Days 1 – 5
After two flights, a few movies and some DF shopping for Lindt chocolate, I was greeted in Balikpapan, Borneo, by one of the staff, Eman, and his big bright, almost toothless grin. It was dark as we drove out of town for an hour or so to get to the lodge. It had been raining, so the adventure began immediately as we slipped our way up the 4WD road with Eman and I laughing over the 4WD fun and the fact that we couldn’t understand each other’s language.
We arrived at the Eco Lodge, where I spent two weeks with like-minded people helping enrich the lives of the Orangutans and Sun Bears that call this sanctuary home. Sadly, for some, I have learnt, it will be a permanent home, but for most, it is a temporary home while they are on their way to rehabilitation and release back to the wild.
Our job for these two weeks; help the team wherever and however we can.
Generally, our day starts at 7 am with an amazing Indonesian breakfast made by the staff. Work starts at 8 am, and as we are all still in the quarantine period, our work is not up close with the animals. It can be anything from cutting down and sawing up bamboo to do food puzzles for the Orangutans to hauling logs through the jungle to make platforms for the Sun Bears to use in their temporary homes. There are 200 Orangutans and 45 Sumatran Sun Bears here, so there is always plenty of work.
Romeo, the big male Ranga pictured here, greets us every morning, and at some stage in the day, the Macaque monkeys usually pay a visit to try and steal our stuff. Snakes and monitor lizards are common, and geckos are almost as abundant as mosquitoes.
By lunchtime, we are completely drenched either by rain, sweat or both, as it is 30-35 degrees every day, and the tropical humidity hits pretty hard, so it’s time for a cold shower (no hot water luxury here) before another amazing meal and more work in the afternoon. By 4 pm, we are usually finished and reflecting on the day over a beer as we watch the sunset over the jungle hills. Then it’s dinner, again always impressive, and usually an early night to bed after a long hot day.
Although only 4 days in, I am already so grateful for this experience. Seeing what people can achieve together when their purpose is strong and shared is amazing. The locals are all super friendly and always smiling and laughing. The work is hard, fun and really fulfilling. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 days will bring.
Wow. What a few (6) days it has been. Last week after we finished our Sun Bear platform, we watched the little guys use it, and we think they loved it. My new friend Baloo (pictured here) showed his approval for the platform and the coconut he was eating then. We did cover the platform in food, and they climbed all over it, so surely that must be love. We have observed and learned how Orangutans can use tools to solve puzzles, especially when food is involved. We have our daily workout of cutting and carrying several truckloads of “browse” (apparently a zoo keeper’s term for branches..) for the Orangutans to make nests.
We also got to visit another sun bear sanctuary about 50 km away that looked after stray cats and dogs. That was “interesting” to see 133 cats run from all directions into their enclosure to eat when the dinner bell rang. And for the weekend, we worked half days and took half-day trips up the river to see more Macaque monkeys, and another climbed up some tall tees to do a canopy walk from the top of the jungle. Amazing views of this jungle paradise.
Our big achievement this week was finishing our massive hammock made from old chopped-up truck tyres for the Orangutans and transporting it to one of the orangutan pre realise islands (nearly breaking the dodgy bamboo bridge and falling in a river that makes the Yarra look pristine, to get there). Pre-tested it by jumping in it ourselves and then watched as they released the Orangutans back to the island. They again seemed to like it as the female, Annie, took the prime spot and settled herself in for an arvo nap.
Every day I am still astounded by the beauty in this hot and humid paradise, the amazing people who dedicate their lives to helping animals that can’t help themselves, and the amazing food we get to eat. I have had only one coffee in this trip, and my cravings for a takeaway from Jules at my favourite cafe Jimmi Jamz in Elwood, are slowly decreasing, albeit still present. Can’t wait for the last few days of this adventure.
The Final Days
What a final few days! I was lucky to meet my firstborn, Dodo (our Foundation’s first adopted Orangutan) and spent time with him and his friends in the last few days. Watching these intelligent and beautiful animals play, learn, and interact was truly amazing. You know they observe and learn the whole time (when they aren’t playing).
On Friday, we were blessed with a surprise visit to the nursery to see the two babies at this sanctuary. These guys were hilarious! The keeper had her hands full the whole time as they jumped around and crawled all over her, and in the jungle gym, they had to play and learn on
We visited the night market to pick up another haul of pumpkins for the Enrichment team and to try the traditional Borneo pancakes!! Wow. Potential for diabetes in every bite but soo good.
We spent some more time with the Bears on Saturday and got some more logs to fix up one of the platforms that the Bears had worn out before a final trip on the back of the truck (so much fun) to collect more “browse”, a final visit to our red-haired friends, before our farewell to everyone Sunday.
This trip has been phenomenal in so many ways. It’s been full of laughter, hard work, blood and sweat, and some moments when you feel hopeless and wish to do more. The people have been amazing and are some of the nicest people I have met.
The struggle for these guys is real, and they need all our help so if you want to do a small bit, please head to the BOS page in the link and adopt your own Orangutan or download the free APP and make informed choices about Palm Oil to help stop the deforestation that is destroying their habitat, and that of the Tigers and Bears and many other endangered species.
Thanks for reading, and a massive thanks to #BOSAustralia and #BOSF, Jo, our awesome team leader and everyone involved here in Borneo, and my team at home.