Borneo: Orangutans, House Boats, and Tarantulas

HEY Y’ALL!!! I’ve been trying really, really hard to get this blog going and to get the pictures uploaded.. but it’s been a 3+ day challenge and I’m pretty much at my wits end SO… here is a post with only like 1/3 of the pics. I’ll post the pics another day – probably when I’m back in the US and have time/reliable wifi.

Our first trip within our trip was to Kalimantan in Borneo, where we would spend 3 days on a house boat, cruising down the river and hanging out with orangutans. Now, this trip was long and rich, so this post will be long but alsoooo so much will be left out! Boo! Sam went on the same river boat trip a few years ago, and she had to work so she didn’t join us, and Vriz had to work, so it was just Liane, Grace (who lives with Sam and Vriz), and me. We left early on Friday, got a taxi and headed to the airport. We all only had a backpack and one extra bag so we didn’t need to check anything. Last time I was here, Sam introduced me to Beard Papa, which is a little shop that sells fresh cream puffs. You can pick what type of ‘shell’ and what type of cream that you want, and they stuff the puffs right then! I was really excited to get one for myself and for Liane. Next to the Beard Papa shop, there was a Roti’o place. I had never had Roti’o before but Grace said she loved it, and described it as a sweet bread with a glaze and butter in the middle. Um, DUH we wanted to try it. So Liane and I each got a roti’o and a cream puff. Treat yo’ self, am I right? Let me tell you about the Roti’o, ohmagosh it was so good. It was this round bun with a COFFEE flavored frosting/glaze situation, it was warm, fluffy and light on the inside but kind of crispy on the outside. But what pushes it over the edge is the butter in the middle. Not frosting, not cream, just melty, delicious butter. I could only eat Roti’o for the rest of my life and be happy… ok maybe not but you get the point. Liane loved it too! I think they were kind of underwhelmed with the cream puff after the Roti’o but so was I! We hung out and ate our snacks and then boarded our plane. The flight was only an hour long and much to our delight, we got little snack boxes! Inside was a little bottle of water, a piece of cake/bread, and a fried snack that is similar to an egg roll but with a thick crust as opposed to a wonton wrapper. The snack tasted ok but it was room temperature which kind of freaks me out, so I ate the bread and drank the water, and Liane had my egg roll thing.

When we landed in Kalimantan, we were greeted with blue skies, big fluffy clouds, and 100000% humidity. Jakarta is a big smoggy city that has a whole lot of pollution and haze so thick you can’t see the sky. It was really nice to be somewhere with blue skies and fresh air, even though we had only been in Jakarta for one day. Kalimantan is beautiful! We were hot and tired, but excited to start the trip. We left the airport and found our tour guide for the weekend, this really sweet, badass woman, Rini. She put us in our taxi and off we went! We drove about 15 minutes into town and to the river, where we would board our home for the next 3 days!

When we got to the docks, we had to cross/jump/climb through two other boats to get to the one we would be staying on. Our house boat was awesome! We were all pleasantly surprised by how nice it was, and were immediately greeted by the crew: the (goofy and attractive) captain, first mate (seemed super young and was SO shy and adorable), cook (a wonderfully sweet woman), the cook’s adorable 2 year old son (who we had so much fun with!), and our tour guide. We were offered local snacks and treats, and given glasses of fresh juice. There was a big bed on the deck of the boat, along with a table and four chairs, and 2 beach style chairs in the front. The bathroom was on the lower deck, and had a Western toilet and a shower – the shower water was water from the rivder. After chatting and introductions, we were off to the jungle! I was really concerned about someone getting motion sick on this boat, specifically myself, so I came prepared with Dramamine, some ginger chewable pills, and a motion sickness patch, just in case. I grew up going to our lake and have always loved water and have never been sick on a boat, but I was unsure about how choppy and rocky the waters would be. But, even on the way to the river, the water was surprisingly calm! There was some swaying, but nothing that would make me sick. Yay! We were served lunch soon after starting our adventure; Nasi (rice), some prawns with veggies, chicken satay (chicken kabobs with peanut sauce), Kangkung tumis (cooked greens – swamp cabbage – with garlic and who knows what else but it was AMAZING), bananas, tempeh with some really delicious sauce, and a fried tempeh fritter type thing. We were all wondering what the food situation was going to be like, but if this lunch was a preview of what was to come (which, turns out it was), then we were happy. We munched away, chatting and taking in the scenery.

When we got to the entrance of the river where there was a really cool statue of an orangutan holding some bananas, welcoming us to Tanjung Puting National Park. When we entered the river, I was in awe. The (salt) water was so calm and the vegetation was amazing! We were finishing up lunch when the boat suddenly stopped and Rini popped up and started looking at the trees through her binoculars. We got up from the table and went to the sides of the boat, and saw an orangutan and her baby up in the trees! Rini said that we were really lucky to see orangutans so early on in the trip and not at the feeding stations. We stayed and watched for a bit then continue on our way. We learned that the river was a brown, murky color due to pollution from the gold mines. A lot of the vegetation and wildlife was struggling because of it. To the right of the river, the jungle was protected, while the left side was ‘public’, and at risk of being destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations. The palm oil industry here is creating a huge threat to the river, jungle, and wildlife. The jungle had also suffered from a large fire in 2015, and over 50 acres of land was destroyed.

The part of the river we started on was Crocodile River but because of the pollution and the boat traffic, they aren’t usually in parts of the river where we can see them. But over the course of the trip, we saw three different types of monkeys and one primate, the orangutans, birds, bugs, and even a bonus crocodile on the last night. Shortly after lunch, we docked the boat and walked through a really small village on the river. While we were on the boat, it wasn’t too hot because of the breeze.. but when we got off the boat, the heat and humidity was almost smothering. I’ve been hot before, but this was totally different. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat that much! It was interesting to see the village and get a small sense of how the people lived, but it felt kind of intrusive and weird to be walking through just looking and taking photos. I’m sure the people are used to foreigners just walking through, but I didn’t really like how they were somewhat of a spectacle, and while our group was mindful of this and respectful, I wondered what other tourists thought about the village and hoped they act respectfully. There were a lot of cute cats though, and at the end of our walk through, we came across another boat captain, who had a little tiny kitten in a box. It was tooooo cute.

We boarded the boat and traveled a little farther down the river to the first orangutan feeding site. The park is home to around 6,000 orangutans! The feeding stations were about half of a mile into the jungle, and had benches for people to sit on, and a large platform where the orangutans would come and eat bananas that the park employees put there. When we arrived, some orangutans had already arrived! Now, the first feeding site was cool, but the platform was the farthest away of them all, so I did not get any good photos, but luckily, Grace had a nice camera and took some really amazing photos. So, any orangutan photos that are posted are courtesy of Grace! Let me tell you, it was incredible to see the orangutans in person, in the ‘wild’. I’ve seen orangutans in zoos, but this is so much cooler. Watching them move through the trees so gracefully was really something. The trees are pretty thin and the orangutans are sooo big, when they would move from tree to tree, the trees would bend really far and then snap back up. I don’t understand how they don’t break! It was amazing. Some of the orangutans would come and sit on the platform and eat the bananas, and some would come down, stuff as many unpeeled bananas into their mouths as possible, and retreat back into the jungle. We were really fortunate to see a lot of babies with their mamas throughout the trip. SO COOL. Also, hot. Did I mention that it was hot? CAUSE IT WAS. The orangutans came and went for about 45 minutes, and then we hiked back to our boat. The treks in and out of the jungle were really cool but also scary. There were so many bugs, sounds, animals… lots of things to take in. There is a video below of us walking to one of the feeding stations – in which you can hear all of the sounds of the jungle in the day time. It was also unbelievably hot and humid… but luckily the boat crew provided us with plenty of cold water and beverages when we arrived back on the boat. We even got snacks, pop, and cold, wet wash cloths every time we came back from a jungle adventure. Such amazing accommodations!

Now to talk about Liane’s favorite adventure of the trip (MAJOR SARCASM), the night trek through the jungle!! Rini asked us if we wanted to do a night trek, and Grace and I were down…. but after she said we would be looking for tarantulas, bugs, etc, Liane was less than thrilled (of course, Liane’s biggest fear is spiders.. we had seen a tarantula in a jar earlier in the day which I lovingly hid for them). But, Liane is not one to back away from a challenge, so with some coercing, they agreed to come! It was really interesting to just go into the jungle, at night, with our guide, without signing any kind of waiver or doing any kind of learning of like… what to do if… situations. I mean, if this had been in the US, it probably wouldn’t have been allowed, or there would have been extensive waivers to sign. But whatever, we just did it and it was fine, ish. We all bundled up in long pants and jackets with hoods because we did not want any bugs to crawl/fall onto us. It was still extremely hot and humid out, so I was super excited to put my jacket on.. .not! We got off the boat and followed our guide, and were led through the jungle by a park employee. Of course, 2 minutes into the trek, the first thing that we saw was a fairly large tarantula. Poor Liane was pretty terrified, and didn’t look at it or anything else really for the rest of the trek. It was scary to be in the jungle in the dark, but really cool to hear all of the different night sounds, and see some cool bugs. We also saw glowing mushrooms which we really cool and scattered all around the jungle. The tarantula, a huge millipede, some spiders, glowing mushrooms, and a fuzzy caterpillar later, and we were back on the boat, where another bed had been brought up to the deck for Grace, and large bug nets were hung up around them. We took turns showering (cold showers, which were SO refreshing) and settled in for some ghost stories, then off to bed. We slept right next to the jungle, and frequently heard some animals fighting… which was kind of stressful. There were tarps covering the open sides of the boat, but it was kind of scary to be sleeping right there, and I felt pretty vulnerable! But, all was well! We woke up pretty early the next morning and started day 2 of our journey.

Our table had been moved to the upper part of the deck to make room for Grace’s bed, and we had a really nice candle lit dinner the night before, and a nice sunny breakfast the next morning, all while going down the river. After we ate, we showered and got ready for the first feeding site of the day. It was the hottest day of the trip, and we had a pretty long trek through the jungle. I was not feeling the greatest but tried to stick it out. We got to the feeding site and the platform was WAY closer to where we were standing than the last one. I mean, really close. The orangutans came again, some staying to eat the bananas and some stuffing their mouths and then leaving. Grace was taking photos and I was sitting on the bench, trying to not pass out from the heat. I tried to stick it out, but I finally caved and needed to go back to the boat. I was having some… intestinal issues, if you catch my drift, and needed to get to the boat ASAP. I told our tour guide, and she walked us back to the boat – leaving Grace behind to watch the orangutans, under the eye of another tour guide. We hurried back to the boat and I ran to the bathroom. Don’t worry, I didn’t poop my pants in the jungle, THANK GOD. And I felt better after having a cold wash cloth on my face and some water. I was chilling on the boat with Liane, when our goofy and attractive captain came over and told me there was an orangutan chillin on the doc. I clumsily climbed through the other boats with his help, and peaked around the corner. Much to my surprise (our captain was a big teaser… so I did not know if I believed him), there was an orangutan laying on the doc with her baby! Captain and I sat on the doc and watched her play and roll around with her baby. It was wonderful! Definitely worth leaving the feeding site 30+ minutes early. Another group walked up behind the orangutan, and she jumped into the trees. I went back to the boat and was feeling kind of sad that Grace missed it, and hoped she was getting good photos at the site, but luckily the orangutan and her baby were still chillin in the trees right next to the doc when Grace walked back! We took off on the river again, and finally made it to the Black River. There is a spot where the Crocodile River meets the Black River, and you can see the distinct split of the water. The crocodile water was brown, polluted and thick, while the Black river water was clean, fresh smelling and crystal clear. It was incredible! The air smelled different, the vegetation looked brighter and healthier… but it was also really sad to see what the water is supposed to look like, and what the reality was of the polluted water. Check out the pics!

This day, we stopped at 2 feeding sites, the first one mentioned above, and one more. The last site had a lot of waiting around for the orangutans to show up, but while we were waiting we saw a Gibbon and a wild boar and two baby boars. Then the orangutans finally came, and walked right next to where we were sitting.. and some people were trying to touch them, even getting down to their level and attempting to hug them… We were taking a tour that was focused on preservation and safety of the animals, so we were told repeatedly not to touch them, especially because if we have sunscreen or bug spray on our hands, it can hurt the orangutans. There is also a fine for touching them… but there wasn’t a ranger present when it happened. But really, holding your hand out is one thing, but squatting down and trying to hug a giant, wild, orangutan doesn’t seem super safe or smart. ANYWAY. We watched the orangutans and then left, off to adventure down the river some more.

We traveled down the river and just hung out with each other and enjoyed cruising, and played with Dimas (the cook’s son), and talked with Rini. It was really great to just relax and enjoy the river. Our captain was so great and fun – when we were cruising down the river, he would sing different songs and was actually quite good! I liked laying on my stomach at the front of the boat, above where he was driving the boat, and listening to him. There is a video below where you can kind of hear him – it was definitely a part of the whole river boat aesthetic. We read, relaxed, had dinner, and then it was dark. We went on to the top part of the deck to admire the stars. It was so dark and peaceful, and with no cities or light pollution, there were an unbelievable amount of stars, I’ve never seen the night sky like that! It was breathtaking, and for the first time, I kind of appreciated my astronomy course, but only for a split second. 😛 We stopped the boat for the night at a spot where fireflies lit up the trees like Christmas lights, and settled in for our last night on the boat. In the morning, we headed back down the river, and just like that, our time on the boat was over. SO SAD! At the beginning, Liane and I thought that 48 hours on the boat might be too many, but I was actually really sad when it was over! It was so nice to spend time getting to know our tour guide and some of the crew, and SO great to get to know Grace in person!

The last day, we got off the boat and went to explore the city. We visited the Yellow Pallace and an English Learning Community. The Yellow Palace is the residence where the Sultans lived. We got a tour from this cool, quirky, old Indonesian guy who was a descendant of one of the Sultans. He even showed us a mystical sword that would follow its owner out of the house, so it would always be by their side when they needed it. The sword had human hair coming out of a carved bird head, the hair coming from the people the sword has beheaded. The guide asked if we wanted to hold it… we passed. After the Yellow Palace, we went to a local fabric shop and purchased some really beautiful prints, went to lunch, and somehow ended up at a bird singing competition on a military base. Here, the contestants called out to their birds and the judges ranked the birds based on how many times they sang in a given amount of time. It was super weird and cool. Our presence was definitely noticed – we took pictures with a bird singing team, and with the organizers of the entire event. We only stayed at the competition for a small amount of time, as it wasn’t a planned stop and it was almost time to go to the English Learning Community. The ELC recently opened, and currently only has a class of young kinds. The kids come once a week to this free class to work on their English. It was really great to talk with the kids and watch them learn – Grace immediately jumped into ESL teacher mode and began to interact with the kiddos and teach them. It was cool to see her spring into action!

After a fun, exhausting day exploring, we went to our slightly questionable hotel for the night and head back to Jakarta the next morning. Yay! It was a fun trip but it was kind of weird to be in Indonesia and not be with Sam so I was excited to get back, and really excited to sleep in a bed that wasn’t going to be swaying all night. 🙂


2 thoughts on “Borneo: Orangutans, House Boats, and Tarantulas

  1. My goodness how I love to read about your adventures. In my head it plays out like a kids book for some reason, The adventures of Caitlin & Liane, traveling the world 🌎 to adventures unknown. 🙂

    The food sounds so amazing! I’m envious! Thanks for The lengthy post 🙂 gives me great content to live vicariously through. Miss y’all!



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