Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Land below the wind

Padma has just sent an email from Borneo, or what's now known as Kalimantan. She's right now at Tenggarong, half an hour from Samarinda, and two-and-a-half from Balikpapan. Tomorrow she and her parents will visit her grandparents' graves; early on Tuesday morning they will drive by car to Balikpapan to catch the early-morning Batavia flight to Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan, where she was born.

The tremendous spread of jungle and wilderness on the world's second-largest island is comparable to that of a continent alone. Exploited for its rich natural resources such as timber, gas, oil and coal, the "Land below the Wind" of the time of the white raj is quickly disappearing.

Focal point for most visitors is the mighty Mahakam river which, from its headwaters near the centre of the island, meanders thousands of kilometres through one of the world's largest tropical rainforests. The twenty main Dayak tribes - once feared as headhunters - have their homes in this riverbasin. A remarkable variety of plant and animal life, including the famous freshwater dolphins which often accompany boats along the river, make a visit to Kalimantan an enthralling venture to a different world. In years to come, the Mahakam rivertrips, at the moment still only for the vigorous and adventurous, are most likely to have a more modern outlook with modern crafts and all possible amenities. Unfortunately, by that time the Dayak villages will have lost their primitive charm, and a cliché scene of souvenir shops will cluster along the riverside.

Borneo and Sumatra are the only places left in the world where Orang Utans (the 'People of the Forest') still survive in their natural habitat. However, their survival is threatened and I actively support the Borneo Orangutan Survial (BOS) Australia Foundation with regular donations and the adoption of an orphaned orang utan baby. Are you primate enough to help another primate? Or why not take a life-changing holiday, meeting orang utans 'in person' without losing too much of the comforts you are accustomed to and yet knowing that 80% of your ticket-price will be spent on rescueing more orang utans?

While you're thinking about this, I'm surfing the internet for another cheap airfare to Bali. As soon as Padma is back at "Riverbend", I'll be off again to spend the last few weeks of the Australian winter by the side of a Balinese swimming-pool.