Camp Foyle Plays Host to Mountain Crossers and River Dwellers

By Martin Holland, Expedition Leader

We’re an oddity here. A new outpost of human habitation further upriver than any other, and of course we are foreigners: white skinned and interested only in seeing the animals here, not hunting them for food once we’ve found them. 

Naturally, passers by, of which there a few, stop their boats at our camp out of respect, to say hello to us and our guides, occasionally bringing goods to sell or trade, and probably out of curiosity. The people we see are from the nearby villages of Naan and Tumbang Tohan on hunting or fishing trips upriver, unless they have come specifically to see us which happens occasionally. When boats go past upstream we see them coming back down either that evening or a few days later.

They Came from the Hills

Yesterday a boat arrived with 5 people from upriver. I recognised a husband and wife from Tumbang Tohan, but three men in the boat were new faces, and of a slightly different appearance to the people in this area. They were clearly physically strong and carried themselves with slow dignity as they accepted our invitation into the camp. 

They were from West Kalimantan, and had walked across the Muller/Schwarner mountains before being collected by this boat. The walk takes around 5 days, depending on who you listen to, and is apparently pretty hard going. 

After seeing these mountains from the air that’s not hard to believe: though not particularly high they are covered with dense montane rainforest, and are made up of a series of sharp ridges and deep ravines. I was hoping to take an away team into these mountains on this expedition, but that will have to wait until next time.

Nocturnal Hunters

After sharing our coffee and cigarettes with the new arrivals, which seems to be the customary greeting these days, the woman in the group started unpeeling a hat to reveal a small Malay soft shell turtle (Amyda cartilaginea. This was a juvenile of about 10cm in length, and would eventually grow up to 70cm in the wild.

We were all amazed, especially after having such an incredible experience with the snake battle the precious night. In fact, Carsten, one of the new arrivals to Camp Foyle, had said that after seeing the king cobra defeat the reticulated python, a soft shell turtle would be next on his list!

Soft shell turtles prefer muddy rivers in sub-montane and lowland rainforest. They are nocturnal and prey on frogs and shrimps, and must be quite a formidable foe since their shell allows considerable freedom of movement making them quite fast and agile. They also make for pretty good eating themselves by all accounts, so their lifestyle also affords them maximum protection from other, bigger predators of the rainforest.

We discussed with our guests and they agreed to let us release the turtle back into the wild, and were later treated to a look at one of their amazing parangs (knives similar to machetes, and called mandaus in West Kalimantan).

Precious Plastic

 I had heard that the best parangs come from that region, and this was a fine example. Both the scabbard and blade were intricately carved, with deer bone used for ornamentation. Interestingly, the handle was made from a dense plastic which could easily have been mistaken for hardwood, and was also carved with great detail.

It is possible that plastic of this kind is a rare commodity in the region and so what we would think of as a cheap replica of the ‘real’, traditionally wooden, handle is an enviable display of wealth or status over here.

We are on a wildlife sighting roll now. Fingers crossed for some cat sightings on our camera traps in the next few days!