In the original rally schedule our next stop should have been in Kumai in South Kalimantan where we were to take a trip up the river to see orangutans in the wild. Sadly we were advised to bypass this stop as the seemingly perpetual forest fires in that area were reducing visibility to dangerous levels and the smoke was reported to be really bad. Therefore our next stop, still on Borneo, was Ketapang in West Kalimantan. Although covered in a layer of smog and gloom, the smoke in this area was not so bad.
The anchorage was 3 miles up the Pawan river. As we arrived we radioed ahead and a police launch came to give us a blue-light escort up the river showing us the way between the sandbanks. As soon as we had anchored, which was not an easy task as the river was fast flowing with eddies and currents and changing winds, we were urged to go ashore. Each boat, or small group of boats, was greeted on the dock by a welcoming committee comprising a local beauty queen, various officials and guides and a local priest who daubed our feet with a white liquid to protect us while we were there. They then gave us local woven sashes, local delicacies to eat and performed a traditional dance.
The jetty on to which we tied our dinghies was jam packed with locals coming to look at the boats, everyone wanting to touch us and take our photo - the jostling was such that if we wanted to walk down the jetty we had to have “minders” clearing our path. We were the first western visitors on yachts to arrive in Ketapang and were such a curiosity for the people of the area. Knowing this we were amazed by the high level of english of our guides - most of whom were high school pupils who have learned english in school and from watching english movies and listening to western music - one of our guides we an avid fan of One Direction!!
The people of Kalimantan are a real cultural mix with at least six religions - the strong Malay influence was evident. The Dayak Indians are the indigenous people of Kalimantan and we were invited to visit a Dayak village. We were entertained with the traditions of the Dayak people at what turned out to be a wild and bizarre house party. For many of us the most memorable part (not necessarily a pleasant memory) was when one of the heavily painted, be-feathered tribesmen bit the head off a live chicken and then proceeded to eat the head and suck the blood from the beheaded bird. This was supposedly to give him strength, and in a trancelike state he and several others balanced on a frame of upturned machete blades. Several other rituals were performed in various states of stupor. Much music, dancing, shouting and eating - certainly different to anything else we’ve seen, and as it turned out many of our guides had not seen these rituals before.
International Animal Rescue have an orangutan rehabilitation centre in Ketapang. Although this is not normally open to the public, the ministry of tourism requested they allow small groups to visit the facility to find out about their work. It was really interesting with the aim of their work to relocate wild orangutan who are in danger from habitat loss (principally due to forest clearing and burning for the palm oil industry) or rescue young orangutan and put them through an education programme to allow them to be released, if not into the wild, into the semi wild. Whilst at the centre the only orangutans we were supposed to see where the ones in cages that are “lost causes” - meaning that they are beyond rehabilitation and will have to remain in captivity. We were lucky enough to see a young orangutan being carried from “jungle school” to the clinic as it was rather lethargic and need to be checked out by the vet. All the time we were near where the orangutans are housed we had to wear surgical masks for infection control and there was the ever present police escort. From the rescue centre we went to the urban swamp forest where we saw gibbon and proboscis monkeys and were dressed in Dayak costumes.
The visit to Ketapang was regally rounded off by a gala dinner at the Regent’s residence followed by much dancing - particularly for Sara as usual - even with the chief of police! The following morning we headed back down the river, happy to be leaving the smog behind us, but sad to say farewell to the lovely people of Ketapang.....
(Unknown to us we were not leaving the smoke behind - a seasonal hazard in western Indonesia)