells, alarms, power saws and dentist drills.  Only the butterflies remain silent.  Their beauty requires no fanfare.

If you are lucky, as we were on our first day here, you may hear an orangutan swinging through the forest.  There are an estimated 5,000 of the solitary orange apes spread over 250,000 square kilometers and Connie spotted one building a nest above the trail.  When it saw her it chased her back to the center but we went back later with Sugi and Mex and spied on him for a while.  The photo isn’t the best I have taken but just to see an orangutan in the wild is a privilege.

The difference between the seasons in Kalimantan is negligible; the rainy season is a little cooler and a little wetter than the dry season . . . and vice versa.  Either way, the heat and humidity are oppressive.  Any activity results in a torrent of sweat.  If it rains during a five mile hike (as it must) you hardly notice.    The trails are slippery and often washed out.  The “wait-a-minute” vines seem to reach out to grab trousers or scratch arms.  It is very hilly and you are always going up or down drainages. Leeches are a fact of life on any hike and we both have many tiny sores.  Insect repellant doesn’t keep them away but a little squirt makes them drop off.  In spite of the hardships the forest is beautiful.  From one of the observation towers we were able to see just how immense it is, all mist shrouded valleys and giant trees.

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