To get to Indonesia from New York City takes about 24 hours door to door. It is a small sacrifice because this country, which is composed of over 17,000 islands, delivers everything from Komodo dragons to golf courses; fine art museums to volcano treks; the cleanest of seas; the nicest of people. In a little over two weeks, Steve and I managed to cram in five different destinations on four islands.
The first destination was Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo, and a boat ride up the Sekonyer River through Tanjung Puting National Park to Camp Leakey to see the orangutans:Camp Leakey was established by Birute Galdikas in 1971 to protect and rehabilitate orangutans that were being poached and killed for a profit. Today they thrive!
The viewing conditions are somewhat staged by the preset 10:00 and 2:00 feeding times, when bunches of bananas are dropped on 12-foot high viewing platforms. Slowly, on cue, the orangutans emerge from their hidden haunts, and the performance of their dining process commences:
But, the predictability does not in any manner diminish the fascination of watching these grand primates, and their endlessly expressive faces, change from anger to docility as they play with their buddies, entertain themselves, and protect their young ones:
They are the great ape most like us, and to the extent we are a culture that loves selfies, the orangutans present different, but familiar images of who we are at our core: moody, playful, hungry and protective:
And of course, the excursion into the rainforest was not just about the orangutans. There were so many other things to take in: luscious vegetation in every shape, variety and texture that hugged the meandering curves in the river, plants shaped as pitchers, and trees so dependent on each other they grew into each other:
There were long-tailed macaques, and probocis monkeys with Cyrano de Bererac noses, huddled in groups in the tree tops, swinging from limb to limb, solitary gibbons and wild boar:
But this vista, and these animals, which have been part of the earth for millions of years, are at risk for demolition and destruction. It should not be surprising that the battle for preserving the world’s natural heritage is not confined to the debate over the Keystone Pipeline. In Borneo, the ever expanding palm oil estates are winning over conservation efforts and the Sekonyer River – once pitch black and clear – is now more dank and muddy – a perpetual reminder of the pollution from upriver mining:
So I was left with one thought: Don’t let these guys down, and made a donation to the Orangutan Foundation: