It's been a busy few days. They have been really fascinating, and so enjoyable - alot to talk about, so, if you're sitting comfortably, I will begin. (if you're not, get comfy now. You have a couple of seconds - - - - -)
OK, so we were picked up the other day early in the morning and taken straight out to a nearby animal reserve where we were hoping to see the boys themselves - the main reason I wanted to come her - the Orangutans. They are as wild as they can possibly be in this reserve, and the intention is to leave them to their own devices as much as possible. However, at this time of the year it is difficult for them to find fruit, especially the young ones, and so twice a day for the next few months they put some food out on a feeding platform to ensure they are keeping well.
This is great for us, because it meant we were pretty much guaranteed a sighting, albeit in not the most natural of situations.
We got there and didn't have to wait long to see on. We first caught a glimpse of a rustling in the trees, but thought it could have been the wind, so ignored it. But the big orange fellas live in nests in the trees, and before long you could see a couple of long arms reaching out of the high canopy and start to make its way towards the food. It swung over our heads and nimbly got to the waiting fruit, before dashing down to cram as much in its mouth as possible and rushing back up to the safety of the tree to consume it.
After we had watched this guy for a while, we were informed that further into the jungle there were a few more feeding. We walked the short 200m to the spot, and whilst the Germans in front got excited over a passing squirrel (I can see them at home!), I was brimming with excitement - I had already seen one, and could not wait for more. We were not dissapointed. Awaiting us was an enormous specimen, a deep red colour, casually stuffing his gigantic cheeks with melon and papaya. Others tried and failed to get some for themselves, stealthily moving in from all angles, occassionally getting lucky and nabbing some loot before making a quick dash for it.
The highlight for me though was still to come - after a few minutes another ape descended from high inthe trees, with its back to us. From behind you could see that there were four little hands gripping tightly to the orange fur. As it came down, the small baby prooved elusive, it's mother shying it away from the crowds. Once she had stopped though, the intrigue of the infant took over and he struck out alone, frolicing on the branches and chowing down on a banana.
You could tell how excited everybody around us was by the audible silence - the only noise made by the jungle itself. These were truly magnificent animals, and to see them in their natural habitat was something I will not soon forget. The way they move through the trees, and play with each other, and interact is so similar to how we might be with one another that you can sometimes forget they are in fact wild animals. They are fascinating to observe, and we could easily have done so all day, but we had another appointment.
This evening we were to stay in a Longhouse deep in the nearby jungle with the Iban tribe - a tribe still living old school, the way their ancestors did, just now accepting tourists to observe their ways. We had already been four hours in a car to get there and to finish the trip we had be transported on a Longboat - weaving through the rivers I had observed from the plane just a few days before was pretty exhilirating, imagining somebody above watching us make the journey just a speck on the water. Surronded by trees and rocks, and whizzing over the small rapids felt like we were embarking on some sort of adventure - soon to arrive at a hidden village to unearth some kind of mystery.
We didn't obviously - there were none to solve!
The Longhouse itself was over 100m long and housed 24 families, each with their own seperate living quarters. To be welcomed into the tribe, we had to each buy a gift for each of the families, and a shop in the nearest town made quite a lucrative trade by selling goods already packed into lots of 24 - lollies, crisps, pencils etc. So with these in hand we were all OK to stay and could enjoy the Longhouse as if it was our own home.
After we had settled in and explored the local area, I decided to join the locals bathing in the river, leaving Dan and his adversity to any water that's not coming from a tank, behind. Now, the last time I shared a bath with anyone was a pretty long time ago, despite suggesting it when sharing a house at University to share money. But yesterday all the children were getting their hair washed, and teeth cleaned in the river, and when they looked at me just swimming, a small girl offered me some shampoo, and I washed up like goodun. It was refreshing to wash in the outdoors with the bugs and birds around you, and it was fun. We had a couple of splash fights and attacks with make shift water guns were common place, (the local kids not seeing the futility in getting me wet whilst swimming!) It has been nice to see on this trip how universally similar children are, all seeming to laugh at the same things and the same attitude towards foreigners - that they are not something to fear, but rather something to accept and even have fun with. I think there are a few adults who could learn the same thing!
Feeling suitably clean, and after we had eaten, we were treated to a show of traditional dance, and got to meet the Chief and his Witchdoctor - two pretty important guys as I'm sure you can imagine. They were both frail old men knocking 90, but were very welcoming and even pleased to see us. We then got to try some of their locally brewed alcohol - rice wine first, which was a surprisingly sweet drink, each family having it's own brewing recipe meaning that each bottle we tried was slightly different. More potent, and perhaps that was the reason they saved it until we had drunk our share of wine, was the rice whiskey, smelling not dissimilar to petrol and burning the back of your throat when you drank it, actually was not entirely unpleasant and got us reasonably merry.
We retired and clambered into our beds, and made sure our mosquito nets were securely closed. Listening to the crickets and thefrogs in the trees, eventually the whiskey allowed me to sleep.
Alas, living in a village like this means sleep will not last too long, at at the crack of dawn we were awoken by the local roosters, continually cock-a-doodle-dooing until nobody within a four mile radius could possibly be sleeping. We arose and ate, and then were shown the self same Roosters battling it out in a cockfight. Ordinarily in the city it is illegal for such practices, butthey have a special licence here. They did not fight to the death however as they were merely showing us waht it was like, although when they do it for real at festivals, it is apparently a blood bath.
Not something I would want to see.
After we grappled briefly with some blow dart training, aiming not at an animal but a papaya (I let that little fruit have it!!), we set out to explore the surronding jungle. The village is entirely self-sufficient, relying on rice paddies, vegetable patches and wild animals for their food. They could use plants for clothes, they produce rubber from trees, and even have a leaf that can be substituted for sandpaper. They seem a world away from us, almost like wild animals themselves, living in the jungle and surviving using nature.
But then we were shown something that changed all those thoughts - that reinforced the fact that they are just people like us, that may live differently, but ultimately have the same feelings and emotions that we do. The guide led us to their cemetery in the jungle - an area where all their dead were taken and buried. On each grave were all the things they would need in the afterlife, and an urn. The urn was filled with water and if the water level decreaed, it was believed they were unhappy and something would need to be changed. The size of the urn was in direct relation to the age of the person when they died.
There was a tiny urn just off the path.
The guide said it was for a baby that died at just 6 months old.
The group of people that had seemed near invincible moments before now seemed just as vulnerable as anybody else, if not more so being out here away from any sort of hospital or genuine car. I don't know the circumstances and didn't ask, but all of a sudden this village we were visiting felt so much more real, and the respect I had for them was increased enormously. I don't mean to sound patronising, but I was so impressed by the way they lived and were able to get on with life, without the things we take for granted.
They did have TVs, and they did have electricity, and beds and sofas and so on. But they had it because they worked for it, not because they think they deserved it. I think that is something I greatly admired them for. It was a brilliant experience, and only wish I could have spent a couple more days with them
I look good in a loincloth.