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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Trekking With My Son -- The Pujungan Hulu Adventure: Part 2

While in Long Jelet we stayed in Pak Lajau's house, pictured below.  I love the look of the houses in Long Jelet.  Many of them still use the traditional thatched roofing, whereas most houses in other villages have switched to tin roofs.  And I can personally attest to the fact that this thatched roofing does a good job of keeping out the rain, because oh man did it ever rain that night!!!  It rained and rained all night long, and the Pujungan river that was already high the day before, became even higher and more dangerous by the next morning.  In order to start our hike, we were planning to go another 30 minutes further up river by boat to the trail head.  But that was impossible do to the dangerously high water, so we were resigned to hang out in the village the rest of the day, waiting to see if the water level would go down.

Pak Lajau and his family were extremely kind and generous!  Although they have very little in terms of material possessions, even by Indonesian standards, what they do have is freely offered to their guests.  All of it!  I've met his wife and several of his kids the two previous times I've passed through Long Jelet on hikes, but I've never stayed the night there, so it was great to spend some more time with them.  Here, we're drinking tea and coffee and stuffing ourselves with manggis, or what is known in the Western world as mangostene.  They had an endless supply of it, totally fresh right off the trees and perfectly ripe.  From what I've been told, it's considered a bit of a "fruit delicacy" in the U.S., and is very expensive if you can get it at all.  I had never eaten it before coming to Indonesia.  It apparently has many fantastic medicinal benefits.  But whether true or not, what I can tell you is that it tastes like something straight out of the garden of Eden!  Unbelievably sweet and flavorful--hard to describe! 

This is Pak Lajau's youngest, Carles.  He kept us entertained day and night--quite the little comedian, with a never-ending supply of energy.  He especially liked Britton.

Well, since we were stuck in the village with all that penned up energy, Britton and I decided to walk around and explore some stuff locally.  We started by just walking around the village.  Most villages have a lot of dogs and chickens, but Long Jelet seemed to have an unusually high number of dogs.  Indeed, it seemed as if there were almost as many dogs as people!  The dogs are used in hunting pigs, but when not hunting they pretty much just hang out and roam around the village, staking out prime spots up on stairs and porches.

I've never seen dogs anywhere that can climb as well as hunting dogs in these parts.  I've seen these dogs go up things that even I would have a hard time climbing.  They seem to almost enjoy it!

In fact, I think they could give any goat a run for his money when it comes to climbing.  It never ceases to amaze me, b/c it's not something I'm used to seeing.  About half the houses in Long Jelet used the more traditional "stairs" as pictured below.  It's basically just a log, leaned up agains the front door, with notches cut out for steps.  A small notch seems to provide the perfect perch for a hungry, village dog.

And here's one of the more "modern" and colorful houses in the village.  Oh, and if you look closely, there on the front stairs is a...oh, a dog!  I never would have guessed. :-)

As we walked around the village we met lots of friendly people and saw signs everywhere of their subsistence-style living.  Most of what they eat is grown or taken directly from the land around them.  Here are some coffee beans that have just been picked and were drying in the sun on a woven mat.  Although much of the finer coffees you drink around the world actually originate from Indonesia, they do not come from this area.  Kalimantan is not known for coffee, and does not produce or export coffee  commercially at all.  All of that comes from Sumatra, Sulawesi, and some from Papua.  But there are a few people interior who grow and roast their own personal supply.  Talk about fresh!

Rice is the staple of their diet.  They eat it every day, as a part of every meal.  It's prepared in a variety of ways.  Here, one of the ladies is pounding rice to make flour.  They do this day-to-day as the need arises.  Again, fresh! 

And surrounding the village is the new crop of rice--two kinds of rice actually.  Down low is the wet rice, growing in the paddies.  And on the hillsides is the "hill rice", which has a slightly different look and taste.  And you thought all rice was the same! 

Many of the gardens and rice fields are located just across the river that flows in front of the village.  This is not the Pujungan river that we came up the day before, and were trying to go further up to start our hike.  This is a much smaller river that flows into the Pujungan just downstream from the village.  None-the-less, it can be a pain to cross this little river with canoes day after day, so the folks built a suspension bridge.

It hangs from a combination of cables and vines.  We crossed it many times that day, so we could hike the quarter mile through the gardens to the bank of the Pujungan river to check on the water level.  Unfortunately, despite the now-sunny skies, the water continued to rise all day, as the rugged mountains surrounding the area flushed the previous night's rain our way.  By late in the afternoon it was obvious that we would be spending another night in Long Jelet.

Here we are eating the evening meal with Pak Lajau's family.  The food was delicious!  There's no electricity in the village, so people tend to eat early and retire not long after dark.  But since they were entertaining guests, they fired up a little generator, to run some lights.  Soon, half the neighbors came over to hang out and visit--it's not every night that a couple of foreigners drop by!  We had a great time visiting late into the night.

And of course, we hoped it wouldn't rain!  But as we drifted off to sleep, we heard the sound of distant thunder.  This is the reality of jungle travel interior--it's unpredictable at best, not to mention difficult and dangerous.  No wonder everyone appreciates MAF so much!  Check back soon to find out whether we got stranded again, or were finally able to begin our hike.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Trekking With My Son -- The Pujungan Hulu Adventure: Part 1

For a few years now I've been promising my oldest son, Britton, that I'd take him on a big jungle adventure.  He's been desperately looking forward to it!  We originally planned to do it around his 12th birthday, which would have been in August, and the middle of "dry" season--always a good time to be hiking in the jungle.  But Joy and the kids took a rather sudden trip to the U.S. at that time.  Britton actually voted to stay behind in Indonesia, rather than going to the U.S., if it meant that he wouldn't be able to do the jungle adventure with me.  But of course, I wanted him to be able to do both, so we re-scheduled the jungle adventure for November.

My plan was to take six days to trek around the upper Pujungan River system (Pujungan Hulu) near the remote and isolated, picturesque village of Long Jelet.  I was particularly interested in seeing a very unique area over which I've flown many times, which resembles a large extinct volcanic crater.  Here's a picture from 12,000 feet.  At the lower center of the photo, in the semi-circle shadow, if you look closely you can see a water fall.  That's the Bum River Waterfall, which drops several hundred feet off the sheer outer edge of the crater wall.  Inside the crater are numerous swampy ponds or lakes (visible in the picture as shiny brownish-white patches void of trees) which are very rare out here in this part of the deep Bornean jungle.  At times, flying over at lower altitudes, I've seen a lot of large animals standing in or at the edges of these ponds, and I was very intrigued.  The whole interior part of the crater looks from the air to be totally different, as far as the flora goes, than anywhere else in Northeast Kalimantan.  I've always been curious about it.  Furthermore, I've heard that there were old burial grounds in the inside cliff walls of the crater.  It all sounded very exciting and adventurous, the perfect place for a father and son to spend some great time together!  So that was our plan--to get there, and then to explore the area.

We started by flying an MAF 206 into the village of Long Pujungan, a one-hour flight from Tarakan (below).  It turns out that there'd been a ton of rain over the past few days, so we almost got stuck in Pujungan because of the high and dangerous water levels.  However, my guides and good friends, Pak Yu Taang, and Pak Lajau, who've I've done several treks with now, we're raring to go and willing to give it a try.  So we gassed up and started the typical 3-hour trip in the motorized canoes up the rain-swollen Pujungan river towards Long Jelet.

I did not have a water proof camera this time, so the only pictures I took from the boat were the ones that could be snagged in the not-too-common stretches of calm water that afforded enough time to get the point and shoot out of the baby pelican, and snap a shot or two, before quickly putting it back in just before getting drenched again.  So the picture below gives you a good idea of what maybe 10% of the trip looked like.  The rest of the time it much more resembled something you might find at a water park, or a specialized white-water rafting outfit--but in this case we were in a wooden, over sized canoe type boat, with no added flotation.  I always love the river parts of these treks!

It's always very impressive and exciting to me, to see how well these guys navigate the rivers.  I wouldn't last 5 minutes on my own without capsizing the canoe--yet these guys do it day after day.  Of course, to be fair I guess they probably wouldn't be able to land an airplane in Long Pujungan to save their life, so it's all good.  I just kick back and enjoy the ride!   It's normal on this trip to have to get out three or four times to walk around the worst of the rapids.  But in this case we must have gotten out 15 times or so--and several times we had to pull the boat up through the worst areas because of the higher water.  It was slow, tough going!

While walking around several of the bad areas, we stumbled across some baby waterfalls, cascading down the jungle slopes, and Britton was quick to jump in and cool off.  

Late in the afternoon we pulled over and hiked the short distance to the Lower Bum River Waterfall.  This is the same small river that is pictured in the areal shot above, but this is close to the mouth of the river where it dumps into the Pujungan.   Even though it was a bright, hot, and sunny day, it was very cool in the waterfall area--a combination of the thick canopy cover and the constant moisture in the air.  Oh, and the wind that never stopped blowing from the falling water.

And again, Britton jumped right in.  This photo gives you an idea as to the size of the falls--not super big, but not tiny either.  The pool was actually quite deep--we didn't find the bottom.  The guides were super impressed by this time with Britton--both with his walking ability as he hiked around numerous rapids, sure-footed and confident, and also with his eagerness to fully experience all of the sights, sounds, and opportunities the jungle had to offer--like waterfalls.  Although they were very excited about this trek where I had promised to bring my oldest son along (we'd been talking about it for two years now, and they were really looking forward to it), I think they were just a bit nervous as to how he would actually get along in the jungle.  But I think those fears were quickly put to rest, and indeed he proved to be very capable indeed throughout the entire trip!  In fact, within a few days they were saying that they thought he was part Dayak (the ethnic group of the people in that area), a high compliment indeed!

Well, late in the afternoon, at about 5:30, we finally made it to Long Jelet.  It took about two and a half times longer than normal to make the trip upriver because of the high water, but make it we did!  Here, Britton is standing on the bank just beside the village of Long Jelet, a hunting dog gazing into the distance in the foreground.

Our plan was to spend the night here and then leave early the next morning for five days in the jungle.  But as Britton quickly learned, jungle travel is not only difficult and dangerous, but extremely unpredictable.  And things often don't go as planned.  Check back soon for Part 2.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What IS Getting Done

A year or so ago we had seven or eight pilots flying here.  At one point we had 10.  Since this past summer we've had about four or five on average, several of which have other big responsibilities and can only fly a few days a week at most.  Last week and this week we have two, me and another guy.

Several guys are on furlough, several are on vacation.  But the bottom line is, for the first time since I've been here we're short on pilots but actually in really good shape as far as maintenance guys go--that's the opposite of "normal".  It's such a weird feeling!  There's been times in the past when we didn't have a single maintenance specialist.  So if there was a major problem with the airplane, the pilot would have to fix it himself, or the plane would just sit there.  

Right now we've got four, top-notch maintenance specialists (engineers depending on where you're from) that are doing an awesome job keeping things going, despite some fairly major maintenance issues on several fronts.  Without them, we'd be totally hosed!

They allow me and the other pilots to be out there flying as much as we can, with planes that work well and are safe!  These guys, along with our office staff here, are the backbone of our local operations.  They often do their job in the shadows, without the proper thanks that they deserve, while the pilots get the frontline glory (or goes both ways).  It sounds cheesy, but lately, these guys are my heroes, as I've been leaving early and coming back late, day after day, and they'e still there waiting to find out how things are working and what needs to be fixed or tweaked.  The thing is, lately I feel like I'm trying to bail out a cruise ship with a bucket when it comes to flight requests.

Even though I'm flying five days a week, week after week, every day when I go home it seems like there's twice as many outstanding flight requests as there were when I started the day. There's literally hundreds of people wanting to go from all over the place to all over the place, and tons of barang (stuff) that is "critical" for village "x" or "y" or "z", and we just absolutely can't even begin to get it all done.  Barely even seem to be making a dent in it.

In a weird way it's encouraging, b/c it reminds me of how important MAF is out here.  Just this week I've taken dozens of church people in and out of places, delivered thousands of pounds of rice to a village that had run out, took many kids out from villages to begin school in the city, and taken five medevac passengers to the hospital, not to mention all of the many, many other "average" flights where folks had no other option.  I only wish that there were more hours in the day--that the sun wouldn't set so that I could help even more of the people.  But that's probably one of the hardest things in Mission Aviation--not the flying, but the non-technical aspect of the gig.  You have to pace yourself and know how and when to say "no".  It's impossible to do it all, and you can get discouraged, or burned out if you try to do it all, or if you focus on what's not getting done, rather than on what IS getting done.  So that's the perspective I'm trying to keep right now as I chip away day after day at serving hundreds of people, in the name of Jesus, each week all over East Kalimantan with our little airplanes!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

PaUpan Festivities (Part 2)

One of the big events at a festival like this is the eating--everyone gathers around and eats together under a specially constructed eating "tent".  And there's usually a really unique, traditional meal one night--where they break out all of the "special" foods.  This time, they also lit the thing with traditional "lamps" (see below for more info on that).

Pa'Upan is a beautiful little village located in the Krayan highlands near Malaysia.  The air is pure and clean--it's not as hot there as it is in Tarakan, and the skies are usually a beautiful deep blue, when it's not raining.  It's really beautiful!

We love hanging out interior!

We're blessed to have many great friends in Pa'Upan and many other villages interior.  This time our group was hosted by Pak Ajang and his wife, and Pendeta (Pastor) Benjamin and his wife (pictured below, along with Joy and the Rietvelds.  We're always so humbled and blessed by their generosity and kindness!  They're really, really great folks!

And there's never a shortage of friends for the kids!!  Can you spot Hudson?  He's such a great kid--so easy going and fun-loving!  These are all his newest friends, hanging out with him waiting for dinner to be served in the food tent.

Speaking of dinner, remember those traditional lamps I talked about?  Well, these are those lamps, being lit.  They're made entirely from bamboo, and the fuel source is a lump of special tree sap that burns for quite a long time.  It looks like that lump of hardened sap in Jurassic Park, that holds the mosquito.  It comes from a certain tree in the jungle, that when injured (on purpose by machete-wielding men, or naturally) will "bleed" the sap down the bark, where it then solidifies and can be broken off in chunks.  I've seen it out and about when hiking on my various treks.

So, when they were ready for the traditional feast, they lit all the bamboo lamps and then killed the generator lights (first photo at the top), and then they talked about how much the elders mean to them, and they honored the elders by having the whole village go through and greet them, and then they let the elders get their food first (below).  It was all very respectful and sweet.

There was a wide variety of traditional foods--starting with a ton of pork (one of whose heads was roasted below, with fancy curly, decorations coming out the snout).  They love the pig fat, so there were bamboo trays upon bamboo trays of nothing but pig fat.  There were also plenty of grubs, and soups made from various organs, and vegetables of various kinds, and several kinds of rice, prepared in a variety of ways and fried things, and the list goes on and on.  As usual, we took some of everything and immensely enjoyed the experience.

What a fun and festive time--crowded into that tent with hundreds of other people, all talking and having a great time!  In the evenings, after dinner, there were church services and more singing, that went late into the night.  Most nights, since I was flying the next day, I had to cut out early and go to bed.

Here's a random shot...the last night, as we were eating dinner, I received word of a giant moth in the house next door.  So of course, the boys and I headed over to have a look.  It was HUGE!  This is Wilbert's hand, next to the moth.  He's a very tall guy, and has a very big hand.  The moth was probably about 8 inches long from wingtip to wingtip--only a tad bigger than the HUGE cicada we found later that night in the house we were staying in.  But that's a story for another day.

Life is always an adventure here!  We're so thankful to be serving Christ through MAF in Indonesia.  We're thankful for another great year here and we look forward to what God has in store for us and for His ministry in 2013!