The Last Eden on Earth

Trip Start Jun 02, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ever since I ate that water apple, my body has been experiencing its own form of hell here in what the locals call "The last Eden on Earth." But I'm not letting it get to me; this place is far too beautiful for misery.

So today I sucked it up and we set off up another mountain, across the river from our camp, in search of wild orangutans. Again, the way was steep, but I was more sure-footed now, using the tree roots as footholds, hanging on to the thick vines dripping from the trees, and knowing now which plants not to grab onto because of their hidden prickles.

Once we got to the top of the ridge, we settled in a cool, airy spot to relax and have our lunch of noodles, tempeh, eggs and sliced cucumber. My stomach was still unsettled, so I nibbled on cucumber, put my feet up on a tree, and listened to the wind rustling through the palms and the echo of macaques calling to each other from their aurborial skyscrapers.

I was surprised to find that so many of the plants I had worked with in my years as an interior horticulturalist grew wild and untamed here. All those tropical plants trapped languishing in small pots in dark office corners or marbled boardrooms grow in massive abundance here--I found the shiny dark leaves of the Janet Craig, the tufted heads of marginatas, the fanned leaves of the raphis palm, the yellow banana-striped corn plants. Like me, they have evaded the fate of office towers to run rampant and free.

Some of the fruits we found included forest mangoes, as well as small half-eaten red fruits dropped from the trees by the monkeys, and red lotus-like flowers growing up in the trees that orangutans especially like. I was also surprised to find two kinds of fern just like those in our own rainforest of British Columbia--one, a swordleaf fern and the other a soft-leafed variety I don't know the name of. Wanda collected the young fiddleheads for dinner--a delicacy also eaten by Canada's First Nations. However different this place is, it is also familiar. Each place is its own Eden.

Now I'm inspired to find out all the names of these plants in Indonesian, and perhaps write a book on the flora of this jungle paradise before they disappear for good, though I want to be optimistic that they won't. Wanda and Karen said that, to their knowledge, no definitive book has been written on the plants here, or their medicinal value, though the collection of plants is part of the project work. How orangutans use them to keep healthy and treat disease is valuable information for humans, too, since we are so closely related. The locals believe that what orangutans eat, humans can also--a general rule that the guides live by when foraging for their own meals.

But the knowledge of medicinal plants is disappearing as young people are depending less on the rich resources of the jungle and more on the palm and rubber plantations, lured by the promise of a better income. There is only one elder in Bukit Lawang that has extensive knowledge of medicinal plants, a medicine man who is getting on in years. I hope to find him and talk to him, record all his knowledge, if he will allow, for future generations. There are plants here, and animals, that are only just being discovered in this, the second largest rainforest in the world next to the Amazon. Yet while most people know of the plight of the Amazon, few know about Sumatra.

Among all this wonderous foliage fluttered kupu kupu, butterflies of every imaginable colour, from vibrant red to pumpkin orange, in patterns of lacy blue and white to black and white polka dots. One we found near the river had the lime green wings of a butterfly but the body of a dragonfly. And an infinite number of insects buzzed in the air, from giant fuzzy black bees to iridiscent peacock green flies.

Of course no Eden would be complete without its snakes. Back at the camp we had seen a black one, the size of a garden snake but deadly poisonous, slip by--an alarming sight, though Wanda quelled our fears only slightly by saying the snakes are shy and won't bit unless stepped on.

The orangutans remained elusive today, but we did find scratchmarks on the trees where sunbears--which look like North American brown bears but are the size of dogs--sharpened their claws, and a large earthen nest on the forest floor bearing the imprint of a wild boar. Wanda said that wild boars are viscious animals, so we were glad he wasn't around. This place is also home to clouded leopards, which have the largest fangs of any wild cat on earth, but thankfully they also remained elusive.

When we returned to camp, we newly christened jungle girls donned our sarongs like the local girls and mandied in our favourite swimming spot in the turquoise river, where a large log had dammed it and created a tranquil pool shaded by massive leafy fans. Out came the soap and we bathed off the day's mud as curious fishes swam about our feet, four Eves in our very own Eden.
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wendyworld on

Thanks! It is has been such a long time since I wrote this it was nice to read your comment and revisit my story again. : )

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