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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Trekking With My Son -- The Pujungan Hulu Adventure: Part 4

The next morning we hiked up into the old crater.  On our way up we saw several deer and pigs.   The rim was really no wider than five or six feet in places and dropped off sharply on both sides, especially on the crater side.  Although it was steep on the outside where we had just ascended, that was nothing compared to what we now faced going down.  In places, it was a sheer drop off of several hundred feet!  In fact, we search for quite a while before finding a place where we could "safely" descend.

The view from the top of the rim was incredible.  We could see a long way up the upper Pujungan river system, with rugged mountains and cliffs on both sides.  Several hundred feet below us, at the edge of one of the swampy ponds, we saw a large black animal of some kind.  I didn't have any binoculars, and couldn't get my camera out in time to see it any closer.  But the guides thought it was a sun bear.  Sun bears are native only to the forests of Southeast Asia, and especially like the higher, mountainous areas of Northeast Kalimantan.  

Our hope was to transverse the crater below, and make our way over to the rocky cliffs on the opposing wall, visible in the picture below.  There are some old burial ground in some caves in those cliffs, and I wanted to see them.  However, we never made it all the way to the cliffs.   It was slow going because there was just so much to see.  Plus, we had to allow enough time to get back to our campsite before dark.  Perhaps another time.  (Originally, before our multi-day rain delay, the plan would have been to camp close to those cliffs on the second night.  But you've got to roll with the punches when it comes to jungle travel.  It's very unpredictable!)  

What we did see and do was amazing though.  The trees and forest floor where totally different than anything I've seen in the jungle here anywhere else.  The trees were generally a lot smaller, and it was pretty open underneath.  It didn't really feel like a jungle.  Occasionally we'd come across a huge tree with enormous branches that looked like you could build a house inside.  We also explored several of the ponds, which were obviously visited frequently by all kinds of animals.  We saw a LOT of wildlife.  Lots of birds, various monkeys, several kinds of deer, and lots of pigs.  There were a lot of fruiting trees down there and the animals were everywhere, eating the fruit.  At one point we climbed a huge fruit tree where we had come across a pack of monkeys, gorging themselves on fruit.  In the span of 45 minutes, while we sitting in the tree, we saw a bunch of pigs and deer all come up right underneath us to eat the fruit which had fallen from the tree, or been thrown down by the monkeys.

That night, after getting back to camp and eating dinner, we ventured out with the guides for a "night hunt".  We needed some meat.  It's amazing how many animals are out and about at night.  It almost seemed like a zoo!  Britton shot a large mouse deer.  Sure it's a small deer, but this is actually a large one of it's kind.  Our guides had the meat cooking and smoking over the fire within the hour.  By the next day, we had a nice little supply of smoked deer meat--some of which we ate right away, while the rest we brought back to their village.  We were able to bring some of that back to share with Joy and the kids too.  Britton said he had mixed emotions--he was sad for the animal--the first one he's ever shot--but he was pretty proud to be able to provide some meat!  And none of it went to waste--part of the reason he was glad to shoot something small, rather than large.

The following day we began the long hike back out to the river.

Remarkably, by this time it had actually been two entire days since it had rained!  That was a real blessing for us, since it's a pain camping in the jungle when it rains.  Out of the dozens of nights I've spent camping in the jungle here, there's been less than a handful when it hasn't rained.  I guess we felt like we sort of deserved it after getting delayed for two days by rain. Ha!

The fact that we were going mostly down hill now, combined with the fact that the creeks were smaller and there was less mud, made for easier hiking.  If you get a good hard rain the water level of these creeks will double or triple in literally minutes.  But it also goes back down quickly--so it's constantly changing out there.  Anyway, the hike out both scenic and enjoyable--certainly less stressful and exhausting than the hike in.  We paused a few times to grab a classic, "Deep in the Heart of Borneo" photo, as seen below.  How cool will that be for Britton to show his son someday?  I can picture him saying, "Well, back when I was 12, Grandpa Forney and I were on an epic adventure, deep in the heart of Borneo, when..."  And here's a picture to prove it!

This time we stuck to the original trail, which meant that we eventually came out at the Pujungan river, quite a ways upstream from the village of Long Jelet.  We had previously arranged for someone to pick us up there by motorized canoe, assuming the water level would be agreeable.  It was.  While waiting for the guy to show up, we made a fire, drank some tea, and generally just relaxed on the banks of the upper Pujungan.  If you look closely you can see Britton sitting on a rock part way out in the river.  He did quite a bit of swimming while we were waiting.  He'd hike up the bank, swim out to the middle, then let the current bring him racing downstream till he came to where we were.  Then he'd do it all over again.

When the guy showed up with the boat, we still had a few hours before dark, so I asked if we could head a bit further upstream to the Uung Meluung Waterfall, something I've always wanted to see.  Upriver from here there are places where the river is plain down violent!  There's boulders the size of houses, strewn about everywhere.   The current is very fast and smashes against these rocks with a force that would pulverize a boat and it's occupants in a split second if given the chance.  To lighten the boat and make it easier to navigate up through these waters, our two guides stayed behind, electing instead to hang out drinking tea, while Britton and the boat driver and me headed upstream.  Below, on one of the calm stretches, we take in the view--with the blue sky as the backdrop behind the Batu Ului (Ului Rock) jutting up high above the right bank.

After an exciting and sometimes frightening 45-minute boat ride upriver, we began the short hike to the waterfall.  Along the way we saw some hornbills and deer, and heard a pig.  We also saw a honey tree (below).  You can't tell from the picture, because I'm on a ridge looking out even at the tree, but it's actually quite tall, growing out of the ravine below.  I've seen trees like this where the people have constructed bamboo ladders up the tree to get at the honey, which is very tasty, and also worth a lot of money if sold in the city.  They'll go to great lengths to get at honey, high up in the trees or cliffs, and if you taste it, you'll know why.  It's the sweetest, tastiest honey I've ever had!

We heard the waterfall long before we saw it.  When we first arrived there a deer was casually licking the salty rocks under the ledge of the falls.  Eventually it saw us and ran off.  I think the photo captures the beauty of the falls pretty well--a lush, green area, nestled deep in the virgin jungles of Borneo.  What it doesn't capture is the noise and feel of the falls.  The constant roar of the water, and the ever-blowing wind and mist that leads to everything being coated in a thick layer of moss.  Of course, Britton and I had to go down and check it out.  If you look closely you can see him down there at the edge of the pool, standing on a rock, which gives you some idea as to the size of the falls.  Eventually I joined him and we jumped in and swam across the pool.  After checking the depth, and to make sure there were no hidden rocks, we dove off of the rocks on the opposing side.  It was a lot of fun!

After spending another night in Long Jelet, we left the next morning on our way back down river to Long Pujungan, where I had parked the MAF plane six days previous.  When we made it to a calm stretch in the river, Pak Lajau gave Britton (known locally as Lawe--a name given to him a few years ago by a village elder in Long Alango) a lesson in driving the boat.  Britton took over for a few minutes and had a hard time keeping the smile off his face as he was obviously having a great time!  Other 12 year old boys might be driving sports cars in an arcade, but I bet they're not driving a boat down a river in the jungles of Borneo!

Well, there you have it.  Our adventure into the Pujungan Hulu area in a nutshell.  Here's one final shot--a group picture with the four of us.  From left to right: Pak Lajau from Long Jelet, Pak Yu Taang from Long Pujungan, Lawe (Britton), and me.

It was a fantastic trip--something that I'm sure Britton and I will never forget!


Anonymous said...

What an adventure! Thank you for sharing the beauty of Borneo; although I am a Dayak living in the northern Borneo, I have yet to do even 1% of the exploration that you & your family are doing. Bless you all!

Mike Johnson said...

Are those snow chains on your shoes?

Dave said...

Your question made me laugh. I didn't even think about those being in the picture. What I'm wearing are the Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System, available from REI. They're made mostly for snow and ice and designed to just be slipped over a shoe when needed. When hiking in the jungle here, the locals wear rubber shoes that cost about $2.00 per pair, and resemble soccer shoes. They're very thin and floppy, with no cushioning, sole or structure...but that sort of actually helps them, b/c it's almost like walking barefoot, except with slightly squishy, grippy cleats on the bottom of your feet. I've tried them, and they actually work well. You can feel the roots and rocks under your feet, which helps you grip better. But unfortunately they don't sell them large enough here for my feet. So after searching high and low a few years ago, I came across these "spikes". Other than adding a bit of undesired weight, they're really great! That being said, the "tough elastomer shoe harness" that is supposed to ensure a "snug, responsive fit", well it didn't even last three hours on the first real hike I put them through. I think they're designed for nice trails in the U.S., not the rigors of jungle travel. But I always carry parachute chord, and quickly cut away the rubber and laced them up with parachute chord. Now, when I'm hiking in the jungle, I strap them on first thing in the morning, any day when we're planning to hike. They look kind of silly, but then again, so do the pants tucked into the soccer socks (to keep the leaches out). Good thing we're not out here trying to make fashion statements. :-)

Arielle said...

In the picture of the honey tree, what are all the brown things in the branches of the white-barked tree? Nests or critters, or...?

Dave said...

Good question. Each one of those things hanging from the branches is one of the bee hives. Most of them would be swarming with bees. It's hard to tell from the picture, but they're probably anywhere from a foot long to several feet. And they're full of honey, if there's anyone daring enough to try to get at it.

Nate Newell said...

Hi Dave. I now live in PA, but grew up in Papua ('78 till '93). While I enjoy your blog for many reasons, this last series of posts was a great reminder of the treks my father took me on. Your comment about Britton telling stories to your grand kids will be true, as I do it all the time with my kids. They think I'm Mowgli (Jungle Book). Do lots of this kind of thing with your kids. It is a huge privilege to experience the uniqueness of where they are growing up. Thanks for your story and the trip down memory lane it afforded me. Oh, and keep the pictures of the flying coming; they are awesome to this MK who grew up going everywhere in them.