May 2013

The Jungle.

by Lori Dwyer on May 25, 2013 · 14 comments

“The overwhelming sensation of the jungle is the oppressive humidity- the dampness permeates everything, a palpable physical presence that one can taste on the tongue, and a mildewed, musky odor that fills the nostrils…”

‘The Paradise of Eden’, by Dr Birute Mary Galdikas


It’s hot. Breathing in hot air, sweating out the two litres of water I’ve already drunk today. The jungle smells green- despite the heat, there is moss everywhere, and the air is scented with soft decay.

Klotoks are huge, comfortable boats; the entire top deck is ours to do with as we please. There’s a table where meals are served, decks at the front and back for sunbathing and monkey-spotting. We leave the tiny town of Kumai (“Welcome” in Bahasa, the first port into Kalimantan) at 7am and we’ve spotted our first monkeys within two hours of being on board. Proboscis moneys, with big, ugly noses. They dive into the water in the wake our boat creates, knowing it means safety- any crocodiles in the fresh water river would have been scared away by the klotok’s chugging engine.

Watching the water change is incredible. It’s dark blue in the harbour. There seems to be a line drawn through it- as we turn on the Sekonyer River it becomes muddy brown. The next turn takes us on to Camp Leakey river, and the water changes again- now it’s black like onyx and reflects the sky like a mirror. It’s relatively clean- we shower in it on board the klotok that night. The discolouration is a result of the tannin that seeps in from the plants on the rivers edge.

It’s entirely pleasant, and I drift off halfway along, the humming of the engine and the lapping of the water lulling me into a deep, warm sleep.

When I wake, we’re almost at Camp Leakey. It’s one o’clock in the afternoon and we’ve not yet seen an orangutan to speak of.

That’s about to change.

We pull up and alight onto the Camp Leakey wharf, follow the six foot high boardwalk around to the ranger’s station. All I can think is how difficult this must have been, at first- how dedicated Dr Gildakas, the woman who started all of this, must have been. She came here, into the middle of the steaming Borneo jungle, and stayed for years at Camp Leakey, observing the orangs and earning their trust. She worked with the local people to protect the forests. Her and her crew dragged everything that is here into here, trekking the jungle on foot and navigating the river in small canoes.

We’re barely in the Camp itself before Ivend, our guide, who seems to know every tree, every fungus, every ape by name; points ahead of us on the trail.

“There. An orang, with her baby.”

I think I might faint. Just there, just three metres ahead of us, is the most human-like animal I’ve ever seen. Standing upright, her baby clinging on her fur. It seems as though she’s waiting for us.


And maybe, she is. This orangutan, baby clutched to the front of her so only it’s tiny hands are visible, leads us along the pathway to the feeding platform. She stops every twenty feet or so, looks back at us- she’s making sure we’re following her.

This continues for two hundred metres or so before she diverts course into the forest. I’m so gobsmacked I’m nearly in tears.

This is, without a doubt, the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.

We reach the roped off, wooden feeding platform;  and there’s an orang already there, eating its fill of the bananas and potatoes left for them by the rangers. The skies open thirty seconds after we’ve arrived. And down comes the rain, the way it can only do in the jungle- it buckets. Great heavy drops of aqua soak us to the core. It’s refreshing and cooling and no one seems to mind at all.


Except, perhaps, the orangutans. They do not appear impressed- one of them scoots their tiny baby up a tree and begins to fashion itself an umbrella from the foliage. Still, more come to the feeding platform, mothers with babies- there are ten, maybe twelve of them, all in our sights at once.

A big, ugly warthog comes to join the feast; as does a gibbon that’s hanging in a nearby tree. The gibbon is quick and feisty- he darts down on to the platform and escapes again with a handful of bananas.

We stay for hours, just watching- we could stay all day, I think, and still be mesmerized  They’re so unbelievably human. Babies annoy their mothers, who flick them away in annoyance. The great apes scratch under their arms and stretch. Big orangs lumber away from the feeding platform with hands and mouths full of bananas, climbing trees with one muscular arm.

Half an hour later, the rain stops and the orangutans return in force. They wander around and past us, inches away, tiny babies clinging on their backs. We watch two mummas sit close together, their babies playing and reaching for one another. As we’re about to return to the klotok, a big male arrives. He is not the resident alpha male, but a possible contender for that title in the future, huge cheek pads jutting from the side of his face. He is massive- his back, his arms, even his gait is monstrous compared to the females we’ve seen. He climbs to the platform, flops on his bum and proceeds to eat with terrible table manners- he pushes a half eaten banana to the front of his massive lips, slurping it back again to swallow.

We’re soaking wet, drenched to the bone, but it’s comfortable and pleasant after the humidity of earlier. We make our way back along the clay soil, through the Tanjung Puting National Park. As we reach the beginning of the trails, we spot another solitary female orang. Her eyes, her rolling walk, her demeanor  she seems sad. And she is sad- she lost her baby three months ago, the victim of an unidentified illness, Ivend tells us.


As we approach the boat, our path is slowed by a tribe of long-tailed makak monkeys, and Ivend warns us not to look the males in the eye. Stepping on deck, the silence is broken by sudden squawking and the splashing sound of tiny monkeys dropping into the water under the boat. They are fighting, between themselves, over a loaf of bread. They’ve stolen it from our boat, one of them sneaking in then sharing his spoils with the others.

Our beds for the night are on board the klotok, under mosquito net canopies that would satisfy the fussiest princess fantasies.

I’m comfortably, deliciously exhausted. We sleep wrapped in the trills and calls, the atmosphere of the jungle at night.


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Guestage- Depression.

by Lori Dwyer on May 24, 2013 · 0 comments

This is the second guest post Gaynor Alder has done for RRSAHM. She’s a Melbourne based writer with a penchant for vintage glamour and all things Parisian. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Modern Women’s Survival Guide and the Teenage Girl’s Survival Guide. Her calling, her destiny, her whatever you want to call it, Gaynor writes because she can’t not write.


“If you haven’t cried, your eyes can’t be beautiful”

Sophia Loren


Me: Get up off the floor Gaynor.

Depression: But, why?

Me: C’mon Gaynor. You can do it. Just get up and go lay on the couch.

Depression: What’s the point? I’m not going to feel any better on the couch.

Me: But you can’t lie here all day.

Depression: Why not?

Me: I should have a shower. Maybe blow dry my hair and put on some lipstick?

Depression: Why would you waste your time doing that? Why don’t you crack that bottle of wine in the fridge? Go on, that will make you feel better.

Me: But it’s only 11am.

Depression: So?


Depression had invaded every part of me, its weight heavy on my heart. A sorrow so great it should have instantly identified itself, instead of hiding in the shadows and dishing out its pain by slowly seeping through the cracks of my confusion. A sorrow that once its tears formed puddles at my feet, dropped me to my knees with its piercing and persistent pain.

This was no garden-variety depression, none of your general malaise and misery on offer here. This was the deep debilitating kind that straps you to your bed and meddles with your mind, making a complete mockery of who you are. Sadness was surging through my veins with ferocious velocity. I was as flat as a day old pancake and I wanted to know where the fuck the maple syrup was?

I held onto hope like a child clutching at a bag of lollies that were in fear of being stolen by a sibling, but depression is a lying little bastard and kept telling me I was never going to get better. Attacking my self esteem with all those nasty things it was saying about me, isolating me from everyone and holding my confidence captive, so it could pin me down with its force and strip me back to nothing.

There were plenty of people telling me to pull up my socks, but every time I tried, I discovered the elastic was long gone and they’d just end up around my ankles. They could have tried to walk a mile in my Pradas, but they’d long been gathering dust in my wardrobe and had not seen the light of a dance floor since depression had decided to barge in one day uninvited like a bunch of teenagers with a six pack of Bacardi Breezers.

Sure, I tried all that positive thinking bizzo and even though I’m naturally an optimistic person, it did jack. Because let’s get one thing straight, this is not a self-indulgent negative mindset, this is an illness.

Know that I’ve been to that place, when you think you’re never going to get better. Know I’ve been to that place when you don’t know how you’re going to get through the night. Know that I’ve felt that endless struggle just to get through every day, hour and second. Know that I have been to that place and I have returned.

Follow this series each month as I share how I overcame a decade long battle with depression. From a rocky love hate relationship with medication, psychics wearing purple crushed velvet skirts cleaning my aura with feathers whilst telling me the problem was in my past lives, coping with the people kicking me whilst I was down, to finally finding a kick ass crack team.



The Sunset in Borneo.

by Lori Dwyer on May 21, 2013 · 8 comments

I’m in Borneo, right now, and I keep having to pinch myself to make sure it’s real.

It takes two days of travel to get here, including a six hour flight from Sydney, a two hour flight from Bali, then another hour in the air to get from Jakarta to Pangkalan Bun, which is where I am as I’m typing this. I’m currently curled up in the hotel’s air conditioning, so tired I’m not sure I can move again, ever.

Bali is hot and chaotic and the humidity hits like a wall as you disembark the plane, forcing moisture-rich air into lungs sucked dry by the planes air conditioning. Bali airport looks as though it’s been decorated in mid-Seventies laminex brown. The people are endlessly friendly, polite and smiling; and I’m glad I learnt the very basics of speaking Bahasa Indonesia before I came- being able to say “Permissi, terimah kasih!” for “Excuse me, thank you!” just makes me feel polite.


Everything here is richly decorated. Baseboards, lampshades, counter-tops and stairwells are ornate and carved, decorated with bright colour and gold leaf. The air smells of clove cigarettes and sweat, incense and satay. People whiz past our taxi on motorbikes and scooters, weaving in and out of traffic, whole families on mopeds. A tiny girl-child smiles at me from the back of one- she’s sitting between her mother, on the back of the scooter, and her father, who’s driving. Her mother is cradling a tiny baby wrapped in a pink blanket.

It’s alarmingly clean here. There seem to be a hundred people employed to do each job, especially cleaning. I no sooner butt out a cigarette (and you can smoke everywhere here… smoking inside is weird) when its gone again, the table wiped clean, ashtray emptied, cleaner smiling and nodding at me.


A brightly colored ‘floating toilet’

The flight into Pangkalan Bun- Borneo itself- was slightly terrifying. The plane is the oldest I’ve ever seen, and it rattles and creaks in the air. We are served lunchboxes with sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf. I see the woman behind us laughing, watching these strange white women grimace as they bite into the banana leaf itself, not knowing to unwrap it.

Pangkalan Bun airport is tiny, crowded, not much more than a few small rooms. It’s pumping with people. This city seems to have established itself in the very center of the jungle. The heat. The greenery. The way the local foliage appears to be trying to eat everything in it’s path- thick green vines and tropical plants spill over onto cleared land, rise and snake between dwellings. Pangkalan Bun is relatively spread out, and from the hotel window we can see a smattering of blue roofed houses that concede themselves entirely to the jungle green growth beyond.

Borneo is a Muslim country. Alcohol is forbidden. I’m glad my mum reminded me to pack shirts with sleeves , rather than the spaghetti-strapped singlet tops I normally would have filled my bag with.

It’s a strange feeling. Unveiled. Anglo. In the minority. Out of my depth in both language and local customs.



The river that dissects Pangkalan Bun is teeming with humanity. Houses are built on the banks, hanging over the water, serviced by floating toilets that are really just a small wooden hut with no floor. There are floating fish farms. Men washing themselves off, brushing their teeth with the murky brown water. Women wash clothes. Longboats and the occasional speedboat leave the wake of the water behind them.

And the children, they play. They run from tiny houses to wave at us, this boat full of white woman on their river. They blow us kisses and bomb into the water, giggling as we give them a round of applause from our longboat.

It’s eye-poppingly colourful. If a surface is painted, painted bright- powder blues, neon orange, candy pinks.

The sun begins to drop in the sky, and the hauntingly beautiful Muslim call to prayer goes out through speakers strung across the city. On the very top of the biggest hill sits the Palace, where the Sultan, the Prince and his Princess live. From here, you can see for miles, the jungles beyond the city itself bathed in sunlight.

That is why they built here, our guide tells us. From the top of the hill, they can see all their people, all their land, all at once. All bathed in the golden light of the setting sun.

The view from the Palace.

The view from the Palace.


Tomorrow, we board a klotok (named for the noise the diesel engines they once ran on made- klot-ok, klot-ok, klot-ok) and head up the Senoyer River. That’s when the orangutan spotting officially begins.

So far, it’s all amazingly awesome. I keep looking at the world map, tracing the distance between Sydney and here.

I never thought I’d have the courage to do this. I’m so glad I did.