Some stuff from – Part 1

Much of my recent blogging has been for my new site, I’m not doing much traveling for content for so there’s not much to write about but there are a number of interesting articles I’ve posted on that might be of interest to readers of this blog. So here goes:

Art Intervenes in Bali with ‘Not For Sale’ Movement

not for sale

Throughout history, whenever artists have channeled their energy outside of their studios and into events that engage the community, they have been able to make considerable impact.

In Bali, there is now a timely phenomenon in the process that involves the most important statement ever communicated by Balinese artists, inspired by the love of their cultural heritage and driven by social conscience.

One day in early 2010, after a discussion concerning the alarming rate of the transformation of rice fields into houses and hotels in Bali, three young contemporary artists, Wayan Sudarna Putra, Gede Suanda Sayur and Pande Putu Setiawan decided to make a stand.

Their imagination took the form of an installation of white bamboo poles erected in the green fields north of Ubud. Arranged to read the words “Not For Sale,” the site, owned by Suanda on Jl. Sri Wedari in Junjungan, Ubud, has since attracted so much attention to become an unlikely Balinese icon.

“ ‘Not For Sale’ has generated an incredible response from locals and foreigners alike,” says Suanda, also known as Sayur. “However, some Balinese have argued, what right have we to question them about selling their land?”

With increased exposure via the local media, and especially the power of the Internet, eventually key figures of various community groups started to collaborate with the artists to create a unique grass-roots project.

“ ‘Bali — Not For Sale’ is a public movement responding to the high conversion of the island’s rice fields into [commercial property]. The campaign aims to restore the awareness that rice is ‘life’ and is not limited to commercial value,” says Made Aswino Aji, a member of the “Bali — Not For Sale” committee. “What was initiated amongst our small group of artists easily attracted the attention of others within our network because they too shared similar concerns about the future of Bali.”

The rapid conversion of land for commercial use is also threatening a delicate and intricate organization that has become an integral part of Balinese culture: the subak water irrigation system.

A subak is a cooperative that allows farmers to share water from the same source for their irrigation needs. The system has been in place for over 1,000 years.

The campaign’s art installation in Junjungan — and now the site of Luden House, an art and community creative space ran by Sayur and his friends — hosted its first gathering in July last year to raise awareness about “Bali — Not for Sale.” Organized by Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI), Indonesia’s oldest artist community, the event saw local environmental groups Wahli, Eco Defender and Lawa Humon, as well as Rumbl clothing, children’s charity organization Anak Alam and Bog Bog Bali cartoon magazine join forces to contribute, while hundreds of Balinese youths gathered in the fields to enjoy a music concert.

The day’s activities included a workshop for children conducted by Anak Alam and live performances by local bands, including Superman Is Dead, who proved to be an enormous draw card for local music enthusiasts.

“Ironically, one of Bali’s natural icons — one that has made the island so famous — is now endangering its well-being,” says Jerinx, drummer for Superman Is Dead and a well-known, prolific environmental activist.

In 2014 the “Not For Sale” campaign was given new life when it was adopted as a protest slogan for the “Tolak Reklamasi” (“Reject Reclamation”) demonstration rallies against a mega-development project threatening the natural environment of southern Bali.

The project, in which investors aim to reclaim nearly 800 hectares of shallow water in the sensitive estuary of Benoa Bay, Nusa Dua, and transform the area into villas, apartments, luxury hotels, a Disneyland-style theme park, a casino and even a Formula One racing circuit has polarized the island, dividing the population into opposing sides in what has become perhaps the decade’s most controversial issue.

The proposed project has seen Bali Governor Mangku Pastika — as a staunch, vocal advocate — become embroiled in the debate. Islandwide rallies in which protestors carry banners saying “Not For Sale” have given movement even more vital media exposure.

On Oct. 18 a second “Not For Sale” installation, once again made from white painted bamboo poles, graced the magnificent rice terraces of Tegallalang, Ubud, famous for its dramatic vista and a unique environmental landmark, receiving hundreds of international visitors each day.

“It has been our plan to erect ‘Not For Sale’ at other key locations around Bali,” Sayur says. “More exposure is essential in creating greater awareness to the cause.

“We are continuously on the look out for other high-profile locations, and wish to cooperate with sympathetic local land owners in order to build our bamboo installations.”

As the year draws to a close, the “Not For Sale” installation in Junjungan stands as a lone bastion upon a plot of green that is gradually being surrounded by sprawling commercial property developments.

Upon the wall of Luden House a large mural depicts a figure, half human, half tree, wearing a traditional Balinese mask — a clever fusion of styles, rooted in both modernity, as well as in tradition.

In one hand the masked symbol is grasping a farmer’s sickle, while in the other he is holding a sign that reads “Sold Out.” – Jakarta Globe

In search of megaliths in Bondowoso


The villages near Bondowoso, East Java, are home to more than a 1,000 artifacts, such as dolmen and batu kenong.

A young man busied himself cutting away the undergrowth in the wild forest, cleaning a stone sarcophagus sitting about 50 meters from a cave leading into the side of a mountain.

When asked, the man, Mulyadi, a farmer, did not know what the sarcophagus was. The 29-year-old said that he only knew that it was a historic object that he and his neighbors needed to care for.

According to Mulyadi, hundreds of such artifacts could be found near the mountain and his village of Tanah Wulan in Bondowoso, East Java, about 200 kilometers from Surabaya.

Bondowoso Archaeology Agency official Heri Kusdaryanto says that the residents of about 80 nearby villages have been serving as the caretakers of more than 1,100 megalithic (large stone) artifacts, which include menhir (standing stones), sarcophagi, statues, dolmen (lying stones or tomb tables) and caves.

Heri said that the huge number of stone monuments in the region have previously led scientists and archaeologists to dub Bondowoso the megalithic city. University of Indonesia archaeologists Sumiati AS and Soejono and Jember University lecturer Kayan Swastika recently published the results of their research into the region’s archaeology, he added.

Batu kenong are Bondowoso’s most famous megalithic asset, Heri said. The stones — there are more than 400 in the region, the most in Indonesia — have a bulge on their tops, making them resemble a kenong, or the small gong used in traditional Javanese music.

One nearby village, Pekauman, is home to 160 batu kenong. The village, easily reached by bus or taxi, sits on Kilometer 8 of Jl. Jember-Bondowoso. A small sign reading ‘Situs Pekauman’ (Pekauman Site)’ is on the curb, only 150 meters from the artifacts.

Meanwhile, Pekauman village has 160 batu kenong amid the forests, farms and yards of local residents.

Heri said that batu kenong could be found in unique formations; such as in Maesan, where the artifacts appeared in circles, or in Kadedek, where they appeared in squares.

Soejono reported that the batu kenong were created for religious ceremonies held to thank their ancestors for prosperity and fertility, Heri said.

Dolmen — another megalithic structure built for religious reasons comprising two or more stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone — can be found in no fewer than 16 villages in the region.

Jember University historian Edy Burhan Arifin said that Bondowoso deserved its nickname, as megalithic objects could be found throughout the area.

“It is so easy to find megalithic assets in every district in Bondowoso. Each district owns a unique asset, such as Maesan, with batu kenong, and Pujer, with dolmen,” he said.

Edy said that the artifacts proved that a developed culture was present in Bondowoso more than 4,000 years ago, before the start of the Bronze Age, and that the region was a fertile area, which attracted people to settle down.

In Bondowoso, researchers could find artifacts from the early Stone Age culture, such as dolmen and menhir, and later Stone Age culture, such as sarcophagi and batu kenong, Edy said.

However, increased government monitoring and supervision was essential — especially to stop irresponsible collectors from stealing the megalithic objects, which he said were priceless.

“As of today, the government has yet to build a museum in Bondowoso. Can you imagine that?” Edy said. – Jakarta Post

Volcano tourism is one of the fledgling industries around Mount Merapi. Two woman wait to sell merchandise to visitors. (JG)

Volcano tourism is one of the fledgling industries around Mount Merapi. Two woman wait to sell merchandise to visitors. (JG)


Volcano tourism is one of the fledgling industries around Mount Merapi. Two woman wait to sell merchandise to visitors. (JG)

A week after Indonesia’s most volatile volcano erupted in 2010, Djana returned to his village in Klaten, Central Java, to find it buried beneath three meters of rock and sand.

His house, like everything else in Kaliadem village, was wiped out when Mount Merapi spewed scorching hot gas and rock down its slopes.

“I was sad, devastated, but there was nothing I could do,” the 37-year-old father of one said.

“I felt I wasn’t alone, my neighbors lost their houses, too.”

The eruption on Oct. 26, and several that followed, demolished parts of Sleman, Magelang, Boyolali and Klaten districts. Thousands of homes were destroyed and 349 people were killed.

Djana, a farmer, lost all four of his cattle and spent the next two years jobless, moving from one crowded shelter to the next with his wife and young son.

Damage and loss from the eruption totaled Rp 3.68 trillion ($299 million), Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said. The loss to the local economy was estimated to be Rp 1.6 trillion, a toll of about 40 percent.

Four years later, however, there are numerous signs of recovery — although improvement has been uneven and remains below target overall.

In Yogyakarta, 3,424 homes were damaged in the eruption, slightly more than double the number in Central Java. But recovery in the housing sector has reached pre-disaster levels, and in some areas exceeded it, according to a disaster recovery index piloted in affected communities.

The local economy has also improved substantially since immediately after the eruption. Average incomes have climbed steadily in affected areas and are now higher than before the eruption, according to the survey company that authored the index.

At his modest, cinder-block home in Pagerjurang, a relocation site of 301 households, Djana said he never imagined he would have a house, car, or his life back.

He said the level of assistance provided by central and local governments had been adequate, but his new life wasn’t without challenges.

“I am a farmer. I had four cows for milking but they all died,” Djana said.

“I now do whatever I can turn my hands to; I build houses, mine sand, whatever I can to get money for my family.”

Like hundreds of others left jobless after the eruption, Djana has been forced to seek whatever employment he can, even if that means giving up a life-long vocation.

While agriculture and horticulture, traditionally economic mainstays of communities on Mount Merapi, have been severely impacted by the eruption, new industries have flourished.

Volcano tourism, transportation and sand mining have all been big growth areas, people involved in the recovery process say.

“People have not just sat quietly and waited for a gift from heaven,” said Bondan S. Sikoki, the founder of SurveyMeter, which has carried out two longitudinal surveys in the four affected districts.

“They have also shifted jobs. Most of the shifting has been from farming to trading and services.”

Mining of Mount Merapi’s high-quality volcanic sand has been a big driver of economic recovery, too. Scores of trucks carrying the material, which is used to make cement, barrel down the slopes of the 2,930-meter volcano 24 hours a day.

Mining of river beds and other areas flooded with volcanic material has become a lucrative industry and a key source of employment for local people. It also has an important disaster prevention role: minimizing the risk of lahar, volcanic mud torrents, triggered by bouts of heavy rain.

But mining — and the communities’ reliance on it — is having disastrous effects on Mount Merapi’s roads and bridges, many of which are now in worse condition than immediately after the volcano erupted.

Roads on the volcano’s slopes are more often than not rutted and potholed, in some sections they are completely washed out.

Faced with a volcano which has erupted regularly since 1548, the state of local infrastructure has some recovery agencies anxious.

“If Merapi erupts, these are also evacuation roads — it’s very dangerous,” said Frans Tolgimin, coordinator of the Merapi Disaster Risk Reduction forum.

Frans said the local government needed to think clearly about how to manage the issue and suggested maybe the trucks’ tonnage needed to be limited.

His views are echoed by Rinto Andriono, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project coordinator for Merapi recovery and response, who says he has asked local government to do a cost-benefit study on the mining.

He said infrastructure and disaster preparedness would continue to decline if sand mining went on unchecked.

“Infrastructure is getting worse and the evacuation way for high-risk communities becomes a serious problem,” Rinto said.

While reconstruction and recovery between 2010 and 2012 reached planned targets, over the past two years progress has stalled and, in some areas, declined.

All four districts affected by the eruption are below 2014 recovery targets, according to the Merapi Disaster Recovery Index (DRI), a standardized tool used to measure post-disaster recovery.

The index, an initiative between the BNPB, the UNDP and disaster management agencies in Yogyakarta and Central Java, showed that was largely a result of the poor quality of roads, bridges and public transportation access.

But it also noted disaster preparedness and restoration of agricultural land was going backward.

Rinto said the UNDP was worried things could deteriorate further as the central government wound up aid this year.

“We are trying to disseminate this information to the local government to say that this is a serious problem,” he said.

As the government pulls out, the drive toward full reconstruction is likely to slow, people involved in coordinating recovery told the Jakarta Globe.

But the provincial governments of Yogyakarta and Central Java have a useful tool in the DRI, which allows them to see what areas are in need of attention.

“We hope the government will use that information [from the DRI] to plan and re-plan the recovery process,” Rinto said.

Recovery was a multi-year process, he said. And for communities on the flanks of Mount Merapi, it’s still going on. – The Jakarta Globe


Thousands of Dancers Enliven Banyuwangi Gandrung Festival

The local government of Banyuwangi Regency, East Java, held the Gandrung Sewu Festival in Boom Beach. The dance festival was enlivened by more than 1,200 gandrung dancers who danced the sunset of Bali Strait.

“Like previous years, Gandrung Sewu Festival offered stunning entertainment, where thousands of dancers in dominant red attires look captivating on the sunset glow,” said Yanuarto Bramuda, the acting head of Banyuwangi Regency Culture and Tourism Agency.

The Gandrung dance is one of Banyuwangi’s traditional dances that was set as ‘Intangible Culture Heritage’ by the Education and Culture Ministry in 2013. This year’s festival carried out the theme of “Seblang Subuh.” It depicts the act of asking forgiveness from God and self-cleaning.

“The Gandrung Sewu Festival also presents the appearance of Gandrung Semi that is followed by thousands of red-costumed gandrung dance bursting from all directions and then gather in one point,” Bramuda added.

Uniquely, the dancers bring along not only fan but also straw brooms as the symbol of cleansing ritual.

Science Expedition Reveals Biodiversity in Papua

A team of joint researchers has revealed the biodiversity of the coast and karst mountains along the Lengguru area in Kaimana Regency, West Papua. The team, which was deployed in an expedition from Oct. 17 to Nov. 20, succeeded in collecting initial data of the biodiversity in the barely touched area.

The team consisted of researchers from the Indonesia Institute of Science (LIPI), the French Institute of Research for Development, the Sorong Fisheries Academy, the Kaimana Fisheries and Marine Agency, the State University of Papua, Cendrawasih University, and Musamus University.

“We exploredan  area from 100-meters deep underwater up to 1,000-meters in height,” said the team coordinator from LIPI, Gono Semiadi.

Hundreds of species of fishes, crustaceans and sea anemones in the Kaimana waters have been listed. In Lengguru’s Karst mountains, the team spotted bowerbird nests. Bowerbirds are known for their expertise in decorating and keeping their nests clean.

“It [the bowerbird] is one of Papua’s endemic species and is renowned for its courtship behavior to attract female birds,” Gono explained.

Researchers also found more than a dozen new insects, reptiles and mollusca. According to Gono, the announcement of these new species would take time depending on the availability of experts.

The expedition focused mainly on the Lengguru area since there have been no zoology or botany recorded data of the area. Lengguru is home to hundreds of ancient endemic areas.

According to Gono, the forests in Lengguru are well-preserved, with no land opened for plantation, production forests or mining like those in Kalimantan, Sumatra, and several parts in Papua.

“This area must be protected, especially from companies that intend to open oil palm plantation and mines,” Gono added. – Tempo

In Bali, balancing the universe

Mt. Akung on Bali (KA)

Mt. Akung on Bali (KA)

Balinese Hindus believe that prayer is needed to create the power to balance our world as it traverses the Kali Yuga. In the village of Juga outside Ubud, thousands have come to “re-charge” their temple’s batteries to bring harmony to a world in chaos.
Working in shifts over five months, men and women have been preparing for the Upacara Karya Perdudusan Agung ceremony, which will cost the community around US$150,000 to stage.
One volunteer on the project, tour guide Nyoman Darmu, says the last ceremony was held around 40 years ago, when he was still in grade school.
“We believe the ceremony needs to be repeated every 30 or 40 years, because the power created in the ceremony starts to run down, like it’s getting a flat battery,” he says.
The goal of the Upacara Karya Perdudusan Agung is not only to re-balance the village in Bali, but the entire world.
“What we seek in this ceremony is five points; these are safety, peace, wealth, health and balance,” Nyoman says. “Health is the most important. If we have our health, we can work and educate our kids, so health is very important for the other four points to develop.”
Wayan Padra, the head of Juga village, says that the lead-up to the main ceremony on Jan. 6 involves 226 families from the village and help from eight surrounding villages. “There are thousands of people involved. From this ceremony, we pray for the balance of nature, including people. It is part of our
Tri Hita Karena philosophy that seeks balance between man, the natural world and the gods.”
Bathers at a Hindu temple on Bali. (KA)

Bathers at a Hindu temple on Bali. (KA)

Padra continues. “We hope to bring positive thinking to the world. With this, our aura is better and our atmosphere is more holy. This is not only for our village, this is for the whole world — to balance the world. We are in the time of the Kali Yuga, a negative period of chaos, so when we have this remony we will have more positive results from the gods.”
At the center of the ritual are Rangda and Barong, the incarnations of the wedded gods Durga and Shiva, who are masters of life and death.
In crafting their effigies for the ceremony, the Balinese Hindus have celebrated the life-giving power of the gods. Rangda and Barong have been decorated with 23 different types of seeds and six different strains of rice.
Bringing each of these gods to life takes 10 people working every day for a month, to glue seeds as tiny as a sesame seed to the bodies, creating a mosaic from thousands of individual seeds.
“These are the symbols of a married couple,” Nyoman says. “We have good in the Barong and evil in Rangda, two sides of the same coin that we believe cannot exist without the other. Neither positive nor negative is more important than the other. With this ceremony we try to balance them.”
The man in charge of making the effigies, Ketut Bonar explained why seeds were used. “With this we give thanks to the gods for food. From seeds, we humans have food to eat and food for our livestock. We need a huge volume of seeds for the effigies. First we look to our farmers, so we take from the natural world around us, then from local markets. There are sesame, green beans, rice and many more types of seeds used.”
Ketut continues. “After the ceremony on Jan. 6, Rangda and Barong will be placed in the temple. Then people can pray and ask for the seeds so these return to the earth. So the seeds meet the gods in thanks then return to the natural world.”
The story of Durga and Shiva is one of faithfulness, says Ketut.
“After Shiva banished Durga to earth as Rangda he missed her so much he became the Barong so he could again be close to his wife. So it’s a story of love and faithfulness and the balance between,” says Ketut of the grand ceremony’s central gods and of their adherents who hope to bring that balance into human lives through prayer. – The Jakarta Post

Unveiling the Cultural Wonders of Mahakam River

The Sei Mahakam Festival, sponsored by French oil company Total, highlighted the artistic elements of East Kalimantan’s Dayak culture. (JG)

The Sei Mahakam Festival, sponsored by French oil company Total, highlighted the artistic elements of East Kalimantan’s Dayak culture. (JG)

The Dayak artisans focused on weaving their plaited arts and crafts in the same intent manner their ancestors have applied for hundreds of years.

Their practiced hands intricately wove the bamboo and rattan into wide brimmed cahung, or solar hats, baskets to hold paddy seeds, anyaman weave mats and ulap doyo cloth from the fibers of curculigo leaves. Their deft touch came from constant practice and hundreds of years’ worth of tradition, turning everyday objects into works of art.

“The craftsmanship on this rice paddy basket can be seen by its weaving. Up close, the weave is indistinguishable; but look at it from a distance, and you can discern distinctive shapes from its cross patterning” said Cecil Mariani, a representative of the Total Foundation who brought the artisans to Jakarta.

“The colors used to dye each item come from natural sources. The red coloring is from the fruit of the rattan tree, while black is from charcoal. Both use beeswax as an adhesive to make the colors stick to the rattan or bamboo.”

The artisans are among the indigenous peoples of East Kalimantan who enlivened the Sei Mahakam Festival, which is held at the Bentara Budaya cultural center in Jakarta. Sponsored by  French oil giant Total, the festival highlights the subcultures and peoples of East Kalimantan’s Kutai Kertanagara district, many of whom depend on the Mahakam river for trade, travel and livelihood.

These include the Melayu ethnic group who are part of the Kutai Kertanagara sultanate, which dates back to the fourth century AD. It includes the Dayak tribes of Kenyah or Aoheng that live inland, as well as the Bugis and Banjar ethnic groups that live on the coasts.

In a statement, Total said the festival is shares its mission of “raising public awareness about Kutai Kartanegara’s culture to the public and its standing as an Indonesian cultural heritage that has to be preserved.”

Cecil echoed the company’s sentiments: “The Sei Mahakam Festival is one of a number of annual events in Kutai. They are usually held to mark the agricultural calendar, such as planting the rice paddies or other crops and harvesting them.”

“[The festivals] are also opened by the chiefs, as the preeminent member of the Dayak tribes, or the kings of Kutai Kertanegara, depending on the area. So this festival is our way of sharing our traditions with the Indonesian public.”

True to its name, the Mahakam river’s bounty of fish is a major theme of the exhibition, as shown in an array of items like the rectangular hempang, a bamboo net tied with rattan that’s used to store fish, and the hinjap, or net used to store fishing gear. Others include fish traps like the bubu, which are designed to capture or trawl fish in the swamps or mangroves.

While the other items epitomize the Dayak’s ability to make art out of everyday items, none are as eye catching as theketinting canoe. Its bold blues and reds instantly catch the eye, as do the simple aesthetics of its lines.

The exhibition also acknowledged the Mahakam’s darker side by showcasing the stuffed and preserved bodies of a male and female crocodile. Measuring about six and five meters respectively, the predators were shot and killed after they preyed on locals by its shores.

The splendor of the Kutai Kartanegara sultanate rounded out the exhibition. The mythical lenbuswana, which is similar to the chimera, perhaps reflects it best.

A fanciful figure with the body and face of a cow, the tusks and proboscis of an elephant, the wings of a bird and the spurs and claws of a rooster, the lenbuswana has been a symbol of the sultanate for hundreds of years, its gold color setting the tone for the Kutai Kartanegara part of the exhibition.

In one corner, a gold headdress reminiscent of those worn in other ancient Indonesian kingdoms like the Majapahit or Sriwijaya sat enclosed in a glass case. In another part of the room, a baby rocker stood by a number of ritual items, giving a glimpse of how spiritual ceremonies and personal touches intertwine.

The Sei Mahakam Festival was also enlivened by cooking demonstrations of Kutai cuisine and an array of performance arts. In addition to the more common Dayak dances, the festival showcased the Jepen dance, a traditional Kutai dance that has Melayu and Islamic influences, and the Mamanda theatrical performance by the Mamanda Panji Berseri Troupe.

The latter, which derives its name from the Kutai language term for “uncle,” features a play called “Jangan Nodai Perjuangan Kami” or “Don’t Taint Our Struggles.” Based on a centuries old tale of a local hero who married into royalty, the play features lively banter and the ritualized yet fluid movements of silat, an Indonesian form martial arts. But whichever traditional art form visitors prefer, they were not short of choices at the Sei Mahakam Festival. – The Jakarta Globe

Old-fashioned: A miner works with manual tools near the Bone River in Pauwo village, Bone Bolango regency, Gorontalo. The government estimates that there are thousands of miners using similar methods in the region.(JP)

Old-fashioned: A miner works with manual tools near the Bone River in Pauwo village, Bone Bolango regency, Gorontalo. The government estimates that there are thousands of miners using similar methods in the region.(JP)


Workers spray water to a pile of galingales to clean the dirt off of them after being harvested in Gunung Putri, Bogor in West Java. Galingale is a type of herb popular in Indonesian cuisine and traditional medicine that can be cultivated in either plateau or lowland areas. The tight competition in prices in Jakarta has prompted galingale farmers in Gunung Putri to sell their harvest to Bandung, West Java. (JP)

Workers spray water to a pile of galingales to clean the dirt off of them after being harvested in Gunung Putri, Bogor in West Java. Galingale is a type of herb popular in Indonesian cuisine and traditional medicine that can be cultivated in either plateau or lowland areas. The tight competition in prices in Jakarta has prompted galingale farmers in Gunung Putri to sell their harvest to Bandung, West Java. (JP)

A Hidden Gem of Ecotourism in W. Kalimantan

Noon is yet to come; the sun seems reluctant to share its rays. A motorboat moves slowly atop the Embaloh River, its passengers sharpen their eyes and ears, ready with their cameras.

(Betung Kerihun National Park is home to a rich collection of flora and fauna unique to Borneo, offering travelers a rare opportunity to embark on an adventure of ecotourism. (JG)

(Betung Kerihun National Park is home to a rich collection of flora and fauna unique to Borneo, offering travelers a rare opportunity to embark on an adventure of ecotourism. (JG)

Salamat, a Dayak Iban, carefully maneuvers the boat while monitoring the waters and its surrounding. Spotting movement in the foliage of the rainforest, he calls out: “There! A wild boar!”

Salamat turns off the engine while his passengers crane their necks to catch a glimpse of the animal. To their delight, a female boar and her three piglets scamper across the riverside to the safety of the forest. They move so quickly, the camera capturing only a blur of brown fur among the leaves.

A few minutes later we catch sight of several species of monkeys, including two that at first glimpse resemble Mullers’ Bornean gibbons (Hylobates muelleri), clinging to a tree. Their human cousins watch with awe and amazement as they leap off their perch, bouncing from one branch to another in excitement as they head deeper into wild.

The call of the Muller’s Bornean gibbon, or gray gibbon, is very distinctive, but for now its boisterous hoots are absent, the animals having suddenly turned quiet as they’re likely searching for food, says Salamat.

The guide adds that it is currently fruit season in Betung Kerihun National Park (TNBK), West Kalimantan, and if one wishes to hear the loud voices of the gray gibbon and the soothing melodies of various exotic birds, visitors should stay overnight at Tekelan Camp. In the wee hours of the morning, you will be awakened by a melodious orchestra of these animals.

Tekelan is a two- to three-hour boat ride — depending on the weather and season — from the village of Manua Sadap. Its campsite provides relatively clean toilet facilities. Visitors can safely swim or raft in the clear waters of the Tekelan River, whose steady current presents no danger to even beginners.

Derian Camp is located downstream of the river and boasts a “biological library” that is the tropical rainforest of West Kalimantan.

The river is also bursting with what is locally known as semah fish, or mahseer (Tor tambroides), living up to the Embaloh’s reputation as a heaven for anglers.

Betung Kerihun National Park

Betung Kerihun National Park is the biggest conservation area in West Kalimantan province, covering 800,000 hectares of Kapuas Hulu district. The park is directly adjacent to Sarawak, Malaysia, and is part of a joint cross-border conservation area with Lanjak Entimau Wild Life Sanctuary (LEWS) and Batang Ai National Park in Sarawak.

Embaloh and Tekelan are merely two of the hundreds of rivers flowing through the TNBK, while its vast expanse of tropical rainforests provide a safe haven for countless species of flora and fauna, including many that are endangered, such as the orangutan and black orchid.

The national park is also part of a conservation initiative called the Heart of Borneo (HoB), a program established in 2007 by non-profit organizations and NGOs from Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Visitors can reach TNBK through the town of Putussibau in West Kalimantan or Kuching on the Malaysian side. The latter route involves a five-hour drive along a smooth highway to the Nanga Badau border crossing. Putussibau is closer, but the journey takes just as long because the roads are an obstacle course of potholes and loose gravel.

The Indonesian side of Nanga Badau is littered with empty, decaying buildings that were meant to house immigration officers. However, lack of access to water has driven many of them out of the area, according to the border office.

In striking contrast, the Malaysian side of the border pass is fed by a modern highway that automatically records the number of vehicles passing through. Here, the immigration checkpoint is equipped with state-of-the-art fingerprint scanners and computers. Its Indonesian counterpart, meanwhile, still uses traditional record-keeping methods with a manual form.

Another notable difference between the individual parks that make up the multinational conservation area lies in the number of visitors. Muhammad Wahyudi, the manager of the TNBK, says the park hosts 20 to 30 visitors each month. The three national parks of Sarawak, meanwhile, are visited by five millions tourists every year.

The majestic beauty of Betung Kerihun National Park has sadly remained unknown to both domestic and foreign tourists. There is more to the park than its rich collection of unique wildlife and flora; the area is also home to the indigenous Dayak tribe.

Menua Sadap, one of the entrances to TNBK through the river, is the main village for the Dayak Iban people, a small community known for its carvings and music. Ruman betang longhouses, which are unique to the Dayak culture, are a common sight in Menua Sadap, providing a home to some 100 families in the village. Some have opened their doors to tourists, allowing them to stay the night for a small fee.

In addition to tourists, the park is also visited by researchers from Europe and the United States who make these traditional longhouses their temporary homes, according to Salamat.

From Menua Sadap, tourists have the option of visiting a plethora of sites, from the Laboh Besar and Laboh Kecil waterfalls, to the majestic Betung Mountain, Laboh Atoll and Panjau Cave.

The surrounding tropical rainforest creates an ecosystem for 695 species of trees; 48 mammals, including clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa); eight primate species, including the orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus); and also 301 types of birds, including the helmeted hornbill (Buceros vigil).

ITTO and ecotourism

Betung Kerihun National Park has since 1995 worked with the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), an intergovernmental group consisting of more than countries, on a transboundary conservation area (TBCA).

ITTO and the Indonesian government are currently completing the third phase of the conservation initiative, which will also work to further develop ecotourism in Entimau Natural Reserve and Batang Ai National Park.

Project coordinator Yani Septiani says the Embaloh River is now the focus of ecoutorism projects because of its location, which borders Indonesia and Malaysia, and because they are aimed at raising the welfare of people living in the border zone as well.

“Indonesia should learn more from the Sarawak state of Malaysia, which gets regional foreign exchange from ecotourism in Batang Aiu National Park and Lanjak Entimau nature reserve,” she says.

That is why, she adds, a joint effort and partnerships are needed to boost infrastructure and develop the potential tourism site.

Kuching, for example, boasts a Sarawak cultural village where tourists can experience the art and culture of Dayak tribes.

“TNBK is now in the process of site planning and working together with the ITTO, which will become a reference for investors who wish to put their money into ecotourism here. With their help we can also improve the way we manage the area,” Wahyudi says.

“The local tourism body has also been of great help, creating regulations and policies which support TNBK’s effort to become a tourist destination.” – The Jakarta Globe

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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