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By klotok and lori to the Sabangau Forest

I was really looking forward to starting my volunteer work as a photographer with the Borneo Nature Foundation http://www.borneonaturefoundation.org/en/ in the Sabangau Forest in Central Kalimantan in late 2017. I will be describing all aspects of the largest unfragmented area of lowland forest left in Borneo, and the vital conservation work of the BNF in more detail in subsequent posts. It was going to be my first experience of the ecology of a tropical peat swamp forest; a new adventure in many respects, and the adventure starts from the moment that you leave the staff accommodation house in Palangka Raya and take the first of three steps to get to the LAHG Research Camp, which used to be a logging camp, just inside the Sabangau Forest. I had been very intrigued when I read about getting there by boat and then a train known as the lori that runs along an old logging railway. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and could only base my anticipation on my experiences with miniature railways at my local beach and zoo when I was a child. The train itself actually turned out to be more like the simple painted wooden train that I first played with as a little boy, although the rickety old track wouldn’t have passed the safety inspection of my parents.














There’s a car or bemo (mini-bus) drive of a few kilometres to get to the colourful riverside community of Kereng Bangkirai where you board a narrow traditional wooden longboat or klotok, and sit down promptly unless you want to go for a swim with all the young children splashing around merrily along the banks of the river. Then the klotok travels swiftly up the river ploughing an amber furrow through the peat-stained water, and you pass some less than traditional boats on the way including multi-coloured fibreglass sea lion, seahorse and swan paddle boats that would look more at home on a boating lake in a holiday camp in England. Kereng Bangkirai has been developed from a sleepy old riverside fishing community into a weekend resort for family day outings from the big city, and as well as the menagerie of paddle boats there are larger tour boats that look more like houseboats with their colourful picket fences and potted plants. But there are also locals engaged in fishing activity around the maze of pandan growing in the river.









Everything on the river is a reflection of the seasonal transitional level of the water and that was very apparent on arrival at the rickety wooden station elevated high above the river on pilings. It was actually renovated when I was there adding some stability to its appearance. When I first went there I was accompanied by Ben Buckley who has been studying orang-utan behaviour in the Sabangau Forest for several years, and the camp manager and lori driver Twenti met us at the station. He demonstrated how he has overcome the problem of turning the train around on a single track by just reversing the motor, which is a lot easier to do! As I have already mentioned the lori looks like it should be bound for Noddyland but on dodgy wooden stilts that make you feel as if you’re crossing a canyon rather than the flooded border of the forest.



















As we clanked along through the pandan palms I felt waves of adventurer’s bliss about the journey, the setting and the destination that beckoned ahead as a small portal in the long wall of tantalising trees. This was a commute that I could really relish and a reminder of the privileged nature of the work that I do. Then from an eyes wide open expanse beneath a big blue sky the world narrows into a dark tunnel of shaded trees for a short distance before you arrive at the research camp in a clearing, which I will describe in my next post.


















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