I am still totally stoked when I remember one of my favourite adventures to see Orangutans in Borneo earlier this year.
This was a busy travelling year ticking places off of bucket list-like, sailing down from the Southwest UK, to the beautiful Canary Islands and Mallorca; a quick stop at mom’s home Brazil to update documents after almost eight years on the road and at sea. Road trips through Thailand; more sailing around Southeast Asia; Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, whale watching from Australia and hanging with Komodo Dragons, the story behind the orangutan fill. And there I was, just about to meet them for the first time on the Indonesian side of Kalimantan, I hope not the last encounter too.
I had decided a couple of years ago that I wanted to see these mammals when I first heard that they are on the list of Critically Endangered animals. And the reasons are ridiculous; greed and ignorance are destroying their natural habitat for illegal hunting, pet trading, and deforestation for logging and palm oil plantation.
Palm oil is present in pretty much half of modern and processed food. A part of the stupid reasons that make some humans think that they can have a smart and sensitive wild animal as a pet, if you consume products like hazelnut and almond cacao spread, some brands of cosmetics and even biofuel, yes, you are also guilty of the devastation of their home lands and their lives. That was the first and most important lesson that was being reinforced, the consequences of using non-ecological products on your daily basis.
Excitement and curiosity were taking over my whole being when we started sailing from the Java Sea 10 nautical miles up through the Kumai river. I had no idea of what to expect of this journey, and I was trying to hold those emotions. After dropping anchor, we were received by Majid, the owner of one of the most traditional hostel and tour offices; his father was one of the pioneers organising Klotok tours to the National reserves. Klotoks are these beautiful wooden vessels used to navigate the Malaysia and Indonesia rives.
Majid instantly took care of us, showing the whole town and explaining all the details about the orangutans and the tour to Tanjung Puting National Reserve. He also told us details about their habits. Orang means “person”and hutan means “forest” in Bahasa Malay and Indonesian; person of the forest, another proof that we are such close relatives. He also shared with us how social and environmental problems are destroying that piece of paradise on the Southeast Asian rainforest.
We were ready to go early in the morning when we heard a klo tol klo tok klo tok noise approaching the yacht. Ohh, I forgot to tell you that these vessels take this name due to the sound that the engines make when running. Majid arrived on the came to the boat to pick us up with his crew, and once more we listened a few simple rules like not touching the orangutans to avoid passing human bacteria or viruses and keeping them safe from diseases.
The peace entering the jungle was disturbed only by the klotok symphony that integrated the atmosphere. We kept following the river though the rain forest when subtly the captain was stopping to spot Proboscis monkeys and other specimens of birds always teaching us about the local fauna and flora until we reached the first of the centres on the reserves. Our guide introduced us to a few of the rangers that were so pleased to tell more stories about their habits and hierarchy. We also had the opportunity to watch the feeding hours on a few occasions.
They were three days and two nights totally immersed in culture, nature and good food. As a chef, I was trying to stick close to the Klotok chef to learn as much as I could about the secrets of Bahasa Indonesian and Malay cuisines. The last stop was to leave our mark planting a tree; I choose one with medicinal properties. But the most exciting moment was when we saw Mario out of the feeding area. He won a fight with the previous king and it was the first time he was seen three months later after the duel.
I learnt also that these mammals are lonely beings but with strong social habits, another message from them when in modern days humans feel lonely but with a desperate necessity to socialise and sometimes unable to express feeling. I hope we acquire and put in practice this knowledge and save them from extinction.