December 11, 2013

Paupan to Binawang - PART DEUX

Okay, lots of pictures here, please enjoy!

So here we are ready to go: David, Paul, Felix, myself, & our guide who agreed to get us part of the way to Binawang.
Some of these photos are courtesy of Paul, thanks Paul! Between the two of us we still didn't have an overabundance of good photos as it rained most of the time we were on the trail. Everything gets wet, and the camera lens fogs up quite nicely. Needles to say, I didn't bring my nicer camera.
I must say, this area is very beautiful! Being from British Columbia, I have grown up appreciating the God's creation more-or-less untouched. Even though this is the jungle on the other side of the world, the wilderness here felt a little familiar to me.
The photo above is of the first rapid we passed along side in the Krayan river. Between each of the four villages we travelled from/to, there are three different sections of rapids. This makes it impossible to travel between any of these four villages directly by boat. Normally, boat is by the far the quickest ground method of travel from one place to another in the jungle, but in these areas it is always a combination between walking and boating.

The picture below I need to describe. It is almost the exact location from where I took the photo above; a kind of perch looking down on the rapids. If you can see it, there are a few rocky bumps or castellations mostly covered in moss & vines. These are not natural, but are from long ago, probably some sort of marking by the local people groups of these river rapids. Just a few metres down the trail there were some more rocks with carvings, but due to the rain I didn't get a picture.

In Binawang, Pak Kalvin (Paul's good friend who had us stay in his house for a couple of nights) mentioned how throughout the Krayan only 2 or 3 generations ago there were monuments or markings of some sort put in specific locations for the sole purpose of marking the boundaries between villages. If a person crossed over a boundary from his own village, the other villagers would try to kill him, & vice versa.
MAF in Kalimantan is primarily about transportation. More specifically, transportation for people who live in areas like this. One of the coolest parts of this little trip was to walk some of the routes people still regularly take when an airplane is not available. Being that we did not stray away too far from the Krayan river or areas where there were known trails, we were still kind of on the 'beaten' path. Although, the beaten path was pretty hard to discern at times!
After getting to the bottom of the rapids we got to travel via boat. Much quicker! 
Travelling down this river was beautiful - just what you might expect from the interior jungles of Borneo. I kept looking along the shores in hopes of seeing a King Cobra sunning itself, or some other creepy crawly.
One thing we did see plenty of: Leeches! After our first little hike we stopped in the village of Rungang (sp?). It was here I quickly decided Paul's advise of pulling your socks over your pant legs was indeed excellent advise. Leeches are great at crawling up your boots & pant legs when you walk. My knees were the first skin they found and that's where they all hung out eating. This guy below fell out of my pant leg. He was so fat on eating my blood he could barely move. Nice!
After leaving Rungang, we travelled by boat down to this little "pondok" which is located not too far from the next stretch of rapids. We spent the night here. I guess it wasn't truly roughing it in the jungle because we had this wonderful little place to keep dry and cook a meal. Considering it rained most of the evening and night, it was a nice bonus as it provided a place to keep some stuff dry.
As a testament to how hardy the people of the Krayan are, just a couple minutes before dark a Dad and his son showed up at the pondok after a long day of travel. They stopped in for a couple of hours to try and dry out before heading by boat to Rungang. That day, they had hiked 13 or 14 hrs straight! Not only that, their last 2.5hrs of hiking before arriving at the pondok was the same bit of route we took the next day, and it took us 4hrs!

Below, one our awesome boat drivers is starting a fire in a traditional fashion. No, I don't mean the plastic lighter, but rather the hard rock-looking substance that is on fire in his hand. It is a crystallized soottie type material that builds up on a certain kind of tree. Apparently locals have use it as a great fire starter for a long time in the wet, wet jungle.
Despite the pondok and the rain, all four of us still slept in hammocks. Actually they are a more comfortable way to sleep! Despite all the rain, we stayed quite dry. It felt nice to be above the leeches and ants, sneaking about only inches below. I couldn't help but think what a delicious treat we would appear to be (pre-wrapped and all) for a hungry giant reticulating python.
Good morning Paul! 
Below, is what kids call "selfies" nowadays. Here, I was tired, very tired. I normally sweat a lot, but when you take a Canadian boy like myself and put me in a hot, humid jungle environment, it gets down right ridiculous. The actual hiking was not too bad but for me the hardest part was staying hydrated. I couldn't drink water fast enough! By the end of our second day of hiking, I really felt the affects of sweating way more than I was taking in (and also maybe the affects of what happens when you drink only partially filtered jungle water). It certainly is a different set of rules in this environment!
Shimmying up a log. I'm just glad to say no one fell in in any of our attempts to cross water like this.
Below is my "Ben conquering Borneo" pose. Actually, I was just super excited at the opportunity to just sit in a boat again and not let Borneo conquer me anymore for the day. Notice the soccer socks for leech protection.
 This is Paul, in the process of conquering Borneo.
Felix & David (below) in the boat ahead of us. Notice the straight shaft style boat motor / propeller setup. This is the way they roll here. It is a much cheaper setup than a conventional outboard motor ( the kind we are all familiar back home). Also, I imagine they have their advantages in this kind of boating, as you can control how deep or shallow the prop blades sit in the water.
These two photos below really capture how soggy & wet we all were. The photo immediately below is at the old location for the 2nd village we arrived at named Long Patti (3rd of 4 villages we visited during the 4 days), about 1/2 walk from the new village site of Long Patti. The reason for relocation maybe 30 years ago was that the new site has a better location for a airstrip. That is how important air travel was to them back then, that they'd move their whole village...and it still is today!

 Felix and David.
These guys spent another 3 weeks out here, pretty hardcore!

One of the coolest parts of this trip was being able to help plant a rice padi in Binawang. Growing rice in this region is their bread and butter, their main production crop. It's interesting to think how this crop really ties this rugged interior jungle area of Borneo with the rest of southeast Asia, as rice has been at the foundation of food production for countless centuries in this part of the world. My friend Wikipedia informed me that this type of rice & the style of growing it probably originated in China.

But how the folks here in Binawang do their rice planting is very unique. The field we were planting was owned by one particular family, but it seemed like a good portion of the village was out helping them. In turn, they rotate through all the fields, helping each other out get their crops planted, "bersama-sama" - all together.
Below is the smaller set area that the seedlings are grown in. Now that they are at the right size, the seedlings are taken and planted by hand, spaced evenly throughout the muddy padi's. At all these different stages there is a name for the rice (which I can't remember), as it just seems when something is more important, you end up having more words to describe it.
Take "bread" for instance. Bread to me back home generally comes in a loaf, often sliced, and used for sandwiches or toast. It doesn't mean buns, cookies, or donuts. Here in Indonesia, they word "roti" is used for just about every bread type wheat product that comes their way. Culturally, "roti" takes a back seat to rice here.

Paul and Pak Kalvin planting rice.
Sunset over Binawang looking out over part of the runway to the church and community buildings on the other side. 

November 25, 2013

Passports and Paperwork!

(Hanging out in the Jakarta Airport after a visit to the Canadian Embassy. As you can tell, Luke & Si have really practiced hard for their passport photos...)

Moving overseas certainly brought about more paperwork than I had expected. Or, you could say I never really give it much thought, until I needed to. I remember maybe 3 years ago Amy and I digging through boxes of who-knows-what looking for - of all things - our high school transcripts. Who'd of thought we'd ever need our high school transcripts again!? It's sometimes hard to burry the past, or at least high school.

I now think God used all of our initial frantic messing around with documents as a little prep for living as a guest in this country, a place that requires constant paperwork maintenance to keep you a "valid and current" resident. There is an amazing amount of fussing about that goes on every year realted to this, and I'm so thankful for those who trudge through the red tape to allow our family to be here! With this in mind, please note that my following long windedness and borderline ranting is merely a result of me exercising my innate right to freedom of speech I seem to feel I was born with (since I come from a Western Country), rather than complaining from a thankless attitude. How's that for a mouthful.

But alas, I must confess it is Canada, my home and native land, that is credited with our family's most recent paperwork adventure - Passport Renewal. The funny (or should I say slightly ironic) thing is, it has had a very Indonesian experiential flavour to it. One of the most common difficulties I've heard North Americans describe about living in this country is that "it just seems to take way longer to get things done here..."  I've heard this voiced many times in many different ways, and I've even said it myself.

Let me share just a wee bit of our passport renewal experience by way of comparison to help illustrate how things sometimes take longer here:

Getting Passport pictures for the Family in Canada:

  1. On a day off of work, Amy, myself, & the kids all pile into the van.
  2. We go to Costco's and get our pictures near the front door.
  3. We then wander around Costco's, do some shopping, & eat a hotdog. Yum...hotdogs. It's been a long time since I've had the pleasure of eating a Costco hotdog.
  4. After 1 hour we go pay for the passport photos....finished!
  5. Okay, it wasn't quite that straight forward, as Charlotte was 3 weeks old at the time and Amy had to try more than once to get a good photo for her. I think Amy went to Sears as well to get her photo taken.

Passport photos in Tarakan, East Kal, Indonesia:

  1. Scratch head & try to figure out first step. Can we even get photos done here? Do some more research...
  2. After talking to a friend, we find out a local photo shop down town has been used by others. We pile into the car and drive to the photo shop we go. Upon arrival I realize I have not cash, and this is primarily a cash society...Oops! Pile back into the car and drive to the bank.
  3. Arrive back at the photo store and ask for passport photos...Lady at the desk says in Indonesian:"Sure, what size?" Me:"Um....passport size." Lady at the desk: "Yes, but what size? What colour background?" Me:"Uh, okay, kids back in the car."  Oops again!
  4. Go home, research more info online about passport size and requirements (I didn't remember having to do this in Costco's as the photo people there already new, I just ate a hotdog).
  5. A few days later, we all travel back to the photo shop and inform the lady at the desk of the newly discovered passport photo requirements. We then get our photos taken. Good! Done? Not yet. Don't stop reading now, it's just getting good!!
  6. Go back home, scan a sample photo from each family member and try and try to email to the Canadian Embassy so they can pre-approve the quality of the photos...But wait, email isn't working this week! Nice try, welcome to Tarakan, come again.
  7. Eventually, email does work and the photos go to Jakarta. As suspected, not all of our photos made the grade. Amy and Helena need new photos.
  8. Back in the car everyone!! To the photo shop we go, I wait in the car with the other kids for almost an hour as Amy and Helena try and strike the perfect pose. We waited so long in the car because the new and old photos needed to be signed and stamped as part of some new-to-us photo requirements we became aware of in our last email to the Embassy. But wait! The nice photo store guy does not have an appropriately sized stamp for our small passport photos...
  9. Nice photo store guy runs across the street to get a better stamp made (there are guys on the street who make stamps & signs as portable vendor type trades people). Nice photo shop guy returns and stamps & signs our photos...But wait again! Young helper lady touches some of the ink on Amy's newly stamped photos, and the ink starts bleeding through and making a mess on three of four photos. Oops!
  10. At this point Amy just wants to go, and so do I, so we return home with Amy's photos still questionable.
  11. Just before heading to the airport for departure to Jakarta to visit the Canadian embassy, we stop once again at the photo store to get a 3rd and final round of photos for Amy. Success! We hope...Still waiting for news from the feared & secretive wing of Canadian Government called Passport Canada.

Well, there you have the most of it!
Now I better show some more trip to Jakarta of pic's of our kids to "cute" this blog up a bit:

The girls entertain themselves in the airport terminal playing with an air vent.

Next blog post I'll get back to our adventures trekking about in the Krayan...

November 10, 2013

Paupan to Binawang

First, I must divulge that for the past 3 weeks or so email has been almost non-existent. Why do I say "email" and not just plain old internet? Well, things are often more complicated than they seem, well at least until I dumb it back down.  Our problems with the internet have not just been actual connectivity or a lack of band width, but also infrastructure so-to-speak (here goes the 'dumbing down part' where I equate electrons, modems, & ping rates to more tangible things like roads or plumbing). We've had the ability to load the odd web page, but forget about sending an email with any size attachment! It's like the road has been closed down to one lain of traffic, and the guy with the sign directing traffic out of Tarakan was a little confused and was leading everyone into a ditch. That's where a lot of my emails ended up, in a cyberspace ditch.

But alas, for the time being, we're in business, and for that I am thankful. The funny (or not-so-funny) thing is that both at home and at the hangar we rely heavily on communications via the internet. I'd say even more so than we did back in Canada. All that to say, uploading pictures to this blog has been next to impossible for some time. But as someone wise said once, if our internet was really good, and we never had power outages, there probably would not be a big need for an organization like MAF here...because that part would be all figured out too.

On to tails of Adventure and Intrigue...
This passed summer I had an opportunity to go interior for a few days with fellow MAF'er Paul College, and try my hand - or should I say feet - at trekking a wee bit in the jungle.

We first flew to the village of Paupan, which was throwing a party, a kind of village reunion. It was an all weekend thing, and all sorts of folks who were originally from this village were travelling back from surrounding areas via airplane to hang out for the weekend.
They built this very cool looking bamboo structure below for the occasion. I think their plan was to leave it up for several months so it could be used for other events. I would hope so, because it sure looked like it took a lot of work!
Upon arrival, we got to try out the ceremonial blow dart gun. Yes, this is poisoned blow dart country!
Below is David from Spain (originally from California). David and his friend Felix have incredible timing, as the day before Paul and I planned to fly out, they just happened to show up to the MAF hangar, looking for a way to get to the interior of Kalimantan to go trekking in the jungle. It just happened to be the perfect time of day, as our pilot had newly returned back from flying and hadn't left the hangar yet. Not only that, there just happened to be available seats on the airplane Paul and I were flying out on the next day - another rarity during a summer when we were very low on pilots!
But I'd say the real reason they lucked out is that Paul probably has more connections and experience trekking about in East Kalimantan than any other foreigner currently living in this area. So, we met them the morning we flew in to Paupan, and ended up spending our entire 4 days interior trekking about with Felix & David.
When a plane would arrive with more people, the meet and greet handshake line up would form to welcome you (after trying the blow gun of course).

Below, the sun comes back out quickly after a tropical rain shower. The rain was certainly a sign of what we would see a lot of in the days to come!
  The bustling metropolis of Paupan.
Felix, David, & Paul.
More to come!

October 12, 2013

This & That Around the Hangar

I've collected these pictures over the last while in and around where I spend most of my time: The hangar!

Along with flying sick or injured people out of the interior, another way we help meet a real (although sobering) need is moving bodies to be buried where they called home. Below, family and friends gather around an airplane for prayer before a body leaves on this flight.
I'd say on an average of once every month or two, a big column of black smoke appears on the horizon towards town, as someone's store, house - or anything flammable - burns down. On this particular day, I found out later that it was a boat in the harbour, and unfortunately a couple people died. Houses are built here close together, using a lot of flammable materials, poor wiring practices, open flames for cooking...the list goes on. The result is lots of fires.
Pak Nelson was nice enough to pose with his newly acquired Biawak (monitor lizard). This one was caught near Luke & Si's school. It later became a delicious source of meat for Nelson's family (I've heard it tastes like chicken, but doesn't everything?) Nelson is from the Krayan Region and knows how to cook up almost anything that can be found out in the jungle. Biawak's are quite common here, even in the suburban areas. I'm happy to not have this one hanging around the kids at school, as a bite from one would not be pretty.
Below, one of our Kodiak's is looking funny sitting there without it's nose landing gear. We took it off for some routine maintenance, and just in case anyone was wondering...No, we didn't leave the plane sitting like seen below; held up with an engine hoist, this was a temporary "situation", as we shuffled nose gear assemblies.
Tim is in the process of re-assembling the nose landing gear strut after we completed an inspection. Man, Tim! You look professional!!
Here, Pak Jonathan is helping with a compressor / engine rinse. A couple times a week we "bath" certain parts inside the engine with de-mineralized water. This prevents deposit buildups from salt and other goodies floating around in the air. Combined with really high temperatures, these deposits can compromise the internal integrity of the engine. I don't think cleanliness makes one more godly, but in this case it certainly makes things safer.
 In the last few months we have tackled some larger inspections on a couple of our Cessna 206's. Below, we are beginning to take apart the entire tail of this plane. so that we can inspect all those parts that are hard to get at.
 Jerry cleaning seat rails.
 Jos getting ready to clean spark plugs.
 And of course, there's no doubt who is working the hardest...just look how much I'm sweating. Oh wait, I'm always like that. I just need a tuque...

September 29, 2013

Into the Fall & Back to School

Our kiddos started their new school year in August (like the US does). Luke started Grade 3, Simon - Grade 1, Helena - Kindergarten (with Amy), and Charlotte, well, she's moved on to Big Girl Play Time (as apposed to littler girl play time). Here's a couple of attempts of a first day of school picture:
Between the two pic's, each kid is smiling at least once :)
Luke and Si attend a small MAF school run this year by two awesome teachers who serve our families by teaching our kids. Let me tell you, this is such a blessing! We are very thankful to have Lynne & Mary again this year.

Summer break from school is handy for Amy and I as it is one of the very few indications we have to what time of year it is. Having them home for "summer break" helps one to mentally support the idea that it is summer, and once they return to school it is "the fall".

Below the kiddos are taking advantage of an afternoon rain storm that rolled by. When we lived in Salatiga (Central Java), rain storms like this that happened during the day seemed to be more frequent. Here, due to coastal weather patterns and such it more often storms and rains at night. Luckily, it rarely goes more than a week or so without rain, as all of our water reserves come from the rain.
Okay, more pic's and stories about what we've been up to here the last while...coming up!

August 30, 2013

Palangkaraya - The "Monkey" Boat

Okay, just one last post about my time in Palangkaraya.

One day myself and some other MAF visitors-to-Palangkaraya types got to hitch a ride on the USS Monkey Boat. Some nice Swiss folks let us fill up the vacant spots on the cruise ship.

Where were we heading? Well, if you weave and wind your way up a river or two from Palangkaraya, you get to this Island in the Rivers that is home to some orangutans. These particular orangutans are being rehabilitated back into the wild, as Borneo and a wee bit of Sumatra are the only place in the world a few still actually live in the wild.
Yes, I called this boat the "Monkey Boat", and yes I know Orangutans are not monkeys, but hey, we did in fact see some monkeys on the way.
Above is our faithful Captain. Notice the throttle cable is made from an old bike pedal gear. Below is what looks like a sawmill of some sort, maybe a bit of the style you would see in black & white pictures in a museum in any given small town in BC, back before things like "legislation" and "rules" complicated the way folks cut down & processed trees.
(I apologize because all of these pictures are from my super awesome Samsung phone). Below you can kind of make out a guy walking on floating logs. This is a brief glimpse of a 1/4 mile long log boom floating down the river, with around a 1/2 dozen tug boats keeping it from smashing into stuff.
Below a typical little abode we'd pass now and then once away from the city. River life!
I guess you would call these "river signs" since signs along a road are called "road signs". I think I know what most of the meanings are, but the one on the far right !? It can't mean "straight stretch" because that would conflict with the "sharp left turn" sign...

Here is a village we passed along the way. This river is the main way to get to and from here, very typical to many, many villages in this part of Borneo.

Okay, from what I understand, these contraptions are one of the main reasons most rivers in this area of Borneo have "0" clarity. These are homemade gold finding machines. They dredge the bottom of the river and send the silty sandy water mix down a sluice box, and to do this they use an exhaust-less super LOUD engine. It's just crazy to see. There is usually a little covered area on the back, and on one I saw a Mom & young kid hanging out the side. The whole family was living on it. Imagine your family living on a half rotten dock 6ft from a Harley Davidson V-Twin!

Most of this mining is of the illegal kind, but I really can't blame those who are poor just trying to provide meals for their families.

Below is an orangutan! (Where's my good camera!?) I heard that the word "orangutan" comes form the Indonesian / Malay words "Orang" meaning Person or Human, and "Hutan" meaning Jungle or Forest. I can see the forest people resemblance. They are pretty big when you get up close, I'd hate to mess with one!

A couple of shots of the short boat ride to the island to see the orangutans.
Thus concludes my adventures in Palangkaraya. I really enjoyed seeing another part of Borneo, spending time with our Comrades in the South, and seeing how MAF is used there. Next post back to Tarakan!!