One of the most popular questions among my fellow city folk is: “what kind of bugs and insects did you stumble upon?” Well, I’ll answer that question, and raise you one to include other creatures and even some rep…repti…reptiles. Oooh, my skin crawled a little bit typing that.
This post would be no fun at all without pictures…so here goes!
I’m not sure what this fella’s name is, but he looked like a monster-size version of a cicada. When he decides to fly, he could easily be mistaken for a real-life helicopter. And when said “helicopter” flew around the longhouse, there was a 99.9% chance I was nervously shaking under my mosquito net. Mind you, he was completely harmless but his size alone was enough to send me to the safety of my net.
This is a centipede. Talk about a survival mechanism! If he sensed danger, SHZOOP! Those little legs would disappear in the blink of an eye and you would be left with this protective shell. #socool! Also, I’m pleased to share, I did in fact hold multiple centipede balls.
Oh, this was a cute kitten that I cuddled with for approximately 3 hours in Tembak one afternoon. The rest of the group was doing important things like “bonding with the village” but I couldn’t seem to put this sweet girl down. (Photo cred goes to Paul Daley and his awesome camera.)
This was a yellow-something-something snake which was discovered by the villagers one day (Somebody help me out with that kind of snake it is?) She wasn’t poisonous and was totally gorgeous, from a distance. We also crossed paths with a pit viper while at the longhouse. Also beautiful, extremely poisonous and a lazy critter. She just sat on a log, soaking up the rays and posing this way and that, while a half dozen people crowded her with cameras.
This was some cool and weird version of a stick bug, I think. And lest you think that is my arm that the bug is sitting on, I will assure you it most certainly is not.
A pup! He decided that he was mood for a jungle hike. So one day when a handful of villagers took a few of us into their neighboring rainforest, we turned around and realized the dog had fallen into perfect step with the group and was coming along for the adventure.
Not much to say here other than…huge. It was huge snail.
One day in a village far, faaar in the interior of the jungle, (and by “faaar” I mean, an approximate 10-hour bus ride, an 8-hour speed boat ride and a 4-hour longboat ride from a “city”) we stumbled upon this king cobra skin. And Eco-Warrior Ben Dessen (AKA: resident reptitle expert from his 60+ pet snakes at his home in Australia) determined it was a “fresh” skin, no more than 1-2 days old. It was pretty awesome but I definitely watched where I walked for the rest of the day!
And Sweet Jojo! Hardly a “critter” but who doesn’t like pictures of this cheeky girl? #heartbreaker!
And this is…wait! Chris is not a critter! Well, in a sense he was! The cutest little critter in all of Ensaid Panjang. Facts to know about Mr. Chris, his whole life seemed to be rushed. He was always racing around the longhouse, trying to keep up with the older kids, wondering where the group had dashed off to, or just causing trouble (in a sweet way) in general. I started more than one morning at the longhouse, sleepily opening my eyes only to find his two little eyes peering in, wondering when we would wake up and play. The other thing about Chris is that he is waiting (not so patiently) for his adult front teeth to grow in. In the meantime, he is rarely found without a hard piece of candy sticking out where the teeth should be. And no, he’s not game for sharing said candy. Trust me, I asked.
These are just some of the critter pictures I happened to capture during our 20-day journey. One can only imagine (or have nightmares) about what we will stumble upon during our upcoming 80 days. So exciting! Borneo has such diversity and beauty. And a big thank you to Planet Earth, ya done good.
Last week a mini-teaser for the 3D Movie was released. If you already saw it, what did you think? If you haven’t seen it yet or would care to watch it again, I thought I’d share a few “behind the scenes” details with you, using the counter at the bottom of the clip.
First of all, this isn’t meant to be a stand-alone clip. One of the producers of the 3D Movie, Cathy Henkel, was given the opportunity to speak at a TEDTalk last week. She compiled this short teaser to aid in her story about the first 20 days in Borneo. And, although it requires a bit of background knowledge to understand what’s going on, it’s incredibly powerful. Remember my post about culture shock? Well, I was sent this teaser a few days before it was released, and this is what officially broke the flood gates of tears. Seeing the familiar faces of the villages, the sights and sounds of the forest, the orangutans still needing rescue…..yup–it hit me and made me all, ya know, emotional.
But enough chatter about culture shock. Let’s dive in to the clip and some “inside” details!
0:10sec you see a chicken. Said chicken and all his friends were INCREDIBLY confused about the time of day and to say they were “punctual alarm clocks” would be a gross understatement. These suckers would be crowing and cockadoodling their little hearts out at 2:30AM, again at 3:30AM and then when the sun actually came up. Eco-Warrior Anne-Sophie actually went tearing out of the longhouse with a broom one night around 3:00AM to “encourage them to take a walk until sunrise”.
0:11sec the Dayak women of Ensaid Panjang are pounding rice flour. The wooden beams they are holding are unbelievably heavy, and my arms were aching a few minutes after being assigned this job.
0:20sec is the river at Ensaid Panjang, also known as my laundromat for the 10 days we stayed there.
0:30sec is the shot of a field smoldering. This field was recently stolen from a Dayak farmer by the palm oil company. They planted palm oil seedlings there and, in a desperate act, the farmer whose land had been taken set the entire field on fire. It was very moving and a sad sight to see.
0:43sec Oil palm fruits being carted away.
1:10sec The first two orangutans the Eco-Warriors witnessed behind bars. We were taken to their cage on our very first day in Borneo. This scene was shot a few hours after the rush of excitement from us landing in Borneo and meeting each other for the first time! Emotions were raging from one extreme to another, and suddenly we found ourselves witnessing the despair of these two beautiful primates. Earlier, there had been a third orangutan kept here but it died due to the conditions. However, we have secured the official paperwork needed to rescue these two orangutans and they will soon be relocated!
1:30sec The speedboats! Oh how we scrambled into those eleven speedboats with excitement! And OH how sore were our butts after an 8+ hour ride up river on those blasted speedboats! They took us deep into the interior of Borneo, where roads cease to exist and the only way to get there is by river. We were able to visit countless Dayak tribes and listen to their stories; it was on this journey that we began to truly understand the enormity of the deforestation issue.
2:29sec-2:30sec My scalp was extremely itchy on this day. Damp and humid climate + thick locks of hair = the shot seen at 2:29sec! (What? TMI? Sorry, I’m keeping it real!)
3:26sec My “ah-ha” moment was during that meeting prior to this interview. The Dayak leader was begging the fifteen of us to go back to our countries and share what we had seen, share the plight his community and others are going through right now. My tears during this interview were because I was suddenly connected to him, to the problem and to helping them reach a solution. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and it was in an instant that I felt responsibility. I had been privileged enough to be in that room during the leader’s moving speech and he was asking me for help. No turning back now.
More teasers and trailers and clips to come, I’m sure! This is just the first and I was excited to share it with you! Feel free to pass it along to others. The Dayak leader asked us to share it with our home countries, but each of you can play a part in spreading the message farther than he ever imagined.
As promised, I’ll attack your top ten questions with 100% honesty– here goes!
#1) How big were the bugs?
Answer: quite large. I had foolishly looked at picture books of Borneo wildlife before my departure as I was trying to prepare myself for flying snakes, spiders the size of my face, all that good stuff. Fortunately for me, we didn’t see too many creepy-crawlies. One thing that was helpful was that the rest of the team loved this kind of thing so if a bug crossed our path instead of being squashed, it was more likely picked up and admired. (I’ll admit that I too admired the bugs, from a safe distance). I’m working on it, ok?
#2) What was the hardest part of the trip?
Answer: Saying goodbye to the team after it was over. Leaving the longhouse community at Ensaid Panjang. And there were some animal sacrifices I could have done without.
#3) Did you know the history of the Dayak‘s before going to Borneo?
Answer: That they were head hunters? Yes, I was aware.
#4) Best part of the 20 days?
Answer: There were obviously a lot of highlights but probably the biggest was rescuing and getting to know little Miss JoJo. It was fascinating to watch her personality emerge as she grew comfortable with her new enclosure. This was my first interaction with an orangutan and she certainly set the bar high. I know her release into the wild is years away because she has many skills to learn, but I know she’ll do just fine out there in her “real” home.
#5) What did you eat?
Answer: Rice with a side of rice. And more rice. And delicious fruits, and rice. Sometimes ferns from the rainforest. Rice. Tofu and vegetable stew stuff. Topped off with rice.
Answer: Hot and I loved it. There has always been something wrong with my internal thermometer, thus the reason it’s not unusual to find me bundled up in layers on a warm day. Equator/ jungle temps suited me just fine. While others were melting, I was comfortably plodding along. Honestly, it was in the nineties most days and very humid. My kinda weather! It was supposed to be turning from the dry season to the wet season during our trip, but it only rained 2-3 times.
#7) Who was your favorite Eco-Warrior?
Answer: Ha!! Every.single.one.of.them. For realz. I’ve never been a part of a group with this much energy. Our passion and dedication is so similar, and that gives me such hope for this project and it feels incredibly powerful. We formed a special little family during our 20 days. We experienced and saw some intense stuff, felt heartbreak together and positively cracked each other up. They are some wonderful people and I am excited to introduce some of them to you through this blog. A little guest-blogging if you will.
#8) When are you going back to Borneo?
Answer: We are hoping to return in late February/March and I can’t wait! Also, I’m nervous! But, mainly just extremely excited!
#9) Did you get sick?
Answer: Oh yes. Food poisoning two days before I came back to the States. All I could think of as I spent the entire night by myself in the bathroom (hey pity party!) was “what if I’m THIS sick during my 4 flights home?!” Thank goodness it passed quickly, although at the time it felt like it would never end. Borneo = not the place you want to be sick.
#10) What’s the project called again?
Answer: DeforestACTION. De-for-est-ACTION! Use “the Google!“
Alright old friends, new friends and internet stalkers. I’ve gotten a handful of questions since my return from Borneo and I promise I’ll attempt to answer them next week.
I’m sure many of my loyal readers have things they are wondering as well. And since this blog is nothing if not real, fire away! Whaddya got for me?
(Just head up to the “comment” tab at the top of the homepage and shoot me a message.)
Monday was the first time I had downtime since I got back from Borneo (thank you Christopher Columbus.) First I sorted through my photos (soon to be uploaded to “The Facebook”). Next, I watched some short clips I had of Jojo, the world’s craziest and cutest orangutan; and then, I spent time reflecting on the 20-day experience, brainstorming on what needs to be done before the 80-day trip to Borneo; and then…I broke down into a heaping mess of tears. I thought about all the villages that will be destroyed before we return next year. I thought about the farmers we met who were only weeks away from losing their land, their livelihood and their lives. I thought about all the orangutans who sit and wait to be rescued. It was intense and it was a time.
Last week, the transition from Borneo on Friday, to Seoul and Singapore on Saturday, to Washington, DC on Sunday, and then to work on Monday, sent me for a loop. On Monday morning at 8:00am, I found myself walking down the familiar hallway to my desk. And it felt so surreal. Nothing had changed on the surface–except for the 940 unread emails and 44 voicemails from various members of Congress, politely asking for a call back! Didn’t they know I was a changed woman, that I had been shaken to my core by sights and stories so devastating, that I now feel immense pressure and responsibility knowing the truth about what is happening to the innocent villages and animals caught in the middle? Then, later in the week, I had a work event at a very “see and be seen” restaurant a few blocks from the Capitol. It was ritzy, and politicians and lobbyists were milling around, and I sat there with my glass of red wine, struggled to keep it together. My memory replayed to a week prior sitting on the floor of the longhouse in Ensaid Panjang, children scattered around playing, while we ate a simple dinner of rice and forest ferns. The disparity between the two evenings sent me into a spiral, full of guilt and a fierce desire to create change for the village of Ensaid Panjang.
Speaking with a friend on the phone earlier today, I tried to explain that I’ve never considered myself an “environmentalist”, and I don’t even think I deserve the label “Eco-Warrior.” Before Borneo, I didn’t “get it.” It took me and my own two legs standing in a virgin rainforest, literally being drawn to tears by the overwhelming beauty surrounding me–and then just a day later– standing in a palm oil-demolished rainforest, to fully understand the utter destruction we are causing this planet.
In my opinion whether you find yourself on the climate change train or deny that it’s happening till the cows come home, I really don’t care. What I care about is the fact that until we figure out a way to live on the moon, we are stuck with planet Earth. And call me crazy, but I don’t think Earth is such a bad gig. She’s beautiful and she’s willing to provide EVERYTHING we need for very little in return. But truth be told, we are stretching her thin, especially in parts of Borneo that are being rapidly destroyed for consumers . But the battle for Borneo isn’t over yet. For me, it’s just beginning. I hope you all join with me in this growing movement to stop deforestation and give back to a planet that has given us so much.
So, I’m back. (I’ve actually been back since Sunday–suckers!) But I’ll tell you what, it was a journey to get home. We’re talking 42+ hours of travel. And about 6 hours into my trip, I was reaching epic levels of grumpy. However, my mood shifted significantly after my second flight touched down in Singapore, and I discovered the airport had a spa. With showers. Showers that had actual hot water. I’d be embarrassed to call myself an “Eco-Warrior” if I told you how long I stood in the shower, but let’s just say each drop of water was like a little slice of heaven. I had 13 hours to kill in Singapore but not enough energy to muster actually leaving the airport to explore, as my “adventurer meter” had officially topped off at this point. So I wandered around and made a few friends. One lady, in particular, caught my interest when she shared her grandmother was a real-deal geisha. As soon as she dropped the “g” word, I was 100% hooked and spent the next 45 minutes peppering her with questions. Hello fascination. (Anyone else a fan of “Memores of a Geisha”? Anyone?!)
When my 15-hour Korean flight finally sailed over the greenery of Virginia, I started grinning ear to ear. Soon after that, the escalator inside Dulles International Airport was guiding me into customs with a recording saying ” To American citizens, we welcome you home.” But then came the best part–patiently waiting for my arrival stood my amazing parents and wonderful boyfriend, and they greeted me with such fanfare that onlookers must have thought I had been gone for years. It was awesome.
I slept the rest of the day away, and, at 8am Monday morning, I was headed back to work. My week has been focused on only three and a half things. Catching up on three weeks of missed work, catching up on sleep, catching up on any food that doesn’t include rice, and sorta-kinda catching up with friends. Frankly, I haven’t “mentally unpacked” and processed this trip enough yet to do a decent job at sharing it with friends, so I’m relying on the sureproof option of avoidance and changing the topic as much as possible. I’ll have my thoughts figured out soon enough–and I know how important it is for me to share–but how to you condense a life-changing 20 days into 5 minutes or less? Because, let’s be honest here, people are going to start tuning out soon after. I mean, it’s a miracle you’re all still reading this blog.
I’m working on it though, and soon I’ll post a bit more about the transition from the jungle to “The Hill”. For now, it’s 8:50pm and this hour has become my new bedtime this week as my body frantically tries to figure out what time zone and continent it’s on. More later and goodnight.
Written on 9.16.11
My first hike into a virgin rainforest. On foot we left the village of Tembak at a decent speed. I was prepared for a 2 1/2 hour trek into the jungle. (An important side note to this story: my biggest and entirely irrational fear about this trip was getting lost and somehow “left behind” in the jungle. I had crazy visions of being separated from the group and having to trek my way back to civilization alone. Logically this fear is ridiculous. I am traveling with a group of 14 + in addition to an entire film crew. Regardless as we headed toward the edge of the forest I thought to myself “don’t get separated”.)
Just as we entered the jungle I glanced to my left and found that there were two curious eyes staring up at me and reaching for my hand. As our hands locked I was unaware that I’d be holding this tiny palm for the entire hike. My irrational “lost-in-the-jungle” fear quickly disappeared as my newly acquired three-foot, barefoot guide patiently lead me on the expedition. It was apparent that this was a forest she was very familiar with. She may have only had four years of life behind her behind but her independent little spirit and knowledge of the jungle was impressive.
As I glanced down at our locked hands I thought of her future, the history of her relatives on this land and her innate knowledge of a virgin rainforest. A four year old who knows which plants are poisonous, understands the animals that live on this land- all of it. It’s in her blood. But the palm oil companies have reached her town and are currently trying to create conflict and tension among the tribe. If they succeed she will be the last generation of Dayak’s in that forest. The last generation confidently guiding a newcomer through her first rainforest.
Funny side note: one hour into the hike our group stumbled upon a huge and beautiful mushroom. Many photos were taken, the Eco’s were “ooh and ahh’ing”. When it was our turn to walk past it my guide, with all the confidence in the world raised her right foot and gave that mushroom a swift kick that sent it sailing through the air. She looked quite pleased with herself as she advanced deeper into the jungle. Apologies to the Eco’s who were unfortunately walking behind us and will forever wonder just how magnificent that mushroom was. Although it’s not a great ending to a story discussing how much reverence the Dayak’s have for nature, her spit-fire attitude cracked me up and had me wondering for the rest of the hike what she would do next.
That’s right. Eco Warrior Mark Kuroski is up to no good again! He just released his third music video for the thousands of school students who are following our 20 day adventure in Borneo. It was filmed at the beautiful traditional longhouse in Ensaid Panjang were we lived for 5 days. Enjoy!
PS: The bridge collapse seen 1:56 into the video was 100% real. Fortunately, no Dayak children were hurt in the making of this video! Although Eco Warrior Tom Smith’s baby toe did not fair as well…
I just finished my last day of work until I return to DC in October (Clarification: I’ll be in Borneo 20 days in September & 80 days next year.) I came home and kicked off my heels for the last time for a few weeks! My bag has been sitting by the front door for two days now. I just printed off my flight itinerary and it’s a doozie! I depart from Dulles tomorrow afternoon and fly to Seoul. Then into Singapore where I plan to find a “cozy” corner to hunker down and sleep for a few hours before my flight to Jakarta. And then, one last flight in Pontianak- the airport on the island of Borneo! At that point I’ll meet up with the rest of the lovely group and we will depart together via speedboat for our little town, Sintang. I will reach my final destination by Saturday evening- whew! So excited!
I hope to post once or twice in between my flights but no promises. So here’s my official goodbye and I will update this little blog if/when I have access to that fancy thing called the internet.
Sampai nanti! (“Until later” in Bahasa. And yes, those are the only two words I know and I’m fairly certain I’m mispronouncing it. Much to learn!)