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 straight away as we slipped our way up the 4WD road with Eman and I laughing over the 4WD fun, and the fact that we pretty much couldn’t understand each other’s language.
We arrived at the Eco Lodge where I am spending two weeks with some likeminded people helping to enrich the lives of the Orangutan’s and Sun Bears’s that call this sanctuary home. For some, I have learnt, it will be a permanent home sadly, 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 this two weeks; help the team wherever and however we can.
Generally our day starts at 7am with an amazing Indonesian breakfast made by the staff. Work starts at 8am, 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 make 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 here and 45 Sumatran Sun Bears so there is always plenty of work to do.
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 the mosquitoes.
By lunchtime we are completely drenched either by rain, sweat or both, as it is 30-35 degrees everyday 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 4pm we are usually finished up 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. It is amazing to see what people can achieve together, when their purpose is strong and shared. 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.
My new friend Baloo (pictured here) showed his approval for the platform, and the coconut he was eating at the time. 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 truck loads of “browse” (apparently a zoo keeper term for branches..) for the Orangutans to make nests.
Our big achievement this week was finishing our massive hammock made from old chopped up truck tyres for the Orangutans, transported 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 prime spot and settled herself in for an arvo nap.
Every day I am still astounded by the beauty here in this hot and humid paradise, the amazing people who dedicate their lives to helping animals that can’t help themselves, oh and the amazing food we get to eat. I have had only one coffee now in this trip and my cravings for a take away 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 enough to meet my first born, Dodo (our Foundation’s first adopted Orangutan) and in the last days spent time with him and his friends. It was truly amazing to watch these intelligent and beautiful animals play and learn and interact. You know they are observing and learning 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 the jungle gym they have to play and learn on.
We had a visit to the night market to pick up another haul of pumpkins for the Enrichment team and to try the traditional Borneo pancakes!! Wow. Potential 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 where you feel hopeless and wish you could 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.