Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

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Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

Postby backyard_botanist » Tue 25 Sep, 2018 2:31 pm

Not long back from a 3 week cross Borneo trip with a mate including a 6 day hike through the jungle of the foothills of the Mueller Mountains. The temperature changed very little over the three weeks, a pretty constant 31 degrees and 70% humidity with rain most nights. Despite all the warnings about malaria Mosquito's were virtually non-existent.
The trip started on the east coast of Indonesian Borneo in the city of Samarinda where we met our guide and boarded a public ferry on the Mahakan River. We stayed on the public ferry day and night for the next three days until we reached the small Dayak village of Long Bagun. From Long Bagun the river becomes to shallow for large boats and we transferred to a speed boat, after another day heading upstream through rapids the river became to shallow for a speed boat and we boarded our gear into long boats. Finally, after 5 days travel up river we pulled up on the bank of the river and unloaded our gear.
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Our group consisted of me and my mate, our guide and two Dayak porters (driver's of the long boat also in the photo).
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The hike started with a steep uphill section along a well worn muddy track full of slippery rocks and mossy roots. After reaching the top we dropped down and the river crossings began. At this point I was glad I’d left my waterproof leather boots at home and went for pair of light weight, well drained synthetic boots.
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The Jungle environment was incredible, the complex canopy blocked almost all the light, every surface had something growing on it and the sounds of insects everywhere. Unfortunately, wildlife was difficult to see, partly because the thick vegetation makes seeing things very difficult and partly because the indigenous people hunt many animals in the area to supply the market for Chinese medicine. As it was we saw a little squirrel, and heard some gibbons on the first day.
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After a solid 5 or 6 hours hiking we arrived at our first camp on the side of a river and set up our bivvy. We copped very heavy rain on the first night, with one side of our bivvy collapsing through the night and generally doing a poor job of keeping the rain out.
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We woke up on the second day, put on wet socks, boots and clothes (nothing ever really dried out), polished off a breakfeast of what would be our staple for breakfeast, lunch and tea for the next six days, rice and chilli tuna! The track followed the general direction of the river frequently leaving the river up onto the bank only to drop back down into the river a short time later.
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The heavy rain from the night before brought the leeches out in force. Aside from the tricky walking and abundant leeches, the jungle had a number of well armed trees. This made the walking difficult as you had to concentrate on the slippery track full of roots and rocks, as well as checking that hand holds were not spikey or rotten.
After a solid day hiking we arrived at our second camp along a little stream at the base of the Mueller mountains. That day we didn’t see any wildlife but heard wild deer and a Hornbill. I noticed as we made camp that one of my boots had started to delaminate. I had a pair of thongs to wear around camp to let my feet dry out but otherwise had no back up foot wear. As it turned out my boots held on for trip but I think in hindsight I’d take a pair of crocs instead of thongs that could operate as back up footwear if your boots fall apart.
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We awoke on our third day to large branch falling down 15m from our bivvy. We then started another short steep climb up into the Mueller mountains. About ¾ of the way up my mate began to feel crook in the guts and went downhill quickly. After another hour or two he had become so weak he couldn’t carry his own pack and was struggling to walk. The decision was made to make an early camp, however being in the steep foothills we still had to walk for another 2 hours to reach a suitable campsite. When we reached the camp my mate started on some antibiotics and our Dayak porters made a medicinal tea from the bark of a local tree.
The highlight of the day was getting a good look at a Tropic Bird by the river where we camped, this impressive bird had massive long white streaming feathers in its tail.
After a tense night unsure how we would get my mate out of the jungle, he awoke feeling much better and was able to continue the hike. He suspects that it was some untreated water that he drank out of a little stream that made him crook. We learnt the hard way that even though the water looks pristine it can still have bugs were not used to.
Heavy rain the night before had the rivers up and made for a number of difficult crossings. While the water was only thigh deep it was fast flowing and on one occasion I lost my footing, being swept a couple of meters down stream before our guide grabbed the top of my pack, allowing me to regain my feet.
The highlight of the day was finding a Rafflesia in flower! These parasitic plants have no leaves of their own and are some of the largest flowers in the world.
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That night our Porters caught a number of fish and made a local meal using the tips of fern fronds, which made a welcome change from rice and chilli tuna.
Day 5 turned out to be the biggest and most challenging day of the hike. After several hours of relatively easy walking, the river deepened and we had to walk along the steep sides of the river. The track was on a steep angle constantly rising and falling with a steep sided drop into the fast flowing river. When the sides become to steep to walk across we had to drop down and tread carefully on wet mossy rocks, with river splashing at your back.
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We reached our camp in the in the late evening, which turned out to a ‘traditional’ goldmining camp. Our guide bartered for the relative luxury of staying in a hut with a dry wooden floor and tarp roof that didn’t leak. With my mate still not recovered from his stomach bug we made the decision to alter our route and shave a day of the hike. Instead of following the river for another two days to the first major village, we walked 2 hours to another river where we could get a boat out through the rapids, directly to the village. When we reached the second river the boat driver had just killed a wild boar which he happily shared for breakfast. After sampling the local pig we had a four hour trip downstream through the rapids, hitting rocks on several occasions and almost tipping the boat on another. Only the amazing strength of the boat driver (who used a big stick to direct the boat) saved us and our gear from ending up in the river.
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After 6 days and plenty of thrills and spills we reached the first village on the western side of the Mueller mountains and were back in relative civilisation. We spent another day heading downstream on a long boat and then endured a 16 hr bus trip to the western city of Pontianak, completing our cross Borneo trip.
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Re: Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

Postby digbyg » Tue 25 Sep, 2018 2:49 pm

Thanks for an interesting read. What a memorable trip. Not easy walking in that climate, although so many river crossings help out a lot.
How did you do the prior organisation or did a company help set up the porters, guide, boats etc.
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Re: Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

Postby backyard_botanist » Tue 25 Sep, 2018 3:45 pm

The trip was organised through Degigant tours. We dealt directly with the owner Lucas who was great to organise things with. Prior to the trip I was concerned about our guide being late or not showing up at all etc. but the organisation of the trip was reliable and without major stress. Once we got up river the famous Jam Karet (rubber time) held us up a few times but it's all part of the journey I reckon.
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Re: Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

Postby bernieq » Tue 09 Oct, 2018 3:17 pm

Well done, indeed. I bet the leaches were legion. Finding a flowering Rafflesia is a feat in itself - how was the smell?

Have you read Eric Hansen's 'Footsteps across Borneo'? If not, worth chasing up.

From what town did you start the bus trip to Pontianak? and how did your mate pull up?

We are responsible for the health of the planet - not it for ours
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Re: Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

Postby backyard_botanist » Wed 10 Oct, 2018 6:58 am

Bus trip started in Puttussibua, when the bus reached a big hill, everyone had to empty out and meet it at the top, actually surprised it made it to Pontianak.

Not sure if it was the anitbiotics or the bush medicine but my mate recovered quickly once we got out of the jungle and he could get some rest.

Cheers for the book recommendation, I'll check it out.
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Re: Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

Postby GPSGuided » Wed 10 Oct, 2018 10:06 am

Fantastic tale and what an amazing flower! Curious to see that your guide/porter have gone barefoot? Really?
Just move it!
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Re: Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

Postby Warin » Wed 10 Oct, 2018 11:26 am

GPSGuided wrote: Curious to see that your guide/porter have gone barefoot? Really?


Not uncommon. Shoes don't last well, feet grip better and dry quicker. And shoes cost money.
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Re: Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

Postby GPSGuided » Wed 10 Oct, 2018 1:15 pm

Warin wrote:Not uncommon. Shoes don't last well, feet grip better and dry quicker. And shoes cost money.

Pretty tough for the distance and ground surface though.
Just move it!
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Re: Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

Postby bernieq » Wed 10 Oct, 2018 2:54 pm

GPSGuided wrote:Curious to see that your guide/porter have gone barefoot? Really?

Yeah, as bb says.

In Pontianak, over 12 months, I watched a 3 floor school being built - those who didn't have bare feet wore Indonesian safety shoes (aka thongs). The concrete for each floor was carried up ramps in small buckets (by the workers ... on their shoulders ... ) - incredibly hard work in 98% humidity and 30deg.

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Re: Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

Postby ribuck » Fri 12 Oct, 2018 4:46 am

GPSGuided wrote:Curious to see that your guide/porter have gone barefoot? Really?

That reminds me of the PNG highlands. The local people who have footwear will not wear it in the forest. But when they get to the dirt road, any footwear that they have gets put on.
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Re: Cross Borneo (Mueller Mountains), Indonesian Borneo

Postby backyard_botanist » Sat 20 Oct, 2018 5:57 pm

The guys in the photo with no shoes were the boat drivers, the guides and porters wear these shoes that look like footy boots with studs (can't remember the name but there SE asia thing), good for grip but no cushioning.
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