Adventurists, conservations or those simply energized by exotic travel will want to learn more about a breath-taking trip to Borneo, the Indonesian island that is home to the earth’s oldest rainforest.
The weeklong riverboat expedition starts off at the Port of Kumai, a burgeoning trade center and home to one of the world’s most valuable animal products — the nests used for bird's nest soup. The journey makes its way south along the wide Kumai River before heading up the narrower and more peaceful Sekonyer River, which leads into the Tanjung Puting National Park, one of the best places in the world to observe semi-wild orangutan.
The experience feels like entering another world. The boat’s movement provides a consistent light breeze and a view of riverbanks sandwiched with nipa and screw palms. Eventually the palms yield to tall trees and messy vines, the marks of Borneo’s tropical rainforest.
The Kumai River in Tanjung Puting National Park.Tanjung Puting National Park
There is the constant buzz of cicadas and sporadic bird calls. In the skies are prehistoric-appearing hornbills, one of the many birds flying overhead.
An elusive dolphin may jump from the water, or a crocodile may emerge stealthily. And in the trees comes the real excitement: troops of long-tailed macaques, bands of proboscis monkeys and the endangered majestic orangutans.
All this while enjoying the comforts of the boat. During the two overnights, you will wake to beautiful sunrises and the sounds of the forest. In the evening, you will witness stunning pinkish orange and yellow sunsets and, once darkness hits, fireflies in the trees. After dinner, you can relax on deck or go down below to your private bedroom with an ensuite bathroom.
Savory vegetarian Indonesian dishes are cooked on board and served on the boat’s deck with dessert fruits including succulent dragonfruit, papaya, and mango.
There are also exciting stops along the way. In the local villages, you can see natives perform martial arts exercises and practice basket weaving and wood carving.
Other excursions include planting saplings to help regenerate the forest and observing ex-captive orangutans at a feeding platform. The last two days include an early morning forest walk and canoe rides around an orangutan pre-release island, home to over 50 orangutans.
Gentle orangutans in Borneo.Orangutan Odysses/Facebook
Throughout the tour, you have the unique opportunity to learn from Lief Cocks about the current threats to orangutans and their habitat, including the impact of extractive industries such as oil palm plantations and mining. You will also become privy to the most effective conservation efforts, making the trip a special coupling of both education and adventure.
Borneo has intrigued the world’s imagination for centuries. As the third largest island in the world, Borneo’s rainforest has survived for over 130 million years. Located in Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago, Borneo was once covered by dense tropical and subtropical rainforests, with a mountainous interior and swampy coastal areas enriched with mangrove forests and alluring beaches. The terrain was virtually untraversable and unexplored with only indigenous Penan and Dayak tribes inhabiting the remote parts of the island until about a century ago.
Since the 1960s, devastating deforestation has left Borneo with only 55 percent of its forest remaining, yet enough to still be part of the last remaining habitat for many endangered species — including the critically endangered Bornean orangutan.
Alison Draper is currently working on a novel about the plight of orangutans in Borneo.