Sunday, October 13, 2013

Leaving for Guyana

I hope you’ve been enjoying my Around the World posts.  A few things have happened since I last wrote something current.

First off, I passed my general exams!  I took the final part—my oral exam—a little less than two weeks ago.  It was the last major administrative hurdle in my doctoral program and I’m now officially a PhD candidate.  Now I just have to finish my dissertation research…

Second, back in the spring I did some lab work for a survey Conservation International did in Southeastern Suriname as part of their Rapid Assessment Program.  I helped sort and ID the ants from the expedition.  It was my first time working with South American ants and was a pleasant challenge.  The results were published early this month.  Conservation International’s press release has links to the report.   I feel privileged to contribute to the discoveries even if it was just through lab work.

Finally, I’ve been preparing for an upcoming expedition.  A week from today I leave for Guyana to join a Biodiversity Assessment Team organized by WWF Guianas and Global Wildlife Conservation.  I’ll be helping with ant surveys in the Rupununi Savannah near the Brazilian border in the southwest.  I think it’s going to be a great adventure.   Unfortunately, it means I’ll be away from a computer and the internet for about a month so M2M is going to be quiet for a little while.  As with Madagascar, I plan to write a series of posts after I return.

M2M has been going strong for six months now.  Thanks for your support so far, and I look forward to sharing the landscapes I experience in Guyana!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Primates and spice

This is my second and final Sulawesi note, from May 1, 2011.

A few days ago I bid farewell to the Oregonians and continued eastward to the small coastal village of Pagimana, which is not on any map I've seen and where I found not a person who spoke English.  I stayed in a dirt cheap losmen for locals with no AC, built on stilts out over the sea. Traveling with the Oregonians was enjoyable and refreshing, but in some ways a bit more comfortable than I had been used to.  Jumping into life at Pagimana was a shocking, yet comfortable, re-entry into my normal travel routine—no hotels, no high class restaurants with doors and walls and AC and an unnatural lack of mosquitoes, and no English—though that last part always makes things a bit difficult.

I believe I've mentioned that Indonesians consider a standard vehicle seat to hold more than one person.  Based on my rough calculations, I believe Indonesians and Indonesian businesses treat 1 seat as fitting 1.5 adults, and children don't factor in at all.  So a car with 5 seats will sell spaces for 7-8 adults, plus an unlimited number of children.  You really get to know your fellow travelers in situations like these.  From Ampana, where I left the Oregonians, I took a series of car services to Pagimana, and in each case my large size caused quite an inconvenience for the other passengers.  One driver complained in Indonesian to a prospective passenger that he couldn't fit anymore because he had a "mister" on board, who took up two seats.  I really felt bad. I wonder if it was similar to how people feel who take up two plane seats.

From Pagimana I took a ferry north across Tomini Bay.  Whereas cars and minibuses take some account of seating capacity, I don't believe the ferry does. It was just filled with bodies—in the cargo bay, on the floor, on the deck, in between seats.  There was no walking room once everyone was aboard.  It was like a scene from a zombie movie.  There were also no fans or AC for the hot ten hour journey.  There is no set boarding time and people began claiming their spots up to twelve hours before takeoff.  Little boys walked around selling pieces of cardboard to sleep on.  One old guy died before the ferry even set sail, but apparently he was already deathly ill when he came aboard.  There was one positive, however—I got to cross the Equator by sea.

Once across the bay I broke my usual rule of always going with the cheapest option—I paid the equivalent of an extra five USD for a front seat spot on the ten hour car ride through the mountains from Gorontalo to Manado.  After two days of being sandwiched between luggage and other travelers, baking on the Ferry of Death across the Equator, and in the middle of trying to quit my recently re-acquired caffeine addiction, I was in no mood to suffer anymore.

It was all part of the rush to get to Manado, in the northeast tip of Sulawesi, in time to extend my visa.  The process was easy enough—photocopy a few documents, fill out some paperwork, pay a few bucks to purchase the mandatory folder in which to keep all those documents, and pay a hefty sum.  But the waiting period was five days! I had already wasted three days on this thing, was in the middle of wasting a fourth in an office doing paperwork, and I certainly wasn't prepared to waste another five.  But I had been warned by other travelers ahead of time—I knew the routine, and I played along.  I began by complaining that five days was just too long—I had to get to Ternate.  At this cue a nearby employee, a middle-aged man, justified the waiting period but with a very important qualifying statement—"if you follow procedure it takes until Tuesday." Ah, that's what I was waiting for.  "Is there another way besides the 'procedure?'", I asked.  "Yes, but it is very expensive."  If I paid double the normal price then I could have my visa by lunchtime that same day, depending, of course, on how fast the "computer" was working.  How could I refuse?  So the whole thing took me only four and a half hours instead of five days.

A visit to Manado, especially after so many wasted days, wouldn't be complete without a trip to Tangkoko-Batuangas Dua Saudara Nature Reserve—a long name to designate a small preserve that protects the last remnant of primary forest left in this part of Sulawesi.


The Tangkoko-Batuangas Nature Reserve covers several small mountains and a bit of black volcanic beach


It protects the last patch of primary forest in this part of Sulawesi

Though I complain about the misery of travel, I enjoyed the return to an absence of luxury.  But my luck changed for the worse when I tried to find a vehicle and guide to take me on an overnight trip to the reserve.  I found a company that offered such trips but their prices were listed in (sigh) US Dollars.  Not once had I found an establishment or vendor in Indonesia that accepted or listed prices in US Dollars.  I took it as an ominous sign that it would be overly expensive and that I would end up paying more than I could afford for luxurious services I did not want.  But I was in a hurry and my chances of finding another company before day's end were slim so I gave in.  My bad feelings were well-founded—the vehicle wasn't a rickety old Vietnam-era jeep, but rather a fancy minivan gaudily painted with zebra stripes.  Instead of a local guide who grew up in the forest and knew everything, I got a chubby, lazy, albeit friendly, guide named Freddy who grew up two hours away in the city and couldn't identify or find any wildlife.  And he wore hiking boots!  He didn't go barefoot or wear flip flops like all the good guides, he didn't carry a machete or make things out of rattan, and he wasn't willing to go anywhere except the routine stops.  I guess I've just been spoiled with local guides like Ibu Zuly and Pasudi, Jenie, and Agus and Puli.

But the expedition was not a failure.  Once at the park I had access to a better guide, still a bit chubby and not very local, but he was at least helpful in the field and willing to go anywhere.  Once lazy Freddy realized I was in good hands with the other guide he promptly disappeared in the middle of a hike, and I found him hours later sipping coffee back at the homestay.  Grrr.  I got the company back though.  At the park I befriended a French couple, Caroline and Manu, who needed a ride back to Manado.  I asked Freddy to take them along with us on our return and at the end of the ride Caroline and Manu insisted on giving me some money.  By pimping out Freddy's pimped out zebra van I got at least some of my money back.

And I discovered some great things in the reserve.  For starters we found a flying lizard (Draco reticulatus), which is one of those animals you learn about as a kid that seem fanciful beyond belief.  These colorful lizards extend their ribs to form wings, which they use to glide from tree to tree.

Sulawesi in general has great primates, every one of which is endemic.  At least two new primate species have been discovered there in recent years and more remain.  Perhaps the most famous is the spectral tarsier species complex containing up to seventeen as yet unnamed species.  Tarsiers are the primary attraction in this reserve and we were able to find and photograph one as it crawled out of the inside of a strangler fig at dusk to feed.  Honestly, this was one of the most enjoyable animals I've ever had the pleasure of observing.  Plus, it's ridiculously cute!  It's about enough to make one become a primatologist.


Sulawesi’s tiny spectral tarsiers (Tarsius tarsier) live in tree cavities and come out at night to hunt small animals

It's the size of a large mouse, looks like Yoda, runs and jumps from place to place, and stares at you with big baby eyes.  Tarsiers are also the only entirely carnivorous primates, eating only small animals like insects, lizards and birds.

In addition the forest is home to one of the last mainland populations of the critically endangered crested black macaque.  There are seven or so macaque species that live only on Sulawesi, and this particular species is endemic to the Manado region. At one point I found myself in the middle of a troop of about 80 individuals.


The critically endangered crested black macaque (Macaca nigra) is endemic to the Manado region in northeast Sulawesi.  Most of the area has been cleared for agriculture and Tangkoko protects the largest remaining population.

On the second day Freddy wanted to leave in the morning and get home to Manado, but I wasn't quite ready.  Caroline and Manu and I went for a walk on the beach and then went snorkeling in the fringing reefs.


Tangkoko’s beaches consist of black volcanic sand and boulders and are paralleled by fringing reefs


Among the boulders in the tidal zone is a great place to explore for marine animals

Unfortunately, I cut my foot on a coral.  But it's alright—I already have blood stains on a lot of my clothes and a big one on my day pack.

The trip to Tangkoko had its problems and frustrations, as does any venture, but it was a great release after the whole visa thing.  Circumstances were not ideal but I still got to explore and enjoy.


The trip to Tangkoko was worth an embarrassing ride in a garish zebra-striped minivan




Many species have disappeared from the area since Wallace visited in the mid-1800s, but the remaining forest still has a lot to discover

I complain about the luxury but really I'm a faker.  Yesterday I came across a section of Wallace's book where he also complains about luxury, but he makes me look like a complete wimp.  He came to a town where the chief gave him a house to stay in that was just too fancy and in too good a location.  "I should myself have to walk all through the village every day to the forest, and live almost in public, a thing I much dislike.  The rooms were all boarded, and had ceilings, which are a great nuisance...and not half the convenience of a native bamboo and thatch cottage."  Well, Alfred, as always you have me beat.  Pesky walls and ceilings, always getting in the way of things.  And don't get me started on almost living in public.

There was one final surprise to cap off the Tangkoko trip.  I vaguely remembered Alfred Wallace being in that area and after leaving the park I looked up the relevant parts of his travel book.  Not only was he in that area, but he stayed on the same beach, near the same village, which is still there with the same name, Batuputih!  I walked and played and swam and explored on the same beach, the whole time not even knowing it.  It still matches his description for the most part.  Although when he was there anoa, babirusa and maleo were all very common around the beach.  Nowadays the anoa and babirusa are gone, and the maleo almost so.  Plus the beach is covered in trash.  You know, the usual.




The stretch of coast near the village of Batuputih is in some ways just how Wallace described it 150 years ago

I'm now in Ternate, an island with a city ringing the base of Mount Gamalama, a 1700 meter volcano.  Ternate is the capital of Maluku, better known in English as the Moluccas or Spice Islands.  Centuries ago European superpowers fought entire wars over these islands.  Near the house where I'm staying is a 500 year old Portuguese fort.


Benteng Toloko, a Portuguese fort built on Ternate in the early 1500s to control the clove trade, is a reminder of Europe’s spice wars

The Moluccas are the native habitat of cloves and nutmeg/mace.  At a time when spices were the difference between edible or rotten food, in addition to being delicious, possession of exotic spices could be a matter of national security.  For a while the Dutch based their foreign policy around possession of every island where these plants were native.

But I’m here for another reason.  Ternate is where Alfred Russel Wallace lived when he explored Indonesia in the 1800s.  It’s where he wrote the first ever paper on natural selection, known today as the Ternate Essay.  ARW is a celebrity here and it may be the only place on earth where people on the street can tell you about him and his discoveries.

Needless to say, it's quite exciting to be in a place with such a long, distinguished and bloody history.  I took a small propeller plane to get here.  On landing a man named Opan offered to let me stay at his house and I quickly accepted.  I met his wife and kids and father and some other undefined family members, and they cleared out the young son's bedroom for me to sleep in.  They even asked me the all-important question: do you want to eat traditional Ternate food?  Of course!  Opan has even offered to take me on a hike up the volcano tomorrow…

Sunday, October 6, 2013

With Oregonians in Sulawesi

Continuing the Around the World posts, this is my first note from Sulawesi and dates from April 24, 2011.

In Indonesia I often get slept on.  I've mentioned that Indonesians are friendly and trusting, and that includes their sleep.  First, the buses are often crowded.  Yesterday I took a four hour ride on a minibus with nine seats.  There's no schedule, the bus just waits until enough people arrive to fill it—in this case sixteen passengers plus the driver.  Of the sixteen passengers, seven were little kids, and they squeezed themselves in on people's laps or on the floor or in between the two front seats.  If you want to get slept on by a bunch of ridiculously cute little kids, Indonesia is the place.  Two little girls fell asleep on me, one on my legs and one on my shoulder—although the one on my shoulder awoke with a start when she realized she was sleeping on a hairy giant.  But old people sleep on me too.  On one bus an old man slept on my shoulder and I in return slept on his head.

The most significant event in the past week is that I've been adopted by another family.  I shared what was probably the most miserable bus ride of my life—a thirteen hour drive through winding mountain passes—with a family from Oregon.  I’ve been suffering from Giardia or some such disease.  Tropical diseases are not a pleasant thing to have on a crowded Indonesian bus through the mountains, and make me dearly miss the Clean Water Act and the EPA.  To make it worse, the bus driver kept blasting terrible imitation American love ballad videos in the native Torajan language on a loop—no doubt the combined work of American evangelical missionaries and a blossoming tourism industry.  Molly and Barry, a painter and an engineer, and their daughter Helen, from Portland, sat behind me.  At some particularly winding point an old Indonesian woman near the front started to lose her lunch.  A communal puke bucket, brought aboard for just such a purpose, was passed forward and she wretched loudly over and over again.  Right behind me, Molly, feeling a bit car sick herself, puked into a plastic bag.  Never in my life have I thrown up on a vehicle, to my knowledge.  But the Giardia, the winding roads, the communal puking, and the awful music had their effect.  I turned around, borrowed Molly's bag, and donated what seemed like a half gallon from my own body.  A middle-aged Indonesian woman sitting next to me was visibly upset by this.  But she made fun of me for it later.  To add to it all, Helen was also suffering from a Giardia infection and she too threw up.  In the meantime at least one other Indonesian made use of the puke bucket.  It was another cartoonish moment—puking my brains out on a crowded bus, surrounded by other pukers, with that terrible, terrible music as the sound track.  Don't ever buy any product of Toraja Record.

But it was nice to get sick with fellow Americans and it was a bonding experience.  As an added bonus, at the end of the day I learned that Helen is a Marine—a 22 year old brand new 2nd Lieutenant!  Meeting an American here is a rare event, meeting a whole family even rarer, and meeting a fellow Marine a blessing.  I'm one of Helen's first post-OCS Marine experiences, and I wonder if I'm a good representative of the Marine Corps—a diseased idealist Sergeant, identifying organisms in one breath and reminiscing about Iraq in the next.  I've been traveling with the family ever since—they took care of me when the sickness was at its worst, loaned me money when I was trapped in a mountain town with no access to my bank accounts, and were just great traveling companions.

Despite the disease, Sulawesi is an all around fun place to be.  I've spent nearly the entire time in the mountains, which are cool and mosquito-free at night.  There are many languages, religions, and cultures, rickety rope bridges over swift rivers, and ancient ruins everywhere, all cloaked in misty mountain rain forest.  The Oregonians and I swam in clear mountain lakes, played in waterfalls, and went backpacking in Lore Lindu National Park.


Central Sulawesi is full of rocky mountain rivers, like Saluopa Falls near the town of Tentena






Locals don’t hesitate to cross the area’s narrow bridges by motorcycle

We hired a guide named Agus, a driver and a machete man/porter for the trip.  Our porter/machete man, Puli, has an active German-led archaeological dig in front of his house.   The expedition in many ways was a typical tropical adventure.  First we took a jeep through a nearly impassable mountain road to Bada Valley—an isolated place with 7,000 inhabitants, its own dialect, no access to internet or cell phone service, and mysterious undated ancient Polynesian monoliths scattered throughout the rice paddies.

Bada Valley is surrounded by the forested mountains of Lore Lindu National Park


The valley’s rice paddies are scattered with mysterious ancient megaliths.  Locals call this one “Palindo”—"the entertainer."

In Bada Valley we stayed at a rarely-used homestead.  In my room I found a tarantula eating a large roach on a leg of my bed.  Rarely do animals creep me out but I get a little queasy with roaches, and large spiders also make me a little uncomfortable.  So a giant tarantula eating a giant roach on my bed aroused some consternation.  Agus offered to kill it but I declined.  I knew it wouldn't hurt me and forced myself to sleep on the bed all the same.


This is usually the last thing I’d want to find in my bed—a giant tarantula eating a giant roach—but I slept in it anyway.

We spent a couple days of hard hiking up and down the steep forested mountainsides, and then celebrated with a generous feast in Puli's elegant dirt-floored rattan and bamboo house.


The Oregonians and I spent a couple days backpacking in Lore Lindu’s montane rainforest


Puli makes some tea at a break on the trail


Going east from Borneo I re-crossed Wallace’s Line, and Sulawesi’s forests are a mixture of Australian and Asian organisms.  I was excited to find this Eucalyptus in Lore Lindu at the western edge of its genus’ range.

Our descent out of the valley coincided with a massive deluge marking the start of the local rainy season.  We bounced along for four hours in the back of the tarp-covered jeep, driving straight through new waterfalls and over fresh landslides blocking the road, getting soaked as water poured through holes in the tarp.  That was another scene worth remembering—soaking wet, bouncing through water and mud, in the hands of a skilled barefoot driver in a baseball cap, perpetually puffing away on a cigarette as he maneuvered his way down the mountain.


We left Lore Lindu just as the rainy season started and flash floods swamped the road down from the mountains


Our driver managed to navigate the floods and fresh landslides to return us to Tentena

Our guide and general go-to guy was Agus, a local who spoke Pamona, Indonesian and great English.  He was good natured and became more of a friend than a guide.  One morning I awoke to find that during the night he had found an interesting ant and wrapped it in tissue paper so I could see it the next day.  On the last day he spent hours weaving bracelets from a rattan and a fern fiddlehead, using only a machete.  He gave one to me and one to Helen as parting gifts.

After our backpacking trip the Oregonians and I made our way to Ampana.  It’s a seaside town on the south shore of the giant bay that separates the northern arm of Sulawesi from the rest of the island.  One evening we took a short boat trip to Tanjung Api National Park, where cliffs catch on fire due to underground hot methane deposits.  We chartered a small motorized outrigger boat and snorkeled in the seagrass meadows and fringing coral reefs.  I got to experience animals I normally don't encounter, like seahorses, puffer fish, sea cucumbers, starfish, and corals.


Ampana lies on the Gulf of Tomini which separates Sulawesi’s northern and eastern peninsulas


Our boat to Tanjung Api—“Fire Point”—not only had a great name, but also had a nice chunk taken out of the front as if it had struck an iceberg or had a duel with Jaws.

Here I part ways with the Oregonians.  I have only a few days to somehow find a way to Manado in time to get my visa extended... it will be a close race.  Visa extension is a three day process but I hear you can rush the process through bribes, so that may give me a couple extra days to get there.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Malay boat tours (as distinct from Dayak boat tours)

This is my last Bornean note and dates from April 16, 2011.

In most parts of Indonesia I've visited everyone stares at me.  In internet cafes little kids abandon their online shooters to stand behind me as I write emails, I guess curious as to whether strange bearded white men have access to a different internet than they do.  Occasionally little kids scream and hide when they see me.  Without fail, anywhere I go people passing on motorcycles or shopping or standing on the side of the road yell out, "Hello, Meester."  "Meester" is what non-English speaking Indonesians know they're supposed to call foreigners, and they use it on females as well as males.  It's just something I've gotten used to—the stares, the screams, the excessively solicitous behavior.  But it's not just humans—domestic animals notice or fear me too.  Walking through a Malay village the other day, whenever I tried to photograph a domestic banteng the animal would run away.  It's the same with the dogs.  For a while I thought maybe it was the fact that I had a beard because most Indonesians can't grow them.  Walking with me through that Malay village was a local named Jenie, who spoke Malay, Indonesian, English and some Japanese.  After scaring a few banteng I told him my situation, and he told me it was because I was so large.  In the US I am average height for a guy and actually pretty small in body.  But here in Indonesia I am a freak.  I tower over absolutely everyone I meet, some doorways are too small, and bus and plane seats are uncomfortable.  So if I were a little Indonesian kid I would probably be afraid of a giant hairy pale-skinned man as well.  I don't take it personally.

To continue where I left off, I took a harrowing fifteen hour bus ride (many Indonesian bus rides are harrowing) to Pangkalanbun.  The bus broke down an hour after leaving and we all had to sit on the side of the road for 40 minutes until a replacement bus showed up.  So a forty minute delay.  Somehow we arrived three and a half hours late because of the 40 minute breakdown.  I'm pretty good at American math but Indonesian math still boggles me.  I just go with it and it always works out.  From Pangkalanbun the boat guy—a local Malay named Herry—drove me on his motorcycle to Kumai where I got a room at a dingy little hostel for locals called "Losmen Aloha" (losmen means hostel in most parts of Indonesia).  There was a single window to the outside with no screen and I got fairly eaten by mosquitoes the whole time.  They weren't the kind that can carry malaria but they may carry something else.  In general, mosquitoes in the forest don't frighten me because they're not likely to carry anything.  The ones in urban areas are the ones to be afraid of, especially since I'm not taking anti-malarials.

Through Herry I chartered a boat and crew (a guide, a skipper and a cook) for a two day, one night trip into Tanjung Puting National Park.  This is the first place in Indonesia where I've encountered other tourists and boat charters like this are how most of them get around.  My guide was the same Malay I mentioned earlier, Herry's brother Jenie, who grew up in the forest.  Two things to note about Jenie.  One, he never wore anything on his feet.  Hiking through the forest he always just went barefoot—he had hobbit feet.  Two, he had a very endearing accent.  Malays can't pronounce the letter "r," so every "r" was replaced either with a "w" or with a French "r."  For example, he talked about attending guide "twaining."    I had gone from a Dayak/Banjar area to a Malay/some other Indonesian dialect area.  Jenie told great stories about growing up, some of which are quite sad given today's situation.  For example, he remembers when he was young and banteng and Bornean rhinoceros still lived in the forest.  Today the only tiny population of rhinos left on Borneo is in Sabah, clear on the other side of the island, hundreds and hundreds of miles away, and looks set to disappear entirely.  I don't know where you can still find banteng in Borneo, if anywhere, but the species as a whole is almost gone.

We sailed up the Sekonyer River for a few hours, finding hornbills and other birds on the way, and plenty of long-tailed macaques, silvered leaf monkeys and that famous Bornean-only specialty—proboscis monkeys.


The best way to navigate the peat swamp forest in Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting is to hire a boat and crew

But did we find orangutans?  If you remember from my last note, they used to reintroduce captive orangutans here until the 90s so some of the orangutans are semi-tame.  Finding them doesn't really count, does it?  Over two days we encountered six wild orangutans and over 30 tame or semi-tame ones.  The wild ones act normally—they are terrified of humans and if you come upon them in a boat they hide, make aggressive sounds, shake trees at you or run away.  Jenie knows all the tame orangutans by name—he watched them grow up.  He wouldn't say, "I know who that one is," but would rather say, "I know him," or "I know her," or, "that one's my friend."  Of course I couldn't get any good photos of the wild ones but I'll throw in some tame ones.


The park used to rehabilitate captive orangutans and many of these or their descendants are semi-tame


Previously, I said my most terrifying moment of the trip was my close encounter with a feral hog in North Queensland.  I have a new most terrifying experience.  When we disembarked near Camp Leakey (named after the legendary anthropologist) there was a female orangutan named "Princess" on the docks trying to get onto the boats to steal food.  The crew were telling her to get away (many of the tame orangutans understand some language) and throwing water at her.  So she left the river bank and walked over towards her two kids—an older one babysitting a younger one.  Jenie told me to take a photo with her—going against everything I think I know about large dangerous animals or conservation or just plain common sense.  I didn't want to but Jenie assured me it was safe.  So I cautiously walked over to her and stood at her side while Jenie held the camera.  She looked up at me and I looked down at her... and then she reached out and touched my leg!  Freaky!  We all know humans have hands and non-human animals don't.  Our scariest monsters in movies have hands because a hand is a terrifying thing for a non-human to have—it's one of the defining human organs, right?  In the movie Juno the anti-abortion activist makes Juno rethink her abortion decision by telling her the fetus had fingernails—that made it human in her mind.  Well, these orangutans were my first ever wild hominids, and of course all hominids have hands, and palms, and fingers, and fingerprints, and fingernails.  To see that hand and those fingernails just reach out and touch me—and remember this was a powerful hand that could probably kill me—was terrifying.  I didn't panic, I just slowly moved away and Jenie yelled at her and she withdrew her hand.  But still, the experience was pretty powerful.

At a few points in the park they still do scheduled feedings where they toss a pile of bananas on a wooden platform and yell and a few tame orangutans, mostly mothers with babies, show up.  They have a few flimsy (in my opinion) reasons why they do this, but I think the real reason is that it draws a bunch of tourists.


Rehabilitation has ceased but park staff still feed semi-tame orangutans to draw tourists.  The bananas also attract Bornean bearded pigs (Sus barbatus barbatus).

Watching a tame orangutan sit and eat bananas in front of a camera is not at all my idea of fun, and is basically like going to a zoo, and I was getting bored when Jenie called me over.  He had found some processional termites I was looking at the day before—they forage above ground in giant columns and look like ants.  Finally, some excitement.  Jenie and I looked at them under a hand lens and eventually the other Malay guides came over, and then the other tourists—out of fifteen people, all but four of them left the orangutans to come watch termites.  I consider it a personal accomplishment to have drawn so many people away from the fascinating orangutans which they had traveled hundreds of miles to see, all for the sake of insects.  There was even a New Zealander!  I lent him my hand lens and he was such a good spirit he got down on his hands and knees to look at them.


Unlike most termites, processional termites (Hospitalitermes hospitalis) forage on live plants aboveground in massive columns, and resemble ants in appearance and behavior


Meanwhile, a mother orangutan who was only semi-tame was getting quite cross because the termites were near the tree where she was feeding.  She dropped her bananas and started making aggressive sounds and waving trees around.  Jenie wasn't fazed.  He tramped off into the bush to find out the source of the termite trail.  After a few minutes the orangutan hurled a large dead branch in Jenie's direction and it hit the ground next to him.  That finally fazed him a little and he walked back.  A few minutes later he offered to take me to the source of the trail even though the orangutan was still there.  We walked off, leaving the tourists behind, and bent down to look at the trail.  The angry screaming hominid was about ten or fifteen feet nearly directly above me.  She broke off dead branches at me, but luckily she had used up the big one on Jenie.  It was a weirdly surreal moment, like something out of a cartoon or a comic book—me bending over looking at termites with Jenie, with a deadly screaming ape above me, and small dead branches clattering against the ground around me.

Early one morning Jenie took me to an old fire lookout tower in a clearing of former agricultural land, surrounded by tall forest.  That wasn't a normal point on the tourist route but he knew it was a good place to see birds.  So we left the boat at 4-something AM and arrived at the tower while it was still dark.  Then we got to experience a Bornean forest sunrise.  A few different families of Bornean agile gibbons called constantly from different directions, and at one point we got to hear the legendary male orangutan long call.  It lasted for over 1 minute, 20 seconds.  I've heard that it's the most terrifying sound in the Bornean forest and it certainly was intimidating.


At sunrise the forest explodes with the calls of gibbons and male orangutans

I can’t leave off without mentioning some other insects.


I found this golden cricket near one of the feedings


Two different stick insects in Tanjung Puting sprayed me with a smelly white liquid

There was one strange hemipteran that was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  It looked like an assassin bug that carried globs of sticky, terrible-smelling fluid on its forelegs.  When I picked it up it rubbed the stuff all over me.  I have a series of photos that shows my fingers getting progressively more and more covered in it.  Some of it got on my journal and my journal still stinks, days later.  I have so many unanswered questions about that guy.  Anybody have any idea what it is?


This strange assassin bug (?) carries globs of foul-smelling liquid on its forelegs


When I picked it up it rubbed the red goo on my fingers

It's an assassin bug that carries globs of sticky, terrible-smelling fluid on its forelegs.  When I picked it up it rubbed the stuff all over me, and I have a good series of photos that shows my fingers, again on my left hand, getting progressively more and more covered in the stuff.  I got some of it on my journal, and my journal still stinks, days later.  I have so many unanswered questions about that guy.

Plus, I got to see a new crocodile species—the false gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii).


It was a pleasure to spend the night on a boat in a slow-moving, muddy, crocodile-infested Bornean river.

On another note, it turns out that I am still an idiot—I have purchased another book.  I've stuck to buying only used books this entire trip, except once in New Zealand and now.  But I found a copy of "The Malay Archipelago" by A.R. Wallace in an airport!  I stupidly left my copy in Columbus—why wouldn't I bring it with me?!!!  The book had a "Best Seller" sticker on it.  It's great to know he's a best seller somewhere, even if it is only in Indonesia.  You probably wouldn’t find it in an airport book shop in the US.  I've only ever found it in one book shop anywhere before now.  So of course I had to buy it.  Then I tried something new—I was on my way to Sulawesi, formerly known in English as Celebes, and before I got there I read all four of his chapters on Sulawesi.  He happened to enter Sulawesi by the same town as me, although much changed, and it was really quite nice to read and experience together.  Today I entered the interior of Sulawesi, and his description of the entrance into the mountains still fit perfectly with the route today.  But that's stuff for a later note.

For now, I will desperately miss Borneo.  A person could (and many do) spend their entire life there and discover new things the entire way.  For the most part it's not a tourist destination so the people don't try to sell you tons of useless things (at least they don't try as hard).  Ah, Borneo...
Hopefully a taste of things to come:

"Sulawesi, therefore, presents us with a most striking example of the interest that attaches to the study of the geographical distribution of animals."

That should get us all pumped about Sulawesi.  I had found a better quote, but I lost it.