Bath Time in the Jungle

Our last day in Bukit Lawang, we packed our things and left our second home. After a short visit to the Friday market, we loaded into SUVs and trucks and headed to Tangkahan to see some elephants and learn about human-elephant conflict mitigation.  We drove for 2 hours, through endless oil palm trees, stopping periodically for our guide, Didi, to share some bit of information.  Didi explained to us that much of the land we were driving through used to be individual- and family-owned rubber trees.  When it was rubber trees, people planted various foods and medicinal plants around the rubber trees.  Unfortunately, the palm companies sprayed chemicals around the palm trees, leaving only a scrubby grass to grow.

The road was long and bumpy, and we had no real idea when we’d get there.  A number of times, we thought we were there, but we just stopped for a quick chat or some sort of exchange with the guides or drivers.  Our excitement to see the elephant abated some as we were violently jostled in our seats, squinting through the dust kicked up by the tires.  One student said to me as she clutched her stomach, “These elephants better be cute.”

The distance and the rugged terrain sapped our anticipation, but the most sobering thing about the drive was the endless oil palm trees. In nearly every official and unofficial meeting we had on the trip, oil palm was described as the greatest threat to animals, the environment, and local and indigenous people. At one point on the drive, we stopped at the top of a hill where Didi pointed out a palm processing plant nestled in the middle of the trees.  As we looked out over the valley, through oil palms as far as the eye could see, black smoke began to billow from the factory smokestack.  A student remarked that she felt she was witnessing “Fern Gully”.  But I digress…  We were on our way to see the cute elephants.  It is impossible to describe neither this adventure, nor any other adventure on our trip, without the backdrop of oil palm.  Alas, the oil palm discussion requires much more than a short blog post.

Our Jeeps continued across the rocky road, periodically crossing tired bridges, carefully balancing their tires on wooden planks.   Finally, our driver said, “There!”  Down below, in a small clearing, stood about 5 elephants.  Our exclamations quickly turned to hushed whispers and uneasy glances.  For many of us, the pleasure with which we looked forward to seeing the elephants was replaced with confusion and discomfort.  Each elephant was tightly tethered to a tree with a chain around its ankle.

We sat down in the sticky heat to a light lunch: a choice of instant noodle soup or fried noodles.  Water bottles and warm fruit tea were distributed.  There was some confusion over the situation of our hosts:  Was this a rehabilitation center for elephants? Were these working patrol elephants? Most of all, many of us were disheartened at the site of these huge beasts in captivity.

While we waited for our food to arrive, Didi explained.  We were at a Conservation Response Unit (CRU) named Namo Nggeltus, which was one of Fauna and Flora International’s Sumatran elephant and habitat protection programs. The CRU had a total of 9 elephants, made up of 1 adult male, 7 adult females, and 1 baby female.  The baby was the only one born there.  Three of the elephants had been wild, and came out of the jungle into Bukit Lawang, the town from which we had just arrived.  These 3 elephants started causing trouble in Bukit Lawang and people got scared.  They wanted to kill them.  The government protected the elephants and forbade the killing.  Instead, they were sent to the CRU in Tangkahan.  Because they were wild and scared of humans, a semi-wild elephant was brought in to be the ambassador between the wild elephants and the humans.

The jungle habitat of elephants is decreasing rapidly, and elephants are entering human settlements more and more.  Elephants are disturbing people and are a nuisance to oil palm plantations.  Frequently we hear sad stories of elephants poisoned, poached, and killed.  The elephants at the CRU in Tangkahan are used for various purposes, though the main one is patrolling the jungle for poaching, logging, and other illegal activities.  They are taken down to the river to bathe twice a day.  This is to cool them down and to prevent them from getting restless and depressed. Also, when tourists like us visit and participate in bathing the elephants, we provide financial support to the CRU.

We walked down to the river, where the elephants were rolling around and splashing each other.  Most of the females clustered near the baby as it played in the water, while one female was curling trunks with the male.  We were content to watch this from behind a rope, but much to our delight, the rope barrier was removed, and we were handed brushes to scrub the elephants.  The elephants lined up and lay on their sides, ready to be bathed. Hesitant and giddy, we scrubbed their tough hide.  After bathing the elephants we were given bananas to feed them.  We all laughed as the baby elephant rudely poked and prodded each of us for more bananas, always spitting them out if they were too green. A number of us were lucky to get sprayed by the playful elephants. Matt Aruch laughed uncontrollably as two elephants took turns spraying him in the face and chest with water from their trunks.

After our unique experience interacting with the elephants and learning more about the Conservation Response Unit at Tangkahan, our spirits were lifted. Though our experience in Tangkahan was confusing and not what we expected, we had the opportunity to participate in an effort towards mitigating human-elephant conflict. And we got to bathe elephants. 🙂




Deluge-ions of Control

Since the beginning of my involvement in this course, we had planned for a two-day visit to Jakarta which would be an opportunity to meet with leading academics, policymakers, and NGO advocates. These conversations were to provide clarifications and fresh perspectives to the course topics which we had experienced firsthand for the previous weeks. We extended invitations to many top figures in the field of sustainable development and, to our excitement, we received many gracious acceptances of our requests. Unfortunately, the intensive correspondence and logistical maneuvering appeared to be for naught on Thursday, January 17th. The city of Jakarta was experiencing unusually severe flooding and, as was a theme of the course, we needed to adapt to nature.

Although the floods had begun two days prior, the situation was declining by Thursday morning with locals and the media warning that the worst has yet to come. According to the Jakarta Globe, the West Canal Dike had burst on the morning of January 17th, flooding the main business sections of the town and forcing the closure of all government offices. As a doorman of the hotel exclaimed, it was an “Indonesian national holiday!”

For the Washingtonians accustomed to work delays due to icy roads, please believe me that this was a natural event of a different caliber. The water had risen to the waists of the Jakartans willing to walk in it. We heard rumors, later verified, of monitor lizards and pythons displaced to the streets. For one poor monitor, the absurdity of the situation turned tragic when he was mistaken by locals to be a crocodile. A group of men, understandably terrified by the lizard, chased after it and beat it to death with sticks.

Despite the inconvenience and disappointment brought on by the floods, the UMD group was fortunate to be in a safe place for the duration of the flood. Elsewhere in the cities, evacuees built makeshift rafts to escape the dangers approaching their residences. Children gleefully splashed in the newly formed waterways, but there was nothing consoling about watching children kids submerge themselves in the deep brown water. The threat of disease for Jakartans was painfully clear.

So, we waited for the flood waters to recede we lingered around the hotel café until the boredom and frustration with the tasteless overpriced food grew to be overwhelming. We sought to see a movie at the theater down the block. “The Impossible” was playing, which features Westerners enduring a natural disaster in Asia. The parallels were both obvious and far-fetched, as we were hardly enduring a disaster while in the cafe. Regardless, a few of us were determined to make the 300 yard journey to the cineplex.

It was soon clear that this was a mistake. Jakartans grimaced as we proceeded in our rolled-up khaki pants and bare feet. One man openly asked, “Are you really going to walk in that?” This was because it was clearly, obviously disgusting. Recognizing the futility of our excursion, we gave up and turned back. “The Impossible” turned out to be impossible.
It is important to note that a separate, high-brow group of MSPP students decided to pursue a museum in the city center. They successfully trudged through the brown water and sludge to make it to their destination. Was it worth it? You would have to ask them. I have no regrets about my quick retreat.

After the movie plan fell apart, we browsed for snacks in the nearby 7 Eleven. (Note: This was the most fabulous, well stocked, accommodating 7 Eleven that I have ever patronized – and I have visited quite a few 7 Elevens. Tables and stools were provided, so that you could enjoy your purchase in the heavily air-conditioned comfort of the store.) January 17th was also the birthday of one of the students, so general consumption eventually shifted from spicy fish-flavored potato chips to other things. We went to sleep with the hopes that the 18th would bring clearer skies and drier streets.

Whenever I have had meetings or lectures about climate change topics on days with unusual weather, someone cannot resist to make a joke about climate change. Often its either a variation of “If this is global warming, I’m ok with it!” or “Hey [person who works on climate change issues], how about making some better weather happen!” Of course, these comments are not “funny” on any scale of humor. But perhaps the jokers should be forgiven, because it’s awfully hard to turn this situation into something funny. As of January 19th, fourteen people were confirmed dead as a result of the flood and 20,000 evacuated. Even as the waters receded from the hotel’s vicinity, other parts of the city remained submerged.

Was this weather event the effect of a changing climate due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions? I cannot say. But, it is clear that Jakarta needs to do more to decrease vulnerability to extreme weather events. There are signs that Jakarta has lost capacity for climate resilience from the degradation of its local mangroves. The city’s culverts are also too narrow to handle large scale flooding. The pledge of the Minister of Forestry to plant one billion new trees may have benefits, but the policy will obviously not halt climate change. Jakarta must seriously consider climate adaptation strategies to protect its 10 million inhabitants from the threat of severe flooding. For those who cannot seek refuge in hotel bars and 7 Elevens, I hope that it does.


Panglima Laot, Pulau Weh

On Monday January 14, 2013 we stayed in Pulau Weh, at a hotel owned by an ex-UN advisor from South Africa named Freddie. Freddie had been assigned to Aceh for the tsunami relief effort in 2004 and after falling in love with the area decided to open up a lodge. Following a lovely day of snorkeling just off the coast by Freddie’s hotel we had what I would argue was one of the more interesting and by far one of the most involved cultural exchanges of the trip.

As we found out later that afternoon, Brendan, Freddie’s son, has been working as a fisherman for the last three years off of the coast of Aceh during which time he has become conversational in Bahasa Indonesian and has had a close working relationship with the local fishermen. With Brendan’s help as a translator between English and Bahasa Indonesia, we were able to communicate with the the local Sea Commanders, or “Panglima Laot.”

Radwan, the second in command, did most of the talking. I quite enjoyed watching him interact with Brendan. He answered all of the questions in an incredibly animated and lively manner; oftentimes making Brendan break out into an infectious laugh. On occasion he would even throw in a few unexpected English words, such as “kaput” so that his audience (us) could participate. In contrast the commander, Bansafu Sifu, was quiet and reserved. Every once and a while he would participate in the discussion, but, because he primarily spoke Acehnese, he spoke less frequently then Radwan.

Through this elaborate cultural exchange of multiple translations our group was able to learn about the Panglima Laot’s “Hukôm Adat Laôt” or customary maritime law. The Panglima Laot are elected by the village elders. Although Indonesian culture does not normally value directness or the ability to engage in confrontation, when it comes to the position of sea commander these qualities are considered good attributes and are sought after by the elders. In addition, local maritime tradition encourages the elders to look for men who are not only tough but who will also be friendly and fair leaders. These leaders then select their own cabinet. Originally, there were only three leaders but now there are eleven – one for each village. This is surprising because the job of sea commander is entirely voluntary. With no salary or funds, they are expected to perform this difficult task as “water watchdog” entirely out of the goodness of their heart. While there are no time limits to a commander’s term, they may be asked to resign if the elders and villagers feel that they are doing a poor job in command.

The Panglima Laot are in charge of the water and fisheries within 1 mile of their designated coast. They ensure that fishermen do not use trolling nets in their area; that fishermen are not using lights to bait fish into deeper waters; that everyone is observing Friday–the Muslim religious day of rest–by not fishing from Thursday night through Saturday morning; and most importantly they ensure that cyanide and bombing techniques are no longer used to fish—practices that were banned in 2006. Currently, there is no limit to how many boats or fishermen can fish in their waters. There are also no limits on how many fish or what type of fish can be caught. According to Radwan, since bombing and cyanide fishing was banned in 2006 there has been an increase in bait fish, which attracts the bigger fish to the coast; thus, he claims, there are more fish today than ever. Radwan also said that he wants his grandchildren’s grandchildren to be able to fish in the village, and that right now, as far as he can tell, the fish are quite plentiful. So currently the policy stands: “any fish you can eat, you can catch.”

That said, Radwan also explained that every fish plays a different role in the local ecosystem and economy and that fishermen do not catch the pretty reef fish next to shore because they know that those are better for eco-tourism, nor do they intentionally catch dolphin. Furthermore, lobstering or shellfishing is only permitted if it is for personal consumption and, in areas with a scarcity of lobster and shellfish such as the one near Freddie’s, lobstering and shellfishing are not allowed at all. Radwan also pointed out that all fish caught here were consumed locally with the exception of tuna, over 20 kilos of which would be exported to Singapore or Japan.

As the official watchdog, most of the Panglima Laot’s role is enforcement. Generally the 1st offense is a friendly warning, the 2nd offense can be a fine, prison, or boat confiscation, and for the 3rd offense Radwan said in English “burn the boat down” with a great big chuckle. We could not tell if he was joking, but I got the impression that most people do not make a third offense. The villagers monitor the water and if an offense occurs, a fast boat can be sent to get the perpetrators. Generally speaking the perpetrators will be from outside of the local areas because everyone in a village knows each other making it more difficult to get away with breaking the law. In the event that someone is breaking the law outside of the 1 mile from shore area, the Navy can be called in to enforce local rules.

Within the Panglima Laot system, when a new problem presents itself to a village, those within the village will meet to find a solution. This solution is then by mandate, adopted by other villages. Because this system is already well established and respected by villagers it is easy to get the public to buy in. However, despite the success of this system, the Panglima Laot is in the process of changing village law to government law so it can have all the tools necessary to conduct effective enforcement that should come along with formalized government. This includes additional capital, more authority recognized by larger governments, and more advertising dedicated towards the education of the public about the steps being taken to improve the fisheries and coral reefs. Of course, changing from a non-written traditional form of law, where everything is verbal, to a codified system can take an incredibly long time and Radwan joked that it could be hundreds of years from now before anything is official.

– Brandy Espinola

You got to Fight for your Right… to Property?

Our final day in Indonesia.

We started the day off with our shoes off at the headquarters of AMAN (Aliansi Masyarakan Adat), the alliance of indigenous peoples and forest communities for Indonesia. We sat on the floor drinking tea, eating gooey rice-based treats, and discussing the roles of the various indigenous populations in lobbying for their rights and for the rights of the environment. The discussion was led by Abdon Nababan (try to say that 10 times fast), the head of AMAN, and his enthusiastic team, filled with representatives from all corners of this far reaching country.

Indonesia, a country with over 17,000 islands and a list of 365 ethnic or sub-ethnic groups recognized by the government (to say the least) is fairly diverse. AMAN, founded in 1999, represents over 2000 of these communities and consists of 20 chapters, summing up in total somewhere between 13 and 15 million in population. AMAN works with these communities in a number of facets that include political lobbying, economic development, cultural preservation, and integrated education. All of which are fascinating and we could have spent a day discussing each topic in length, but given the nature of our course (i.e. Socio-Ecological Systems), our topic of conversation generally focused on land use, property rights, and their relation to the indigenous populations.

As a Westerner, something that I (and no doubt others) take for granted is the notion of property rights. We take our wooden pegs, stake out a plot, exchange some currency, and there you have it, we own land. However, the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily view property in this way. To the indigenous of these islands, at least historically, it seems silly. How can you own something that was there before you arrived? This is something that we all share; this is common. In fact, according to Abdon, the indigenous believed that the land was owned by their ancestors, so if you wanted to own land you’d have to die first. But as the story goes, some white people showed up, wreaked havoc on indigenous societies, and eventually they were kicked out, but not before leaving behind a mess of the place. The end result? The government has a system of property ownership that the people who actually live there don’t necessarily follow.

The division between uninterrupted jungle and oil palm plantation

The division between uninterrupted jungle and oil palm plantation

Given all of that, one of the more recent objectives of AMAN is to use participatory mapping to compile a working database registry of indigenous territory. The way that land is currently distributed among the country is that if it isn’t privately owned, then it automatically falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Forestry. The problem is that nobody owns indigenous lands. Approximately 70 percent of land is State owned. Communal land and customary rights are not recognized by the government, making property rights a fairly contentious issue. This makes the Ministry of Forestry one of the most powerful institutions in Indonesia. Other Ministries, such as the Ministry of Mining or the Ministry of Plantations, need permission from the Ministry of Forestry before moving forward on many of their projects. And not only that, but this immense power makes the institution susceptible to bribes and abuses of power. Perhaps that is why we are seeing a growing number of money-generating oil palm plantations scarring the landscape of these small islands.

That takes us to the second half of our day, where we transitioned from the floor of AMAN to the stark executive office of the National Council on Climate Change. There we had the great fortune to speak with first Agus Purnomo, Indonesia’s chief climate change negotiator, and then the Secretary of Mitigation, Farhan Helmy. Among other things, we continued the discussion of land use and property rights, but this time from the perspective of the government. Land use is of importance in mitigating climate change because the primary contributor for climate change in Indonesia is deforestation caused by logging and oil palm plantations. The challenges that they primarily encounter seem to be in obtaining consistent, measurable, verifiable, and reportable data. This data is used for the mapping project on which AMAN has been working and only just recently incorporated into a larger proposal for a one map policy for Indonesia.

Indonesia is known as one of the leaders in pushing for a global climate change initiative and even hosted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2007 where they lobbied for recognition of indigenous rights within the UNFCCC. So it comes as a bit of a shock to see how the indigenous are currently neglected within the nation’s own borders. It is nice to see the efforts put forth by NGOs such as AMAN and by governmental institutions such as the National Council on Climate Change, but there is still much work that needs to be done in order to ensure that the rights of the indigenous are protected and not sold off to the highest bidder.

If there is one thing that we have learned from our trip abroad it is that there consistently seems to be too many different organizations and institutions that have their hands in the pot and have a say on what’s going on. The push for decentralization has gone too far and is too mismatched. If there could be more coordination between organizations, such as the one between AMAN and the National Council on Climate Change, perhaps more direct and effective action could take place.

– Cara

Local Adaptive Management Communities

Local knowledge and bottom up management could be key to the preservation of many valued natural resources in Indonesia, especially Asia’s only remaining great ape: the orangutan. During our course we visited two striking examples of local management practices which sustainably used local resources while maintaining environmental integrity. The first example was the Subak water management system for rice paddy fields in Bali. The members of the Subak collectively decide which crops to grow and at what time, how to distribute water between members and crops, and how to ensure that each member benefits equally from their system. Unlike many western agricultural techniques, the Subaks have worked out an agricultural system that has withstood the tests of time and can easily adapt to changing environmental conditions. An example of such an adaption is altering the amount of water which is released at different crop stages to match rainfall patterns.

The second example of local management that successfully fostered a healthy ecosystem is the Panglima Laot system of the fishing communities of the island of Sabang (Pulau Weh), Aceh, Sumatra. The community utilizes local knowledge and community cohesion to control fishing practices and to maintain and grow fish stocks. The community is made up of different units around the island and they described these units as “villages.” The Panglima Laot community suffers less from environmental threats and more from human threats such as over-harvesting and cyanide fishing. To cope with these struggles the community passes binding laws that apply to all the villages. When one village on the island adopts a new policy it automatically applies to all the others. The communities self-regulate and report to community leaders when violations occur and often such violations are reported to the Navy. Violators receive only one warning and upon a second offence their boats are seized. The community appears to strongly believe in their system and have witnessed increased fish populations in recent years due to changing policies. Similar to the Subaks, the Sabang Panglima Laot system is able to adapt their system to changing conditions.  One new threat the Panglima Laot community successfully adapted to was the practice of dragging lights behind boats while night fishing to attract smaller fish as bait. To fix this the village where the problem was first noticed collectively decided to outlaw this practice and the remaining communities on the island followed suit.

There were multiple common themes in the Subaks and Panglima Laot that appear to contribute to the success of the systems. These themes could be applied to orangutan conservation strategies at the local level. In both local management systems there was a large amount of community cohesion and decision making; the communities democratically choose their own leaders and collectively vote on policies and protocols. Both communities require a consensus for all decisions. This helps to enhance buy-in and promote self-regulation. Buy-in from the entire community appeared to be a key factor for regulation and cultural sustainability. The members of these communities found value in their systems and felt connected to its continuance. In the Panglima Laot community they found that most violators were from outside the community or new to the community. Orangutan conservationists and policy makers should build upon these common themes to establish bottom-up management practices in communities that co-exist with the orangutans in their natural habitats. Value and community buy-in for protecting the orangutans should be established. This could be done through numerous strategies; one strategy could be to integrate historical cultural beliefs into conservation techniques, a second could be to illustrate that the great ape is a keystone species and its presence indicates a healthy environment, or policy makers could create economic value or incentives such as ecotourism or subsidies for orangutan conservation. Regardless of the buy-in strategy, the Subaks and Panglima Laot communities have proven that conservation management can withstand shocks through bottom-up techniques and that in order for communities to be successful they should have direct oversight and enforcement powers. Once communities begin to have cohesion on the issues and develop their own conservation techniques and policies, community orangutan conservation policies should be transformed into formal law.

In summary, policy makers looking to involve communities living near wild orangutans should integrate the common themes displayed in these sustainable complex ecological systems: community buy-in, oversight, and enforcement, democratic election systems, resource value, and cultural integration.

Susan Gore

Country Roads: Our First Day in Bukit Lawang

After a particularly eventful day of travel from Bali to Sumatra that included medical attention and the separate (late) arrival of our bags, the first full day in Bukit Lawang gave us the perfect welcome to our new surroundings. The daylong tour of the area outside the village proper provided one of the most culturally enriching experiences during the North Sumatran leg of the trip. It also gave us a taste of life in a place where fresh fruit grows just outside the front door.
We met up with the two-person scooter taxis that would take us through the countryside after breakfast. The ride to our first destination took us past rice paddies, oil palms, and the small clusters of homes lining the road leading to the eastern entrance of Gunung Leuser National Park in Bukit Lawang. We scooted by a mosque every few minutes, each one with a prominent spinning mirrored dome that shone brilliantly in the equatorial sun. According to my driver, a mosque marks nearly every kilometer along that stretch of road—remarkable for an area with a population that is almost half Christian. Their sheer number illustrates the profound importance of religion in the daily lives of the people there, despite the complete absence of religious symbols and iconography otherwise. Dense green mountains framed our view of the landscape in every direction, the steepness of their slopes adding to mystery of the jungles pushing upward against the bright blue sky. I can’t recall how long the ride lasted.
Our first destination provided our introduction to the distinct aromatics of natural rubber. We stopped at a small grove tucked between a few houses that included cassava, at least one oil palm, and a string of rubber trees. Rubber farmers start work tapping their trees at 6am every day, cutting spiral grooves around the trunk of each tree that drain the white latex in the bark into a cup or coconut shell for collection. The collected latex acquires a smell akin to burning brake pads and fresh sewage. Farmers must tap their trees early enough in the day to avoid the heat of the midday sun and the afternoon rain—both of which make the work more difficult and limit latex production within the trees. The farmers then return in the afternoons to tap the trees a second time. Rubber farming demands a lot of work, and many farmers switch to growing low-maintenance oil palms if they have the opportunity.
We then crossed the road to a home that had, among other things, a cacao tree. One of our guides picked off a ripe pod and cracked it open on a rock to expose the seeds and creamy pulp. He then attacked the fruit like an ice cream cone and sucked off four or five seeds. After passing around the cacao pod, we headed back across the road and went inside a small house where some women were weaving with palm leaves. While most of the class was inside the house, I walked around the outside and examined the chilies and other small plants and flowering trees that dotted the perimeter of the yard. It was at this point that Dani, our guide, found some turmeric and spread it on the hand of one student that was covered large swollen bites. Turmeric has natural anti-inflammatory properties and is a common remedy used to treat swelling and itching in that area of North Sumatra.
After climbing back onto the scooter taxis, we set off back down the dirt road in the direction we came from. We stopped after a short distance, though, when a group of twenty or so Thomas’s leaf monkeys caught the attention of the guides. We watched them jump through the trees about thirty yards back from the road while Dani talked about how they travel in family groups that, unlike the macaques we saw everywhere, do not have hierarchical organization. This seems fitting, given the communal organizations we encountered with the subaks and sustainable fisheries. We moved on after a few minutes.
We soon reached the paved road that led back to Bukit and continued on another five minutes before stopping at another compound of homes. We walked down a hill behind the houses where a row of short covered tables sat surrounded by fruit trees. The farmers cut down a young coconut for each of us and chopped it open with a machete for us to drink. The water was delicious, and a few of my classmates noted that it tasted sweeter than what can usually be found in a store. I’m not a coconut water connoisseur, so the subtleties were lost on me, but it was certainly refreshing. The farmers then picked two large ripe papayas from a tree in the corner of the yard and sliced them into long spears. The meat of the fruit was a deep, vibrant orange and was so soft that it seemed to melt before I could chew it. I generally avoid papaya at home because I’ve never really enjoyed the taste or texture. This, however, might be the best fruit I’ve ever tasted. The papayas that reach the U.S. can’t reach anywhere near the same level of ripeness or perfection as the fruit that was picked right there for us. I’ll save that emotional experience for a later post, though. After convincing one of the farmers to let me test my machete skills for a fully supervised ten seconds of fun, Ali and I ventured down to the river from Gunung Leuser flowing about a hundred yards from the fruit trees, where the views of the river against the mountains were breathtaking.
Continuing back down the road in the direction of Bukit, we stopped again at an organic farm specializing in more crops than I can count. I can recall seeing rice, limes, durian, rambutan, several small plants, and an herb that looked, smelled, and tasted like dill but that Dani insisted was not. Dedek led us through the fields to the orangutan research center at Coconut Island (discussed by another blogger). We then headed back up the road to the Bukit and had lunch in the village. The rest of the day was spent swimming in the river, playing a kind of soccer volleyball called sepak takraw with some guys from the village, and having another discussion with Ben and Karin from Coconut Island.
The day’s activities showed us some positive aspects of ecotourism. Traveling in the scooter taxis and sampling the different fruit put a little extra money into the pockets of local people who generally operate on a subsistence level. A visit from nineteen tourists doesn’t change anyone’s station in life, but it can certainly make the next trip to the market a little easier. Overall, the day was great because it oriented everyone to where we were—where the village is in relation to the park, the surrounding the landscape, the significance of the river and where it ran, and daily lives of the people who live there.
After dinner, the younger guides in training who work at the cottages played music and sang. The night ended with a moving joint Indonesian-boule rendition of “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver. It seemed fitting.

-Mace Phillips