Views From Sukadana

The window is wide open, and outside the bamboo sways in a late afternoon breeze. My son is on the cool tiled porch, creating another elaborate ink drawing in his favorite notebook. My daughter is around the corner of the porch, surrounded by a number of Indonesian teens, making friendship bracelets. The busy chatter of teenagers and laughter makes for a good backdrop for writing. talk about a

We have been in Sukadana roughly a week now. Our friends Jackson and Sara met us at the docks as we arrived in a speedboat from Pontianak. Talk about transportation! The four hour ride was a bouncy, hot, gasoline fume-filled ride along river and sea. A midday stop at a Malay village on sticks was made exciting as we had to clamber over the tops of other boats to reach the docks. The kids handled it well however, and we were able to grab a quick bowl of food at the tiny water-side restaurant. As with all places we've visited in SE Asia on this trip, the kids were a huge hit here. Many "hello mister!" and "hello miss!" as we ate and then attempted to climb back aboard. 

The open water portion of the ride was probably the most exciting part. We enjoyed a 1.5-2ft swell, and the boat leaped and fell over the waves in big thumps. Little R found it most exciting and claimed it was "better than DIsneyland!" because it lasted longer, and actually took us somewhere rather than just going in circles. Big B managed to sleep through almost the whole thing. His ability to nap just about anywhere is mindboggling. In this instance however, he was fighting a slight cold and I think the sleep was just what he needed to recover. 

Our first day here was spent getting unpacked, visiting the ASRI clinic and offices and meeting staff, as well as catching up with Jackson and Sara. They have been so kind to share their home with us while we stay here. A small blue tiled home, with a tin roof and a green front porch, it has open construction. This allows the heat to escape at the end of the day. It also allows geckos, and various other creatures to come into the home! Often at our meals, the kids are eager to spot the little grey-green geckos that scurry up the walls and across the ceiling. Definitely unusual dinner entertainment! At night, we sleep with mosquito netting draped over the beds as protection from local bugs. We've had some excitement in that every so once in a while a rogue cockroach has infiltrated the nets and made us all squeal squeamishly until either I or Jackson remove it. Nobody, including the old hands (ie Jackson and Sara) are fond of cockroaches. Ew. 

We had a speedy introduction into the flora of Gunung Palung National Park during a visit to one of ASRI's reforestation sites on the edge of the park. Along with two other teenagers (children of two visiting doctors from New York state), Jackson took us out to see a patch of ground that is slowly moving towards a healthier forest. With detailed descriptions of the destruction surrounding the edge of the conservation site, plant and animal knowledge, and vast cultural background, Jackson provided a phenomenal introduction to the challenges faced in restoring rain forest in this part of Borneo. At this small site the kids handled themselves pretty well, considering the challenges of the terrain.

To access the site required a 15 minute walk along rice patties and smiling farm workers. A small channel of water required piggyback rides for both kids as it ran deeper and faster than they were capable of handling on their own. Once on the other side, we had the opportunity to see the effects of recent flooding, hike in boot (and leg!) swallowing peat forest, check out firebreaks, and also to hear more about the ecology of the forest and the efforts made to restore it. The teenagers we went with were wonderful companions and such great role models for Big B and Little R. With insightful questions, fresh curiosity, kindness, and patience, they made such a lovely addition to the outing. I was so glad that my kids could spend time with teens like that. They were far from the stereotypical "American teen". 

We also did a day trip with the entire "doctor family" up to a more distant reforestation site, one that has seen greater challenges. With repeated burning, and total logging over the years, the staff has much more work to do here in order to restore the land. We were fortunate to get a glimpse of true rain forest on the edge of the site. The difference in temperature and density of plant life was staggering to behold. The line between logged and remnant rain forest was stark and heartbreaking to witness. The kids were quite nervous that our day would be spent trying to navigate through forest as dense as this. They were quite relieved to hear otherwise! Even experienced travelers and researchers can only pass a mile or two a day through such dense brush. It would have been slow going indeed, with kids as young as mine. 

Instead, we walked through the restoration site, examining ants as we found them, and listening to Jackson's detailed knowledge of the forest. We were also privileged to participate in helping plant trees on the site, adding our own little effort to the massive task at hand. The kids got their hands dirty and were excited to be active participants. On this trip we got to taste "monkeyguava" fruits, and even eat a few ants' butts!! Having an ant specialist (myrmecologist to be exact) on hand meant we enjoyed the lemony treat. These particular ants spray a citric acid as poison to deter predators. To humans, it isn't toxic and only creates this super bright burst of lemon flavor in the mouth. the hardest part about enjoying the "snack" is catching the ants! They're speedy little buggers.

When not on field trips with Jackson, we've lazed around the house, wandered around town, drank our weight in cold sodas, and made forays to the beach. Life here definitely flows to its own rhythm. The heat and humidity create a lethargy that is hard to shrug off, particularly come afternoons. We've been fortunate to have a few rainy days and nights that have cooled temps and made for more comfortable sleeping. When it rains here, it pours!! Rain on a tin roof can be deafening! I absolutely love it though. It's a fun sound to hear late in the evenings, and certainly helps to drown out the persistent cries of the numerous roosters that wander the neighborhood.

There are so many new sounds here to get used to. Roosters are one of the main ones. The old adage "the rooster crows at dawn" is a crock of shit. Those monsters crow whenever the hell they feel like it! Our next door neighbor happens to be a carpenter. A carpenter who enjoys running his buzz saw at 630 in the a.m. And then there's the various mosques in town. With competing calls to prayer, it can be a cacophony of sound. Overall, the effect is pleasant and none of us are complaining. Just this morning we were treated to the sound of bearded Gibbons monkeys making noise in the hillside across the street. While we couldn't see them, it was still a fun sound to hear while eating oatmeal! 

This experience has been by far our most rustic yet. The homes lack a/c or flush toilets and baths/showers. I am a proud mama to announce that both kids have finally mastered the unassisted use of the "squattie pottie". As for personal hygiene, we take frequent cold water bucket baths. It can be jarringly refreshing after a hot sweaty day! The trick is to splash yourself fast enough with enough buckets of water so that you get used to the cold water more quickly. Going slowly feels miserable. The kids prefer to take "baths" in a plastic laundry tub. I'm just happy they're getting (nominally) clean!

We will be moving on from here at the end of the week. We had hoped to travel to Tanjung Puting National Park, slightly to our south, but the cost of hiring a boat for 3 days has proved too costly. Instead, we are moving on to Lombok unknown! 

It's hard to believe that we will have stayed so long in one place! 11 days in total by the time we depart Sukadana. It's been such a pleasure to explore a little town and to fall into a routine after much moving around in Vietnam. We're excited to see what the next half of our trip holds though! More dispatches to come!