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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jungle Trek 5

This is the last post on our big adventure through the Borneo rainforest. After arriving at our "final" camp, our guides declared that this was the place where we'd wait to meet the guys from Data Dian who were supposed to be bringing a small motorized boat up to get us. The picture below was taken well down river from where our camp was located. I have no pictures of that evening, or the next morning, b/c both of our cameras were all fogged up inside and not working properly. But trust me, the "river" where we were supposed to wait was more like a wild creek, small, shallow, and cascading over massive rocks and boulders.

Paul and I were absolutely convinced that there was no way the guys would ever come up river that far to get us. It was totally impassible there. Furthermore, as we had already learned, all previous attempts to do this trip with tourists had failed at this very point. The idea of waiting three or four days for people that weren't going to show up, only to have to turn around and hike all the way back to our starting point was quite depressing. We don't like to wait around for solutions. We like to forge ahead. Plus, we didn't have enough vacation days left to wait around. We had to get this thing done!

So after several hours of eating, visiting, etc., we finally broke out the map (actually it's a chart that we use for our flight navigation) with the guys and showed them our location, based off of our GPS readings. It took a while to convince them. Then we gradually introduced the idea that the next day (sixth day of the trip) we would like to continue downriver. That idea was met with much grumbling and consternation. They had never been beyond this point and were content to wait for days at our present camp. However, Paul and I again urged them to accompany us further downriver, enticing them with the idea that our chances would be much greater of being picked up, and then they could get on their way back to their village. Finally they agreed. In truth, we were ready to go with or without them at that point, as the idea of forging ahead was much more exciting than waiting with little hope, only to eventually turn back.

So the sixth day we tore off downriver. Most of the day we just walked right in the water, b/c there was no trail and the jungle was very thick. It was all rocks--wet, slippery, slimy rocks of every possible size. Amazingly no one fell or twisted an ankle. Seriously, it was miraculous, b/c we were going at a very fast pace, criss-crossing and wading through endless rapids. We saw tons of big fish. They were everywhere! It was like the land flowing with milk and honey...except in this case it was water and fish! In the above picture, we were taking a short break on a rare, wide-open area where the river ran shallow and gentle. As you can see in the picture above, we're looking pretty wild, wet and worn-out by this point.

Of course, there were times when we were forced back into the jungle b/c of steep rock walls, or deep channeled water. We slopped our way through endless mud, swamps, and entangled vines and thorns. These pictures of the ants, butterflies, fern, and mushrooms were actually taken on different days, b/c I rarely got the camera out on this day. We were just going to hard, and we were to soaked to risk it. But it gives you an idea of stuff we saw each and every day that we were trekking in the jungle.



Late in the day we came to a "cabang" or split in the river. Since we were going downriver, this meant that another river was dumping into the Kat river that we were following. It doubled in size and became channeled into a gorge. We looked around and it became obvoius that going further would be very difficult by foot unless we took a bearing and headed straight off into no man's land. But we were fine with waiting at this location, b/c the river seemed deep enough for a skilled boat driver to navigate. In the picture below, taken at the point where the two rivers joined, the Kat river looks gentle and lethargic. But don't be fooled. It was full of insane, pounding white-water, that would promise to take us on the ride-of-our-life before long.

Again, clouds rolled in and it began to rain. In fact, it rained and rained all night and the water rose higher and higher turning into a chocolaty brown by morning.

We set up our camp just up the river bank, and somehow our guides got a fire going with wet wood. And then the wait began. Not long before dark we heard a distant noise that sounded like a "ketingting" (the name given to the small motorized boats they use, b/c of the sound they make.) But we had been fooled already many times that day by noises that we thought were boats and turned out to be any number of other things. In this case, however, it was indeed a boat! Boy were we glad to see them!!! Soaked to the bone, and exhausted from fighting their way upriver, the two guys from Data Dian arrived just in time for a grilled fish and rice supper, followed by hours of good story-telling and conversation under the smoke-filled tarp.

In the morning we all got together for one big group shot before Paul and I and the two guys from Data Dian took off downriver, and the three guys from Long Jelet began the long journey home. Incidentally, the boat guys were very glad that we had gone downriver to that point. They agreed that they would never have made it that far upriver, and that we made the right decision when we spent another day hiking downriver! Thanks Lord! By the way, the boat guys, standing next to Paul, check them out--they were way ripped! Driving these boats around the rivers of Northeast Kalimantan is not easy! All you big tough guys out there, forget the weight room, just move over here and drive a boat for a while!
After days of slogging our way through the jungle, it seemed almost to easy to be riding in a boat, watching the trees pass by. But that was just the initial feeling. The unbelievable beauty of the wild and untouched Kat river was too enticing and deceiving. This was the calm before the storm.
B/c up ahead there were tons of spine-chilling runs of white-water. I can't tell you the number of times that we nearly got smashed to pieces against a jagged rock face rising straight out of the churning water. Out of nowhere it would go from calm and quiet to frothy, raging and pounding, boiling and grabbing at us like the ravenous mouth of some giant, evil monster. It was too loud to hear ourselves, even when yelling. Over and over we all had to jump out, saving the boat from capsizing, and/or pulling it through extra-bad areas. Time and again we got swamped with waves and dunked under swells, only to come up smiling and whistling, amazed to still be in the boat, with the boat still together and on top of the water.

It was seriously an awesome ride--probably the kind of thing that you'd have to sign a bunch of consent forms for in the U.S., giving all rights to your life away, after which you'd be fitted with a life jacket and helmet to make you feel better. But hey, there's no such thing as law suites here, so who cares! Since we didn't have an underwater camera, you'll just have to take my word on all this. By the way, those guys were amazing! I don't know how they kept us from swamping! Below, Paul stretches his legs during a calm stretch.

By early afternoon we had made it through most of the harrowing areas, and the river began to get larger and deeper still. They finally turned on the motor (up to that point it was all poles and paddles, at the mercy of a vicious current) and we started cruising.

Late in the afternoon, not long before dark, we made it to Data Dian. The truth is, we made excellent time, arriving one day before we were supposed to. But it was an unbelievable journey! The entire village was excited to see us. Everyone knew about the two, crazy MAF pilots trying to hike their way from Long Jelet to Data Dian, and it seems that their were many doubts and concerns about our trek. So the next morning we joined in a church service (it was a Christian holiday--the Ascension of Christ) and shared about our adventure, tying it into our testimonies and the ministry of MAF. There was also a ton of time to visit with the local village pastor (whom we stayed with) and many other folks who we often see at the airstrip, but don't have time to get to know personally. It was a fantastic opportunity, one that both Paul and I, and the people we serve greatly appreciated.

On the ninth day of our trip, we left the banks of Data Dian for the short boat ride to the airstrip. Dozens of folks were waving goodbye having loaded us down with gifts of wild honey and honeycomb, fruit, rice, traditional pastry things and more, and making us promise to one day bring our wives and kids back to visit. I would like nothing more. But in the meantime, I was simply looking forward to seeing them myself.
So after an hour and a half in an MAF plane, we finally landed back in Tarakan. Waiting there at the hanger were two happy wives (one for me and one for Paul, just to clarify) and nine very excited kids (five for me and four for Paul.) :)

You might be intersted to know that even now, a month after initially leaving on the trip, I'm still dealing with weird infections breaking out here and there on my body, as well as a continually painful and swollen knee. The shin no longer seems to be infected, but is lumpy and still quite painful. This all underscores the difficulty of travel the "old-fashioned" way out here in the wilds of Borneo, and the reason why MAF serves the national church at the ends of the earth. It is indeed a very valid ministry, and one that I'm honored and humbled to be a part of!

5 comments:

Earle said...

Hey Dave! A great ending to a wonderful journey. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us and all the wonderful pictures! We can almost feel like we're there with you .
God bless you and Joy as you prepare for your up coming furlough.

Praying always - Lew

Tricia Swift said...

I have been following your trip, just waiting for the last post! what an amazing story as most of your are! I would love see you guys on your furlough. I hope you have a safe trip.

Maylan said...

Dave,
Thanks so much to share this story and the pictures. I've been wanting always to see the real jungle of Kalimantan but not in the advertisement way. This is more real and I will read it over again as it feels like I advernture the journey myself.

Auntie said...

Thank you for sharing your story and your adventures. Thanks be to God for getting you home in one piece. Looking forward to seeing your family soon!

theda said...

You da man, now.