Day 13 – Rest for some, exploration for others

Today we split in two. One group stayed behind to treat their feet and rest. And another group went to see the camp they call the “dua” camp, the “two” camp, people who work on the river, whether for the local industries, particularly Jhonlin, for sugar cane, or for the deer hunters who live up there.

We left with Jamyl and Bagus on the Lasolo in the direction of this camp. The hunters pointed out a bend where there was supposed to be a camp, and of course there was no camp. We hesitated to continue, especially as the river was speeding up a bit and getting tighter, so we thought it would be hard to get back up.

In the end, we thought they might have read the map wrong, and we saw that on the map there was a more pronounced S-shaped bend.

We saw two motorised pirogues and said to ourselves: “Yes, great, we’re going to be able to go back up as planned in a motorised pirogue! But first we had to negotiate… We went up because the camp was very high, 50m above the water, on a pretty promontory near a cleared field. Quite a nice spot. They built a big wooden hut with solar panels, bedrooms, a kitchen, toilets, and even a huge buddy that they would have brought along in parts. For the moment it’s of no use to them – it’s sitting on a rock. But I imagine that one day they’ll be wandering around, so let’s hope it’s as late as possible.

There are a few cows in the field, a roe deer in their little park, a few chickens, a few cats and 6 or 7 guys who were installed there and all paid by Jhonlin, a huge Indonesian group. They have been paid for 5 years, doing nothing, because the planned sugar cane plantation activity does not yet exist. The Jhonlin concession covers the entire open area that we spent a day crossing. At the moment they are catching deer, but the area will be planted with sugar cane in the next few years. Which means they’ll be building roads to get there, so they’ll be deforesting and clearing everything in their path.

If we want to protect the region in the future, Naturevolution will have to get in touch with this company and try to ensure that they don’t destroy anything other than what they already have under concession. On the contrary, if possible, they should put their hand in the pot and help finance the conservation of the area. Because, at the end of the day, if they grow sugar cane in an area that has already been completely cleared, where in terms of biodiversity there’s not much left, that’s not the worst thing. On the other hand, if they continue to open up the forest, it will become very problematic.

We spent a bit of time talking to some of the people there, they were quite friendly, the boss was a bit cold, you could tell he wasn’t very comfortable with the idea of us being there because it was private property and he didn’t really have the right. He made it clear that he didn’t want us to distribute photos of the site. He answered lots of questions and was a great source of information because he’s known the river by heart since he was a child. So he knew all the names of the villages that once existed. Every time we showed him a small area where there were human traces, he would say: “Those are rice fields from such and such a village, those were refugees from what’s-his-name etc.”. I was able to ask him how certain places were accessed, how long it took, whether it had already been done, how far it had already been done, and so on.

He was also asking questions about the area where I thought there might be archaeological remains. And he said straight away that they were everywhere, paintings, bones, tombs. So that’s cool, the last few days of the expedition are going to be full of lovely discoveries and surprises.

Just before they invited us to eat, we asked them if they could take us back to the camp. They said “no” straight away. It took us 1 hour to get down, and there was a lot of current, because it had rained all night before, so the water was higher and moving faster. We thought that putting it all back together was going to be sporting. We negotiated a little and they agreed to take us up to the confluence with the river that we had descended for 4-5 days previously. They still saved us a good hour on the way back up by motorised pirogue, after treating us to a lovely meal of rice and very good eels. It was really fun!

They put us on a small bank and we fought our way upstream. Sometimes it went relatively well and then half the time it didn’t go well at all, you had to pull the boat over the edge on foot, sometimes in waist-deep water, or you had to fight against the current in the packrafts, paddling a lot. Bagus and Jamyl had their arms well smoked at times and got caught up in a rapid so they did the rapid again in the other direction and had to start again. It’s a game of whoever has the most fish in their arms can go faster than the current. It was fun and at the same time very tiring.

But we went faster than expected, climbing from that spot to the camp in 3h30, which was pretty good.

We arrived at the camp at 4am, where we met up with Antoine and Ime. Unfortunately, we realised that Jamyl had lost all the skin on his toes, he no longer had any epidermis, his skin was raw above and below. Antoine has started to develop cracks. Jamyl said he couldn’t walk, Antoine didn’t think it was feasible either and Bagus, probably because his foot hurt and probably also because he was a bit scared of being just the two of us, decided not to go either.

So tonight is the big question: do I go alone or not at all? Knowing that I can go much faster on my own is an advantage. But there’s also a big risk. If the slightest thing happens to me, there’s no one to come and get me, no one knows where I am, so it’s not crazy, bearing in mind that Garmin, the little device we have to call for help, only works when the area is uncovered, and the whole journey is made under the canopy, so there’s virtually no chance of a message getting through. I always ask myself this question because I really want to go there, to find out if it’s easy to do. This is one of the areas where I think it would be really good to organise an expedition and bring scientists to work in the area. But if you’re going to take a big risk, it might not be worth it.

Another tempting fact is that, as we now have a guarantee that there are caves, tombs and paintings, you’ll probably need more than a day to explore all the caves in the area. But we only have 6 days of food left if I remember correctly. If we estimate that we’ll need two days just for the descent and two days just for exploring all the caves in the canyon below, that means we’ve already eaten up 4 days and we’ll have two days of food left, which won’t leave me much time to make the excursion to the Matarombeo wetlands. If I had one more day of food I’d be a little more serene…

I’ll think about it again tonight and make my decision tomorrow. Everything’s ready, my bag’s packed, all I have to do is get the hammock and mosquito net for tomorrow if I want to leave.

We’ve seen plenty of hydrosaurs, we see them all the time. I was also lucky enough to come within centimetres of a monitor lizard, which was just as scared as I was. It was a lovely surprise, just behind a tree trunk. We also saw some pretty birds, and I’ll have to take some notes…

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