After 18 Months, We’ve Made it to the Beginning

I’m sitting, very uncomfortably, on the floor in an internet cafe of sorts as I write this. It’s nearly 2am and I can kid myself by saying this is the last all nighter I will be pulling for at least 2 months. God knows there have been a few of those during the planning for this. I can kid myself because I’m in Puruk Cahu, which is the last stop on the line with internet, and we leave tomorrow morning by boat for a logging camp called Batu Ampar, which is our gateway into the Upper Joloi River system.

I’m kidding myself of course because there will undoubtedly be many sleepless nights during the expedition. Nights spent researching the nocturnal animals, editing and beaming back videos, worrying about our food stores being raided by rodents and a 1000 other potential catastrophes, or simply marvelling at the rainforest, wondering what’s out there and how only a handful of indigenous hunters have been to this region before.

The Story So Far

We’ve been working on this project for 18 months now, some of us nearly full time, some of us much more than full time. The area we are going to is so remote, and the work we are trying to do so ambitious, that it has required a level of effort and determination from the team that has far surpassed obsession. Personal relationships and finances have been stretched to breaking point. The delay over the summer meant we lost some of the original team members who had sacrificed so much to pull this all together. Telling the team the news of that set back was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

I reflect on all of this now because we are at the end of the planning and preparation stage. It’s been a hectic, complicated, frustrating, exhilarating 2 weeks since we landed. At times I was amazed at how much progress we were making, at others I could feel the nerves of the team beginning to fray as we wondered just how long it would all take. Today, we are on schedule, we have all our papers, all our food, all our equipment. Our fuel is organised and ready for purchase tomorrow, and our logistics from here into the field have been arranged. Our funding is secure, our research schedule agreed, our base camp location identified. We have our UK team on standby to take the reigns of handling our emails and the updates we send back from the field. We are together, as one team, for only the second night so far. Everyone is happy, everyone is healthy, and everyone is raring to go.

What Next?

There are of course a million things I would do if I had more time. I would find a PR agency willing to handle us for free. I would link with more schools. I would link with Indonesian schools. I would find funding to extend our research and establish sub camps in other interesting looking sites. I would find researchers from Malaysia and Brunei to join us, and I would, naturally, become fluent in Indonesian.

But there is no more time.

At 5am we will start unloading the cargo boat that brought our supplies up from Banjarmasin, and load it all onto a smaller, faster boat to speed up the journey. We’ll travel all day to Batu Ampar, where we’ll sleep, and in the morning we’ll drive along a logging road to fallen bridge that used to cross the river Joloi, where we will be met by boats that will take us up to the village of Naan. A night here and then upriver to the last human settlement in this area, Tumbang Tohan. Another night, then it’s off to make camp on the Mohot, a tributary of the Joloi, right up against the forest covered Schwarner Mountains.

In the Field

We will be 17 people by then, carrying some 3.5tons of cargo. An advance team will establish camp while the rest of the team shuttle this huge pile of goods up river in small wooden canoes with outboard motors. The camp will be built – 3 large huts for sleeping, eating and working, a latrine and maybe some walkways. The power system will be set up, as will the sat comms and radios. Up to 60km of transects will be cut, and then the research can begin.

For 8 weeks we’ll live here, carrying out our research and finding interesting ways to tell the story of the expedition, and the rainforest, in our videos. We will study the vegetation, diurnal and nocturnal mammals, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians. We’ll explore the forest canopy by rope access, and hope to capture footage of some of the more elusive creatures, such the sun bear and clouded leopard, on our camera traps. At some point I will lead a small away team on a sub-expedition to climb the highest peak in the area, Bukit Betikap, in order to scout out potential access routes and research sites for the future.

We’re doing all of this because it’s important, because we can, and because it will be great, great fun.

Follow us, share the adventure, tell your friends and tell your schools to get involved, and remember our motto:

Discover, Educate, Inspire