Monday, January 24, 2011

A Wild Week in Sukadana

Jacquelyn and I returned to Sukadana with a new year's resolution to get out into the surrounding forest.   Weddings, birthdays, and holiday parties before the break kept us in town without complaint, but we've decided that now it's time to play outside.  Taking only a few steps off the beaten path, we quickly discovered that Borneo has retained a bit of a wild side.

A trail just down the road from Klinik ASRI leads up a forested hill within the Gunung Palung National Park boundaries.  The trail was well-worn, despite a lack of local tourists or hikers, and after hearing more chainsaw activity lately, we worried we might not see as many big trees as we should.  We were amazed, however, at how quickly the heat of the agricultural valley transitioned to a cool, lush, shady forest.  Before we were a quarter of the way up the hill, birds and butterflies began to emerge, we paralleled a clear, cascading stream, and a troop of leaf monkeys followed our progress with as much curiosity as we had of them.
Wondering what's up with all these trestles along the trail.

Soon after that, suspicious signs began to appear.  Makeshift trestles over obstacles, greased with motor oil, cigarette trash and packets of Ener-G powder suggested that others use this trail, for purposes different than ours.  As the trail became steeper, and after a rest or two, we heard yells and crashes and a rumbling that grew louder until, around a bend, our questions were answered.  Eight or nine men, heaving and pushing and running and pulling, emerged above us, guiding two enormous dugout canoes, carved from trees that must have been 5 feet in diameter.  Both parties startled to see each other, we exchanged smiles, pleasantries, gave the men a reason for a break, took a few pictures and headed on our way.

What's a canoe doing half-way up a forested mountainside?
We continued our climb aghast and comically perplexed by such an interaction in a national park.  Less than a half-mile later we reached a steep clearing where the trestles stopped in sawdust, wood chips, leftover tree trunks and gaping holes in the forest canopy.  Still a bit dumbstruck, without the words to contemplate what we were witnessing, we munched on some granola without the excitement that energized the start of our hike. We passed the canoes again on the way down, laid to rest at the bottom of the hill, and marveled for a moment at their size, the skill with which they were crafted, and the effort and energy it must take to produce them.
Smile? Kari atop one of the felled trees that became a canoe
 Whether or not a coincidence, the next day Immigration officials showed up at clinic and asked to take all of the foreigner's passports to Pontianak for review.  Our refusal bought us our own escorted trip to Pontianak, five hours by boat, on the following day.  Fearing fines, deportation, or time in an equatorial jail had us prepared for the worst, so a stern lecture from a uniformed official about visa approvals and volunteers getting health department authorization left us quite relieved.  A 5-hour boat trip the next day put us back in Sukadana to pick up where we left off.

Lunch on Pulau Juanta
With our interest piqued after the previous hike, we were even more eager to explore Sukadana's natural treasures.  The weekend came and we boarded a boat for one of the offshore islands, Pulau Juanta.  Sitting on the hazy horizon, Juanta is one of many uninhabited and reportedly undisturbed islands off the west coast of Borneo.  Our excursion turned into a fun-filled ASRI field trip, with conservation and clinic staff joining the fun.  Truly untouched, the jungle was impassable beyond 10 feet from the beach.  We filled the morning fishing, snorkeling, and climbing rocks at the water's edge.  Fresh fish, caught with hand-lines and grilled on the beach, were a pleasant addition to our picnic lunch.
Wild times offshore
With the rain forest spilling down to the water's edge, we couldn't resist lounging in the shade and reflecting on what a wild week it's been.  Borneo is changing fast.  The large tracts of forest and indigenous culture that give this island it's mystique are disappearing in plain view, being rapidly replaced by wild life of a much different sort.  As disheartening as it is, we're thankful to be here now, to have found a way to help through ASRI, and to have a few more weeks to make good on our new years resolution.

1 comment:

  1. that sucks about the immigration scare - I can only imagine how you must have felt. Glad you guys are getting out and seeing the sights.