A Quick stop at a logging camp turns into a mild panic as we are told of a logging road cutting straight through our research site.
Batu Ampar Logging Camp
The Joloi river, which is where we are heading, is cut off by a set of four huge rapids just before it joins the Barito. To get up to where we’re going we had to make use of a logging road between the two rivers. The road runs from a logging camp called Batu Ampar on the Barito river, and another called Camp Bravo on the Joloi.
We landed at Batu Ampar in the early morning and moved our three and a half tons of cargo up from the river to where the jeeps park, with the help of the people who live there. The camp is set about 100m back from the river, with around 20 small buildings where people who work here live, and a couple of shops.
The plan was to jump straight into jeeps that would drive us up to Camp Bravo where we would spend the night. I went across to one of the shops to but some water and ice tea for the team. The owner, a portly figure in track suit bottoms and a t-short rolled up over his belly, started chatting to me as he chain smoked kretek cigarettes.
My Indonesian is very basic but I could convey where we were heading and why. I thought I understood him saying there was a logging road to where we wanted to go. If this were true it would be a disaster. Our expedition is about trying to protect this area – were we too late?
We started drawing maps. Did he know what he was talking about or just making things up? Perhaps he meant somewhere else? More likely, my Indonesian was causing confusion.
His map, drawn on the back of a receipt book, was accurate. He knew the rivers, the distances, and was naming other logging camps. He said the road was active and that there were bridges over the river we were interested in, the Sungei Mohot. We were planning on taking around 5 days to get from here to our research site – he said we could drive there in 5 hours!
Toughbooks to the Rescue
I grabbed Tim and we got the Toughbook open and started looking at satellite images on Google Earth, Aspor, our head guide joined in and we tried to work out if this was really true. Had the loggers really been able to move in since we were here in March? What was our back up plan? Back to the original camp site of the Sungei Posu, or try to measure the impact of the loggers in this area?
After about a half an hour we realised that he was confusing two different rivers, and was talking about a logging road that we knew about all ready. A wave of relief went through us, but it was tempered by his insistence that this logging road was still very active, where we had been told it hadn’t been used in ten years.
Urgent Need for Protection
If that wasn’t enough of a reality check about the ever advancing destruction of this rainforest, the drive up to Camp Bravo certainly rammed it home. In this remotest of areas, covered in thick virgin rainforest across steep hills in it’s natural state, was a road that, in parts, resembled a dual carriageway in England. As our Base Camp Manager Ian Blessley put it, “as a feat of engineering it is incredibly impressive – as a feat of destruction it is equally impressive.”