Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rafting and jungle trekking in Kalimantan

You haven’t really visited Kalimantan until you’ve visited its rainforests. But the question for most tourists is, how?

While the third-largest island in the world is filled with exuberant tropical rainforests, many of them are remote and not easily accessible from major cities. The ones that can be reached tend to be wildly overgrown with no guided paths. For the casual tourist, this makes seeing the island’s greatest treasures a logistical nightmare.

Bamboo rafting on the Amandit River

The next day, we were fresh and ready for a new adventure in bamboo rafts along the Amandit River. Known to locals as balanting paring, bamboo rafting was originally a form of transportation rather than recreation. Local farmers used the handmade rafts to transport their commodities to bigger villages to be sold. But over the years, this activity has become a major tourist attraction in Loksado.

We asked our guide to organize a raft for us, and some local men gathered bamboo sticks to make a fresh one on the spot. They tied 12 to 16 bamboo sticks together with rope and piled smaller bamboo sticks in the middle of the raft to fashion seats. Each raft can accommodate three people, so I was torn between safety and friendship in picking company for my raft — afraid we would sink, I chose the less heavy of the bunch.

The Amandit is a fast-flowing river ruptured by giant rocks, which makes for some exciting rafting. The adrenaline was pumping as our captain steered with a bamboo pole, swinging the raft forcefully against the current. In one narrow canal, we had to duck to avoid tree branches hanging in the river. I was glad that we had brought our own life vests, as the captain took no other safety precautions. It was truly an adventure.

Jungle trekking to Haratai waterfall

The next day, we followed our urge to try exploring the jungle. With local guides Nizar and Capu, we rose early for a two and a half-hour trek uphill to the Haratai waterfall, located within the Meratus mountain range.

The trek was easy at first, and the path was paved for most of the way to the nearest village of Loksado. But once we passed the village, the bushy Meratus mountains welcomed us with a muddy path.

The Meratus mountains stretch from the district of Tanah Laut in South Kalimantan to the northern border between the east and central part of the island. The forests are essentially untouched, though in some parts locals have started to cultivate the land for plantations.

Crossing through the rainforest, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by several exotic plants I encountered. From the native Loksado orchid — a red, pineapple-shaped flower — to the white, netted mushrooms on the forest floor.

Several crops of rubber, cinnamon and mangosteen as well as local fruits such as rambai, langsat and cempedak also decorated the pathway uphill, and they made for light snacks while trekking.

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