Day 2: Fire in Every Direction

Indonesian wildfires

As expected, Internet connection has been difficult to come by here. However, today I opted not to join a rescue operation so that I could get an entry up on the blog. We arrived in Nyaru Menteng yesterday, following a 6 hour racecar drive from the Banjarmasin airport. We flew into Banjarmasin because the local airport in Palankaraya remains closed as the haze from all the fires continues to be a problem, so we succumbed to the long drive.

The good news, no the GREAT news, is that my luggage arrived! And so I rested in ease as we took off at 5am to catch our flight from Jakarta to Borneo. Although I did continually peer out the plane window to make sure my luggage was making it on to this flight.

While approaching the island of Borneo we got a perfect aerial view of the disaster situation. The island was poca-dotted with smoke stacks. There was no forest in sight, but the fires continue to burn in pocketed areas.

Once on the ground, the haze and the smoke grew increasingly worse as we drove towards the center of Borneo. We expected the fires to be burning in the surrounding areas, mostly on the perimeters of the local villages, but what we didn’t expect was the fires to be burning alongside the road we were driving on!

At one point we stopped alongside the road where several people were gathering to watch as their neighbor’s farm raged out of control with fire. I just could not imagine what was going through their minds as they looked on. How could they possibly sleep at night knowing flames could easily cross the street and set their own homes on fire? I asked a woman, probably in her 60s, about the situation. She had so much fear in her eyes I wished there had been a way to reassure her that her home would be safe.

On the night we arrived in Nyaru Menteng we spoke briefly with Pak Hardy, the vice project manager, about our itinerary for the rest of our stay. Following this we moved to our hotel where we attempted to obtain an Internet signal with our brand new satellite. The haze was just too thick: we could not get any type of signal.

I’m finishing this entry as I sit in the office at Nyaru Menteng, watching as the juvenile orangutans make their way back to the center from a full day in the forest. All of these juveniles have been orphaned because their mothers have been killed. The other non-juvenile orangutans at the center are also victims of oil palm production. Whether it be injuries sustained from forest fires or abuse from palm plantation owners themselves, it has brought these animals together here at Nyaru Menteng. Not only are they lucky to have the dedicated care from BOS ‘babysitters’ but they are lucky to have another chance at life.

Tomorrow we set off for Mantangari, an area where the fires are still threatening the survival of many animals. Much more to follow…

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