I finally went to the forest! Even better, I went to my forest! That is the forest I am assigned to work on as a research intern at Tropenbos. Its name is Gunung Lumut.
To get there, you have to drive (or be driven in my own case) to the Trans-Kalimantan road from the city of Balikpapan towards Balikpapan Bay. The Bay can (for now) only be crossed by ferry, passing by the mangroves my office manager here is vigorously trying to save. On the other side of the Bay lies the district of Paser, and the provincial road continues from there towards the South of Kalimantan (Borneo, in case you didn’t know that). Soon after exiting the ferry, huge and brand-new district offices lie on the left-hand side. The district’s main sources for income are coal mining and palm oil, and that seems to pay well.After an approximately 3-hour drive, you enter the town of Long Ikis, spreading out over a few different village centers. One of those is called Simpang Lombok; from there starts a long logging road westbound, leading into the hills.
First this logging road passes through a field of old, decaying oil palms. The fresh green saplings have already been planted between the orange-brown seniors that will soon be gone. Next comes a large area of productive oil palms, and the harvests are continuously being piled alongside the road. As it then climbs higher onto the hills, the road enters the ex-Telaga Mas site. PT Telaga Mas is a large logging company still active in the region, and also the owner of this road we’re on. The logged area (i.e. “devoid of all trees”) is now used for more oil palms and explorations for possible future coal mining projects. This area is subsequently bordered by an abandoned nickel-mine previously operated by a French company that shut down and left in the recent financial crisis (I need to verify this), without cleaning up (I do not need to verify this). Behind the mine, the road takes a sharp turn left and climbs steep, providing a total view over the area below: neat rows of palm trees as far as the eye can see.
A sign and an empty station post will soon tell you that you are entering another PT Telaga Mas logging zone. But you will forget this soon, as more and larger patches of forest appear, interspersed with villages or individual houses with agriculture plots. Sometimes recently burnt areas can be seen, they will be turned into rice paddies or perhaps a small corn field. Step by step the environment becomes more and more soothing from there, and the moments of shock are replaced by moments of awe. Passing by a huge Banggeris tree, for instance. And then you realise your thoughts have been drifting for over half an hour, whilst staring into the green from the car window.
It means you’re finally there. That’s Gunung Lumut.