Orangutans of Kutai National Park

As Tony promised in his latest posting, we are once again turning the camera back on the wildlife and jungle. Hours and hours spent watching orangutans high up in the trees was quite a treat, but it may also require future treatment for a serious case of neck strain. That said, after viewing our video, I’m sure you’ll agree it was more than worth it.

Jungle Fever

From Chitwan to Kinabatangan, our postings on “the jungle” have mostly focused on the wildlife – and rightfully so. But as we explore Kutai National Park, we thought we should take a moment and turn the camera on ourselves as we track wild orangutans, providing a little glimpse into our daily routine. Continue…

Saving Derawan’s Turtles

Derawan has no chic bars or dance clubs, yet the island boasts a very active nightlife. Well, our kind of nightlife. The only beat you’ll probably ever hear is your own heartbeat as you sit in the turtle hatchery and watch baby turtles emerge from their sandy nests. And nature’s DJ in all of this is John, the turtleman.

For the last two years, the Derawan local has been running the WWF turtle conservation project. With the help of two assistants, John spends his nights patrolling the beaches against poachers. Yes, turtle eggs and even turtles are in high demand, but John and his crew always Continue…

Our Family in the Tropics

Paula, Leo, Becky, Tony, Marta and Ana

Derawan is one of those cosmic vortexes which suck in amazing globetrotters from around the world. We’ve haven’t met this many adventurous travelers since Rishikesh India. Perhaps it’s just timing, perhaps it’s actually one of those magical places that mysteriously draws really cool people.

It’s just like the Hawaii episode of Charlie’s
Angels featuring Marta, Becky, and Ana

Out little Derawan family includes Anna and Marta from Spain, Becky from Britain, Leo and Paula from Brazil, Rene from Mexico, Matt from Switzerland, as well as several locals most notably John the turtleman.

Becky, Thomas, Rene, Marta, Ana and Tony

It’s great to have a crazy little community on this tiny dot of an island in the middle of nowhere. I just wish we didn’t have to leave.

Wonderland Kakaban

If Lewis Carroll were a snorkeler, his favorite destination would surely be Kakaban. A bizarre testament to nature’s sense of humor and fantasy, Kakaban will thrill even the most jaded travelers with a series of surprises that seem perfectly suited for Alice’s underwater adventures.

The tiny, jungle-covered island features a large brackish water lake filled with fascinating discoveries. The most obvious of these is the millions of fluttering jellyfish which crowd the lake from shore to shore. As in the world-famous jellyfish lake in Pulau, Kakaban’s jellyfish, which are cut off from the open ocean, have lost their sting, so visitors can swim and frolic with the undulating creatures to their heart’s content. The experience is a major blast. But there’s more. Continue…

Swimming with Mantas in Sangalaki

Besides an army of sea turtles around Derawan, there’s an even more exciting, albeit less predictable attraction that brings visitors here – reef mantas. If the conditions are right, meaning enough plankton in the water, snorkelers and divers can swim with dozens of manta rays around Sangalaki, an uninhabited island an hour by boat from Derawan. It’s a rare opportunity to see these animals close up and many naturalists make the pilgrimage to isolated Derawan hoping to spot the magnificent creatures. But as with many of nature’s great spectacles, it’s the luck of the draw. As it so happened, we drew wisely.

Arriving in Sangalaki, we leaned over the edge of the boat to look for any movement in the clear water. Absolutely nothing.

“No plankton today,” the boatman exclaimed matter-of-factly suggesting that we should just give up and go home. But we would have none of that and Continue…

The Turtles of Derawan

As we hinted at in our last posting, little Derawan is blessed with some pretty phenomenal natural attractions. The first and most obvious of these attractions is the ridiculous number of green turtles which call the waters around Derawan their home.

Now if you saw our recent video on Sipadan, you might be thinking that little islands with large numbers of turtles are nothing new. Oh, so wrong. It’s estimated that over Continue…

Derawan

We travel for the sole purpose of discovering places like Derawan. For the next five minutes in human history, Derawan will be THE eco-tourism hotspot in Kalimantan. It’s at that magical point when accommodation, food options, isolation and serious attractions all come together to create that blissful vision of backpacker perfection. (I’m talking real backpacker perfection, not flashpacker strips of bars and tourist kitsch.)

Although not quite the quintessential tropical paradise presented in Indonesian tourist literature – locals need to clean up their act a little for that – tiny little Derawan features so many undersea wildlife attractions that this tiny dot of land still qualifies for my list of fantasy islands. So what can you see here? Stay tuned to the blog to find out.

Full, Full, Full

Seriously? Everything is full? In Borneo? Eleven – count them – eleven hotels full. Every single hotel room in Berau was full. All except one, a ridiculously overpriced “luxury suite” priced at $90 US per night at the Derawan Indah Hotel. As Indonesians and foreigners were scouring Berau looking for any option and we had explored every avenue from camping to renting a room in someone’s house (no luck), we reluctantly decided to splurge on the most expensive room we have had in four solid years on the road.

In this case, “luxury” means holes in the sheets, a dirty bath tub, and a non-functioning chandelier. Imagine a luxury room designed by an eight-year-old and you’ll have a pretty clear picture of where we were staying. I was grinding my teeth in rage all night. For $90 US, we could have literally stayed in palaces in some of the countries we’ve visited.

And for cynics, no we were not falling victim to some elaborate scam. It appears that many hotels in Berau are being used to house construction workers and employees for the mining and logging industries. It takes an army to carve up Kalimantan, and apparently that entire army is staying in Berau.