when people are awesome

Fireflies- Part Two. #BloggersToBorneo

by Lori Dwyer on June 3, 2013 · 6 comments

Continued from yesterday...

Pitcher plants at the second orang feeding station

Pitcher plants at the second orang feeding station


We visit the village that was once on the other side of the river. The entire town was moved to here when their land became protected National Park. This village is called Tanjung Harapan, and the name of sounds like a melody, a short sweet song that rolls off the tongue.

It’s a tiny smattering of houses, most what we would consider derelict- most buildings here, we would probably be reluctant to raise our children in. Most roofs are constructed of hot, stuffy corrugated iron. Others are roofed with the traditional- but undoubtedly more expensive, given that they need to be replaced every two or three years- stitched palm fronds.


We come across a woman making roof panels- folding the older, longer palm fronds in half over a stiff stick, then using the younger, sharper palm fronds to stitch them in place. The woman sits cross-legged on her tiny, sheltered porch, her face serene and smooth like a rock washed over by a thousand waves. Ivend asks her if we can come closer to watch and she responds with a nod and a smile. May we take her photograph, we ask, and the request is translated. She nods her ascent, the same serene smile in place, as though she has seen a thousand tourists wander through her village in her time and nothing we wish to ogle at and photograph has the ability to surprise her any more.

And she probably has a thousand of us, maybe more. This tiny economy of this tiny village is subsidized by the tourists who come through Tanjung Pating. The tiny souvenir shop sells orangutans beautifully carved from ironwood; hats and mats woven from reeds; bracelets made from wooden beads and dried, plaited palm fronds.

The local economy is also subsidised by the same palm oil plantations that are now decimating the orang population. Their power was once provided by a giant, old fashioned water-wheel that revolved over and over, bucketing the water from a small canal into hydraulic energy.

Now, the electricity supply to Tanjung Harapan comes directly from the substation that belongs to the palm oil company.

A smiling man appears from a small, dark house and presents us with beautifully carved statues of orangutans, made with his own hands from solid ironwood. There are gorgeous and we all purchase one, with the maker’s name and the date it was made carved into the base.

“Where can I buy cigarettes?” I ask Ivend, and he replies “Up here. From my auntie”.

The shop is tiny and dark, and a woman dressed in a batik dress is sitting on the floor, playing with her children. With Ivend translating, I purchase two packets of Malboros.

“30 000 rupiah” Ivend translates. I hand over a 50 000 note and shake my head at the shopkeeper as she attempts to hand me change. She glances at Ivend in surprise, to confirm there’s been no misunderstanding, and he assures her there isn’t.

“Oh, terimah kasih!!”-  ”Oh, thank you!!” she cries, and throws her arms arund my neck, kissing me on the cheek.

20 000 rupiah is about two Australian dollars, and I feel myself break a bit inside. A sickening sense of my own over-privileged life. Of how much I take for granted. Of how very lucky- how spoiled- I actually am.

Tanjung Harapan

Tanjung Harapan


Emma and her mum Helen, the two other women in our group, have bought pencils and small clutching koala bears for the little ones in the village. Children are children, no matter where you go, and they swamp Emma and Helen, laughing and jumping around them as they receive their gifts.

We pile back onto the boat and there are a group of boys on the wharf beside us. There’s five or six of them, maybe eight or nine years old. They laugh at the tour leader and I as we pour water over our heads.

“Panang!” I cry out to them, laughing too. “Hot!”

The boys follow us up the river in a small canoe. They laugh in excitement as the wake of a speedboat rocks their canoe. The paddle it in circles with one oar, around and around. There is not a life jacket amongst them, not a parent in sight; and they show no fear.

Children are just children, no matter where you go.


The crew on our boat consists of a skipper, his two assistants, and a cook. The cook is an entirely beautiful woman with a lovely, warm smile. And her food is incredible- I find myself eating things I never thought I’d try; because it is all so fresh, so subtly spiced and carefully made.

The cook’s daughter is four years old and reminds me so much of my Bumpy thing, waiting for me at home, that it aches at my heart. Her name is Aya (A-YA) and she’s so well-behaved, in a way I can’t imagine my Bump ever being. But I can’t imagine bringing my Bump for three days on board a boat on the river, either- no life jacket, no stress. No misbehavior. Not a peep to be heard from her.



I ask Ivend how to say ‘beautiful’ in Bahasa, just so I can tell her “Aya- chanti!!”. She rewards me with a smile like the brightest of sunshine.

Children are children, no matter where they are.


There’s a peaceful, happy, teasing friendship now on the klotok- we’re comfortable with each other, things are running exceptionally smoothly.

We begin the journey back up-river toward Kumai, and late in the afternoon, we see the rarest of sights. There’s a big, male orang making his nighttime nest in a tree on the side of the river that’s not protected, not national park- the population of wild orangutans on that side of the river is unknown, but thought to be diminishing rapidly.

We pull the klotok to a stop and the orang watches us, watching him- we can just see his giant, cheek padded face peering over the top of his comfortable bed.

That night we have our dinner on board the boat again. The table is set, as always, with candles and wine glasses for our juice, and the food is delicious. It’s almost a full moon, with no cloud cover, which means the billions of fireflies that normally light up the river are, tonight, down to just a few hundred.

The Sekonyer River at dusk

The Sekonyer River at dusk

Not that it matters. I’ve never seen a firefly before and I’m enchanted by the tiny glowing sparks that look like Christmas tree lights in the dense tree cover. They flit in and around the boat, and Garry, the tour leader, catches one so I can observe it. It’s only half a centimeter long and it’s bum, tucked in under it’s dark wings, blinks and glows a bright, neon yellow.

These people- especially Erin, my American roommate- they’re my friends now.

We eat a glorious dinner, with laughter and good conversation, amongst a hundred flickering fireflies; under the swollen, fat bright light of the waxing, luminous moon.



The View From Here.

by Lori Dwyer on May 16, 2013 · 17 comments

Most days, I am just in awe of my mother. I think she may be the most wholesome, perfected person I know.

When I look back at my childhood, that’s how I picture her- perfect. Consistent. Fair. Wholly dependable. Accomplished and confident and so strong- stoic without becoming martyred.

My mum has always been right there, never more than a phone call away. I’ve witnessed friends with mothers who are not like that- parents who turn their back on their adult children, argue with them, never help them out. I can’t imagine what that would be like, what a difference it would have made in my personality had that been the case with my mum.

She has never let me down.


My mum used to draw me teddy bears to colour in when I was tiny. Happy stuffed toys wearing vests and smiles.


We always seemed to be short of money. That never mattered, and we rarely noticed it.

“Let’s go for a drive”, my mum would say on weekends. My brother and I, sometimes my grandmother as well, would pile into our huge red Toyota van, leaving my father at home to smoke cigarettes and watch the cricket.

“I’ve always wondered what was down this road…” My mother would murmur as she navigated dirt tracks and fire trails around the vicinity of Paradise.

“Let’s go check it out. It will be an adventure!” And it always was. We’d arrive in a hundred different places, surrounded by scrub or sand or trickling, noisy creeks. Once we parked the car and walked, turned the corner on a bush track only to find ourselves at the very top of a momentously tall, rushing waterfall. We stood and gazed over the rolling valleys of million year old hills as the sun dropped lower in the sky.


Discovering your mother is a person in her own right is breath taking.

When I was about eight or nine, my mum came home late from work one night, held up by meetings and other teacher-like responsibilities  My younger brother and I had already been fed, and we’re clean and snug, the smell of fresh showers on our hair.

I witnessed my mum making herself dinner in our small, well-lit kitchen.

Making herself dinner.

I don’t think I’d ever seen that happening before, my mother submitting to her own need for sustenance without catering to ours as well.

“What are you making?”

“An omelette.”

“What’s an omelette?”

“Look,” says my mum, lifting me up onto the kitchen cupboard to observe, “It’s eggs, beaten, and you add other things to it, too.”

I remember my amazement. “But I’ve never seen you make that before!”

And my mum seemed surprised by that.

“I used to make them all the time, when your father and I first got married. Before you kids came along…”

And I held that, like a whisper, like an errant thought. My mother was a person before I was here. She had a whole life that she had lived before I existed. 


My mum has never been one for self-pity. Emotional support and empathy was given where it was needed. But wallowing was not allowed.

I remember having my heart broken for the first time, by my first real boyfriend– the dim blue lights of the school disco illuminating him embraced in a kiss with a girl I couldn’t ever get on with. I remember waking up the morning after it happened, crying in the way only a devastated teenage girl can- sobbing and weeping, heart shattered, life over.

My mum sat next to my bed, rubbed my back while I cried.

“I don’t know what to do…” I whimpered.

“You get up,” my mum replied. “You get dressed. And you get on with it.”

And I did.

And I do.


My mum is still an adventurer, and even now, well into here fifties, she is doing all the things she has always wanted to do. Her and my step-father take extended driving holidays, exploring every back-road in New South Wales. She takes her class of school children to a nearby bush camp and struggles with them through the ropes course, zooms along the zip-line of the flying fox.

She’s always wanted to go to Broome, and to Tasmania. To parasail behind a boat.

She’s always wanted to climb the Harbour Bridge.

It’s not something I probably ever would have thought to buy for her- her practicality has been passed onto my brother and I, and gifts are always relatively small, useful, well thought out. Had I not been offered the chance to take my mum on a Mother’s Day Climb by BridgeClimb themselves, it may have never happened.

And that would have been such a pity. Because it was so intensely lovely to see my mother happy, childlike. So excited she was nearly bouncing out of her skin.

It was the most beautifully perfect day- the sun shining, not even the tiniest breeze to flutter the flags at the top of the bridge’s arch. My mum was expecting to be scared, and she wasn’t- the safety protocols are so thorough, the instructor so amazingly friendly, that all my mum felt was glorious exhilaration.

The view is amazing. From the top of the Bridge, you can see for miles. From one side there’s The Opera House, the green water of the Harbour, the deep blue of the ocean past the Heads. The Blue Mountains, the Parramatatta River, the sprawling suburbs stretch from the other.

A fleet of green Army choppers fly in formation directly above our heads, just fifty feet away. They’re close enough that I can see the olive-green gloved hand of the man who waves to us from the cockpit, and my mum and I laugh as we return the greeting.

As we pose for a photo, my mum remarks that we don’t have many pictures of the two of us together, and sadly, she’s right; and I know from painful experience that one day in the future I may regret that.

She’s done so much for me- this is nothing.  A few hours compared to a lifetime. A drop of salt into the teal green waters of Sydney Harbour beneath us.

But to give her something back- something like this, something she’ll remember… Selfishly, Ill admit, this was as much thrill for me as it was for her.

I turn to check on her, my blonde mother in her tinted glasses- she always seems to look the same, has done so for as long as I can remember. The look on her face is one of awe, of wonder.

The view from up here, it’s amazing.

The expression on my mum’s face is even better.

A huge thanks to BridgeClimb for having my mum and myself climb for Mother’s Day. No cash was exchanged for this post, but the Climb and photographs from the day were complimentary.

My mum and I. On top of the world.

My mum and I. On top of the world.


Operation: Borneo

by Lori Dwyer on April 24, 2013 · 9 comments

Every time I remember that I’m going overseas in less than one months time, I panic slightly. I am not ready for this. As usual, I’m disorganized, not really sure what I’m doing, and running just that little bit late.

Yesterday I got four needles, two in each arm. It seems trekking into Borneo requires vaccinations for typhoid and rabies (two shots down, another one to go); as well as boosters for tetanus, MMR and hepatitis (one blood test to see if I need them- I did- and one hep shot done, two to follow). And there’s malaria tablets to be taken, too.

I’m on my third course of antibiotics to ensure my burst eardrum is well and truly healed before I get on an international flight; and I’m taking a ‘practice’  flight domestically in a week, just to make sure I’ll be okay.

My mum, being worried about me, as mothers generally are, has managed to make me a million kinds of paranoid about getting sick while I’m overseas (in a country where I don’t speak the language and the medical care is probably not quite what I’m used to… fair call). With that in mind, I’ve taken it on myself to get all health-kicky. Water, good food, walking four kilometres whenever I find a spare child-free hour.

Passport photos. Flattering.

Passport photos. Flattering.

I’ve (finally) gotten my passport and the photo is traditionally awful. Thanks to a reader of mine name Lisa, I have a comprehensive packing list of everything I should take (such a huge thank you to you, Lisa). I’m using Lisa’s list as a master spreadsheet and adding the gear I’ll specifically need for this trip.

I don’t actually possess a lot of the things on either of the lists (and I’m still trying to figure out what a lot of them are… voltage stabiliser, anyone…?). But I’m working on it. A massive thank you to Manda, another reader of mine, who sent me my very own super-tiny-but-packed-with-everything first aid kit.

It’s both strange and lovely, the way the littlest things– like being able to cross ‘first aid kit’ off a list of one hundred or more items– make you feel as though the entire task is more manageable.

I’m planning to blog as much as possible while I’m in Indonesia, but, realistically, that depends on my Internet access. I’ll be MIA when I’m in the jungles of Kalimantan, evidently. So prepare yourselves for an orangutan overload upon my return.

Any fundage you can throw to Orangutan Odysseys are muchly appreciated– click here or on the widget below.

And I’m still most definitely up for travel advice, especially regarding international flying, internet accessibility, local customs of Bali and Borneo, packing tips, and anything else I haven’t thought of yet. Cheers.