The Plight
The Plan
The Plight
The Plan
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July part 1 <<

7th July 2008 - Jo of the Jungle
I was saved today, by "plastic cheese". I'm still having problems eating. I managed the pineapple in my pineapple pancake but not all the batter. I managed a small, green, very sour fruit and a weird Indonesian sweety as a fieldtrip snack too, but only just. I couldn't eat eat anything else because I'd been feeling a bit dodgy, then felt ill at the sight of food.

Then, later on at camp, came the "plastic cheese". One of my friends is a lifesaver. She had a weeny stash of non-refridgeratable cheese, which we all shared with some cheesy crackers1. It's amazing how great "plastic cheese" can taste, and I was happy that I could stomach it. You don't get much cheese around here.

Our trek today consisted of river walking, sometimes knee-deep in flowing water. The orangey and slime green rocks were slippery.

the river
The rainforest river as we go river walking. At times it's difficult to know where you are because it's a twisting river with vast greenery on either side, but in this case we just follow near the river and look for orangutans up in the trees.

This time a guide made me a walking stick out of a rainforest branch. Since we did a lot more wading and less climbing it came in very handy!

my stick
My new walking stick.

We went where an orangutan and child had been spotted a while ago but with no success - no orangutans spotted at all! It's very difficult to find red apes when there are hardly any in the first place.

Today's walk was a lot less strenuous than yesterday's. The other group finished yesterday's transect and found two more nests. During fieldwork we split into two groups so that we can cover more area and get more jobs done. The groups are split into faster and slower too. Obviously I'm in the slower group.

We may not have seen apes, but we saw a bird, I saw a lizard, and the other guys saw a small snake that slithered away when we went by. I'm glad it did else we'd have to go a different route!

Two very huge millipedes. At first I thought that they were centipedes but was told they weren't. I was quite glad, because centipedes can have a poisonous bite! These curl up when scared, but were happy to crawl on our hands. I've seen several of these around, including one on our seat at camp.

On friend wrecked her sandals so walked in bare feet. Another has duct tape wrapped all around the front of hers, holding them together. Mine are beginning to break. Sandals don't last long in the rainforest.

It's twenty to five at night here and it's pouring with rain. It came out of nowhere. I have my headlamp on to write this entry because it's dark under our camp. It's a bit wet too because the tarpaulin sometims leaks. It's fixed with - you guessed it - sticks and duct tape.

We've decided that once you're injured in one place, everything including still rocks tries to get you in the same place. My personal injury is a scrape that keeps getting rubbed by many different rocks. I've slathered aloe vera on it; actually I put that everywhere since it's so good.

I only wish that I could find my toothbrush and toothpaste; it's gone missing.

Later... Hoorah; I had some nice-not-very-spicy potato and soybean concoction for dinner, and touch wood it's staying down. I still feel a little ill so didn't want to eat too much, but I just hope I've eaten enough since when I get super hungry I sometimes feel ill anyway.

It's still raining and my ceiling has been leaking a lot. Now I'm just going to read with my flashlight. Or just sleep, since I'm sooo tired. Night night!

drip drip drop
Leaks in the ceiling above my bed. Ahh, the outdoors is great but we need more duct tape!

1. crackers being about the only thing I could eat (although in moderation) except from fruit.

8th July 2008 - Born to be Wild
It rained for such a long time yesterday, I wondered if it was ever going to stop. It's still dripping today, but the ground is not full of puddles any more; there must be so much water contained within the canopy that it is a steady drip, almost as if it were still raining.

I don't know if it's the aloe vera or the humid jungle atmosphere, but my skin is as soft as a baby's bottom. I'm in the middle of the rainforest and if it weren't for the bites, scratches and bruises1, my skin might be fit enough for a beauty demonstration.

It's our last full day in the rainforest today, before heading back. I'm sad we haven't seen any orangutans, but at least the nests - some new - signify that they are still around in this area. I was hoping we could spot just one, and observe it, and collect data from it so that it might help the conservation more. Part of the job is collecting the orangutan's faeces, aka poop, for analysing later on. I think it's checked for what the orangutan has eaten, and for if there are any parasites in it. We still have today for fieldwork, but I'm wondering what we will end up doing. I hope that it isn't too strenuous (i.e scary).

I managed to eat some of my food last night but I'm glad I didn't eat any more because I felt a little ill afterwards but was OK. I had some hot tea with tinned milk and sugar (we were out of hot chocolate, oh no!) and it tasted very comforting. I hardly ever drink tea away from the rainforest but here it makes my tummy feel better, reminds me of the UK2, and gives me a drink at the same time.

The rainforest has a strange effect on me. I've been bitten, scratched, have laid on a rock, had it rain on my head in bed and felt ill, but this morning I am so happy. I feel more awake than when I wake up at home. Most of the guys are groggy but I'm bubbly.

Coming here has made me want to save the rainforest and orangutans even more. It is the epitomy of "alive". You read in text books about how many species of animal live here but it's so different to actually see it all. I couldn't imagine this beautiful place not being here. Sure climbing around it can be scary, but I love this place at the same time.

so many bugs
Top Left - This bug landed on my foot when I was in bed. Bottom Left - If you leave your clothes on the floor you get bugs in them! Shake out your boots too. Bottom - I finally know what this picture is; ants taking away noodles! You can't really see them but it's taken me ages to work out why I took that picture, so it's going in the diary. Right - Praying Mantis.

lots of plants
Left - pretty! I don't tend to know what the plants are in these photos but I thought they were interesting. Top Right - Points for guessing if this is the right way around or not; plant on a rock. Bottom Right - my "bedside plant". Bottom - Fungus on a log; there are lots of different fungi in the forest too, not just plants.

We had a wild orangutan experience today! It's won't be what you're thinking... we smelled an orangutan. The guide stopped us and started scanning the trees. The air did smell a bit different - not nasty but different - but it was the kind of thing you would only know if you'd been around orangutans more. The guide looked perpleaxed, saying in Indonesian more or less "I can smell it but not see it. Where is it?"3 We all looked but couldn't see it, but I'm glad I apparently smelled one!

Wow, that's an energetic spider on my notebook; it jumps. Anyway, back to today's trek...

Before the orangutan encounter we had been wading in the river. It was pretty easy going for a rainforest route. We stopped when we heard the whirring of chainsaws. I checked with the supervisor about the legality of it, but I was told that the loggers we heard had a permit. Still it's a shame they had to be logging since it's still a rainforest disappearing, and they probably scared the orangutans in the area away!

Looking for orangutans
I wish I could say that I could see orangutans in these photos, but you'll have to pretend that you can smell one instead! Finding wild orangutans is more difficult than you might think; now I understand a little of how a wildlife camera crew must feel when they're trying to film endangered wild animals.

Swapping our sandals for boots, we started to climb away from the river. The ground was crumbly from so much rain and there seemed to be less sturdy bits to grasp onto.

Partway up the route my asthma played up. I thought I had got it under control but further up it grabbed me by the throat in the way that asthma does. By the time my lungs had recovered my small group had decided that we should turn back. I was disappointed because I wanted to carry on, but it was better to turn round than have me collapse with an asthma attack in the middle of the rainforest. We got to smell an orangutan on the way back anyway!

Lunch and rest
As far as I remember, these are photos of where we had rests and breaks during the fieldwork. From time to time there were beautiful flashes of bright green and black as damson flies flew around.

1. and lack of shaving!
2. although it does taste different - maybe the tea is actually nicer.
3. thanks to a translation of a friend.

9th July 2008 - Back to the Wood Hut
We're safely back at our wood hut, and I have mixed feelings. It's good to be back without any major mishaps but I miss the rainfoest. As far as places away from home go, Scotland and its highlands share a place in my heart, Boston USA with its sand, sea and whales does too and now the Sumatran rainforest does.

Pretty rainforest
See you later, beautiful rainforest...

It took us about two hours or so to get out of the rainforest. A guide very kindly offered to take my large rucksack whilst I carried my small one instead of carrying it inside of my big one like on the way to the rainforest. He said it looked very heavy.

It's only now that I've arrived back that we noticed I got sunburned! It magically appeared within a few minutes; up the road I was slightly brown speckled, and then in the hut the red appeared. It's annoying because I've been fine, slapping aloe vera and suntan lotion on and reapplying it, yet when I come out of the rainforest it appears. I thought my arms felt hot whilst walking...

My first drink (not including water) out of the rainforest!

By the time we got back, the road near our wood hut looked a little more like a UK road. Woah, tarmac!

My stomach seems to be finally settling down. I couldn't eat all my breakfast, but I managed lunch. Some of the veg they do over here is absolutely delicious.

We're spending the rest of today recuperating. Everyone dove for the wash and bathroom facilities. When you have time off here you have to "make your own fun". We spand a lot of our relax time chatting, writing diaries or reading, with the odd Uno game thrown in for good measure. When the power is on we sometimes get music.

10th July 2008 - Extra tales
We've spent today so far washing our clothes and transferring the data we collected during our treks to the records at base, as well as checking more existing data for errors. I tend to take the jobs nobody else wants, so it tends to be computer work for me.

We've also been typing what we thought of the trip on the computer so that OHP knows how we feel. They got a good review! I'll spend some of my rest time adding bits that I missed out in previous diary entries:

Book End
In our hut on the other side of my bedroom wall lives Book End. If you don't like toads you won't like Book End. He is very big, but is rather harmless unless you're a bug or something. He got his name because he likes to sit amongst the books on the bookshelves.

Book End gave someone a fright last night; she was searching at the bookshelf and he hopped out. At first she'd though he was something else so she'd yelled. I saw a big dark thing on the floor... it was Book End. He gets around the kitchen and bedrooms too.

Book End the toad
Here's Book End, sitting on the kitchen floor. He's not a pet, he just lives in the hut. To my friend who doesn't like toads you have to put up with this picture - you've seen him in real life anyway - but don't worry; he's not in any other pictures on here so you only have to see his photo once!

You would not believe how many conversations about cheese we'ev had. It's amazing how much you want the things you normally take for granted, when they have been taken away. Before Indonesia I moaned when all there was for lunch was cheese, but now I daydream about the stuff. Bolognaise with a tonne of garlic and garlic bread, with a mountain of cheese... cheese on toast... mmmm...

We do have one jar of non-refridgeratable cheese here that may become ancient because even in date it stinks. I've never had jar cheese before, some have, but this jar cheese, well all agree, smells inedible (and apparently tastes like it smells). It's like... bad stilton, and raw stilton is bad to me to begin with. At least melted stilton is good in soup. This cheese may stay in the jar forever more.

We wanted to see orangutans, but nobody wants to run into Mina. If she comes on the scene during fieldwork we have to vacate the area, and if she's at the feeding platform at times you have to leave too. Even the rangers and guides sometimes head for the hills; female orangutans can be about five times as strong as a human. If you hear "Mina!" whilst out in the rainforest, you run.

The problem with Mina is that she used to be a pet until she ended up at Bukit Lawang. As a pet she discovered that if she attacked humans they threw food at her to try and get her to stop. That's stayed in her mind, even though she's not a pet any more. Mina; orange, furry, and very aggressive. That's what can happen when humans try to keep orangutans as pets.

There are lots of lizards that share the hut. You've got to be happy about coexisting with all sorts of animals when you come here. I was greeted by a chitchat/ gecko/ lizard last night as well as Book End. It sat on my mosquito net before it scurried up the wall. The lizard and Book End are probably helpful in keeping insects away from me at night as well as the spiders lending eight hands.

A gecko on my mosquito net.

A lady came to our hut today. She sells t-shirts, carvings and bracelets and such, mainly locally made. She normally comes on the last day when we have a leaving BBQ, but since she couldn't come then this time she came today.

My friends helped me barter for a bracelet, and a carved gecko made by her husband. I got it for 40,000 rupiah, which was cheaper then the first suggested price of the gecko! I was told that it was normal to bargain so I'm glad my friends were there to help. There was a large mask-style carving that I liked, but I guessed it was beyond my current price range since I'd only brought a certain amount and was keeping some aside. The lady then pulled the gecko carving out of her bag and I fel in love with it. Now I have an orange flower bracelet and a larger-than-life gecko carving to remind me of my journey and my buddy on the mosquito net!

My carved gecko. I did take a photo of my gecko with my bracelet but this photo is better.

11th July 2008 - Eeeek
This paragraph is not for the squeamish. Disgusting; I have blood on today's clothes, my pyjamas and my bed. Stupid leech. It's about my fourth bite; this one snuck up on me, feasted on my upper leg and then escaped, all without me realising. Much higher up and it would have bitten my backside! This bite was the most bloody but I've washed it and stuck a plaster on it. The leech most likely got its come-uppance though, since my friends said they saw a full leech crawling around the hut and said that I had been avenged.

OK squeamish people, you can read now. Today was spent... you know, I'm tired - I'll write what we did today, tomorrow. Night night!

12th July 2008 - Save the elephants too!
We arrived back to the hut later than planned last night. We'd got up early and spent most of the day either at Tangkahan, or travelling to it, since it took such a long time to get there. It took even longer to get back because the car broke down. With a splutter and the flashing of several warning lights, it just wouldn't carry on. The sun set and we ended up waiting in a small restaurant next to a mosque whilst the car was sorted. Thank goodness we didn't break down in the middle of one of the many nasty palm oil plantations - I bet there would have been no people there in the dark!

Oil palm
This is an oil palm - the kind of plant whose plantations are more or less killing the orangutans. There are WAY too many of these in Indonesia, and they are replacing the rainforest.

Oil palm fruit
These are the very large, heavy oil palm fruits. They get loaded onto big trucks and sent off to palm oil factories.

More oil palm
These are also more - taller - oil palms. Imagine hours worth of this and you'll have the tiniest idea of what it was like. When oil palms get to about twenty - five? - years old, they stop producing good fruit, and so they are cut down and replaced with...

And more oil palm
... More oil palms, unfortunately. This sea of green is made up of baby oil palms. Just when you thought you'd get a bit of variation! I could show loads more of this but you would get bored; I've saved that for the videos (I'll let you know when they are up).

First the driver had though that it was the wheel that had caused the unexpected halt, then the engine, then... petrol. We'd run out of petrol! When we got back I was very tired.

By the way, we're wondering if it's the malaria pills that are making me ill... D'oh.

Our purpose in Tangkahan was elephant trekking in the rainforest. It was like our day off, but we had to pay ourselves if we wanted to ride the elephants. I made sure before saying yes that the elephants were well-cared for, since one of my friends at home warned me about some elephant rides. I was told that the elephants are well looked after, as if they were pets.

Tangkahan. SO much prettier than oil palms! To get where we wanted we had to go on a small boat...

... which looked like this! This photo is from the other side.

The elephant trek was fun; we got to try fresh menthol and the elephants were very nice. Mine was called Sare (say Saree). The nearest translation I've heard is sort of like "essence" or "spirit". Sare appeared to be a bit of the stubborn sort but seemed content. As for me, it felt a bit strange to be riding an animal but not controlling it myself, since I'm used to horse riding!

Sare and I
Proof that I was there! At this point in time I'm wondering whether Sare will stay with the other elephants or wander off, because the person controlling where she goes has just jumped off. I was safe though! At some places in the trek orangutans had been spotted, although this time we did not see any.

After the trek the elephants had fun in the river. One seemed a real water baby but Sare wasn't so bothered. I then got to scrub Sare down with a big brush, and feed her pieces of banana. I think she enjoyed the banana most!

Elephant bath
The elephants having a bath. Sare is on the left. The one on the right liked using its trunk like a snorkel!

Splish splash
"Where's my rubber ducky?" I have to note here that the elephants seem very intelligent; they can understand lots of commands such as "slower", "go to the loo", "sleep", and "please pick that sandal up, the guy riding you appears to have dropped it". You have to say the right words in Indonesian though.

Elephant foot check
They got their feet checked too, like horses get their feet checked, only in a different way. What a good elephant. I have bits from the banana-feeding and elephant scrubbing too but most are videos, not photos.

I'd wanted to ask if I could help with checking more records when we got back, but by the time we arrived after breaking down, I was ready for bed.

I think that's all for yesterday, so onto today.

Mina. We saw Mina. Our final trip to the feeding platform, and she was there with her tiny baby and her older baby. She was preoccupied with bannanas and milk, and when we realised that it was Mina, we stood back! Nobody got attacked today, except she shoved her poor older baby away from the food. Poor baby! After Mina had finished the baby came to see if anything was left, but there was not much.

A macaque. Macaques are monkeys, orangutans are apes, but they both like bananas.

We saw an orangutan in the cage last time, although by the time we got back it had been let out. I think these used to help rehabilitate orangutans, although that doesn't happen there any more. I hoped it wasn't there temporarily just so the visitors could look at it; the cage is larger than the photo but I still prefer seeing them outside cages. One supervisor wondered whether it was for a vet check.

Mina and baby
Miiiinaaaaa! She really likes milk and bananas but keeps a tight hold of her weeny baby at all times.

Mina's bigger baby
Her other baby however was shooed away from the treats by Mina herself. Awww!

I'm running out of money now since the ATMs don't like my card, but I'm going home tomorrow. I've saved enough for the departure tax, and gave the Internet facilities some money because of a mix up before, although I have a tiny bit left.

I wanted to try some new fruit and got my wish; a supervisor bought us rambutans and snakefruit (salak). You open the rambutan's thick coating and eat the grape-like bit but not the big, woody pip inside. The taste a bit like grapes to me too, just more awkward to eat.

Rambutans and Salaks
Rambutans and Salaks.

Inside the fruits
Inside the fruits. The photo to the right is just one section of the salak.

The salak skin looks and feels like a snake's. You peel it, then peel off the super thin coating underneath unless you want it to taste bitter and weird, and then eat the fruit but again, not the big stone in the section. There are three sections in a salak. It didn't taste horrid but was not totally delicious either. It tasted slightly familiar but I couldn't put a finger on it. I briefly thought about cheese but I think that's because I now have cheese on the brain.

BBQ today, hooray!

Oh yes and I could have floated down from Bukit Lawang all the way nearish the hut in a rubber doughnut. It would have taken two hours, but I did not have the money. Boohoo!

I will see you soon Chris!

13th July 2008 - Time to go home.
I am sitting in the waiting room of Medan airport. Fond farewells have been said and promises of emails have been made. I'm on my own again, or almost; two of my friends are still in the airport. I might see them one last time because our first flight is the same.

The journey got us to the airport just at the right time. We had a few problems - ATMS not working and someone accidentally leaving their passport at the office, but no harm was done1.

When we reached Polonia airport, the first thing we grabbed was lunch. Hardly anyone had eaten a breakfast and it was lunch time. I had an egg-salad sandwich, which to my delight had a thin slice of cheese in it. It tasted delicious, although the fact I was eating mayo and cheese again helped! I decided to put some of the spicy sauce on it too, although I checked it wasn't super hot.

I also had some orange "juice" and a melon doughnut for novelty value, since I was bound to still be hungry. The flight here turned me into a bottomless pit, so I prepared myself this time.

I may have to collect my luggage at Heathrow his time. It might be something to do with Heathrow to Teesside being bmi not Malaysia Airlines. Maybe I was lucky last time when it went the whole journey without me having to touch it until the end. Who knows! I don't want my bags left in London.

Since I've no photos for this entry, I'll add the bbq ones from last night. Here is the chicken and fish being cooked.

BBQ meat
It was dark when it was ready. Here is the meat and some spicy sauce, along with a cat on the floor, hoping to eat it too.

BBQ fruit
I'm a vegetarian so I got some vegetable curry along with some exotic bbq fruits and fruit juice! My malaria pills played up again but I ate a little of it. We all shared the vegetarian food.

Are these orangutans?

Oh wait, they are my other friends! OHP very kindly gave us an orangutan carving each as a thank you gift. They are lovely!

Kuala Lumpur
I couldn't resist it; during the long wait in Kuala Lumpur I bought some durian stuff to take home from one of the arport shops. Who knows if it'll be disgusting or yummy, but I bought the product that had the most durian in it. I was happy to find out that a lot of the shops in Kuala Lumpur airport take US dollars and English pounds, although they only take notes, and give Kuala Lumpur currency as change. I've handled four different currencies on this trip now!

The long wait was made more interesting by browsing shops, eating when hungry, and by having a chat with a friendly German fellow. He was wanting to learn more English once he realised I wasn't German (well I was sitting near the Gate to go to Amsterdam, not London), so I showed him my photos and talked about my trip, and he talked about his trip.

Note to all vegetarians; Burger King in the airport does not sell vegetarian burgers, so don't bother queuing.

Do not forget my bag.

1. except maybe to my poor lungs, since the journey was long and dusty.

Next month >>
July part 1 <<

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