Unexpected Kumai: a sweet side of Kalimantan

To our surprise, Kumai was delightful. Yes, it is a funny, dusty frontier town with absolutely nothing to recommend it aesthetically, but it was incredibly friendly. After our weeks in Bali, it was also really nice to be able to walk down the street without having 10 people try to sell us something. Here, nobody tried to sell us anything at all! It was something of a study in contradictions, with the massive shipping traffic and relatively modern vessels and structures next to very traditional boats like this one (he’s waving, of course).
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Before we went up the river, we spent time talking about what we were going to see. Mairen summed it up by saying “so, it’s like a zoo without cages?” – yes, honey, that’s pretty much what it’s going to be like! It turned out to be incredibly apt- but for the kids, many of their memories here really are about the creatures we saw. I loved how the girls were studying their field guides before we were out of the main river.
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There are all the other crazy animals we got to see. Storks, standing like sentinels on either side of the smaller river. I don’t know how they got the cuddly reputation of baby-bearers, I’m pretty sure there’s blood on that beak. The butterflies were everywhere, in striking colors. You know the phrase “float like a butterfly”? It never lined up with the frenzied flittering, but they were here, and they were floating. The kids spotted what they say is a flying gecko- check out the extra flat tail, and skin on body.
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I looked to my left near one of the platforms in Camp Leakey, and there was the famous coffee-pooping cat (read about Luwak if you don’t know what I mean), the civet, ducking into the brush. Wow, that was surprising! I had no clue what it was- Mairen identified it from the photo. Later, Siobhan found this stick bug trying to camouflage itself against Yosi’s bag… we repatriated it to a better coordinated tree. And the crazy long nosed/legged Borneo boars. Look at the GAMS on that thing.
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The cheeky gibbon that was stealing bananas off the orang platform and running up high into the trees decided to get even cheekier with the visitors gawking below. With a shriek, it let loose: first to pee and then to drop a big steaming heap (yes, gross) from about 20 meters up in the trees. Siobhan nearly got hit! Side benefit to monkey poo? Getting to see dung beetles. They were on the scene in a FLASH and even more entertaining than they look on the nature channel, speedily pushing poo with their feet.
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We didn’t make it unscathed, unfortunately. Despite knowing *exactly* where it was, I managed to step squarely in the remains of the dung pile this as we departed. Yuck.
One of our favorites was a little guy we nick named The Ninja Squirrel. These bold little critters would jump up on the feeding platform to snag bananas when the orangs were out of reach. But see that guy on the left? Where his larger exotic looking relation would lounge around looking beautiful, this guy would grab a banana and JAM to safety. You could almost hear the “hiiiiiii-yah!” as he leaped to a tree.
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While we were at Camp Leakey, a large group of photographers arrived. It was kind of comical, the sudden arrival of a dozen people in matching shirts and massive cameras and lenses. I think we could live for months on what one of those kits cost! They were part of the Kalimantan Tenggah tourism association, there on a junket taking photos to promote the region. With them was a woman in traditional Dyak style clothes- Miss Tourism Kalimantan 2013, it turned out! She was completely charming, and interviewed the girls and me on camera for a TV program.
Later, back at the dock, she and a partner treated us (and the assembled throng of clicking photogs) to a few traditional dances. Spectacular! I wish our bandwidth was good enough to share some video. They clearly enjoyed what they were doing, and we were gifted with a great education about local culture that was completely unexpected. Clothing made from soaked and beaten tree bark, ceremonial shield and daggers, boar tusks, and a whole lot of hornbill skulls and feathers.
One of the things that cracked us up was the signage in the river. Indonesia is notoriously terrible for any kind of traffic signs, at least the rural areas we’ve been through- and good luck if you can ever find a street sign! But here, the river inlets were all marked with white lines on blue boards. There were even curved arrows to indicate a bend in the river- I cannot imagine anyone would actually lose their way, so it was puzzling. This sign was at the junction of two rivers (where you can see again, the dark water from the tributary streams forward to blend into the polluted water of the larger river).
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One of the other unexpected delights of the whole trip is that for two days, Jamie and I were absolved of our normal daily responsibilities. No boat projects. No meal prep. No cleaning. No worrying about anything, really, except enjoying ourselves. It was pretty nice! I know from the outside, our lives may seem to some like one big long holiday- but it is actually a lot of uninteresting, everyday work that takes up a most of our time. Looking very relaxed, aren’t we? OK, perhaps a little droll…trust me.  DSC_4127
There were a few options for guides in Kumai, between people who approached us and names we’d been provided. We felt like we knew what we were getting with Yosi, and he had a good price, but a few times it felt like the beginning of a novel of misadventures. All that really meant at the end of the day was that we got our moneys worth and more, including some stories I’m not sure I should post for public consumption. Yosi (at center, below) was honest, helpful, and a true character- we’ll never forget him. Other visitors to Kumai can reach him at 082157217075.
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One parting note on our orangutan friends. There’s a petition underway by Avaaz to try and prevent further habitat destruction for plantation development, immediately adjacent to the national park where we visited the orangs in Kumai. Please, take a few minutes to sign the petition – the Avaaz request isn’t very well worded, but I assume the summary petition will be presented to the bupati, a local government official who has the power to stop the destruction from moving forward. The petition is online and on Facebook.
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2 Responses to Unexpected Kumai: a sweet side of Kalimantan

  1. Rumila Marienau June 19, 2013 at 12:18 am #

    I can’t explain my feelings while reading and looking at your photos, but for sure i want to experience like this. You have such an amazing kids!my admiration to them are beyond. hope someday soon i could get a hold of you more and surely always follow your blog and lots of them touch me, you are a “FAITHFUL NATURE LOVER” i think you know what i mean and that is the most of thing i admire you. Hope to meet you someday. GOD BLESS THE WHOLE TOTEM FAMILY!… 🙂

    • Behan Gifford June 20, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

      thanks Rumila! much appreciated!

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