The Plight
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The Plight
The Plan
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1st July 2008 - Hot Work
In Indonesia, women have to stay quite covered up. They can't show knees or shoulders, or wear low-cut tops. That's why the last thing I'd expect to have was fear of getting a burned behind. I got to ride on top of a bus today, on the roof. You haul yourself up there with the help of rungs and a window, and then sit cross-legged there holding onto a bar. The roof was metal and ouch, ouch, ouch; even with trousers on it was hot! Some of the tree leaves are near head height too. It was fun but I held on tight, hat flapping in the wind.

We had gone to a nearby town for food supplies. Before that we'd had an introduction about orangutans and what we'd be doing to help. Turns out I didn't need gardening gloves because we won't be doing reforestation - Frontier shouldn't have mentioned that. Still, I'm sure they'll come in handy later; maybe I can grow something at home, or there might be another Tree Party.

We were helping out in the office, swapping old silica gel sachets placed in previously collected plant samples with fresh, wet-absorbing ones, and checking past data collected about orangutans on a laptop, but then the power cut out again, and it is still off. I can't wait for it to come back on so that the fan can work again.

I kept fading in and out of sleep last night. The heat was horrible, and when I awoke I felt a bit ill again. I don't think I'm adjusting to the heat very well, my chest hurt in town too. If the power comes back on tonight, I may be able to borrow a fan for my room.

Holy moley; the storm came out of almost nowhere. The sky went cloudy and I went outside to feel its temperature; I had almost fallen asleep in a chair because it had been too hot for me. Then... the heavens opened, the thunder boomed and lightning cracked through the sky. We shut one of the office doors because paper a light water bottle and such kept being blown over, The rain itself is now so loud that you have to raise your voice just to be heard. It's still warm, but not as stifling hot as before. We don't need the fans at the moment. This is the dry season. Never mind rainforest, it should be called "tipping it down" forest. Now I understand how Bukit Lawang could have flooded1.

Wet, wet, wet
Make way for the raaaaain.

(Note from the future - I think this belongs somewhere around here. If you are scared of snakes, don't click the link at the end of this paragraph! This message is for a few of my friends who reeeally don't like them. For the people who want to see a picture, click here to see one.)

1. I actually found out later that the flood was not due to that kind of thing; it was due to dam breakage.

2nd July 2008 - Ook ook!
Oh wow, we saw orangutans today! Gunung Leuser National Park used to be a rehabilitation centre, but now it's more touristy. One of the problems that we're investigating happens over there. The orangutans are mainly semi-wild, so humans can get very close to them; some even within touching distance. One... ranger?.. even held an orangutan's hand. The problem with this is that diseases and parasites can be passed to orangutans. If people get very close they can much more easily pass nasty things to them, and this has been happening. I tried not to get too close but it was almost impossible since the orangutans can walk on the same path aswell as humans, and seem to like being with them. One more or less led us up to the feeding platform, and seemed to actively seek out cameras. When he saw someone pointing a camera at him he'd turn to them as if posing, then he'd look for the next camera, or keep turning behind him to see if the people were still there; that's what it seemed like. Orangutans I've noticed, can be very fast climbing down trees too.

This way!
"I know where the food is. This way!" This friendly orangutan met the rangers at the park entrance, and then walked up with us to the feeding platform.

Hurry up!
"Are you still ok back there? Come on, hurry up!" You can see how difficult it is to not get close to the orangutans at times.

Orangutan smiling
"I hope you're taking good photos of me!" I think he's smiling at a camera to the left of me. I took this before I had to pass him on the path.

Mummy and baby
This mummy seemed quite shy, keeping further away from us or always being on the move. The baby tended to be hard to see. I wish this photo could have been a bit clearer but I still think it's cute.

Oook ook!
This orangutan is more laid back than the mother, but then there is no baby to have to look after here! This tree is actually next to the path.

After our orangutan adventure we started on our practice trek. We didn't see orangutans on it, but we saw an orangutan nest and it was still very interesting. It took over two hours but when we rested, we rested for quite a while. My asthma started playing up and I almost had an asthma attack when we were crawling up a sunny part of the track1. Most of the forest was shaded and cooler than around our house, but it was still hot and where the light shone through the greenery it was very hot. Speaking of light, it's raining, the power has gone and I can hardly see, so I'll continue my diary later.

Cards in a power cut
You can't really tell how dark it was from this photo because it was either have my flash go off and light the room, or have no flash and have a photo of black with two light blobs. You'll notice the candles are lit - imagine playing cards but it being so dark that unless you move the cards really close to the candles, you can't really tell a blue card from a green one.

3rd July 2008 - More about the practice trek.
The power didn't come back on until I was in bed. It's funny going to the loo needing the aid of a flashlight.

I'm still waiting for me to fully adjust to the heat and food; every now and again, normally evening time, I get an upset stomach and a random symptom. One night it was a headache, last night I felt ill. I'm hoping it'll go away because if I get worse or actually am sick, I will have to stay at base instead of doing fieldwork. The orangutans can catch a lot of what we can, remember? Also you can't trek through the rainforest very well if you're feeling well.

Back to yesterday. I sucked up water like a sponge during the practice trek. I will have to bring my two litre water bottle - maybe more - for the equivalent time treking (about two hours). I actually ran out of water, but one of our nice supervisors, Jess1, let me have some from her big water bottle. I didn't expect to need that much butI have learned, although I still have to make sure I don't go the other way and weigh myself down with water.

I got overheated on the trek, and kept habing to fan myself with my hat. Once I'd had the borderline asthma attack my speed really dropped. I couldn't seem to recover fully and I kept getting a sore chest and wibbly knees and on the uphill bits I could only go a few steps at a time. If you want to go on this trip I suggest doing climbing aswell as hiking - no kidding - because we were more or less climbing in some bits. You had to heave yourself up, and lower yourself down on the parts where you couldn't quite reach the ground. I intended not to hold onto much because of warnings in books about nasty plants and bugs, but in the end you had to; you just had to be very careful, else from time to time you might end up sitting on a termite trail, grabbing a tree with ants patrolling, or getting stuck in rattan; a viney plant with spines on it.

Rainforest beasties
Left - termite nest. Right - Termite trail. Orangutans like to eat termites. The termites patrolling the log may be different ones to the termites that live in the tree nest. Have I got the left picture the right way around? It's hard to tell!

Later on...
A quick break from work... our current guide is amazing; he's like a jungle man, climbing through the forest and swimming across the river with ease to reach our boat, holding his rucksack above the water at the same time. He told us really cool infomration about the forest and its inhabitants. We learned about a plant that you put on poisonous bites, and a tree where if you make a drink out of it, the mosquitoes and leeches don't like you any more. It is very bitter - a lot of plants like that aren't nice to eat but I'd rather have that than Malaria. The part of the rainforest we were in didn't tend to have Malaria (most of those mosquitoes were nearer the beach), but it still had mosquitoes and I'm not stopping my tablets just before one part probably didn't have Malaria.

Wonderful plants
Left - This bark contains quinine to keep away mosquitoes and leeches (if drank regularly). Top right - A huuuge tree with a parasitic strangling fig attached to its right. Orangutans enjoy munching figs. Bottom right - Use this if you get bitten by a poisonous beastie, but get yourself to hospital too!

When we finished the trek, we rested in the shade at one of the restaurants and ate a yummy meal. The fresh pineapple and the real passionfruit drink was especially delicious and gave a welcome thirst-quenching cooldown after the trip. The tourism generated from the orangutans helps local people to make a living.

Well-needed drink and food.

We had a stop off at the shops and visited a place where we could pay from internet access. Frontier had mentioned keeping your feet covered as much as possible; I don't know if they meant just in the rainforest, but it is impolite to wear shoes "in the house". In the Internet place we took our shoes off and sat on the floor to use the computer. At the base we spend most of our time barefoot. Talking about it, it's not only me that finds Frontier's communication skills exceptional... exceptionally bad that is. I did wonder why I only received some (important) information when I only had a few days to go until the start of my trip - it was because Frontier had only given OHP (Orangutan Health Project) my email about a week before I was supposed to be on the trip.

On the way home we had to ride in a sidecar of a motorbike, except that they were designed for two Indonesian-sized people, not UK-sized people so that was a squish. There was no door to hold us in so it was scary. I didn't enjoy it as much as the bus. I got dust in my eyes because we were low to the ground.

This is one of the vehicles that you can ride in Indonesia. This photo was actually taken later on in my trip when the part of road near our base was improved. Compared to the state of some other roads here, this road is superb!

When I arrived back at base I saw what Ihad felt on my trip. My jungle boots that fit like a glove in the UK, were rubbing my ankles. I must have been bitten before I wore my boots too although I didn't feel it; one toe has a red bump on it which probably came about from the bite being rubbed. My feet had sock liners, and jungle boots on so it would have been hard for anything to reach my feet.

Today we are recouperating by doing work in the office. We might termite-proof the wood of our hut later, since if the termites eat the wood hut the orangutan conservation people wouldn't have anywhere to live and work any more!

I've signed an insurance form ready for the trip, and a form saying that I can't use my photos and films here for commercial purposes - although I am allowed to sell any pictures I draw from the photos and films if I wanted to. I'd like to raise money for orangutans doing that, so I'm happy I'm allowed to do that.

Later on...
The boards are now nicely termite-protected, and I have got my bag packed for our fieldwork tomorrow, apart from what I need tonight. I'll be in the rainforest for five or six days!

The both good and bad news is that there were several things on Frontier's suggested kit list that I don't need; mosquito net (supplied at base, can't hang it in the forest), iodine solution for water (guides help us there), penkife (guide should have one if we need it), watertight container for lunch (food supplied for us at mealtimes), gardening gloves... I shouldn't have even botehred with a raincoat - you might think I'd need it a lot but even though it's breathable you frazzle in it and rain at times is enjoyable. A raincoat isn't going to save my clothes when I wade in a stream. I suppose you could bring one if you want but I only wore it on the first dy, was hot, and didn't wear it at all once I got picked up for our orangutan saving. We don't do "preparing food for orangutans" just like we don't do reforestation. I feel that what OHP is trying to accomplish is admirable, but we never get to do things like that, so I don't know why Frontier told me that. It was suggested that they got confused, because not all the orangutan trips on Frontier's website are OHP associated.

Oh yes and some of the money that I paid OHP has to go to Frontier because they are more like an agency. I suggest trying to contact OHP directly if you want to go on this trip, so that they get that chunk of money rather than the agency. I never knew about departure tax until OHP, not Frontier, informed me!

I am a little nervous of the fieldwork trek, but I am looking forward to it too. The supervisors and guide have taken really good care of me so far, and my group are really friendly - one even carried my bag as well as his when I had the almost-asthma-attack in the forest.

Love you, my family. Friends, I will show you all my photos when I get back home!

1. They are all nice.

4th July 2008 - The point of no return (for a while).
I made it to the rainforest camp! At first I was a little nervous about going after my asthma playing up last time but I really wanted to go. I'd been assured that the two hour walk to base was less strenuous than the practice trek.

The supervisors were correct. The walk was not so up-and-downy as the first, although there was a lot of river walking and at times the water came up to just below my knees.I was having a bit of trouble keeping my balance in the very deep, faster flowing and rocky bits, so one of the guides very kindly helped keep my balance through those bits. A lot of the trek was through water. The coolness was a welcome change but I was glad when I got to take my sandals of at the end - wet feet are nice, soggy feet aren't.

We'd been told to wear sandals for the trek. I'd wrapped up the bite and rubs on my feet with "waterproof" plasters and micropore tape, and stuck on moisture-wicking sock in the hope that it would keep it in place, but in teh end I just tore off the tape that was still hanging on and stuck it in my bag with my socks. Rubby wet socks are icky.

I've been told that there are no jiggers here,thank goodness, but we have had a few injuries. One friend accidently hit her head on an open window before we set off in the forest - what a way to start a trek - another friend had an allergic reaction to something in lunch, and I sustained a few bruises, ever so slightly rubbed feet, and the most miniscule leech bites ever. They didn't hurt at all, even when they were pulled off1; I only noticed when I saw something strange on my ankle that wouldn't wipe off. At first I thought it was a small leaf. I was told I was suprisingly calm - one supervisor despises them. The bites bled a bit because the leeches use an anti-clotting agent, but they were almost nothing to write home about apart from they were was my first leech bites.

rainforest lunch
On our way to camp - the spot my friends and I stopped for lunch and the location of the discovery of my first leech bite. The guides carried any food, cutlery and bowls that were needed for our meals.

leech bite
The leech bite itself. it's so small; can you see it?

There are butterflies flapping around and lots of other bugs, I saw a larger lizard, and there are cute, tiny frogs or toads about as big as a fingernail, hopping around near the river.

rainforest friends
Bottom - big butterfly on a large leaf! Top left - the same butterfly with a sense of scale added; this one rested on my leg. Top right - Spot the frog/ toad!

A note about water-trekking sandals; try to make sure they:
a) Don't rub even when wet
b) Are quick drying
c) Stay on your feet when you want them to!
d) Do not fall apart!
e) Have excellent grips
f) Don't get too heavy in water

Some peoples' sandals literally fell apart2. Mine will take forever to dry, but they are sturdy.

There is no phone signal, our bath is the river, our loo is behind a rock further downstream3, and our camp is made up of forest wood and tarpaulin. This is where we'll be staying for the next few days.

rainforest bath
Our bath, complete with fishies instead of rubber duckies. It was harder to wash whilst still wearing some clothes, but what a beautiful view for a bathroom! The view from the loo wasn't too shabby either although if you like doors and locks on your loos you won't be happy.

view from a log
A view from our rainforest camp seat, otherwise known as a log.

Camp before
Camp, before it's complete. If the wood breaks or rots the guides have to go and find some similar sticks to replace them with.

Camp after
Camp, after completion! If we put our empty water bottles out at night, the guides will very kindly fill the bottles up when they prepare some clean drinking water in the morning.

1. Again my book told me not to pull the leeches off because the bite might go nasty, but I was told just to pull them off. Who knows.
2. For the ones where an attempt at fixing had been made, well... it's the first time I've seen duct taped sandals.

5th July 2008 - Welcome to the Jungle
I remember don't being warned how smoky the rainforest camp got until OHP mentioned it a few days before the start of my adventure. They cook on an open fire abd most or all of the guides smoke. It made my chest burn.

What made me feel worse was that I felt ill again, feeling sick, stomach ache, upset tummy. I found it very hard to sleep, and still felt bad in the morning. My first day of fieldwork and I didn't even go. I spent most of the morning asleep or trying to warm my tummy with my hands. I couldn't eat breakfast; I struggled with dinner last night but this was worse.

The pink, chewy tablets didn't seem to work much any more, so one of the guides put together a traditional natural cure to rub on my stomach. It was dark green, very oily, and smelled of garlic. It seemed to work a bit.

I managed some hot ginger tea1 and some crackers for lunch - other foods made me feel sick just by looking at them.

I've just eaten a jungle leaf too. One of our guides went out specially for it because it doesn't tend to grow nearby. It tasted soily and was rather hard-feeling once I'd chewed it up. Nibble after nibble, it disappeared. I was told to eat it all followed by hot water. One of my friends gave me some tablets too, so I won't know which thing worked if I feel better. As long as something works, I don't mind.

Medicine leaf
The leaf I ate as medicine.

Oh yes and I'm glad I don't eat chicken; the chicken stew contained its head and feet as well as the other bits; blech2.

1. We have three small plants growing at camp; one ginger plant near the cooking pot, one pineapple plant near the "seats", and another plant next to the pineapple plant that is some kind of spice but I forget the exact name.
2. I suppose at least less goes to waste; it's just something I'm not used to seeing, especially since I'm vegetarian!

6th July 2008 - Wild thing
Hooray, I have successfully completed 270m worth of transects, then walked back alive. I say "walk", but after wading through a river for a little it was more or less a climb; on my hands and feet, sometimes knees, grabbing hold of trees, rocks and ground1. It make me even more sure that you should practice rock climbing way before coming on this trip.

the only way is up... or down
The only way is up... or down. A quick snap of the kind of terrain you have to climb during fieldwork...

... and a shot of my friends climbing it!

"What's with the climbing, and what's a transect?" I hear you ask. Well, it's part of the research. We have to follow one direction on the compass, no matter where it goes for so many metres. If we see an orangutan's nest, we log it down along with information about it. Then we carry on in the same direction for the so-many-metres again. It helps us to keep track of approximatley how many orangutans there are in each area, and most likely where they like nesting. One built a nest in a rambutan tree!

old orangutan nest
An orangutan nest. This one is old and easy to see compared to the newer ones. I actually took this photo before the practice trek at the feeding platform. You'll see I didn't take many photos whilst working because I was, well, working!

Doing the transects was quite hairy, in a different way to how a rambutan is hairy. There were times where I almost had an asthma attack, especially when I was tired then the ground disappeared from underneath me. I ended up sliding on my stomach, grabbing for anything that might hold me whilst my friends grabbed for me and tried to stop me from sliding. Apparently one of the other transect treks was worse. We were out for about five or six hours. I could hardly eat lunch or dinner because I still feel ill at times looking at the food. Part of it might be psychological because the food smells similar to the food there was when I fell ill.

friendly big ant
A big, friendly ant found at our lunch spot, handled by the guide. It probably wouldn't be so friendly if you poked it, but who'd be stupid enough to do that?!

There were a few things I could eat; pineapple biscuits and a gorgeous passionfruit we had partway through the trip that a guide had brought. The guide opened it with a penknife. As well as it being refreshing, it gave an extra fruit liquid boost.

We had to turn around before we did all the transects we wanted else we would have become stuck in the forest in the dark. We only did about half the transects planned. People will do more tomorrow though, so back down we went. Scary!

I bathed in the water hole part of the river when we arrived back at base. Our clothes are so hard to clean. As for the evening - I've been playing Uno by torch and candlelight, but now I'm going to bed.

By the way Chris; you'd despise the moths around here; their eyes glow orangey-red in torch light, and they like eating chicken.

chicken-eating moth!
DUN! DUN! DUN! Cooked chicken isn't enough; now it's heading for meeeee (or not). I'd prefer it stay off my towel though.

1. More or less anything that wasn't a bug nest or a spiky rattan vine.

This page is getting rather crowded. Time for a July part 2 page!

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