A Jungle Journey — A Swampy Surprise and an Anty Attack!

by Jemima Hadley

It was on the second day of our boat trip to see orang-utans in Borneo when it happened. We were on a muddy river in the south of Borneo which, after one day on a boat, became a glossy, black river even though it was clean.

We were going on a walk to see orangutans. The walk took us along rotting, wobbling planks that often went underwater. We had to keep on the planks because they kept you off the mud. If you stood on the bed of leaves resting on mud you would sink past your knees if you were a child. The planks that were above the water sometimes bent under. We found out that you sink in the mud when there was a round, fallen tree instead of a plank. Evie decided to walk in the swamp so she got in and started to walk towards the next plank. She was almost there when she took one step and SQUISH! She was up to her bum in – mud!

When we pulled her out again her feet were covered in gunk so we washed her shoes. We carried on.

Soon the swamp ended and the pain began! Bum – bum – bum! There was jungle on either side as we walked along every now and again the guide pointing out fire ants. We stopped to look at a stick insect when our guide said, “Owch!” and moved away! We moved after him, then we realised we had been standing in a fire ant patch. I realised I was still in it and sprinted quite far away. Evie started crying, Daddy picked her up and swatted the fire ants off her feet and hurried up to me. He didn’t get bitten. Tettie and Mummy went back the way we came to get out of the patch. Daddy went back and carried Tettie back through the patch. Mummy ran.

When we were safe Evie realised she had 5 bites. I cried in sympathy and cuddled Daddy and we went on.

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Fire ants – nasty little things!

After loads more sprinting through fire ant patches and leaping over lines that crossed the path we reached the long wooden walkway and started to walk along it.

When we reached the boat we had a rest then realised it was orangutan feeding time and hurried off. There were no fire ants on the way. There were loads of orangutans when we got there. About 16. The guide book said you were lucky to see 4 or 5. We saw an enormous orangutan who we thought was Tom (the biggest, strongest orangutan in the forest – the king).

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We thought this was Tom

As we went back, we saw the real Tom lying on the ground. He was even bigger than the other one! We looked at him for a bit, then we went to look at the visitor centre.

There were loads of fire ants crawling around the steps and we had to sprint through them and run up the steps then quickly take off our shoes. We looked and Mummy, Daddy, Tettie and Evie all had fire ants on their shoes. I was the only one who didn’t.

We had a look inside the visitor centre. There was a family tree inide and lots of other interesting things. I learned that the longest living orangutan lived to 58, but I’ve forgotten his name. It began with G.

On the way back there were possibly more fire ants outside the steps. We put on our shoes; the fire ants had crawled off them. Our guide had said that the best way was to walk slowly through them as there were gaps all along the patch. Daddy tried and at the very end a fire ant got him. He didn’t complain except saying, “Owch, one got me!” Mummy went and carried Evie across the path, running. Then our guide carried me and did the slow method meaning that I got the longest ride. Daddy went back and ran with Tettie, who yelled, “I’m on a dinosaur!”

On the way back to the boat, we saw Tom in a tree. Our guide tried to feed him bananas by putting them at the base of the tree, but he wasn’t hungry.

But this was Tom!

But this was Tom!

We went back to the wooden walkway and started to walk along it. Daddy dangled me over the swamp which the walkway was built over. Then we started talking about how Mummy would get really cross if I lost my shoe in the swamp. Then slop! Tettie’s shoe was in the swamp! Our guide stepped off the walkway, into a tree and just about managed to pull it back and give it to her, then climb back onto the walkway himself.

A couple of minutes later we were back on our boat and we could carry on with our beautiful boat adventure. After a painful and sloppy explore, we were glad to be back on the boat at last.

Orangutans kissing, while the smaller babay hangs off the side

Orangutans kissing, while the smaller baby hangs off the side

Spot the Komodo

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Trekking across Komodo Island, our guide managed to spot every dragon we passed but  I have no idea how.They’re incredibly well-camouflaged against the dry forest and grasses of the island.

This was taken from the path we were following through a forest clearing. There’s a komodo dragon in full view here, using their preferred hunting technique – remain completely still and rely on camouflage until prey wanders close enough to leap at,

Spot the Komodo Dragon 1

Not seen it? How about a closer shot?

Spot the Komodo Dragon 2

No? Here’s another. Of course, by now, you’re well within leaping distance…

Spot the Komodo Dragon 3

The Beautiful Mooooooooooooooon

by Evie Hadley

The boat trip was set on a large river in the middle of nowhere on the island of Borneo in Indonesia. It was on the second and last night that I did it…

I was tired and fell asleep almost as soon as I had closed my eyes (and rolled over about 10 times). I can’t remember my dream. When I awoke it was still dark and I guessed it was about 1 or 2 O’Clock in the morning.

Suddenly I remembered, me ad my sisters had planned to go down to the front of the boat and look at the moon (forget the fizzy drinks). So I got up, put my fleece on, and I walked to the front of the boat, sat down one of the benches and, I looked at the moon.

It was slightly blurred by clouds with smaller whispy clouds dotted around in the midnight-blue sky. The moon was diagonal to the forward-right bank of the river where tall trees grew up infront of the sky creating a wide and beautiful scene. Oh, and the noise, crickets chirping, birds chirping, orangutans chirping – “Wait a minute, orangutans don’t chirp!”

“Not usually!”

After about a minute I got back didn’t fall asleep. I lay there for a long time until zzzzzz snort.

Suddenly pop. I was awake and at last it was time to get up and dressed.

 

Special Times

by Scarlett Hadley

On the second day of our excellent boat trip I had two wonderful experiences, the first with Daddy and the second with Mummy.

The boat trip was set in Borneo, the third largest island in the world, on a long winding river, named Sungai Sekonyer, flowing all the way down to the wide, rippling sea. This first event was early in the morning whilst our boat was speeding along and the engine was rumbling quieter than the bees buzzing under the sun-shelter just behind us. Me and Daddy were sitting on the only cushioned seat on the 45 foot boat when I got up and sat on one of the two white benches one foot forwards and two foot to the side on left and right of us. Daddy followed me. He sat down behind me.

He put his arms around me and laced his sausages. I unlaced his sausages and Daddy SQUEEZED me! I quickly unlaced his sausages for him again and he relaxed. This game went on for some 15 minutes. Just then we arrived at the first orangutan feeding station and the game dwindled into nothingness. (His sausages were actually his fingers).

The second experience will take less time to read.

Mummy had been playing the ukulele for around 5 minutes when I came up to her and she said we should finish with her playing and us both singing. I agreed. We began.

I felt happiness flooding through me as we cuddled together. I could hardly hear the rumbling of the boat’s engine. We sang Brown Eyed Girl.

When we finished it was time for lunch and we settled round the table for the second meal of the day. We had 3 per 24 hours. I love our special times.

 

Goodbye Indonesia

And we’re off! After 24 days, we are now on our final epic journey through Indonesia, this time with the final destination being Jakarta for a flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Of course, this being Indonesia, it’s 5 days from setting off to arriving. First there’s the 7 hour ferry (plus the 2 hours you have to wait on it until it sets off); then the 2 hours crammed onto a tin can (i.e. bus); a layover in a transit town called Bima (possibly our least favorite place in SE Asia so far); an airport hotel called ‘Aerotel’ (sound inviting?); another early morning flight to Jakarta; then a stopover in a very nice looking hotel, described on Trip Advisor as ‘the best layover hotel ever’ (swimming pool, gym, sauna…on the edge of our budget, but we’ll deserve a treat by then); then another early morning flight to Singapore, where we have a 4 hour wait (yay – we love Singapore airport, it has shops from home in it! Last time we were there we had a cheese scone, it was sublime); then our final flight to HCMC. Where our only plan is to meet an old friend (Hi Scott) and stay still for a while. Very still.

We are currently sitting in Bima airport, which is just outside Bima town centre, both of which I feel deserve a special mention. Described by the Lonely Planet as ‘the hard sell olympics’ and ‘no one’s favorite getaway’, it’s an experience here. The moment we disembarked the tin can bus, we were surrounded by throngs of men trying to sell bus tickets and women grabbing at the children and saying, “tumbar tiga!” (triplets). No different to many other places except in the intensity and ferocity of the intrusiveness of these people. They step in between us as we try to speak to each other, pull our kids in different directions and follow us as we try to make a getaway. This culminated in my first shouting match with a bus ticket tout. Screaming, “Go away!” repeatedly in his face kept him off us for at least 3 minutes. Bima is the destination of choice if you fancy dodgy food, being overcharged or a grotty hotel. I’m glad to be leaving, and even more glad that we are now at the airport waiting for a flight and not at the bus terminal waiting for the 14 hour bus (travelling with children 1 way on the 14 hour bus was enough).

Which brings me to Bima airport; we decided to get here early as we’d not had chance to reconfirm our flights, and really can’t afford to be ‘bumped’ (common practice is to oversell the tickets here) as we have so many connections. Now, I would once have described Stanstead airport in London as having ‘nothing there’. However, Bima I think is the most devoid-of-anything-to-do airport I’ve ever seen in my life. When we arrived one small shop was open selling crisps, biscuits and soft drinks. There were 2 security grilles for neighbouring shops. A second shop opened for business. This one sells crisps, biscuits and soft drinks. A few minutes later, the third and final shop opened. This one sells crisps, biscuits and soft drinks. And, brilliantly, “I Love Bima” T-Shirts. But it’s all good because we’re not on the bus.

Indonesia has been a country of highs and lows for me. I’ve peered into the smoking cone of a volcano; seen the world’s most sulphurs lake; braved the world’s most active volcano; spent time deep in the jungle with orangutans; walked through isolated forests with Komodo dragons; seen coral reefs that could put a BBC documentary to shame; ticked off manta ray, octopus and megapod on my list of wild animals seen; and marvelled at some astonishingly beautiful scenery along the way. But I’ve also inhaled the sickening passive smoke of too many clove cigarettes; sat on too many long bumpy buses and been harassed and bothered too many times to make me really want to come back here. If I ever do, it will be with a targeted itinerary with flights factored into the budget. Flashpacker next time, not backpacker!

Komodo Dragon Hunt

They always watch the children. Fourteen years ago, here, they got one child. He had been helping his father on his fishing boat then he went home and asked his mother for some money to buy sweets. She told him, “no”, so he went off into the forest and found a fruit tree. He ate and ate. But the fruit was not ripe yet and it gave him stomachache so he pulled down his trousers and began to poo.

But he didn’t notice the dragon behind him. It leaped from the bushes and bit him on the bottom. They have teeth like razors and slice off flesh.

Two other children heard his screams and came running but were too frightened of the dragon to help. Instead they ran back to the village. When the villagers came, the boy was gone but they followed the blood spattered on the bushes and grass. The dragon was carrying him away, still alive.

Some of the villagers beat at the dragon with sticks but it would not let go. Then some men grabbed the child by the arm and pulled him away and they ran, ran, ran back towards the village. But the dragon chased them. It grabbed the boy again, this time by the stomach and as the villagers tried to pull him away, it ripped him open in their arms.

He died thirty minutes later in his mother’s arms. He was only seven.

Our guide looked round at us, clearly pleased with his anecdote. Janet was wide-eyed and pale. I could feel the incredulity spreading across my face. In what way was it possibly a good idea to tell this story to a family containing three already-nervous children?

“What was that story about?” asked Scarlett. Thank goodness. She hadn’t been able to penetrate the guide’s thick accent.

“I’ll tell you later,” I assured her, rather hoping she’d forget to ask.

I really didn’t want to repeat the story, standing, as we were, in a remote forest clearing on Komodo island, out hunting for the largest lizards in the World. We knew already, of course, that komodo dragons could be dangerous, how their mouths are filled with over 50 types of bacteria so even a small bite is fatal, and how, as they’re a protected species, the guides who take tourists out looking for them are allowed only a forked stick with which to defend themselves and their charges. But out in the forest, several hours from the small ranger station we’d set off trekking from, it all seemed a lot more real.

I suddenly wished I had even a forked stick.

“How do you use the stick?” I’d asked the guide back at the station. His reply had not been encouraging: “We push it away. But better to run away. But dragons are fast. Up to 20 kilometres per hour. And they can jump, so not easy to climb tree. And swim very fast. But don’t run until I say or they will chase. Especially children.”

I searched the bushes around us with my eyes. We’d seen two dragons already and their camouflage and the fact that they stand completely motionless makes them almost invisible in the dry scrub of the forest. I made sure my kids were very close by and continued to catalogue which nearby trees looked climbable. One hour of trekking down, only two more to go.

He’d been right about them watching the children, too. The dragons we’d seen had stared at them, impassive, like looking at so much meat.

“If you go up this path,” the guide went on, oblivious, “you get to Padang Valley. There a Swiss tourist – Baron Rudolf von Reding– went missing. He was at the back of a group and stopped to take photos. They didn’t realise he hadn’t caught up with the group until they reached the boat many hours later. There was only a guide at the front, you see…” And he set off into the jungle.