Borneo in a blog post

Our field trip is definitely the most remote of the bunch and so WiFi was very limited for the duration.  Now we’re back in the UK here’s a summary of our time in Tarakan, the beautiful Setulang and the jungle of north Kalimantan.

Our flights in to Tarakan arrived throughout the 5th so we met as a whole group over dinner, the first of many many meals of rice and noodles, and then had our first briefing from Frank in which we met Martin and Indah, who work alongside the staff to organise the trip. We also met the Indonesian students that would be joining us for the field trip. Our next day started at the mangrove conservation park where we got to see Proboscis monkeys and study their behaviour, as well as start our field books. This is where we first experienced the tropical rain that we’d have to get very used to! We then had a wonderful time at a local school with music and dance performances from children of all ages, as well as some of us doing a quiz and performance of our own. But it’s probably the amount of photos that the children (and staff) wanted with us that we’ll remember most from that day!

The next day we began our journey to Setulang along the river via speed boat and then open trucks. We got our first sight of the forest we’d be calling home for the next eight days. In the village we were again welcomed with dances and speeches from the village chief before meeting the families we’d be staying with for two nights. We also had our first river wash and lots of the local children came to join us, jumping from trees in to the water. Our time in Setulang also included a trip to the rice fields with local farmers, learning about their simple process and restoration cycle, allowing forest to recover before farming fields again. On our final evening we were introduced to the guides and cooks that would be joining us in the forest and started planning our group video projects.

The truck journey along a muddy dirt road led us to the river we’d get very accustomed to walking through. An hour walk brought us deep in to the forest and to base camp, one of three we’d be split between for the next eight days. After lunch groups left for waterfall and hornbill camp. Whilst base camp was made up of wooden buildings and bunk beds, the others were much more basic with sleeping platforms under tarpaulins, and a cooking and eating area. Setting up our mosquito nets next to one another gave us each a little ‘bedroom’ for our time in each camp. Every camp was located by the river so we could swim and wash everyday.

Activities varied between the camps. At base camp we looked at fish diversity in different parts of the river and butterfly traps, at hornbill we did mist netting and frog identification, at waterfall we looked at spiders, used bat detectors and used bird calls to estimate diversity. We also went on various adventurous night walks, scaling fallen trees and wading through rivers, it was on these walks we caught glimpses of bats, frogs, spiders and snakes, including the mangrove cat snake and a lucky few spotted mammal species. We also set up camera traps through out the forest to find out what species were in the area that we hadn’t been able to see for ourselves.

Our experience in the jungle involved huge tropical rain storms most days and therefore huge amounts of mud and leeches but this only added to the challenge and excitement of living in the forest for a week. Falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle is something we’ll never forget and being able to explore such an unspoilt area of natural beauty was a privilege to experience. Our guides shared their knowledge of the animals, the plants and their way of life in the forest, using their perangs (large knives) and walking in tiny shoes with such ease whilst we slipped and slides our way up and down the river slopes.

Group projects varied from leech gender preferences to fish diversity at different stream elevations, we’ll be writing these up as scientific posters over the next few weeks. We’ll also be producing short videos with a focus on one of the study topics. Our field books full of discussions and species id’s will also be handed in. Completing all these tasks and living so closely to each other has resulted in new friendships, both within our uni and with the Indonesian students, guides and cooks, we’re so grateful for everything they’ve done for us- keeping us safe in such an extreme environment.

Our return to Setulang was bittersweet, excited to be able to get clean and dry but also sad to leave our jungle home. After souvenir shopping we had an evening to celebrate our time in the Tane’Olen, with more traditional dancing and music and a visit from the the local tourist department. The hospitality and happiness shared by the villagers of Setulang will stick with us for a long time.

Our final day was spent travelling back to Tarakan and getting ready for flights the next day. Saying goodbye to our Indonesian friends was difficult but I know we’re all so grateful to have had them with us, not only for their company but also for sharing their passion for the forest. It clearly means so much to them and now, to us aswell. Terima Kasih to you all.

tp315    January 26th, 2018    Borneo

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