ORANGUTANS AND OLD SINGAPORE
Author: Lois Olive Gray Photos: Kay Ellen Gilmour, MD Photo Album
ORANGUTANS AND OLD SINGAPORE
Travel Company: Lindblad/NatGeo Ship-based: The Nat/Geo Orion September 25 to October 10, 2014 CONTENTS
POSITIVES ABOUT THE TRIP...............................................................................................................3 NEGATIVES ABOUT THE TRIP .............................................................................................................4 INDONESIA & BALI...............................................................................................................................5 Stilt City of Tanjung Kumbik ...........................................................................................................6 MALAYSIA..............................................................................................................................................7 City of Kuching .................................................................................................................................8 SINGAPORE...........................................................................................................................................9 THE FUN STUFF ................................................................................................................................. 10 Pirates & the Captain's Son......................................................................................................... 10 The White Rajahs .......................................................................................................................... 11 Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles ...................................................................................................... 12 The Merlion, Symbol of Singapore............................................................................................. 12 ORANGUTANS ................................................................................................................................... 14 Dr. Galdikas ................................................................................................................................... 14 MORNING EXERCISE ABOARD SHIP ............................................................................................... 23 CABIN FEVER ..................................................................................................................................... 24 CONCLUSION .................................................................................................................................... 25
INTRODUCTION There are three very significant reasons why we chose to take this trip with Lindblad/NatGeo: 1) we have been wanting for a long time to see Orangutans in their native habitat; 2) we have been looking for a trip that would include Singapore without making it a primary destination; and 3) ever since 2003 when we were aboard The Orion during her shakedown cruise after leaving the Emden, Germany, shipyards, we have longed to see how she has fared through changes in ownership and destinations and how the years have treated her. She is such a beautiful ship and since we were aboard her for 30 full days, we feel a sense almost of ownership in her--as though she is "our" ship. I think all 47 of us who were on that maiden voyage feel somewhat the same way about her. POSITIVES ABOUT THE TRIP The Orion is still a beautiful and comfortable ship. She rides the waves effortlessly and her stabilizers work wonderfully well in choppy or worse weather. The cabins are roomy and attractive and the public areas are large enough to accommodate everyone: Main Lounge, Dining Room, Aft Open Air Deck, Deck 6 Observation Lounge, the Cosmos Theater. The crew was friendly, hardworking, and eager to please from the Captain to the Able Bodied Seamen. If you get a chance to travel on the Orion to somewhere you want to go, don't hesitate a minute. The orangutan center we visited is in Indonesian Borneo in Tanjung Puting National Park. It is run by one of the three primatologists who worked under Dr. Louis Leakey's aegis back in the l960s. Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas was the orang researcher, Jane Goodall the chimp scientist and Dian Fossey the lowland gorilla student. Goodall and Fossey certainly became more famous than Dr. Galdikas even though all three of them were sponsored by National Geographic as well as Dr. Leakey. Anyway, the chance to meet and learn from the "orang lady" was certainly special since she has worked in this area for 43 years and probably knows more about this primate than any other person in the world. Starting a ship-based expedition in beautiful Bali is certainly a plus though it is very far from almost anywhere. We had already visited this wonderful Hindu part of Muslim Indonesia and were happy to revisit it and see the progress in tourist infrastructure as well as in the general prosperity of the island. Malaysia was a new country for us and we did visit one good sized city there, Kuching, a very poor capital for the province of Sarawak. Malaysia is definitely way behind Indonesia in economic progress. Bako National Park in Sarawak, Malaysia also merited a short exploration. So we felt that we had at least an introduction to this Asian nation.
A big plus on any Lindblad trip is having Ricki and Jack Swenson aboard as the staff photographers & instructors. They are personable, knowledgeable about all kinds of cameras and techniques for getting the best shots, and just plain good company besides. We had travelled with them before and benefitted from their expertise and willingness to share. Regretfully we were not able to spend much time with them on this trip for reasons explained later in the journal (no reflection on them whatsoever). To spend a few days in Singapore was delightful and we were most impressed with this modern and rich city/state. Lindblad was very generous to all the passengers as we disembarked the ship. Those of us who had elected to stay a couple of days on our own were nonetheless provided not only transportation to our hotels but a city tour before delivering us there. That was a much appreciated and unexpected extra. NEGATIVES ABOUT THE TRIP A rather thin itinerary for the days and dollars spent. The shipboard lectures both on our sea days and during evening or morning hours before excursions were often not clearly connected with our activities and even seemed quite superfluous. We prefer more pointed lectures which help us grasp history and context for the places visited. Not Lindblad/NatGeo's fault, but the very lengthy flights and long layovers in airports along the way are definitely a drawback to any trip this far away from the USA. We spent 36 hours getting between Florida and Bali and another 36 hours between Singapore and Florida on the return. If you are interested in this particular expedition (or any other in this part of the world), be warned that your travels to and from the destination will be long and tiring and pretty expensive as well. Perhaps, that's the main reason we were somewhat disappointed in the itinerary since it did not seem to have been worth the "terrible travels." Sea Lice bites from snorkeling in the waters off an Indonesian island beach. The itchiness lasted a couple of weeks after we had returned home from the trip. Not sure how this can be avoided but perhaps wearing a full wetsuit would help. I wore a bathing suit and my bites were all on my lower legs only; a short suit does not protect the legs. Though the Denpasar (Bali) airport is new--only 8 months old--attractively designed, sparkly and welcoming, the entry process was unreal! When we entered the airport, marveling over its Hindu flavor, we were able to buy our required entry visas ($35.00 in cash only) expeditiously, but getting through Passport Control proved to be an almost two hour ordeal! We stood in line and crept ahead so slowly it was really hard on everyone who had just endured long flights with all that discomfort. The problem: insufficient numbers of passport officials. Even though planes had disgorged their passengers at abou the same
time, only two of the passport podiums were manned. And those two workers were incredibly slow! At times, one would wander off leaving just podium open. They seemed not to care that over 500 people were waiting in those serpentine lines in front. At one point, both workers simply disappeared at the same time. At change of shift time, chaos ruled for a while as the first two left unceremoniously and we waited for more workers to arrive and sort themselves as to who should man which podium. At least, then, there were three workers--but no more expeditiously! Again, not the fault of Lindblad/NatGeo Expeditions, but still a notice to any travelers landing at Denpasar, Bali. From what we could gather talking to other travelers and other tourist workers in the city, this situation is usual here. Have I mentioned how boilingly hot we were most everywhere on this trip. We were always near the equator where the temperatures never change seasonally and they usually stood between 85 and 95 degrees. The humidity was usually in the 80 to 100 percent range which just increased the sensation of being stewed alive! Shade offered an instant sense of relief in whatever form it came--trees, house eaves, umbrellas, tents, building shadows. However, the relieved feeling did not last long; the heat was just too pervasive. So when one is considering travelling in this part of the world, he must take into account that these conditions prevail no matter what time of year the visit is planned. Because we were in the area at the time the Indonesians usually burn off their fields (and forests unfortunately), the prevailing winds brought the acrid smoke to us everywhere we traveled including Singapore. Visibility was poor often, especially in the mornings, and the constant smoke burned our eyes and throats. If a trip can be planned out of the "burning" season, that would be a good choice.
BASIC INFO ABOUT THE COUNTRIES WE STEPPED INTO
INDONESIA & BALI After the USA and India, Indonesia is the world's third largest democracy. With its population of 253,609, 643, it is the 5th largest country by numbers of citizens. Besides these superlatives, Indonesia is also the largest archipelagic country in the world with its 17,508 islands and it is the world's largest Muslim country. The biggest of the islands comprising Indonesia are Sumatra, Java and Celebes, but she also shares ownership of the large islands of Borneo, New Guinea and Timor. Bali is the beautiful tiny island belonging to the Republic of Indonesia and it has been a tourist mecca for many years. It is continuing to draw people from all over the globe--a good thing since its economy is 80% dependent on these tourists. It is the only Hindu
majority part of Muslim Indonesia. Bali is number 12 in the inhabited islands of Indonesia, with a population of 3,000,000. Indonesia is a very poor country even though small parts of it (like Bali) are more prosperous than others. However, this trip was really not about Bali or Indonesia. We were given a short tour of Bali's most touristy areas before getting on the Orion to start the real expedition. It would not have given us much of an idea about the island had we not already been there a few years ago for a much longer time. It was just a refresher and a chance to see the new (8 mos old) airport and some of the newer tourist accommodations and some glimpses at improved infrastructure and roadways. Stilt City of Tanjung Kumbik Other than Bali itself, the only Indonesian city/town we visited was a small stilt city built out over the ocean waters--Tanjung Kumbik. This Muslim village is in the Natuna Archipelago. The friendly & welcoming people were celebrating a traditional Muslim holiday so no one was working. All the houses were open for us to visit and everyone had "prettified" their entrances and patio areas with their healthiest and brightest flowers and shrubs. Everyone was in his/her finest clothing made of silks and other shiny materials. Strolling the "streets" of wood and concrete, the families, the teenagers, and even the many children running through the village greeted us with warmth and hospitality. Many actually invited us into their homes for refreshments and snacks. Young girls and boys performed some traditional dances for us in the center of the village.
Because the little village very successfully raises fish for the Japanese markets in the pristine waters underneath their streets and houses, the central Indonesian government has insured that these people have a water supply, electricity, and sewage treatment facilities. The fish are loaded live into ships which deliver them to the markets of Japan where they are still alive and fresh for Japanese diners who prize really "fresh-caught" seafood. On our itinerary also was Tanjung Puting National Park where we visited Orang Rehab Center of Dr. Galdikas, but more on that visit later. We also sailed among some of the Indonesian small islands for snorkeling and swimming.
MALAYSIA The area known as Malaya was under British influence and ownership in the 18th & 19th centuries and up until World War II when the Japanese controlled it from l942 to l945. In 1948, the British relinquished some of their control and Malaya became completely independent in 1957. In 1963, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak (the last two on the island of Borneo) joined the new Federation of Malaysia. In 1965, Singapore broke away to become an independent city/state. Malaysia is a middle-income country--much more prosperous than Indonesia and more economically stable as well. It is the 67th country in population with 30,073,3353 people living in an area which is 44th in world size (127,000 square miles of territory). The country is 61% Muslim, 20% Buddhist, 10% Christian, and 6% Hindu. The people are governed
under a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament. The area has oil and gas reserves plentiful enough for export. Rubber is another important export as is palm oil. The government is trying to reduce the dependence on natural resources and is encouraging manufacturing; it has become fairly successful in creating a thriving electronics industry. City of Kuching We visited one city in Malaysia--Kuching. Its mascot is a cat for reasons no one seems to know. Seeing how poor Kuching appears made us doubt the more glowing economic picture painted by the CIA Fact Book and other sources. Besides being charmed by the cat statues and pictures all over the city what impressed us most was the quiet of the town. We were taken on a tour of the central city and let out for a little stroll around the main square where many people ambled along but the silence was just eerie. No conversations or children laughing and yelling, no horns honking, no noise from the boats on the river which formed one side of the square. The whole place made us want to whisper rather than disturb the blanket of quiet over the city as the darkness began to fall.
But, again, this trip was really not about Malaysia or its people and cities. We did visit Bako National Park but though we saw Crab-eating Macaques there, the park looked sad. The buildings, including the Park Visitor Center, the dormitories for rangers and other staff, and the cottages for rent all appeared decrepit and ill-cared for. We felt that the stop was really just a way to fill the itinerary of the trip between our visit with the orangutans and our arrival in Singapore.
SINGAPORE A vibrant, modern, and rich unlikely "country." However, it wasn't really on our itinerary either--except as a place to disembark the Orion's passengers so they could get to an airport where they could begin the long flights home. Lindblad/NatGeo did arrange a short city tour for us (much like the one in Bali) which was much appreciated but then we were on our own. We had arranged to spend two nights in the city, at a lovely luxury hotel, The Shangri-La, so we were able to see a bit more of the Asian Tiger.
Singapore is one of the world's smallest countries with an area of only 269 square miles, but it is probably one of the richest and most densely populated (5,567,301 people). It is the 2nd busiest port in the world (after Shanghai). The per capita GDP is commensurate with the most wealthy of the Western European countries. The government is a parliamentary republic which depends on a legal system based on English Common Law. Singapore was founded in 1819 as a British trading colony and remained under English control until World War II. After a false start as part of the Federation of Malaya formed after that war, Singapore divorced itself from that Federation and became an independent city/state. English is the second official language of the country after Mandarin Chinese. The population is 74% Chinese in ethnicity with 13% Malays, 9% Indians, and 3% other. Under the leadership of Lee Kwan Yew and later his son, Lee Hsein Loong, the country has made steady economic progress and is now a thoroughly modern society with an educated workforce, excellent sources of foreign investments, efficient rule of law, all current informational technologies, environmental concern, enviable infrastructure, comfortable and luxurious tourist accommodations. There are many points of interest to explore such as the Orchid Garden, the Johor Bird Gardens, and the high end shopping opportunities for those so inclined.
However, though it is called a "parliamentary republic," the reality does reveal some definite restrictions on freedoms the West deems necessary to a free society. First of these "tight spots" is that no criticism of the ruling family by the media is tolerated. Not even minor negative comments go unnoticed--even on the internet in blogs and the like. Certain kinds of demonstrations, not in keeping with the government's positions, can be stopped entirely or hobbled by overtly onerous registration requirements and regulations. In some more benign forms of repression, the government can censor ideas which are deemed against the public interest and safety. There are dissident groups in Singapore but apparently they are watched closely, denied freedoms of press and assembly, and members can be imprisoned for unsanctioned activities. It is probably true that the majority of Singaporeans are not unduly troubled by such constrictions, but enjoy the societal order, safety, good employment, affordable housing, safe investment opportunities which prevail because the city/state is organized and efficiently run without any outrageous attacks or restrictions on civil liberties. Must admit that we were very careful not to chew gum on the streets, much less discard used chewing gum anywhere we walked. THE FUN STUFF Pirates & the Captain's Son About twenty minutes before we were due to depart for the airport to start the long slog to Bali, Kay was listening to CNN and the banner headline said: "Pirates operating in the Singapore Straits and other nearby waters. A quick listen informed her that the pirates had been targeting oil tankers and other cargo ships but that they had recently branched out and were beginning to set their sights on passenger ships. What to do? What to say? She decided to say nothing to me and I hadn't seen the CNN broadcast. She also decided that we should go ahead and start our much looked forward to trip to see the orangutans. She kept all that information and her decisions to herself until we had disembarked in Singapore at the end of the entire journey. However, she also told me that she had been much encouraged when we boarded the Orion on that first day to see the 3 year old son and wife of the captain of the Orion on board ship and even relieved when they remained on board as the ship sailed out of the Bali Harbor! She figured that if the young captain was not alarmed about the headlines and that he felt comfortable having his family with him, she would not worry any longer. And she did not vex herself for the rest of the trip. However, it was rather Ironic top learn that on the day of our arrival in Singapore a Vietnamese oil tanker was hijacked only 30 minutes out of Singapore Harbor in full
daylight. We both sighed gratefully and were happy to hear that the crew was unharmed even though all their communications equipment was trashed (only the Vietnamese captain's cellphone survived the vandalism, but that was enough for him to call his home office and get help quickly. The White Rajahs This is the designation of the dynastic monarchy founded in Sarawak under the aegis of the Sultan of Brunei on the island of Borneo. The first of this dynasty was Rajah James Brooke who obtained the title and the land accompanying it in gratitude for his service to the Sultan in ending piracy and insurrection among the indigenous peoples of that part of the island. Rajah Brooke was an Englishman who founded the Kingdom of Sarawak which lasted from 1841 to l946. There were five claimants to the title of Rajah of Sarawak in all but the last one really never ruled because his uncle ceded the title and the land to the British Crown under mysterious and probably illegal circumstances. However, by the time that was finally accepted by the British Parliament, the Japanese had invaded Sarawak and controlled it until the end of World War II. At any rate the current possible heir to the title, Jason Desmond Anthony Brooke, does not try to press his claim but he is always present and welcomed at state functions and celebrations and maintains a home in the area. He has no political power whatever. He is the grandson of the 5th Brooke Rajah. Historians maintain that the White Rajahs actually served their subjects well and brought modern mining methods which enriched the country since antimony and gold were the areas riches natural resources at the time. The first Rajah was bent on protecting the indigenous populace from rapacious capitalist exploitation and did much good among the people. Hospitals and schools were among the first architectural projects produced by Rajah James and he also brought better housing and infrastructure to the area. His heirs continued in the same vein. He established the rule of law amongst the people based on British Common Law which continues to be the basis of the legal system in Sarawak province today. Even now, as we saw in our visit to the Rajahs' capital city Kuching, the people are proud of the dynastic monarchs and their accomplishments in Sarawak. They do not feel they were colonialized since they remained independent until World War II. The Astana (palace) built by Rajah James is now the home of the President of the Province of Sarawak
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles In 1819, another intrepid Brit created a kingdom of sorts when he established the first trading post in what is now Singapore. Even then it was very successful and he became a wealthy man. However, he was never given a title like his countrymen, the Brookes, achieved and had to settle for a knighthood with the addition of Sir to his already illustrious name. Actually Raffles was a very important, if occasionally controversial, man for the British Empire, especially during the Napoleonic period with the frequent spats between England and the French/Dutch Allies in the Pacific region. He was governor of several island archipelagos in what is now Indonesia in addition to founding Singapore. Investigating him taught me that he has nothing to do with the famous Raffles Hotel chain, except that he is honored in the name. But he achieved much more important things than creating a hotel company. He was early on a militant activist against slavery and abolished it in the territories where he was in charge, including Singapore. Ironically, when he died very young (only 46) at home in England, the pastor of his local Anglican church denied him burial in the churchyard because he was so anti-slavery. Unfortunately for him, the pastor was a member of a family which had made its fortune in Jamaica in the slave trade. In addition, he wrote fair constitutions for many of these areas giving indigenous peoples rights and responsibilities as well as the European residents. He refused to impose colonial values on the people he governed; instead he built schools, churches, hospitals, colleges using the indigenous populace's own language, permitting freedom of religion, and continuation of traditional cultures. Perhaps his strong moral positions, included in the Singapore constitution may account for some of the social strictness in behavior demanded in today's rich port city/state. History finally recognized the importance of Sir Stamford Raffles (as he preferred to be addressed), and his body was finally moved into the very walls of the expanded church were he was originally refused burial and he is represented in Westminster Abbey by a grand piece of statuary. So now, when you read about the Raffles Hotels anywhere, you will know that corporation was started trading on Sir Stamford's well-deserved good name. The Merlion, Symbol of Singapore There are many different stories which purport to provide the origin of the Merlion's association with Singapore. Some stories say that "singa" in Malay means "lion" though there is no scientific proof that lions ever existed in Singapore or indeed Malaya. Yet, there is scientific evidence that tigers roamed the Malay peninsula and probably reached down into what is now Singapore. Could clueless early traders have mistaken a tiger for a lion?
Others say that the prefix "singgha' in Malay meant "stopover" and that "pura" means place or town--no connection with a lion-headed fish. But a good nickname for a trading post town. However, lion-headed fish are well-known heraldic symbols in Western cultures and in the Philippines and parts of Indonesia.
The use of the Merlion as the symbol of Singapore is well-documented: an artist associated with the Singapore Tourist Bureau drew his conception of the Merlion as a logo to be used on tourist items, entertainment information/communications, on signage at various points of interest. His logo was adopted in l964 and used by the Tourist Bureau until 1975. Another artist decided that the logo should become the mascot of the city and he designed the present statue in Merlion Park. It is concrete covered in porcelain plates with red teacups serving as the creature's eyes. He also suggested giving the Merlion a cub, so a smaller version is placed near the larger one in Merlion Park. The larger lion head continuously spouts a fountain from its mouth. And sure enough, the wonderful park built at a cost of $1.6 million dollars is now a premier tourist destination as well as a popular place to walk, picnic, gawk at the huge modern building growing up around the Marina Area, and let the local children play. Singapore is indeed now "The Lion City" because of its economic strength and rapid modernization.
ORANGUTANS These fascinating, adorable, vulnerable primates were the primary point of this trip for us. We knew that Dr. Galdikas is the world expert on these creatures so how could we go wrong in choosing her Indonesia Borneo facility for our "wild" encounter with them. Of course, we have all seen Orangs in various zoos around the world and those places are obviously the last refuge for this very endangered mammal. But we wanted to see them where Mother Nature had put them. Dr. Galdikas The good Dr. Galdikas did nothing to ease our fears for this wonderful creature; instead she outlined all the dangers they are facing in their homeland. To our (perhaps overly pessimistic) ears the situation grew more hopeless the more she explained what is happening in both Indonesian and Malaysian redoubts. The chief danger is the rapid deforestation of these areas. Soon the orangs will have no home to return to after they graduate from the Rehab Facility. The root problem is, of course, extreme poverty on Borneo. Palm oil companies (the worst outright killers of orangs) have discovered the island's perfect environment for growing this very valuable cash crop for the corporations and the central governments of these lands. They encourage the sale of the farm lands already cleared by the people who practice subsistence farming for their livelihoods. They offer sums so tempting that the farmers sell out. But worse than that practice, the farmers begin to slash and burn the forests next to their properties to sell it to the palm oil companies, whether or not it is in the national park area. The ever optimistic Dr. G. tries to work with the palm oil businessmen, to educate the farmers about the consequences of these practices, and the government to try to fight the illegal clearings and sales--all at the same time she is trying to collect enough support, money, etc., to purchase intact forest areas near her compound and rehab center. Prodigious endeavors for sure and success in them is not assured by any means. Wait a minute here, none of this information really fits under the title "Fun Stuff", does it? So let's get back to the enjoyable part of our visit to the adorable orangs. First some basic information about them: There are probably about 40,000 wild orangs left in the world (there used to be about 800,000--ooops that's not "fun" news). 7000 live in Sumatra, 3000 in Sarawak (Malaysia) and about 6000 in Indonesian Borneo. The rest are scattered about in small groups, uncounted regularly by conservationists due to lack of monetary support, on the various islands of Indonesia and Malaysia. At any one time, Dr. G. has anywhere from 40-85 young to adult orangs in her Rehab Center. Most are orphans due to the palm oil companies'
practice of killing any adults they find. They will sometimes call Dr. G. to come save the infants and adolescents they encounter when they kill the mother. Strange practice, isn't it? Why not try to save all of them whatever their ages? Un Oh, we have veered off again into sad news rather than fun facts. In the wild, orangs can live about 70 years and in zoos they typically live into their 60s They have a very low reproduction rate, probably due to the fact that the youngsters stay with their mothers for five or more years, learning how to be an orangutan. The moms do not go into oestrus while these children are with them. Interestingly, though orang's DNA shows them to share about 97% of their genetics with us (chimps share 99% with us), they are actually closer in kin to a distant ancestor of all current primate species. The word "orangutan" means "person of the forest." That designation is pretty accurate since they are humanoid in appearance and they live solitary lives, especially the males, except when a female is raising young. Males are extremely territorial and do not tolerate another male in their part of the forest (another reason deforestation is so devastating to orang populations). Males will also harass females not in heat if they come across them in the wild. Females will live near other females and youngsters but are not sociable with one another in the way that Dr. Jane Goodall's research has shown chimpanzees to be. This refusal to live together in peace makes Dr. G's rehabilitation efforts more complicated when she begins to send her adoptees out into the protected part of the forest in Tanjing Puting National Park where she can monitor their adaption behaviors. She must release only females one day and then only males the next day. These rehab animals usually come in from the forest on their own volition to return to their feeding areas and their overnight cages. When they do not return, she must send out scouts to find them to determine if they are all right or if they have begun to feel comfortable about feeding themselves and sleeping in the night nests they have made for themselves. Such activity proves that they are ready for life on their own. Orangs rarely come to the ground when they live on their own and when they do their ambulation is called "palm" or "knuckle" walking. The young ones we observed at the care center do occasionally walk upright, awkwardly, like human babies. But when the animals are grown, they very rarely try to stand completely erect. Having said all this about ambulation, I must add that they are super brachiators, easily and rapidly swinging from limb to limb and leaping from tree trunk to tree trunk. They build their night nests in the top branches of the trees and rarely return to the same next night after night. Dr. G. learned quickly that young orangs need their mothers to teach them what to eat, where to sleep safely, how to build the nest, where to find food and water. None of these behaviors seem to be hard wired into the orang brain. Sounds rather like raising human
babies, doesn't it? That means that Dr. G. and her many Indonesian assistants must assume surrogate mother roles and teach these skills to the babies and adolescents. It's a good thing to know that they readily learn from their human stepmoms too. Our visit to the Orang Sanctuary and Rehab Centers occurred on two different days since they are in different parts of the National Park (the Rehab Center is on the outskirts of the park rather than inside its boundaries. First, we went to two separate feeding centers where sweetened milk (with cane surgar) and bananas are place on large and high wooden tables for the orangs to visit and supplement their diets. If the forest is producing good amounts of their usual foods (fruits, new leaves, nuts) the wild orangs do not bother to visit these feeding stations. During lean times in the forest, even wild ones will come to the stations for supplemental feedings. The orangs who are in the process of learning to live completely in the wild will usually return a few times a week to eat and drink. At these spots in the forest, we were able to watch and wait for the orangs to come in. While we were visiting, some of the assistants would call out "in orang voices" to entice the reluctant to come on down for the treats. Some conservationists, scientists and others have criticized this practice Dr. G. has been doing saying that the orangs will never be completely wild if they are being fed. Her answer is that the forest is so devastated that they will die without it and she is trying to save the species. The feeding demonstrations also help her in the effort to elicit donations from tour groups and individuals to support her activities as outlined above.
Whatever the merits of both sides of the argument, we enjoyed seeing the orangs come crashing through the tree tops, swinging from tree to tree to reach their wooden cafeteria. How is this different from a life in a zoo? Well, the areas they can inhabit are much larger
than the biggest possible zoo enclosure. They have a much more stimulating environment to occupy, chances of meeting and mating are normal rather encouraged by humans, and their other natural behaviors are not skewed as they would be in a cage.
The relish with which they drank the milk formula was delightful to see. Some would put their whole faces down into the tin bucket and slurp up the milk, rather untidily really, while others would put their hands into the bucket and bring the milk to their mouths, even more untidily. Faces would be coated with mild around their mouths and down their chins. They were even more greedy with the bananas. At first they would peel a few and eat them one at the time. Then when they wanted to move away from the feeding station, they would begin to stuff the bananas into their mouths, unpeeled, and pointing outward like cigarettes, looking for all the world like champion puffins who do the same with their fish catches. Finally, at least one handful would be clutched and away into the forest they would go, using one hand to move about among the trees until they reached a more secluded spot to finish the meal. We were given strict instructions about how to behave around the feeding station. We could not approach the place beyond a roped off area; we were not allowed to smoke or eat any food of our own; we were not to make lengthy eye contact with any orang at the table, we were to be very quiet while there with as little talking as possible; we could not use flash photography; and we had to stay in the group with no moving around during the viewing session time which was controlled by Dr. G. and her assistants. At the first station, we were a little disappointed we saw only one mom and still clingy baby enjoying the feast. But, as we reminded ourselves, this is not a zoo and the good Dr. had warned us that at the present time, the native foods in the forest are plentiful.
So we waited for the next station which was nearer to the museum and home of Dr. G. (The Camp Leakey Compound). When we arrived at her house, there was a large female sitting right next to her on the floor of the porch, leaning on her like an old friend and obviously enjoying a few scratches on the tummy and holding hands too. Another adult female was across a dirt lane from the home hanging up in a too slender tree and watching the goings on. She did not approach the Dr. or any of us at any time. She bounced from one thin sapling to another, a rather clownish display of fun. After we had visited with the Dr. and her "friend," we were invited to join her on the porch, one at the time, to sit near the orang and scratch her tummy and talk a little to her. Everyone seemed to want a chance at that experience, and I was pretty much last in line. Maybe she was getting tired of the whole business or maybe I was a bit too close, but after tolerating my touch and my conversation a short while, she rolled over on her side, pushing me away with her back foot. Since I was kneeling, I rolled over too but on my back. No harm, no foul to either of us. But then it was time to leave--for sure.
Then we took a very long hike through the forest away from the compound to the second forest feeding station--a good 45 minutes away. In addition to our group from the Orion, some independent visitors joined us and we sat on wooden bleachers to watch the next
"show". Again, bananas and pails of sweetened milk were placed on the table. Our first up to the table was not an orang but a long tailed grey gibbon.
He was quite the acrobat and showed what light brachiators can do in the trees. He was quite comical as he sidled up to the table & then leapt up to grab several bananas before he heard the sounds of an orang thrashing its way through the woods. Then he jumped up on one of the taller trees to eat his loot, watching the orangs come to the feast. At least he got up some more courage and crept up to table again and then dashed up, grabbed what he could reach of the bananas and then leapt back up onto a nearby tree trunk. Actually, the orangs paid him no attention at all so perhaps all that sneaking and peeking was for show since he already knew they wouldn't bother him.
All told we saw about 18 adult female orangs and many babies and some adolescents with them. It was great fun, watching all the antics and the acrobatics of the frolicsome adolescents. The young infants seemed willing to stay very close to their moms, letting go of her red orange hair long enough to dip into the milk with an skinny little hand or to
reach out for a banana. These animals are very endearing in appearance because their eyes look full of consciousness and their faces are so cute. Our next visit with orangutans took place the following day when we visited the Rehab Center outside the park. Here is where the orangs in need of various stages of rehabilitation before returning to the wild are housed, taught and cared for. We were led to believe that we were very privileges guests because she does not usually welcome visitors to this Center. This privilege came to us because Lindblad is now affiliated with National Geographic, a 43 year supporter of Dr Galdikas' field work. The Center has a good laboratory facility, x-ray capabilities, a small hospital, and a full-time veterinary staff. Additionally, there several areas set aside for the activities of the young orangs living here. We spent about an hour with the infants (from birth to 3 years) and they were definitely the most fun to interact with.
There were about 25 in a play area equipped with swings, tables, climbing poles, feeding platforms, and many toys like tires, balls, wagons. It looked just like a play area for human children and they were enjoying lots of activities playing with each other and the provided enrichment items. We were allowed to pick them up and hold them, play with them, play tag and tug of war. What they seemed to want most from us was swinging. They wanted one person on each side taking an arm and swinging them back and forth--just like human babies enjoy. However, it was a challenge to meet their request because some of them were quite heavy, above 40 lbs., and surprisingly strong. We certainly could not have bested one in arm wrestling or any other feat of strength.
Next, we walked to another part of the Center property to see and interact with the adolescents--considerably larger, stronger and more stubborn.
They too loved the "swinging" game and begged for it constantly. However, only the strongest women and the men were able to indulge these "children." They were busy scurrying about looking for insects on the ground and jumping up and down the feeding platforms to grab mango pieces. There was an open-sided tin-roofed shelter where we
could sit and which they climbed up and down constantly. They were particularly fond of getting on the roof and pounding, creating a pretty momentous din. We did not stay with them as long as with the infants because it was growing dark and these adolescents had to be rounded up and taken to their night cages (which we never saw). As we re-entered the Rehab Center quadrangle, we saw the most adorable sight imaginable. The infants were being taken back to their night housing in wheelbarrows. They obviously loved riding in them because they climbed in and over each other to catch the fun. Those who couldn't find a place jumped on the backs of the humans who were pushing the carts and took piggy-back rides all the way home. When you looked at an attendant from the front, you could see two little hands hanging onto their shoulders and two little feet wrapped
about their waists and hips. That was a "barrow" of fun for us!
Forgot to mention that before we were allowed any interactions with the orangs, we had to wash our hands and arms like we were preparing for surgery and don surgical masks as well. Also, when we left one encounter area prior to going to another we had to return to the washing station and clean up again. These procedures were more for the orangs protection than ours. Orangs, being our near relatives, are susceptible to many of our viruses in particular, such as colds, flu, etc. The final visit of the day revealed to us why we were not allowed to take pictures of any kind anywhere in the entire Rehab Center. The NatGeo photographers aboard the Orion with us did take pictures which they shared with us at the conclusion of the trip, so everyone had pictures of themselves among the orangs we played with.
Back to that final visit: this area was where the big cages are for the adults who are closest to being released into the wild. Because of the conditions already described about the inability of males and females to get along in the forest with too much togetherness, the males are released to freedom one day and the females the next day. Apparently the "trial forest area" is large enough to permit the males to get far enough away from each other to avoid squabbles and fights. But the males will seek out the females to harass them. These cages are big and ugly and we saw several of the adults already in for the night hanging from the wires looking like creatures in a zoo. When pictures of this part of the Rehab Center have been circulated, more criticism comes to Dr. Galdikas, especially from people who do not understand her rehabilitation process. It appears that the animals are kept in these cages all the time and such is not the case. They are free every other day and return to the cages voluntarily without being coaxed or herded. As mentioned before, when an adult orang demonstrates his readiness for being completely free (by not returning to the cages, by building a good night nest, and by not needing additional feeding, he/she is returned to the wild and does not return to this part of the Rehab Center. In conclusion, our experiences with the orangs certainly met our expectations and we were delighted with this part of the expedition. If someone is contemplating a visit to the orangs in their natural habitat, be sure to research the travels companies thoroughly to learn which ones offer the best chances at seeing the animals in the wild, at interacting with them (if that is what you want), and which ones help in the conservation of their habitat and their wild lives. MORNING EXERCISE ABOARD SHIP On previous expeditions with many companies, we have always enjoyed (or forced ourselves) to join the morning stretch and tone exercise classes offered by the health & wellness team aboard. This trip was no different. We discovered that Eva offered her class at 6:30 a.m. so it did not conflict with any offshore activities or lectures. So on our first sea day, we made our way (willingly or perhaps out of some misguided adherence to habit) to Deck 6 for our meeting and introductory session. Mats laid out across the deck, we began to follow her directions. In the beginning we had no trouble keeping up and mimicking her poses, exercises, etc. Not too far into the session, she got quite a bit beyond our capabilities, particularly with holding certain positions for goodly lengths of time. We struggled to perform acceptably so that we got the benefit of the exercise, but finally we had to give up and just complete the session performing exercises we already knew and run through at home. It was a bit
humiliating but we did notice that some of the other passenger-exercisers were having trouble too. The next day there was no exercise class because of rough weather at 6:30 but we probably wouldn't have gone anyway because by that time we were so sore from trying to perform those moves that were so hard for us that we could hardly move. We never returned to the exercises classes again throughout the voyage. AND we both realized that we had come down with some pretty bad cold symptoms and were feeling punk. That ailment leads nicely into the next section of this journal. CABIN FEVER All through the trip, Kay and I remained pretty sick with the colds we had contracted on the airplane flights to Bali (we are fairly certain). In order to protect our fellow travelers as much as we could, we decided to remain in our own cabin as much as possible. We took our meals, when we felt well enough to want to eat, on the open deck and tried to sit alone as well. When the evening meals were not to be served outside, we would gather some things to eat at lunch & bring them to the cabin for supper. Luckily, the cabin was outfitted with a good refrigerator. We also instructed our Cabin Steward to use gloves when he cleaned our room and to discard them when leaving it so that he would not spread the malady. We think we did a pretty good job of protecting our fellow passengers from ourselves. No one we spent any time outside with or who lived around our cabin ever got sick, though some others did on other decks. Our other, less altruistic, reason for quarantining ourselves was to try to make as speedy a recovery as we could by resting and hydrating regularly. Well, that strategy did not work as well as the preventing the spread of the illness. We stayed fairly miserable most of the time with runny noses, constant coughs, and general malaise. Luckily all the lectures were aired on the televisions in our cabins so we could hear them without annoying & alarming others in the Main Lounge with our ceaseless blowing, snorting and hacking. When we were on excursions off ship, we could stay away from fellow guests pretty much so that we did not become "personas non gratas." We did not miss too many outings off ship because of the illness, but we did skip on board functions like ice cream parties, Captain's Cocktail Parties, and welcoming & goodbye dinners and the late evening chocolate extravaganza. There was one longer hike we probably would have taken at one of the islands we visited but we just felt too weak to want to try. Perhaps others were just trying to comfort us, but they said we had not really missed much--no animals seen and very few birds. We also skipped one snorkeling stop for the same reason; we just weren't up to it.
CONCLUSION With the negatives outlined above as well as the positives, can we say that we are glad we signed up for this trip? Absolutely, because it fulfilled our three major objectives for taking the trip: traveling on the wonderful ship Orion (we spent more time on the ship than we anticipated due to our illnesses), getting to see and touch the orangutans, and visiting Sensational Singapore. Would we recommend this trip with the same itinerary? Only with reservations. We would advise anyone contemplating signing up to think about their own reasons, look carefully at the itinerary, think about the rather skimpy list of things to do and see, and consider the cost of making this trip when compared with the itinerary. Also be cognizant of the physical challenges: heat and humidity all year long and heavy smoke pollution at certain times of the year. Watch out for reports on the occurrence of pirate activity in the area! If you have considered all these caveats and still want to make the trip, by all means look at the positives, pay your money, and have a wonderful time!
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