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Homeward Bound Reflections

June 4. Breakfast in the room at 3:30 AM. Short trip to airport and check in go smoothly, and Carol and I are escorted into the comfortable business class lounge (the Lewises had been unable to upgrade on this leg) to await our 6:15 flight of almost seven hours from Jakarta to Tokyo.

 We spend an hour in the business class lounge in Tokyo. Carol favors the sushi, and I the edamame.

Lewises have upgraded to business class for the eleven hour flight to Chicago, but it turns out that Carol and I are in first class. 

I tell the Lewises that, if there’s another leg, Carol and I will be flying in the cockpit.

And now there’s time for some reflections on the trip.

Seems that every time I do one of these reflections, I’m struck by the fact that I’m not as young as I was in my last reflection. Alas, that’s true again. I don’t want to overstate that, because we’re still managing pretty well. Not as well as we would have ten (or five) years ago, but not too shabbily. The realization that we are not bionic makes me want to continue these trips as long as we can. As Carol and I have three more major trips planned within the next 12 months, I guess we’re not doing too badly on that score.

This was not an easy trip. The long flights and the heat and humidity were trying. There were many very early morning starts.  The walks through the mud and leeches of Borneo and the ups and downs on many days (particularly difficult, for me, were the downs) are challenging. And one just plain gets a bit tired, you know.  I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated air conditioning quite so much.  And with Valerie’s bike accident and my fall in the forest, which could have proved a lot more serious than they turned out to be, we had a bit more excitement than we needed.  Still, it’s not at all a close call as to whether the travails are worth it. Decidedly, they are.

The Lewises were excellent and game companions. Sharing experiences with them provided more perspectives on what we were seeing and doing, which is always valuable. And we laughed a lot together. We all four are experienced travelers and were ready to deal/roll with the blips one inevitably encounters on a trip like this.

In planning the trip, we struck a good balance, I think, between nature, in Borneo, and culture, in Indonesia. Both were fun, and interesting. For me, the nature portion was a complete shift from normal and so, in that sense, more engaging. Still, I would not have wanted more of it, largely because of the heat and humidity, but also because I found my frequent inability to spot birds frustrating. I needed larger, slower birds, I guess. That’s not to say that I did not see many beautiful birds. I did, because of some excellent guides, especially Azmil at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, who was truly outstanding.

I did not feel as immersed in the culture in Indonesia as I have on some of our other trips. In part, that’s because we spent a relatively short time there and in part because much of that time was spent visiting monuments, rather than seeing people and the way they live. The latter is more interesting to me (and is reflected in the highlights of the trip, discussed below).  In general there were fewer people out and about, because we were visiting in the month-long Ramadan fast period.  (This also meant that we were unable to see puppet performances, because there are none during this period.)

Photography is a significant element of travel for me, and this was not a great photography trip for several reasons. First, I like to photograph people, rather than animals or structures. There were only a few days in Indonesia that afforded the opportunity to photograph people, and those were certainly the best photography days for me. Second, I did not have the right equipment–long lenses and tripods–necessary to photograph birds and animals. Michael had the right equipment and his bird and animal photographs are far superior to mine. Unfortunately, I can’t attribute the entire difference to equipment, because his people photos are better than mine, too. While I won’t know what I captured until after I get home and look at them (I pick the blog photos in a rather random fashion from viewing tiny images), I think I may well like the abstract photos from our night drive the best.

I have made a conscious decision as to photographic equipment and photography, though, and I remain very comfortable with that decision. Michael probably had fifty pounds of equipment (without exaggeration). For me, carrying anything like that is simply not worth the better photos I might be able to take and would detract materially from my enjoyment of the experience. So I’m content with the level I can achieve with the equipment I can easily carry. I’m not as into the technique or technology or detail as Michael.  

Now that I think of it, something similar may apply to my approach to birding. I am not as into the identification and detailed knowledge as the Lewises, or Carol. One might say I’m consistently lazy. So birding may not be the best type of activity for a “big picture” guy.

Whenever Carol and I travel, we make separate lists of our ten best/favorite aspects of the trip. Generally, we have a high level of agreement on those items. We let the Lewises in on our game this time.

Here are my ten (not necessarily in exact order), with a bit of commentary.

1. The canopy walk. Being among the trees and birds (even if I had difficulty finding them) was magical. A true immersion in nature on its own level and terms.

2. Seeing orangutans in the wild. This experience was closest to the African safari experiences that Carol and I have loved so much. Finding and observing orangutans swinging high up in the trees was thrilling.

3. Having meals in our private open pavilion by the river served by our charming butler, Jariah. I’m cheating a bit here, combining two elements in one. First the perfect serenity of sitting by the river with the forest looming on the opposite bank. And, second, Jariah, who was completely delightful and enhanced our overall experience at the lodge greatly.

4. Birding by boat on the river at the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. Birds were easier to spot from the boat, and cruising down the river added great interest to the experience.

5. Eka. She was a delightful, knowledgeable guide who gave our experiences in Indonesia a face. Eka is a great example of how important a guide is to a travel experience. And we especially appreciated her because we were unable to understand the guide she replaced and had to request that he be dismissed.

6. The horse and buggy ride through the villages near the Amanjiwo. The scenery, the mode of transportation and the opportunity to see local people at work combined for a memorable morning.

7. Borobudur. This is an extremely impressive architectural and archeological monument, and the chance to see it at sunset (even though there was no sunset) when very few people were permitted to be there was especially excellent.

8. Meditating at Mendut Monastery. Spending an hour in near darkness in silence, except for the chanting of the three monks who were with us, was a unique and special experience.

9. Going to the OHD Museum to see the collection of modern art amassed by Dr. Lei Hong Djien. The collection itself, the way it was curated to show artists’ development over a 25-year period and meeting and talking with Dr. Djien all contributed to an unusual art experience.

10. Frogs. Clearly, what made this special and the reason it made my top ten list, was our meeting with Bob Inger, the 95-year old Bornean frog expert and Curator Emeritus at The Field Museum in Chicago.

There were certainly other experiences that could have made this list, as well.

Travel arrangements, on the whole, went quite smoothly. The only notable exception was an unsatisfactory guide for our first day in Indonesia. To balance that out, we had two outstanding guides, Azmil and EKA. Our accommodations ranged from places with great character–the Borneo Rainforest Lodge and the Phoenix–to luxurious–the Amanjiwo. And the other accommodations were quite acceptable. Meals at the Amanjiwo were outstanding and those at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge were very good.

Once again, the opportunity to have this type of experience is amazing. One needs to have the time, the interest, the financial wherewithal and the health to enjoy it. We are so fortunate and grateful to have all four.

Thanks for following the blog, and for all your comments. Hope you can join us in Vietnam in October.

I’ll close with some photos taken from the plane that, for me, evoke something of the dream quality of the photos I took on our night game drive in Borneo.

6 comments to Homeward Bound Reflections

  • lauri pollack

    Thank you for sharing. I have looked forward to waking up to your blogs. Will miss them!

  • Paul Woo

    So bring your great karma back to Wrigley, yes? You missed the horrible road trip, at least. But they swept the Cards this weekend, and Schwarber hit a grand slam late in a game (can’t recall if it was a game winter).

    Safe travels to you and Carol.

  • Gil Cornfield

    Your ability to translate your thoughts and feelings to words is as impressive as the trips you describe. Thanks again for sharing.

    Gil and Noreen

  • arnie

    I’m working on it. Watched last night and am going to four games between Tues and Saturday.

  • arnie

    Thanks for following, Gil and Noreen.

  • arnie

    Thanks for being such a loyal follower, Lauri.

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