Monthly Archives: November 2014

Indonesia: Odds and Ends

After our orangutan adventure, we had one more night left in Kumai.  We decided to splurge and stayed at an eco-lodge.  The eco-lodge was quite spendy relative to other hotels in which we stayed in Kumai, but 20% of the proceeds went to orangutan preservation, so we figured it was worth the splurge.  This is a picture of our cottage.


As you would expect from an eco-lodge, the building materials are made from renewable resources like bamboo.


The walls were made of bamboo mats and were about as thick as one, too.  So, we could hear everything going on next door and vice versa.  The good news was that only the kids were over there, so we didn’t have to be too quiet and we could keep an “ear” out on them while having the privacy of our own room.


After spending 3 days and 2 nights on a boat, it was luxury living at the eco-lodge.  We had our very own bathroom with “fresh” water and a toilet.  Bad news: still no hot water.

The next day we had a cooking class with a young lady named Febri.


Febri is actually the oldest daughter of our tour guide, Joe.  She spent part of her life living on the orangutan preserve when Joe was a ranger there, so she knows almost all of the orangutans and they know her.  She works part-time as an orangutan guide.  She told us a lot of funny stories about the orangutans.

She taught us how to make a few dishes.  This one is a dessert with a variety of fruit.


One thing that Benjy and I kept saying about Indonesia over and over was how kind, friendly and helpful Indonesian people were.  Complete strangers would go out of their way to help us.  Yes, we were tourists, but I’ve been a tourist in a lot of places and when I’m not with Benjy (which sometimes happens because we tend to travel to destinations separately)  I usually blend right in with the Asian population.  So, I can’t blame their friendliness all the time on the curiosity of wanting to get within close proximity to a white guy.

And I know I said Thai people were also kind and generous, but it really was doubly true about the Indonesians.  It’s something that I have found myself thinking about over and over: what makes a people friendly and kind rather than not.  I really can’t put my finger on it, but one thing that both Thailand and Indonesia have in common is that their culture is completely submerged in religion.  In Thailand it is Buddhism; in Indonesia, it’s Islam.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world.  There are prayer calls everyday, exactly 5 times per day, played very loudly across the cities on loud speakers.  One of the prayer calls is at 4:30 a.m., and let me tell you it’s so loud and piercing that no matter where you are, you are awakened by it.

I have spent plenty of time now in communist countries where everyday life is intentionally secularized and I have to say, there is a palpable difference.  Maybe it’s coincidence, maybe it’s not, but I find the people who live in secular societies to be much colder, distant and uncaring.  There’s something better about a society that is focused on a life other than this one.  To me, a completely secularized culture is not one to be desired or aspired to.  As the saying goes: be careful what you wish for.

Anyhoo, we had one last boat trip before we left Kumai.206



It was a great trip!




The Orangutans

At long last, the orangutans.  I must give you advance warning that I went a little ape-you-know-what taking photos of the orangutans.  After my experience with pandas and now orangutans, I have decided that I may have missed a calling in my life to be some sort of zoologist.  Long after Benjy and the kids had said “enough with the orangutans already,” I could have kept watching them all day long.  So, there are  A LOT of photos.  I’m also going to spend some time writing down the stories I heard about some of the orangutans.  I never grew tired of hearing them.  Yes, I know it might get boring, but I’m doing this actually for my own benefit so that I won’t forget.  You can just skim over it all if you aren’t interested.

We entered the preserve.



Now I’ll turn it over to Webley.

The Tanjung Puting National Park is located in southern Borneo close to a town called Kumai. The park has an area of 160 square miles. It officially became a national park in 1982. The park also has the largest orangutan population in the world.

There are about 6,000 orangutans in the preserve. The name orangutan means in Indonesian and Malay “people that live in the jungle.” In the park there are two different types of orangutans, wild and semi-wild. The difference between wild and semi-wild is that semi-wild have at one point in their lives lived with people and are not afraid of them. Also, semi-wild orangutans like people food while wild ones only eat fruit and termites.

Wild orangutans normally live not more than 60 years. But, orangutans in captivity can live for more than 60 years.  Some males can grow to be 300 pounds. Females grow up to be less than half that size. Females are normally 15-16 when they have their first baby. Most mothers in the wild wait 8 years between having each baby. The reason for this is because baby orangutans do not leave their mothers until they are 10 years old. The baby still visits its mother until it is 15-16 years old.

Each area of about 10 kilometers has a dominant male. The dominant male is the king of that area. He gets to eat first and is the father to all of the babies. For an orangutan to become the dominant male it has to beat the old dominate male. This fight lasts 9 days and is not meant to kill the old dominant male. Once he is defeated he must find another area to live.

 In the world there are two kinds of orangutans: Borneo orangutans and Sumatra orangutans. The Borneo orangutans grow larger and there are more Borneo orangutans than Sumatra ones. The Sumatra orangutans live all over the world, but the Borneo orangutans only live in Borneo.

Now I will tell you about some of the orangutans I saw.

This orangutan is Gundol. He is 23 years old. Gundol is the dominant male in this area.  You can tell he’s the dominant male because he has the large cheek bags on his face.  He weighs about 125 pounds.  When he was at the feeding station, he got to eat first while everyone else there waited in trees nearby.  No one dared take a turn until he left.

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Once he was finished eating, he climbed a tree and started “singing” which surprisingly sounded a lot like a whale song.  Then he started “whoo, whoo…..prrrrrrr….whooo, whooo…prrrr” alternating between sounding like an owl to sounding like a cat purring, all done very loudly.  See, I told you I should have been a zoologist.  Joe told us he was announcing to everyone that he was still the dominant male in the area in case anyone had forgotton.  After Gundol left, the others got to eat.

This is Cedang and her baby Casateao.




Cedang is 32 years old, and her baby is 2.

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I’m not sure what the name of this orangutan is, but the man below has a big bag of bananas on his back.  The orangutan was shimmying down to grab one out of the bag.


This is a teenager Maraeo. He is 9 years old. He likes to hang out at the boat dock in hopes of scoring some food from the tourists.  In this picture he was making kissing sounds. This means that he is hangry (hungry and angry).


One of our female guides, Siti,  told us a funny story about Maraeo.  Orangutans’ favorite fruit is durian.  Durian is a  VERY STRONG smelling fruit and many hotels in Asia have a “no durian policy” for their little room refrigerators because the fruit stinks them up and it’s so difficult to get rid of the smell.  I took this picture in our hotel room.  Obviously, it’s a problem deserving its own prohibition sign.


I actually don’t mind durian, the taste or the smell, but I can see how some might find it offensive to the senses.  There’s a smaller variety of durian that grows in the jungle and Siti loves it too.   One of the rangers had picked some durian fruit for Siti and gave it to her to take home to eat.

The ranger warned her to watch out for Maraeo when she gets on the boat because he loves durian and he can smell it from a long ways away.  So, she hid it under her clothes.  As she was approaching the boat dock she saw no sign of Maraeo and thought the coast was clear.  Then, out of nowhere, Maraeo appeared.  She screamed and began running and Maraeo starting chasing her and grabbed her feet.  Normally, orangutans seem to be these docile, slow-moving creatures when they aren’t in trees.  But, I guess they can run fast when properly motivated!  She dropped the durian and he let her go.  Then, she ran to the boat, durian – less.

Here are some pictures of Maraeo with the kids.  Since Joe was a park ranger and now a guide, many of the orangutans know him and the sound of his voice.  Joe had a banana and gave it to Maraeo so he’d let the kids take a picture with him.



We went to another feeding station and saw some more orangutans.



This is a male orangutan who is about 16 years old.  He’s just starting to develop the cheek bags on his face.


This one is of a mommy orangutan and 2 babies.  The bigger one is about 8 years old and the smaller one is less than a year old.


I don’t know how the mommy orangutans do it.  They swing through the trees with their babies constantly clinging to them.  You can see how the older one is more independent, but the smaller one never leaves his mom.  When everyone was finished eating, both babies jumped on mom and away she went.

These were some of my favorite photos.






While we were at this feeding station, it started to rain.  The 8 year old climbed up into a tree and started grabbing leaves and making a cover for himself.  Joe told me that wild orangutans don’t normally do that, but since these are semi-wild ones, they copy what they see humans doing.  So this one was making an umbrella for himself because that’s what he sees humans doing when it rains.

The orangutans have their own versions of “hanger-ons.”  A family of wild boars showed up and ate the banana peels.



Black monkeys join the party too.


The orangutans were shooing this guy away, but he was undeterred.

I love the mommy/baby shots.



In high school, one of my favorite movies was “Harry and the Hendersons.”  It’s a movie about Big Foot, but portrays the mythical hairy beast as this gentle giant who is a vegetarian.  I have no idea why I loved that movie, but I must have watched it a dozen times on HBO.  This guy standing completely upright reminds me of “Harry” from that movie.


The dominant male in this area was a big guy named Tom.  He didn’t make an appearance at the feeding station.  On our way back to the boat, we walked past the rangers’ quarters (visitors aren’t permitted in that area) and Webley spotted this huge orangutan hanging around the huts.  His back was to us.  Joe called his name and Tom swung around like he recognized Joe’s voice.  He is ENORMOUS.  Joe said he is nearly 300 pounds, twice as big as Gundol, the dominant male pictured above.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good shot of him.  I asked Joe why he wasn’t at the feeding station and he said that Tom sometimes gets tired of the tourists and he knows tourists can’t go near the rangers’ quarters.

Joe told us one time an old lady was determined to get a photo with Tom standing right next to her.  Despite protests and warnings from the guides, she got up close to him.  Suddenly, Tom grabbed her and started shaking the stew out of her.  It took 10 men to stop him.  That’s how strong he is.  I don’t think she had any serious injuries, but I bet she learned her lesson after that experience.  Sheesh…some people.

Shortly after seeing Tom, we came upon Siswe.  She is the dominant queen, Tom’s queen.


Apparently, wherever Tom goes, Siswe is not far away and I was told that Tom sometimes gets irritated by this.  Siswe likes Joe, so he said it was OK for us to get close.  You can tell after hearing that story about Tom, I’m not exactly thrilled being right next to her.



Kumai, Indonesia: Take Me to the River

After our meeting with Donny, we decided to explore other parts of Borneo while we were in the neighborhood.  What else does one do while in Borneo?  Well, a quick google search came up with orangutans.  It turns out that Borneo is one of only 2 places left on earth where orangutans can be seen living in the wild.  But, Benjy told me we’d have to travel 3 days on a boat down a river into a rainforest to get to them.  What’s not to like about boats, monkeys and rainforests?  We were in.

We had to travel to the small town of Kumai.


It’s the closest town to the Tajung Putting National Park, the preserve where the orangutans live.

We caught our boat out of Kumai.  This would be our home for the next 3 days and 2 nights.  The boat in the picture below wasn’t our actual boat, but it looked just like it.


We occupied the top part where you see the guy with the guitar.

Aside from ourselves, the boat carried the captain (he’s the one hugging the kids), his assistant, the cook (and her 4 year old son) and our tour guide.


All of them shared the space below ours.  There was one bathroom on the boat.  We did have a toilet and a shower, but both functioned using river water, so no hot water.


The guy in the red is “Joe,” our guide.  He used to be a ranger at the preserve and has a lot of knowledge not only about the orangutans, but also about all the wildlife on the river.

Aaron loved hanging with Joe


and the other guides.


The captain of our boat was trying to learn how to speak English.  He enlisted the kids in helping him learn his ABC’s.  It was so cute to listen to him sing the ABC song and then mess up the order of the letters.  The kids would correct him and I was glad to see that they didn’t laugh at him or make him feel silly.  I guess we all know now what a humbling experience it is to learn a new language!


All of our meals were prepared on the boat by our cook, Eda.  She made traditional Indonesian food, which is quite spicy, but really good.  We ate all our meals at this table.


Nice, don’t you think?  Indonesia is right on the equator, so it is in no way a chilly place, but these pictures were taken right after a rain storm, which cooled things off so much that we found ourselves digging into our bags for our jackets.




This is where we slept at night, under the stars, anchored on the river in the middle of the rainforest.  One night, we could see so many fireflies in the trees it looked as if the rainforest had Christmas lights.  It had the potential to be quite romantic….but for the 2 (human) monkeys sleeping right next to us!


When we began our trip out of Kumai, the river was a muddy brown color.


Joe told us that due to gold mining (which uses mercury to clean the gold) and the effects of deforestation, the river water is extremely polluted.  But, as we traveled deeper into the rainforest away from all of the pollution, the water turned a dark black color.  It looked almost like black coffee.  Oddly, the black water was more transparent and more reflective of the light than the muddy water.



Joe told us that rain washes through the organic matter on the floor of the rainforest.  The water darkened by the organic matter then flows into the river.  The darker the water, the healthier the river.

Lovely…the river was like a mirror here.


As we puttered along, we came upon this sight.


 Yes, that’s a python.  It’s dead, though.  It apparently got into a fight with a crocodile.  We missed all of the excitement, but I guess it’s easy to tell who won.  We didn’t see the croc, except his bubbles.

Here’s a shot of the casualty with a bite in his side.


We also saw monitor lizards.


Smallish crocodiles


 and other monkeys.  This one is called the proboscis monkey.


I didn’t get a good shot of one, but dominant male proboscis monkeys have these big floppy noses.


They come to the river around 5:00 in the evening and they are all just hanging out in the trees.  We were looking at them…looking at us…looking at them as we cruised beneath.  It was so cool seeing these animals in the wild and not in a zoo.

We stopped at a reforestation center along the river where visitors can help replant trees.  Joe told us that a few years ago he had the privilege of being Julia Roberts’ guide when she visited the preserve.  This was the tree she planted.


Impressive, I know.  Here is the tree we planted.


Next stop, the orangutans!

Compassion International

When we moved to Hong Kong, one of our travel goals was to meet one of the children whom we sponsor through Compassion International.  About one year ago, we chose to sponsor a boy named Donny because he had the exact birthday as Aaron.  As a sponsor, we make monthly donations to Compassion and those donations are used to help support Donny and his family.  We have exchanged several letters and photos with him.

Donny lives on the island of Borneo in Indonesia, which is less than a 4-hour plane ride from Hong Kong.  Indonesia is the largest Moslem country in the world.


Compassion arranged our meeting with Donny, organizing the entire event, providing translators and directing us to his small village in Indonesia.  Once we got to Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, it took us an entire day to travel to his village, the first leg of which was by plane, the second by taxi and the third by a van provided by Compassion.

Our initial meeting was at a Christian church.  I was pleased (and admittedly, somewhat surprised)  to learn from our Compassion representatives that Christians and Moslems live together in peace.  That was contrary to what I had previously heard and read, so I was relieved to know my mild trepidation and prejudices toward the Moslem population in Indonesia were groundless.

The after school program that Donny attends is provided by the church.  There are 130 children in the program and not all of them come from Christian homes.  Compassion partners with the church to teach, equip and mentor the children.

It’s a struggle for me to put into words the experience of meeting Donny.  We have a photo of him on our refrigerator and I keep it there to remind me to pray for him as I’m doing my quiet time in the morning.  The picture is a small one and it is only of him from the waist up.  So, before this, it was always difficult for me to picture him as a real child, with parents, siblings and friends.

When I first met Donny face-to-face,  I impulsively grabbed him and hugged him closely.  Suddenly, he was real to me, not just some photo on the refrigerator.  I was surprised to find myself weeping.

This is the picture of our kids with Donny immediately after we met him.


This is a group shot of some of the children in the church program and their teachers.  Approximately 90 of them are sponsored by Compassion.


After we met Donny, we went to his house to meet his parents.  This is Donny’s mother.


and this is his father.


This was a picture of the entire family along with Donny’s sister to my right.


They gave us a beautiful gift of a model Toroga house.  The house is of the traditional architecture for the region where they live.


 We went back to the church and had lunch with the pastor along with the teachers and Donny’s family.  The man to the left of Benjy is the pastor.



This is Rusti, our translator.  He has worked for Compassion for 4 years.  He was awesome!


We got to visit Donny’s school and it was like we were rock stars!  You can barely see Benjy in the middle of the mob.



We ended our visit with songs and fun with the kids.




Last photos before our departure.  That’s Donny sitting on my lap.



It was difficult to say goodbye, but we left with our hearts bursting with love for everyone we had encountered.  The experience was unforgettable and truly a gracious gift from God.