From the Kumai harbor, Kalimantan, Borneo. The massive concrete buildings in the background are for harvesting swiftlet nests for birds' nest soup. Loudspeakers on the roofs broadcast bird calls to attract the real birds into the buildings. Once inside, the birds construct their nests out of saliva. The nests are extremely valuable commodities on the Chinese and Japanese markets, and harvesting them has become a huge industry in this part of Borneo. (Few of the concrete towers have such colorful facades; most are solid and gray.)
The world's third largest island is one of the last two remaining homes of wild orangutans--and a place largely unspoiled by tourism (although ecologically in peril).
During Robin's visit to the Muslim village on Pulau Maselembo, in the middle of the Java Sea between Bali and Borneo, she came upon this informal classroom scene in the afternoon.
Tanjung Kumbik is an extraordinarily tidy fishing village on an island west of Borneo. The homes are built on stilts over the water. A sturdy concrete road, built like a pier, bisects the village, supporting foot traffic, motorbikes, and light vehicles.
Camp Leakey in the Tanjung Puting Reserve in southern central Borneo is one of the few places in the world where travelers can have close encounters with orangutans. A slow klotok boat ride (think "African Queen") up the Sekonyer river from Kumai harbor takes you to the research facility established in 1971 by Dr. Biruté Galdikas, a student of the legendary paleo-anthropologist, Louis Leakey (as were the other pioneering great-ape researchers Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey). This mother and child met us on the trail and "led" us to the jungle feeding station, where they gorged themselves on bananas, and the youngster devised creative uses for the milk bucket.
The 10-day cruise aboard the Orion II was billed as "Faces in Forest," and much of the focus was on orangutans and monkeys. But every time we stopped into a rarely visited village, such as the one Pulau Maselembo, an island in the Java Sea off the east coast of Kalimantan, we were greeted by initially shy children who warmed immediately and burnished THEIR faces in our memory.
During one of our few urban stops during the Orion II's 10-day "Faces in the Forest" cruise, we strolled through the outdoor and indoor markets in Kumai, a port town in southern Borneo (and the embarkation point for trips to Camp Leakey upriver). Almost all of the shops in the indoor bazaar were tended by young women who were amused by our curiosity and attempted to sell us nothing, but graciously gave us their smiles.
As we strolled along the boardwalk of the daily fish and produce market in Kuching (the large city on the northern--Malaysian--coast of Borneo), this wee boatman pulled into his own berth. It doesn't look like he was bringing any fish to market.
After checking out the old outdoor market in Kuching (Sarawak, Maylasian Borneo), where the wares were mostly fish, eggs, produce, and other food staples (edible fare), we crossed a major street and entered the ground floor of a tall, modern building. In stall after stall "manned" mostly by young Muslim women, the wares were mostly to wear.
Camp Leakey, in southern central Borneo, has been Indonesia's major orangutan research center and reserve since 1972. http://bit.ly/HbvMje
To get there, you book passage on a klotok, the traditional local wooden varient of a cabin cruiser. Our group of about 40 from the Orion II expedition cruise ship, came up river from Kumai Harbor on these. During the leisurely four-hour trip, we spotted orangutans and proboscis monkeys in the rain forest, as well all sorts of birds. Our arrival at Camp Leakey created a slight traffic jam around the dock (on the left).
The arrival of the Orion II, a small ship by cruise standards (100 guests maximum), attracted attention as we moved slowly upriver from the Java Sea into Kumai Harbor, the taking-off point for visits to the Camp Leakey orangutan study center. Many of us were out on deck taking in Kumai's unique mixed "skyline" of traditional riverside homes and high-rise "bird houses" (the yellow building in the background), built to harvest swiflet nests for the booming trade that supplies the key ingredient for bird's nest soup throughout much of Asia.
Everywhere we went on land in Borneo, Robin was a magnet for young women eager to pose for her camera. Here, we had just climbed down the stairs of a restored and pristinely preserved longhouse, a short drive from Kumai harbor, where the Orion II was docked for our journey to Camp Leakey and our visit to the Orangutan Foundation International's Care Center and Quarantine Facility. Outside the longhouse, scores of locals--in contemporary and traditional dress (and headwear)--had gathered to catch a glimpse of the foreigners.