Friday, February 18, 2011

Our Last Week in Sukadana

Our mixed emotions in leaving Sukadana were eclipsed by the excitement of taking one last hike through the forest and sharing smiles and laughter with our friends.
Disappearing into the forest and leaving the hot farming valley behind
 We weren’t sure that we’d ever get deep enough into Gulung Palung National Park to see its true beauty.  The brief hike several weeks ago only demonstrated the ease with which loggers operate within the park and our attempts at organizing a trip with the park office had thus far met only resistance.  It took Cam Webb, the ASRI director’s husband and rainforest ecologist intervening on our behalf to pull the last bit of logistics together.
Jacquelyn and Roberto, contemplating a swim.
 I’ve never been in a forest so lush and so diverse.  As we hiked into the woods, away from a cleared agricultural valley, the temperature felt like it dropped 10 degrees.  The underbrush thinned as we traveled deeper and the canopy blocked more and more light.  We followed a cascading stream up through a gorge covered in vines and ferns and mosses, stopped for lunch at the top of a narrow sluice, and climbed hard just hard enough to deserve an hour’s rest at a park shelter near the top of the trail.  From a lookout at the top, we could see across the agricultural valley between us and the Gunung Palung mountain, and marvel at the expanse of forest that needs so badly to be protected.
A little tree frog, enjoying a flash of sunshine
Another tree frog, this one sitting on the wrong color of leaf.
Orangutan, I promise.
Cam must have pointed out a half dozen edible or medicinal plants in the first 500 meters, without even walking off of the trail.  He commented that a number of flowers small plants we admired must be uncataloged new species, as their seed dispersal mechanisms have such limited range.  We constantly felt that we were being watched, but only a handful of frogs, a flying lizard, and one rare wild orangutan revealed themselves to us.  As pristine of a forest as it was, we could tell that other humans had come before, but with minimal impact.  One of the tallest trees we encountered held bunches of honey bee nests in its uppermost boughs, and along its trunk paralleled a series of bamboo poles reaching all the way to the top.
Jimmy & dr. Robin, having fun with rain forest seeds.
 The greatest joy of this adventure was experiencing it with friends from ASRI, knowing that it’s this forest and all of its biological abundance that we work so hard to protect.  Most of the ASRI staff gets into the forest at least once during their tenure with the organization.  With his year of service nearly completed, this was dr. Robin’s last chance to venture into the park.  We hiked together for most of the trip, and were both equally overwhelmed and amazed at the magnificence of this place.  We agreed that as we move on – Robin back to start his own practice near Jakarta, and me on a long journey back to the United States – the forest of Gunung Palung will stay in our heads and hearts for a very long time.
Looking out across the valley to Gunung Palung Mountain
A last meal with some very good friends.
 As for Jacquelyn and I, we’ll cherish not only the forest, but also the friendships that we’ve developed in the four months we’ve lived in Sukadana.  We came to study the rain forest and tropical medicine and to help promote human and environmental health, but we leave most impressed by the special people that make such work their life’s devotion.  On our last night our friends threw a party for us and we stayed late, eating and laughing and singing, postponing as long as we could the inevitable goodbyes.  As sad as it was to board the speedboat and watch Sukadana disappear behind us, the joy and gratitude we feel towards our friends there will keep us close for a long time to come.

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