Tanjung Puting National Park, Borneo

Jessica Peterson

Day two on the klotok allowed for two hikes to feeding sites. We ventured to the heart of Tanjung Puting, Camp Leakey, another half-mile walk through the singing rainforest. A large female orangutan named Siswi was tucked under a raised house in near slumber. Dian told us she was the queen of the forest, but had been jilted by her king. She would follow him everywhere, the guide said, but he was indifferent to her. To our surprise, a long-armed gibbon joined the meal, hopping with seeming hydraulics from tree to platform, only to be waved away by the dominant male, Ponorogo. The gibbon, named Boy Boy, obliged temporarily, but eventually worked his way into the meal and there sat three adult orangutans, one baby, and a wiry gibbon all drinking out of the same bowl. Ponorogo, age 27, eventually wandered off, and a female with baby in tow followed suit, but took her meal to go, the large plastic bowl tucked under one arm, baby in the other.

A tempestuous rain descended and I was so wet my fingertips shriveled. By the time we reached the boat, we were completely soaked through, but also much cooler than on the walk there. Siswi was sitting on the boat dock, as if to bid us farewell. And I swear, she even held still long enough to convince me she was posing for a photograph. We climbed through the top decks of two boats roped to ours and I could still see the orangutan looking wistfully at her departing fans. A park ranger grabbed her hand to lead her away from the deck, to which she responded with a solid flop on the ground, much like a cantankerous toddler, but not making a sound. She wrapped her feet around the wooden railing in protest. A few minutes later she allowed the ranger to escort her by the hand away from the boats.

Our river journey was over far too quickly and soon we were back on dry land in Pangkalan Bun, where our guide Dian took us for a stroll through town to kill time before our flight to Bali.

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The squalor of Pangkalan Bun was something I wished not to exploit by photographing it. The definition of shantytown, stilted wooden houses were piled up next to a questionable water supply of a river. The planked walkway seemed like it would collapse at any minute as we passed food vendors peddling fried goods, children crouched on the ground, and feral cats — all curiously missing most of their tails. I felt like an intruder as most of the homes (if you can call them that) had their doors open. There was no flooring, carpet or tile, and no furniture. Just shoes arranged neatly at the door. Were there really people living in there?

At the airport we were treated to a thick cloud of cigarette smoke for 3 hours as we waited in the outdoor lobby. A blonde German woman approached me to ask about our klotok experience. She had just arrived from Java to begin her journey. She was looking for a guide and a boat. I cheerfully recommended Dian and the Borindo and handed her the palm leaf fan Dian made us on the boat. I felt as if I were passing a scepter to this young woman, a new rajah. Bon voyage, enjoy the ride.

Read about Day 1 in Borneo.

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Jessica Peterson
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Jessica Peterson

Jessica Peterson is a travel filmmaker, photographer, and journalist. She released her first documentary film about indigenous culture on Guam in 2016, after having lived nearly 7 years on the Pacific island. Jessica is currently on the Great American Roadtrip in her Airstream trailer.
Jessica Peterson
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