Bukit Raya (2): Into The Heart of Borneo

Bukit Raya Bukit Baka National Park located right in the heart of Borneo lowlands, the richest rainforest in the world, which has more species of plants than the whole African Continent. The plants and critters are nothing like you’ve ever seen and that’s only in the hiking paths. I wonder what kind of creature lurks in the deepest part of Borneo rainforest.

Rantau Malam

Day#3: 15-08-2016 |We leave Brasnabun early in the morning. It’s possible to cruise straight to Rantau Malam in wet season, but now in the dry season when the water is shallow, the boat wouldn’t be able to pass through, so we stop at Jelundung and proceed to Rantau Malam by motorcycle taxi.

Rantau Malam is the last settlement before entering the national park area, here we reorganize, manage our packs and logistics. After that all team members must attend a blessing ritual performed by a shaman and his wife. Motorcycle taxis are already waiting us when the ritual ends, one by one hop onto the backseat and ride away.

The driver expertly steers the motorcycle  through rough terrain, the ride is so shaky that I don’t have the courage to pull out my camera to capture the action. Korong Hape, our destination, also a starting trail appears after 30 minutes of crazy ride. This is the last place where you can get a cellphone signal (“Hape” = cellphone).

Jelundung
Blessing ritual #1: Animal sacrifice
Blessing ritual #2: Applying the chicken blood
Korong Hape
First Camp: Hulu Rabang

10:15 AM we start the hike. As I walk further into the jungle, lots of insects twice the normal size appear, some leeches begin climbing on my shoes. So it begins, I’m officially entering the kingdom of creepy crawlers.

There’s an opening after 36 minutes walking, this is the last place where I can see the hills surrounding the national park. One of the guides tells me that we won’t see open space like this until we’re back. From here forward,  there are only trees, lots of trees.

Hulu Menyanoi is our first stop for lunch, there’s a small stream with clear water and space for 2-3 tents.  The time is 12:37 PM, Ega and Rio, the team’s chefs start preparing food. Half an hour later, another team arrives, we cramped the space and fill the air with the smell of our cooking.

Two hours later, after everyone’s finished their lunch, we start walking to Hulu Rabang, a campsite where we’d spend the night.  Walking in the jungle as dense as this,  4 o’clock in the afternoon feels like 6.

Everywhere I look there are only trees and moss. Deep inside the forest, the leeches are getting crazier, jumping from the ground, while others are flying from the leaves and trees, making myself busy removing these blood-thirsty suckers off my clothes and shoes.

The opening
Hulu Menyanoi

At 5 PM, the dark creeps in and the light is almost gone, I put on the headlamp and continue  walking.  It seems like an endless walk, up and down the hill for so many times that I lost count. “Are we there yet?” is the question directed at me repeatedly because I’m the only one who brings a preloaded tracklog on my GPS. I answer “Soon”, while peek at the GPS, knowing that Hulu Rabang is still 1.5 hours away.

In the middle of the darkness, we arrive at Hulu Rabang after passing a long steep hill. The campsite has crystal clear stream, it could fit 4-6 tents while others could sleep on the hunter’s hut nearby. Unlike any other mountains I hike, here at the campsite, the temperature is quite high around 20-250C with 80-90% humidity. I sleep without a sleeping bag, wearing only a baselayer and running tights.

Hulu Rabang
My yellow tent at Hulu Rabang
Rio (orange bandana) and local porters
Second Camp: Sowa Badak

Day#4: 16-08-2016 | The rain falls past midnight until dawn, leaving the campsite completely damp and wet. This is an ideal condition for the leeches to come out and party. I find them everywhere: around the tent, in the bushes, on the grass, prepare to leap on the first chance they have. Smoke from the remain of bonfire filled the campsite, most of the porters prefer sleep near the fire, the leech wouldn’t go near them because of the smoke.

8:40 AM, after breakfast we start walking toward the second camp: Sowa Badak. If the leeches at Hulu Rabang are like kittens, then the leeches on the trail are like tiger demons. To anticipate them, I put a longsleeve shirt, covered my head with a buff, wear long socks and gaiters.

I reach Hulu Jelundung two hours later, there’s a water spring with slightly red-colored water caused by the submerged wood in the water. It’s not lunch time yet so I continue walking. 1:15 PM there’s a hunters’ outpost, I inspect my gaiters and find lots of leeches on the inside, some even manage to penetrate my thick socks, getting fat sucking blood. It seems that gaiters are useless and they turn into a leech magnet.

Huge fallen trees are common view on the trail
Hunters’ outpost, inspecting leeches
After pull out the leeches one by one, I store my gaiters and put the socks over my pants. The longer I stay, the more the leeches are coming out. Not wanting to be a sitting duck on the second wave atack, I continue walking. 2:14 PM I reach Linang. Here, we have lunch and rest for awhile before proceed to Sowa Badak, our campsite for today, just 2 hours walking distance.

One thing for sure on the trail from Linang to Sowa Badak: the quantity of the trees, moss, and leeches doubled until I feel that the jungle slowly devours me.

We settle at Sowa Badak at 6 PM. The place is cramped, there’s only a space for three large tents and a solo tent. I help both of our “chefs” preparing food, so when the last team members arrive two hours later, dinner is ready. We eat and talk until late, enjoying life in the jungle, without a care in the world.

At Linang
Chef Ega preparing lunch
Cramped space at Sowa Badak
To the summit and back

Day#5: 17-08-2016 | In the morning right after breakfast, I start preparing the essentials for walk to the summit. The trail to Puncak Kakam, the highest peak in Bukit Raya Bukit Baka National Park, is nothing like I’ve ever seen. Strange critters roam the jungle, lots of exotic plants either sprout from the ground or hanging on the trees, colossal moss that covers almost a whole tree and spreads like a Persian carpet, massive trees that completely block the sunlight. It’s just like entering another world, a rainforest wonderland, rich of life.

Cooking rice
Everything’s covered with moss
Remind me of alien worms on Prometheus
It takes 5 hours of moderate pace to reach Puncak Kakam (2278 m). Even at the top, trees are blocking the view, unlike any other summits where I can see 3600 view unobstructed. There are two small shrines, one looks very old and the other is new. One of the guides tells me that the old shrine was made by Tjilik Riwut from Dayak Ngaju tribe, an avid adventurer and a national hero, he is still considered as the first man to reach Puncak Kakam.

Going back to the camp at Sowa Badak only takes 3 hours 45 minutes. There’s a surplus on logistics for today, so after having dinner, we eat the remaining food, mostly are french fries. My stomach is full of carbs and at 10 PM sharp, I sneak back into the tent and sleep in peace.

Up!
Surrounded by moss
The summit (Puncak Kakam) 2278 m

Back to civilization

Day#6: 18-08-2016 | There’s a small pillar 100 meters from Sowa Badak, marking the border between West and Central Kalimantan. The campsite is in West Kalimantan, the summit is in Central Kalimantan.

8 AM, everything’s already packed and we’re ready to depart. I arrive at Hulu Jelundung for lunch 3 hours 18 minutes later. As a comparison how fast the descend is, two days ago it took 7.5 hours from Hulu Jelundung to Sowa Badak. Because all of the plates are taken by the porter who walk behind and not yet arrived, we improvise by using large leaves as plates, 100% degradable and eco-friendly.

1:28 PM I arrive at Hulu Rabang, this is the first time in 4 days I arrive at the campsite when it’s not dark and the sun is still high. I spend time talking with fellow hikers and porters, sharing stories and laughs.  I even manage to take a refreshing bath in the stream before dark, it feels so good to pour clean cold water from head to toe, washing away four days worth of dirt and sweat.

Small pillar marking the border between 2 provinces
Eco-friendly plate
Sharing stories and laughs back at Hulu Rabang
Day#7:  19-08-2016 | Leaving Hulu Rabang at 7 AM, I feel that the number of  leeches are significantly decreased. Probably because it hasn’t been rain for 3 days. Nevertheless I’m getting used to those little vampires, kinda miss them when they’re gone.

We stop and eat lunch at Hulu Menyanoi at 10:48 AM. There’s a small incident, two team members got separated and lost but fortunately they can trace the way back with the help of the porters that chasing them back.

Finally at 2:40 PM I arrive at Korong Hape, the moment I step out of the jungle, suddenly it feels hot, and when I measure the temperature with my watch, it’s scorching 420C, hot enough to leave nasty sunburn. All team members and porters soon arrive safely at Korong Hape, waiting for motorcycle taxis to pick us up.

My journey into the heart of Borneo officially ends when I ride away on the motorcycle, leaving the kingdom of leeches behind me. So long you pesky little vampires!

Approaching the end of the jungle
Back to Korong Hape
Our ride home
42 degree celcius!

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2 comments

  1. Wow, man, thank you so much for these words and pictures! Would you actually recommend this hike or are there better trails in Indonesia? It sounds like the park is full of moss and leeches, but the chance of seeing monkeys is pretty low. I was also interested in seeing the culture of the Dayak people, but it sounds like this hike is not a great choice for that either.

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    • Thanks, man. Actually this isn’t a scenic trail, so you wouldn’t get instagrammable pictures while hiking, in fact this is more like a virgin rainforest hike, full of plants and strange critters. May be if you go off trail (which I strongly not recommend, there’s a chance of seeing the monkeys). But if you want better view, there are Semeru in East Java, Tambora in Sumbawa, or Rinjani in Lombok island

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