I severely neglected this blog while I was in Uganda. I plan to share those stories and photographs at some point, but for now, there are more current tales to tell!
Two days ago, I arrived here in Ketapang—a small city located on the western coast of the island of Borneo in the province of West Kalimantan, Indonesia. It took four plane rides to get here from the US. I flew out of JFK on Easter morning and 13 hours later, I was in Doha, Qatar. After a few hours there, I was on my way to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. I arrived there on the evening of April 2 and spent the night in the airport before my early morning flight.
I had made sure to book a window seat for my journey from Jakarta to Pontianak the next morning, and I am so glad I did. The combination of the dramatic cloud formations and the rising sun made for an incredible scene.
I wasn’t in Pontianak long before I boarded a turboprop plane (the first I’ve been on in quite some time) to Ketapang. The flight took less than an hour, and we flew quite low, allowing for excellent views of the landscape. I saw beautiful emerald forests with rivers winding through them, but I also saw the devastation of oil palm plantations across the landscape and encroaching on the forested land. The production of palm oil is one of the greatest threats to the natural areas of Borneo, resulting in the massive (and sometimes illegal) destruction of valuable habitats, including those necessary for the survival of endangered species like the Bornean Orangutan.
In fact, it is orangutans that brought me here. The focus of my fellowship is the conservation of great apes. In Uganda, my time was focused on Mountain Gorillas, the environments that support them, and the people trying to protect them. Here on Borneo, I am working with the conservation wing of the Gunung Palung Orangutan Project (here in Indonesia, the organization is known as Yayasan Palung). This organization, founded by Dr. Cheryl Knott of Boston University, aims to address the threats to Bornean Orangutans through research, conservation, and education. While here, I am working with the side of the organization that deals with conservation through providing environmental education, developing relationships between landowners and local government officials, and promoting sustainable livelihoods near wild orangutan populations.
For the next two months, I will be working here in Ketapang. Some of my work will be in the office, but I will have the chance to visit villages and conservation priority areas during my stay. I also hope to spend a few days at the Cabang Panti research station deep in Gunung Palung National Park, an orangutan stronghold just a few hours north of here.
In my first couple of days here, I’ve been helping with grant writing and social media work for the organization. In between work, my coworkers have been showing me the best places to eat around town and teaching me some Bahasa Indonesia. Unlike Uganda, very few people here speak English, so knowing at least a little bit of the Indonesian language is crucial for buying food and getting around. Speaking of food, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve eaten so far. Fried rice (nasi goreng) is extremely common, and I’ve had some with nearly every meal. Fried rice dishes often include shrimp and petai, which is a bean with a very interesting flavor (it is sometimes called “bitter bean” or “stink bean” in English). Fried chicken (ayam goreng) is also very common, and is usually served with sambal, a chili-based hot sauce. I’ve even seen signs advertising “ayam kentucky” from the local vendors. Being close to the ocean and several rivers, seafood and fresh-water fish are both easily found in town, the local catfish (lele) being my favorite so far.
With work and jet lag, I haven’t spent much time exploring the surrounding areas, but I plan to get out this weekend in search of some birds and monkeys!