Today has been another full day of travelling! We woke early to catch our plane out of Jakarta to Palangka raya, a city in Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. It was cake compared to our previous flights, only about two hours. We arrived at ‘the mess,’ a home rented by Dr. Vogel in Palangka raya for herself and her colleagues to organize themselves and their gear before making the long trek to the camp in the forest. (I at this point still did not know what that journey would entail, though Dr. Vogel did mention that we would not have to carry our large backpacks into the camp like we had been told; it was only to restrain us from over-packing.) There, we met with the Indonesian students who would be accompanying us to camp, had lunch at a nearby restaurant, and eventually departed by car to the river.
This trip marks the beginning of the unknown aspects of the program for me. I knew relatively little about where we would be staying, or what life would be like there, not to mention how long it would take to get there. Even though my professor had made this trip over a dozen times, she overall would not be very accommodating in providing information to us that could ease our uncertainty in being so far from home.
I sat in the front seat of our car and spent the ride observing as much as I could of my new surroundings. It was odd enough that the passenger seat was on the right side of the car, aside from traffic being on the opposite side from what I am used to. But also the driving style was unique; the road was very narrow, and many people ride motorcycles. People pass each other constantly, which seemed even riskier than usual because of how narrow the road itself is. I watched with curiosity how the driver would take care in passing cars, and would choose not to when rounding a curve in the road.
We left the city in a matter of minutes and I watched the scenery as it changed. The environment was unlike anything I had seen, and so I asked an Indonesian girl who was in our car, Kinan, what it was. Little did I know that peatland, as it is called, would be the setting for the rest of our stay in Central Kalimantan.
After an hour on a paved road and forty minutes on a dirt road that many would not have considered a road, we were met with a river bank and three long motor boats. The river was a murky reddish color, not what I was expecting but I was not surprised by it either. I learned later that gold mining along the river produces pollutants that discolor the water, water that many people fish and drink from.
The boat ride turned out to be about two and a half hours long, which in my opinion was made longer by the anticipation of not knowing when it would be over. The ride was beautiful though, and I got some nice footage on my sister’s GoPro. It was our first introduction to the wildness of Indonesia since arriving. We passed some small villages along the water, but only a handful until reaching our stop. A mass of floating logs, indiscernibly attached, was the makeshift dock that sunk under our weight. We met with some of the village people, and finally with Wendy Erb, the other advisor for our study abroad program. After a short hike along a widened path, we finally made it to TORP, the Tuanan Orangutan Research Project.
We have been given free time to rest and recoup, and will have dinner and lectures later tonight. It is too hot to lay in my room, a small two-bed that I share with my new roommate Meg, so I am sitting at the long table in the center of the camp. This site is like nothing I have ever seen before, and it amazes me how much energy had been exerted to create this place, just for people to come and study primates. It is truly inspiring, how much these people care about their research and the lengths they are willing to go for their work. It is also amazing the number of people who are here. There must be close to forty people staying here now since we have arrived. A graduate student I met today has been living here for a year, doing research for her dissertation. Another of Dr. Vogel’s students has been here for the summer, and will come back before the start of the semester. There are also researchers from Indonesia and all over Europe, some of whom are studying other things, such as plant biodiversity. I am not sure what this week will have in store for me, but I plan to learn as much as possible from these people who are scholars in their fields.