I used to believe Borneo was one of the world’s most removed locations. A place where tribes of headhunters lived in an impenetrable jungle communities enduring electrolyte-sapping heat and pesky disease carrying insets.
So armed with our malaria meds, a huge bottle of water and some strong sunblock, we set off to discover the mysteries of Boreno.
The Betang Rejang heads straight into the heart of Borneo, or at least as far inland as you can get by boat. After Vinnie’s encounter with Borneo’s heartiest bamboo, taking a boat upriver seemed the best way forward. We left the jungle trekking to the real hikers, not urban one’s like us.
For the first leg of the trip we grabbed a huge express boat and managed to hold on through four hours of Gibraltar-quality currents. I was pretty certain that we were headed overboard when the boat took on 3 meter high waves but our fellow passengers seemed unperturbed.
Fear of death by drowning was quickly replaced by environmental heartbreak.
The reduce, reuse, recycle campaign has clearly not made any inroads in South East Asia. Every man on the boat came carrying a plastic bag with smokes and beer, when they finished their drink they simply chucked it in the water. By the end of the trip, an obscene amount of packaging was bobbing around the ocean, making it’s way to the plastic island in the pacific.
The next boat on our day-long trip up the Batang Rejang was completely booked, so instead of sitting inside the space-ship-shaped-boat, we rode on top with the luggage and the locals. This may have been of questionable legality because as soon as we set off, the boat was pulled over by the police.
This wasn’t your average speeding ticket either- I’m fairly certain that the police were extorting the boat captain for cash bribes! We sat on the roof, baking in the sun as the police argued with the boat staff, poked our bags and counted the people on top of the boat. Eventually we were pulled from the roof and made to stand inside- with the doors closed- as the captain and the police exchanged bills. So sketch!
After our brief encounter with the river police, our boat quickly motored up river, stopping to drop off passengers at their local longhouses along the way. These communities may not be connected by roads but the river boats make it pretty easy to get where you need to go – and bring back the things you need. It was hysterical to see the dissimilarity in the items that people were bringing back to their houses, from TVs and printers to live chickens.
Along the way we saw many, many awesome longhouse communities, but there were also many, many logging outposts. The jungle was clearly cut back, cut down and cut into huge lengths of timber.
Individuals are not the only folks throwing their waste into this river; the murky-brown Batang Rejang was full of huge logs and massive tiber-carrying tankers shooting diesel fumes into the air. The logging industry is clearly and unforgivingly raping the jungle of all of it’s wood and palm oil and dumping what they don’t want in the water.
This was the first time that I’ve come face-to-face with large scale, deliberate environmental degradation. Huge swaths of jungle have systematically cut down leaving massive tracks of dirt and little else. No wildlife, no pesky insects and no communities.
So the real mystery I discovered in Borneo is how long can this destruction last and moreover, why don’t people care?