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Posts Tagged ‘teachers for global classrooms’

Jakarta Day 9: Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Group shot on hotel stairs-s

The Teachers for Global Classrooms 2017 Indonesia cohort. This was our last activity together before going our separate ways.

Waiting in batik 2

The group waiting for our tour bus wearing our best batik.

With our final session completed, we had one more event together: our final dinner. We dressed in our finest batik and took photos on the stairs in the hotel lobby. Then we boarded the bus and drove out of the city to a restaurant called Talaga Sampireun. It was my last experience with Jakarta traffic. At one point, the bus was stalled in a traffic jam and men with packages of snacks on their heads were walking between the cars selling them, then running to the side when the traffic started to move.

Batik clothing

Waiting for the bus wearing our batik.

The sign for the restaurant promised that it would be a “culinary experience by a lake.” It was laid out as a series of huts surrounding ponds with coi fish and was a very nice place. We took photos and talked, and the food arrived. It was delicious, and my favorite was the honey grilled shrimp on skewers.

Mid road salesman

Selling snacks to cars stuck in traffic. Entrepreneurs will pop up wherever there’s an opportunity, and Indonesia is no exception.

There were geckos climbing the walls, the first I had seen in Indonesia. I took a few photos of them. We were reluctant to leave, knowing this was the last time we would all be together. We had shared a mutual experience of learning and teaching in Indonesia even though we were in different cities, and this bonded us together.

Talaga sampireun

Our tour bus and the Talaga Sampireun restaurant sign. We had to travel for an hour to the outskirts of Jakarta to get to this place, which was a beautiful departure from other places we’d visited. It promised to be “a culinary experience by a lake.”

Some of us were extending our trips and had early departures the next day; those that were going home tomorrow would be leaving the Jakarta airport at 10:00 pm, so they were going to see the old city of Jakarta on their way out. I had wanted to get my experiences in Yogyakarta and Bali started, and the wording on the itinerary originally sent to us made the excursion tomorrow sound optional. It actually wasn’t, but my arrangements were already made. I have enjoyed Jakarta, but I want to see even more of Indonesia and am eager to get going with the limited time I have left here.

Restaurant pathway

Pathway to the restaurant rooms, which were built as separate huts overlooking ponds with koi fish. It was very quiet and peaceful here.

We said our last goodbyes in the lobby. I arranged for a taxi to take me and Nikki Moylan to the airport, as she had a flight around the same time as me. Her husband was joining her in the morning. I spent the rest of the evening repacking my bags, including the stuff I had left at the concierge desk while in Banjarmasin. I was hoping to put at least one bag into a locker at the airport and leave it there for the next five days, so I packed accordingly.

Doug and Mike-s

Doug, Mike, and Sarah at the restaurant as we have our final meal together.

And so the official part of my voyage here has ended. I will be entirely on my own now, to see how well I can survive by myself in Indonesia. I am almost out of the snacks I brought from America which have helped me in the evenings when I’ve been too tired to go find a meal. Now I’ll have to survive on Indonesian food and my limited Bahasa Indonesia knowledge. What will I learn in the final five days of my journey? I’ll report on that through more blog posts and in my final reflections once I am home.

Huts and lillypond

The restaurant consisted of separate huts around walkways and lilly ponds.

Come here little fishie

At the restaurant, feeding the koi fish.

Jennifer Nikki Ursula

Jennifer, Nikki, and Ursula at the restaurant.

Glow globes at sunset

Glow globes over the water at sunset.

Glow globes at night

Glow globes at night.

Sitting at table 2

Our group at the restaurant waiting for the main courses to arrive. It was served family style, from central plates, and included delicious honey prawns.

Geckos

Geckos on a pillar at the restaurant. This was the only time I saw them in Indonesia, and they were all over the place, perhaps because of the lilly ponds.

Group freestyle-s

Group shot at the restaurant. Freestyle!

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Jakarta Day 9: Tuesday, August 1, 2017

 

Presentation to Novianti and Dewi

Sarah presents Novianti and Dewi with awards for their service as our in-country consultants for the Teachers for Global Classrooms program. This was our final day together, and we concluded by reflecting on our experiences.

Continuing our final reflections and to debrief our field experiences, we were tasked today to ask ourselves some questions:

1 – During our exchange __________ , so I now want to __________ .

2 – Experiencing ____________ inspired a new perspective because ____________ .

3 – Before my time in Indonesia, I thought ____________ but now ___________ .

Here are some of the answers I came up with:

Water taxi

Another water taxi as we neared the dock in Banjarmasin. This was Sunday, which to people here is like Saturday for us – a day to enjoy the river and the morning.

1 – During my exchange, I saw Banjarmasin, which is a city barely above sea level. Now I want to do more to mitigate climate change.

David by Martapura mosque

David Black by the main mosque in Martapura

2 – Experiencing Muslim culture inspired a new perspective because I saw how many things we had in common and how our faiths are similar.

3 – Before my time in Indonesia, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to feel at home here with different foods, climate, and daily practices. Now I realize that I can feel at home and even thrive here. It makes me want to explore other places in the world and learn of more cultures.

Bakso soup

The best bakso in Banjarmasin.

We talked of our roles as education ambassadors and trying to understand the cultural iceberg – that the practices and behaviors we see are on the surface, but what drives them – the beliefs and values and attitudes – are the rest of the iceberg, hidden underneath. We have to infer these values from the practices we observe. Various institutions of influence are the currents that move the iceberg of culture. Do we try to impose our own values on Indonesians, or do we merely observe while keeping an open mind? To what extent has western culture imposed itself upon them? What parts of their culture come from core values that may be different than our own?

We did an exercise to try to grapple with any lingering emotions we may have. We created a T-chart of the emotion we were feeling and the memories they were associated with. My emotions include awe at the beauty I had seen rafting down the Amandit River on Friday, a feeling of connection and oneness at seeing the Southern Cross for the first time, a feeling of trepidation at eating Soto Bang Amat and other dishes where I didn’t know exactly what was in them, a feeling of disappointment at seeing trash around the waterfall above the Dayak Village, and appreciation for the generosity and kindness of Nazar’s family. There are many more, but these were the ones I decided to reflect upon. How are these emotions influencing (for good or bad) the stories I am telling through these blog posts?

We talked about the danger of the single story – telling our experience from only one viewpoint. I decided at the very beginning, during our symposium in February, to tell generative rather than contaminating stories. This is not because everything has been universally rosy and positive here. I’ve certainly had challenges. But I’ve deliberately tried to tell what I’ve experienced from a positive perspective and to build bridges in a world that seems bent on “othering” and polarization. I want to strengthen civility instead of discord and contention, and to promote peace through international understanding. The more we learn of another culture, such as that of Indonesia, the less we will be likely to see them as others. My whole goal has been to further this outcome – that as you read what I’ve posted, you’ll come to appreciate the people and culture of Indonesia.

Education values poster

Part of our analysis and reflection today was to divide up into groups to summarize what we had learned about different aspects of the Indonesian education system. This is a poster my group put together, in my handwriting.

We practiced the types of stories we will tell when people ask us how it was in Indonesia – the two-minute elevator spiel to the 30-minute coffee table conversation. We pretended to be different people such as an administrator or a barely interested colleague and then trade places. We talked about the final take-away: if we could encapsulate our experience in a single statement or paragraph, what would it be? My answers are in the previous post about my guiding questions, and I will come back to them at the end after I return home and write my final reflections.

We wrote a letter to ourselves to remind us of what we have learned and what we intend to do from here on. As of this writing, I still haven’t received it. I can’t remember exactly what I said. Something profound, I hope.

Craig with pole

Craig Hendrick posing on the raft. We asked Amli if we could take a turn at pushing the raft. He waited until a quiet spot and let us pose. It is trickier than it looks to keep your balance on the flexible raft. Notice how the water comes up through the bamboo poles.

We ended the day by doing a shout-out circle; we shared what impressed us about the other teachers. This has been a great group to work with, and Craig was very patient with me and my enthusiasms and constant photo taking through our experience in Banjarmasin. I expressed appreciation for him and for several others that I have learned from. I admitted to everyone that one thing I took away from the experience is that I needed to buy a smart phone.

Group explains poster

Kristy explains her group’s poster as Wendy, Matt, Kate, and Nikki look on.

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Jakarta Day 8: Monday, July 31, 2017

Mosque and tower

A modern styled mosque in front of a high rise office building as we walked to supper in Jakarta.

For supper, four of us walked from the hotel to a nearby shopping center building called Citywalk. There are no sidewalks on the sides of roads, but there are pathways if you know them. I didn’t, and followed Doug and the two Jennifers around corners, through alleys and small staircases, around parking lots, and finally to the Citywalk Center. We thought there might be some shopping we could do there, but it wound up being more of an office building with food courts on three floors, most of which were Japanese food. This whole building must be owned by Japanese interests. We looked around and found a place that served fried chicken. I got some Hawaiian and Louisiana Rub flavoring on my boneless ribs, French fries, and a refillable blueberry Fanta.

We talked of many things, and Doug asked us where we wanted to go to next in the world. I’ve thought about this, and talked to my wife about it, and we are saving up for a Mediterranean cruise, from Spain to Italy to Greece. It will take several years to save up enough for all four of us, but at least we’ve begun.

In the meantime, I plan to apply for the Einstein Fellowship program again; although my experience interviewing and not being selected wasn’t very positive last time, I am willing to give it one more shot. If that doesn’t pan out, then I will take the plunge to get my PhD, something I’ve always wanted to do, not because I think having a PhD is necessary per se, but because I now have the experience that will help me make sense of the theory I will learn and be able to apply. I want to contribute to fundamental research on project-based learning, global education, and STEAM education and test the theories I’ve developed over the years. I know I will never work long enough to pay off the investment, but I’m not going to do this for the money but for what I know I need to learn and the time it will force me to spend on a dissertation and research. I also want to contribute to teaching as a profession by training new teachers, something I’m already doing informally.

This coming year will therefore be my last one teaching at the middle and high school level. I plan to make it my best one ever, and to apply to several other opportunities to travel, such as the Transatlantic Outreach Program or Goethe Program for a 10-day trip to Germany next summer to study their STEM organizations, or the Grosvenor Fellowship with National Geographic to spend 10 days on a research vessel in Iceland or elsewhere, or to spend a week at Space Camp in Alabama, or to travel to Chile for the Astronomy Ambassadors program. There are still many other opportunities, grants, and awards I will apply for, one last time. We’ll see what happens.

When Jen spoke of her desire to go to Ireland, I told them stories about my ancestors and the coincidences in my heritage and life. I’m afraid I talked too much, but they seemed interested. After an hour of talking, we walked back to the hotel and I spent the rest of the evening writing up these blog posts.

Although the formal part of this experience is almost over, I don’t want it to end. I am still learning so much, but eventually I have to go beyond learning and start to share what I’ve learned. That’s why I’m spending so much effort to write these blog posts, so you can share my experiences and maybe learn from them. Eventually, what I’ve learned will be reflected in what and how I teach.

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Jakarta Day 8: Monday, July 31, 2017

Sticky notes

One of our activities was to write down our guiding questions on a large poster paper, then write sticky notes to add observations or suggestions to each other’s questions based on our own experiences in the field.

Now that we had completed our field teaching experience and had returned to Jakarta, it was time for reflection and evaluation. What had we learned from all of this? How will this impact our teaching going forward? How will we answer the guiding questions we chose at the beginning of this experience?

We met in a conference room near the elevators on the second floor after having breakfast. It was nice having the larger buffet at the Le Meridien Hotel.

We started by reflecting on our guiding questions through writing them up and conducting a gallery stroll. My own question was: How do different human cultures approach the common problems or needs of humanity? This is a very general question, so I further defined it through some sub-questions:

1 – How do we solve the need for materials (for shelter, food, clothing, transportation, etc.)?

2 – How do we solve the need for self-expression (through art, humor, play, etc.)?

3 – How do we solve the need to understand the universe and its mysteries (through science and religion)?

Let’s look at each of these as I have answered them so far. I will add more and create final reflections after my five day extension, where I will be exploring these ideas further.

Question 1: How do we solve the need for materials (for shelter, food, clothing, transportation, etc.)?

Sasirangan swatches

We saw how humans have a desire to decorate and design through art. We we don’t need to dye cloth, but all cultures do it as these samples of sasirangan testify.

This has been an ongoing quest of mine over the last ten years as I have created the Elements Unearthed project and this website. I have explored how the chemical elements and materials were discovered, how they are made, how they are mined, refined, and turned into finished products. I continued this project while in Indonesia, although more will come later this week. I’ve brought my students along for the ride.

I took students to record video of a tour of Novatek, a synthetic diamond manufacturing company in south Provo, Utah. I had an adult student at the time that worked there and organized the tour. He acted as our tour guide and explained the history of how Tracy Hall invented the process at Bell Labs. He showed us how graphic dust is compressed and heated to form industrial diamonds for oil drills. He showed us the tetrahedral press I had seen in operation as a high school student. My students turned the footage into a short video that is on this website under the Videos tab.

Dyeing green cloth

Dyeing cloth green to make Borneo sasirangan.

But that was only part of the story. Now I have been to the Cempaka diamond mines to see have natural diamonds are recovered from deposits laid down millions of years ago. I have written about it on this blog site, and my chemistry students will turn the photos and videos into a final product for YouTube.

Dyed cloth

Dyed cloth hanging up to dry in Banjarmasin at the sasirangan factory, although it won’t dry very well in this rainstorm.

Through my batik class in Jakarta and seeing the sasirangan made in Banjarmasin, I have continued to research how fabrics and dyes are used for make clothing, following up on what we’ve been doing in my chemistry and STEAM it Up classes. This will also continue later this week.

This is all to say that this question is still being answered and will continue to be. My quest to understand materials isn’t over yet.

Question 2: How do we solve the need for self-expression (through art, humor, play, etc.)?

This is probably the most culturally unique question, as every culture has its own methods of self-expression. However, there are some common threads that I have observed here in Indonesia compared with American or western culture. We all have a need to self-express, despite it taking different forms.

Batik pattern

A batik pattern ready for dyeing. The wax (called malam and a brownish-yellow color) is applied to a penciled pattern on both sides of the cloth, then the cloth is dyed leaving the dyed portion white.

All cultures and people have a sense of the beautiful. The batik I’ve seen at the Museum Tekstil Jakarta and the sasirangan in Banjarmasin is beautiful to me, even though I don’t understand the origin of the patterns. We all have a love for colors and textures, and although the details change with culture, this love is ubiquitous in all societies.

Nikki and Jen doing batik

Nikki and Jennifer practicing batik. The small wax pen, or canting, is held at a 45 degree angle to apply the wax resist. This is definitely an art form and takes great practice.

All cultures include physical art (painting, carving, sculpture, fabrics), music, dance, puppetry, drama, etc. These take uniquely beautiful forms in different cultures – for example, the gamelon orchestras popular here that use percussion instruments, xylophones, cymbals, and drums. This might not be your particular taste in art, but the more you research its history and meaning, the more interesting it becomes. I didn’t much care for Beijing Opera in Taiwan, but that is because I didn’t understand its symbolism and history. The more we study other cultures, the richer our appreciation of their art becomes. Yet despite the differences, I am amazed at the similarities. I can enjoy and recognize harmonies and melodies from a traditional Banjarese band without ever having heard one before.

Traditional band

Traditional Borneo band in the lobby of the Swiss Belhotel in Banjarmasin.

Another form of self-expression is in the stories and jokes we tell that describe and explain the human condition. I found the Indonesian people to be ready with a smile and a joke, to be a humorous and kind people and the sort of people I would like to hang out with if I could understand their language better. We might have different beliefs and life experiences, but we are more alike than different, and we have the same goals and desires in life.

I often think that the best thing that could happen to humanity would be to meet a truly alien intelligent species, whether they are hostile, friendly, or indifferent. Seeing that we are all humans, all brothers and sisters in a very real sense, would unite us more effectively than any international movement ever could.

Question 3: How do we solve the need to understand the universe and its mysteries (through science and religion)?

I saw directly from my experience teaching science and engineering lessons in Banjarmasin that science and math are the truly universal languages. I was afraid of a communication breakdown as I attempted to teach my lessons, but with the help of Nazar’s excellent English and our universal understanding of scientific principles that the students were able to understand. I was able to teach them despite cultural and language barriers.

Laying down planets

Laying out the planet rings for the human orrery activity.

This was the question I most wanted to explore, knowing that I would be going to a largely Muslim country. I tried to observe the daily lives of my host teacher and his family as well as the people around us – the other teachers at our school, the people we met daily, the students at the schools we visited, etc.

I am a Christian. I have studied world religions and lived for two years as a missionary in Taiwan, where I experienced the religious practices of the people (and myself) every day. I have been to Israel and Jerusalem where I saw Judaism and Islam practiced. But this was the first time I saw Islam closely and on a daily basis, and try to build some bridges of understanding.

Buddha-s

A statue of the Amita Buddha at the Fwo Gwang Shan monastery near PingTung, Taiwan.

As I have found elsewhere, people of all faiths have much in common. The first is their faith itself, the desire to believe in something beyond themselves, a truth higher than themselves. Religions, if practiced purely, should teach people to do good and to be better citizens of the world. They should teach us to respect each other. It is only when people misinterpret their religions and see hate where they should see understanding that we get the extremists that cause so much damage.

Duomo-s

The cathedral and baptistry in Florence, Italy. The large dome (called the Duomo) dominates the skyline of the city and was designed by Brunelleschi.

This can happen in any religion. Back in the Middle Ages, the Crusaders were the terrorists of their day, slaughtering innocent people in the name of their supposed faith. In one horrible case, they killed Armenian Christians in Jerusalem just because they didn’t look like the sort of Christians they were used to. Whenever we start treating people in other cultures as “foreign” or “other” than ourselves, we start thinking of them as less than human, and it becomes all too easy to justify persecution or prejudice or worse.

This can only be overcome by understanding the others – getting to know them personally and seeing that we are more alike than different, that we have much in common. This trip to Indonesia has had that benefit for me, as I hoped it would. I tried to see all the people I met as potential friends if I could just learn how to communicate with them. We have common ground to build on.

Large temple-s

A large Buddhist temple in southern Taiwan.

This journey is not over, and I will continue to explore Buddhism and Hinduism as I travel to Yogyakarta and Bali later this week. I will report more fully on these ideas once my trip to Indonesia is over.

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Jakarta Day 7: Sunday, July 30, 2017

View from hotel

Traffic in Jakarta as seen from the Le Meridien Hotel. I had gotten used to clear skies and stars in Banjarmasin, and Jakarta seemed very crowded and smoggy now that I was back.

Our flight back to Jakarta was uneventful. We landed and pulled in toward the terminal building, but there was no room at the jetways so buses came and got us to the terminal. I was separated from Craig because the bus door closed right behind me, but we met again at the baggage claim. I got a luggage cart (I’m beginning to know where everything is in Terminal 3) and we got our bags. We were met by a taxi driver with our names on an iPad, and we walked with him up the elevator to the parking garage. Our ride had been arranged in advance by Sarah Sever. She’s really good at the details.

Walking to dinner

On our way to dinner after our return to Jakarta. We had a lot of stories to tell about our nine days in the field.

We drove back to the Le Meridién Hotel and got our new rooms. I’m on the 8th floor in room 820 this time. We had several hours before our reunion/welcome back dinner, so I laid down and tried to sleep but wasn’t very tired. Plus they were doing some construction work on a nearby room and it was noisy with hammers and buzz saws. I worked on these blog posts and uploaded photos. I went downstairs and got the TGC bag out of the Concierge room.

Walking to dinner 2

Another photo of us walking to dinner. We were anxious to talk and share our experiences now that we were back together.

At 5:00 we met in the lobby downstairs and were all excited to share our experiences. Matt and Doug were the last ones to arrive after another eight hour drive. They and some others had been to Borobudur yesterday with long drives, and another long drive today. My trip to Loksado didn’t seem so bad now.

Nikki Sarah Novianti

Nikki, Sarah, Novianti, and Anu at our Italian dinner.

We boarded a Pariwisata bus and traveled to an Italian restaurant. All the other teachers have been using an app called WhatsApp as they all have smart phones (except Anu and I) to communicate with each other and send photos while we’ve been on our field experiences. As they talked about some of the funny things they’ve been saying back and forth, I felt a bit left out of the loop, as I had known none of this. Yes, I do need to get a smart phone and join the revolution.

Group at dinner

Our cohort group at the Italian restaurant upon our return to Jakarta.

I had crab linguini and wasn’t expecting to have it actually stuffed into a crab shell. It was not quite as good as I had hoped, as it didn’t really taste very Italian to me. Matt’s birthday had been two days before, so we sang happy birthday and had cake. He got some black and white balloons.

The atmosphere was very relaxed and fun. I talked with Jenn who was sitting to my left. She is from northern Louisiana and actually knows the people who star in Duck Dynasty – they live just down the road, but their house is much nicer than the one shown in the show. I’ve never watched it, and have no desire to do so.

Crab linquini

My crab linguini. I wasn’t expecting it to come complete with crab shell, and was a bit more spicy than I thought.

We walked back through the lobby of the plaza where the restaurant is located and re-boarded the bus. Our trip back to the hotel was fairly short for Jakarta. Although I still didn’t feel like going to my room, I didn’t see anything else to do, so I called it a night.

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Borneo Day 10: Sunday, July 30, 2017

 

Breakfast buffet

The breakfast buffet at the Swiss Belhotel. I especially liked the fresh pineapple and bananas.

Our flight back to Jakarta was in the late morning, so we had some time. Nazar, his wife and daughters met us in the lobby and we packed up our bags after checking out of the hotel. I had to pay quite a bit for the two batches of laundry I’d sent out, but it was worth it. There are no self-serve Laundromats here.We drove out of town on Jalan A. Yani toward Banjarbaru and the airport. I’ve come to know this road and the businesses along it fairly well, as well as the city of Banjarmasin. This time we turned into the airport. We unloaded the car and I found a baggage cart while Nazar parked the car. We were there in plenty of time, so we found a bench to sit down and talk.

We talked about the possibilities of collaborating on future projects with the teachers and students at SMAN 1 Mandastana, and Nazar said we probably could, and he would be willing to relay requests to the science or other teachers. His daughter has become less shy over the week we have been here and asked us a few questions, including why we don’t always finish all of our rice when we eat. That one caught me by surprise and I hadn’t even considered it. Here, rice is the staple food whereas we consider it to be a filler, a starch to be eaten if we’re still hungry after the main food.

When it came time to head through security, I went to say goodbye but Nazar said he doesn’t believe in goodbye, only in “See you later” because it’s a small world and you never know.

It has been an amazing nine days in Borneo.

Mural in Jakarta airport

Interesting mural in the Jakarta airport on our way back from Banjarmasin. There are some whimsical paintings to see here.

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Borneo Day 8: Friday, July 28, 2017

Bamboo raft on Amandit River

Amli, our guide, poling the raft through the rapids on the Amandit River in Meratus Mountains of southeast Borneo near Loksado.

This post describes one of the most incredible adventures of my life: a journey on a bamboo raft down a whitewater river through the rain forest in the mountains of southeast Borneo. We began in the village of Loksado high in the Meratus Mountains.

Walking to raft

Walking through the village of Loksado on our way to the starting point of our rafting trip.

Upon arrival at Loksado in Hulu Sengai Selatan Regency, we were greeted by our local guide named Amat. He had lived in the area for several years and knew the rafters well. He in turn introduced us to Amli, who would be our rafter and guide down the Amandit River.

David-Craig-Nazar-wife ready to raft

Myself, Craig Hendrick, Nazar and his wife at the headwaters of the Amandit River in Loksado, Borneo.

Loksado is a small village situated in the rain forest near the headwaters of the river, which is fairly shallow but runs over many small rapids on its way down through the hills. The local people have developed a style of raft that is ideally suited to these conditions. They take local bamboo, which is plentiful, and dry it for several months on the banks of the river. They then take strips of bamboo bark and use it like rawhide to bind the poles together in a flat bundle about 20 poles wide and maybe 25 feet long, slightly upturned at the front end. In the middle they build a seat that is large enough for three people although not very tall or comfortable. They then use a bamboo pole about ten feet long to push and steer the raft down the river.

Amli and organizer preparing

Amat and Amli preparing our raft for departure.

We climbed over the drying bamboo to reach our raft. I brought a plastic bag to wrap my camera bag inside, knowing it was likely to get wet, and kept my camera strap around my neck as we set off. Craig sat in front, I in the middle, and Nazar behind as Amli pushed off from the bank.

Starting out

Amli uses a bamboo pole to push us off from the bank as we begin our journey down the Amandit River in southeast Borneo.

The raft is not designed to stay dry, merely to skim the top of the water, staying shallow in draft and supporting the weight of 3-4 people. Water flowed over the bamboo logs and between them freely, and the whole raft was as flexible as a bundle of drinking straws. In fact, I think I will have my students use drinking straws to build models of the raft and use them to race down “rivers” we will make. This could be a nice engineering project: design a raft from wooden skewers or drinking straws that is flexible, able to handle a shallow river and run between the rocks in rapids, yet capable of supporting quite a bit of weight. No inflatable rubber rafts allowed. I couldn’t help but think how much my brother in law, Levi, who was a recreation major in college, an expert river rafter, and a professional photographer would enjoy this experience.

Raft construction

After 20 minutes on the river, we pulled over to transfer to a larger raft. I was able to get some close-up views of how the rafts are constructed. Bamboo logs about 20 feet long are tied together with strips of green bark tied to crosspieces, with a slight inward curve at each end. The seat is built as a piece and strapped onto the deck and will hold three people, although not very comfortably. A bamboo pole about eight feet long is used to push the raft along. The river is fairly shallow, with frequent rapids, and this style of construction allows the rafts to hold a great deal of weight while maintaining flexibility and a shallow draft. This is the only type of boat that can navigate this river.

We traveled down through several small rapids and calm spots for about 20 minutes. There were developed areas, built up embankments, and a few resorts along the river. We stopped at one of these, and I thought the trip was done. But we were only changing rafts for a bigger model. Once we had moved to the new raft, we set out again.

Amli poling raft

Amli poles the raft ahead through a calm area. He plants the bamboo pole into the riverbed, then pushes on the pole while walking backward on the long front section of the raft, thus propelling the raft forward.

We left all signs of civilization behind. There were no more villages or signs of people except for an occasional wooden or bamboo bridge across the river and a few huts where people had tried to farm. Most of the time, we saw nothing to mark the wilderness. This was the rain forest that I had come to see, and each bend in the river brought more incredible views with such rich shades of green that my eyes could hardly take them in. Usually we could not see beyond the plants growing along the river, but from time to time views of mountains and clouds and tall jungle canopies presented themselves. The sky had been overcast from the morning rain, but soon cleared to a brilliant blue broken by fluffy cumulous.

Amandit River view

View along the Amandit River in the Meratus Mountains of southeast Borneo. There were frequent rapids interspersed by short sections of calm water. No photos can adequately capture the intense greens of the rain forest canopy as we rode deeper into the wilderness.

Most of the plants we saw were bananas, coconuts, rubber trees, and a plant that looked very much like sugar cane but wasn’t. There were thick trees with tangled roots hanging over the river, and thick bundles of bamboo growing very tall. Some trees with whitish trunks grew up over 70 feet, competing with the coconut trees for the top of the canopy. There were ferns and cycads and many other plants I couldn’t identify.

Loksado area-s

A map of the Amandit River and our route through the rainforest. We started at Loksado and floated down the river past several small bridges (marked here where the paths intersect the river). It took us two hours to reach the take-out point. The Dayak village we visited (see the next post) was across the river from Loksado in Malaris.

At one point I heard a small sound and spied a large, black lizard climbing out of the water. I took some photos of it but none of them turned out to where you could tell what it was.

Approaching rapids

Amli guides the raft expertly between the rocks as we approach a series of rapids. He knew every rock and bend in the river and how to navigate the large raft along the main currents.

Amli navigated the raft expertly between the rocks of each rapid we traversed. He obviously knew this river well, and steered us through the main channel. When we reached a calm spot, he would push the raft by sticking his pole into the sand below, then walking backward on the raft, pushing the pole to propel us forward. Where the water was too deep (he showed us this by pushing the pole deep into the water and having it float back up) he used the pole like a paddle. In the rapids and along the banks, he used the pole to push off rocks.

Meratus mountain view

A view of the Meratus Mountains as seen from the Amandit River in southeast Borneo. This was an unusual gap in the canopy; in most areas, the coconut, bamboo, and banana trees crowded the banks.

I wish I could adequately use words to describe the beauty and vibrant sense of life along the river. It was a two-hour trip that I will never forget. We were the only ones rafting today, and Amli said it varies from day to day how many people come. The governor of the province has built one of the resorts in Loksado, but it seems under utilized or advertised as no one seemed to be there. There are very few professional tour guides and no public transportation that reaches here; you have to know someone who is a friend of the local people such as Amat to arrange this and who can drive you from Banjarmasin, which has the closest airport and major hotels. I have to hand it to Nazar for having these connections and setting this up. This is a major potential tourist destination that is virtually unknown. This is the first time he has ever done rafting before. This should not surprise me; there are many people in Utah who have never rafted the Green River either, and it takes about the same amount of time to get there. You also need connections to rent the rafts and get the gear.

Around the river bend

The rain forest canopy leans over the Amandit River as we round a bend.

As we traveled further down the river another hour we began to see more signs of human activity. There were occasional cleared areas with small huts along the hillsides. Amli explained that local people use slash and burn methods to clear the rain forest, then plant cassava in the clearings. Since the jungle is gone which holds in the soil, rain will wash down into the river along with any nutrients the soil holds, and the cassava fields will only grow for a few years before new areas must be cleared.

Cassava slash and burn

Slash and burn agriculture along the Amandit River in the rain forest of southeast Borneo. The green plants behind the hut are cassava, which quickly deplete the soil so that new swathes must be cleared by burning down the trees. The bare area to the left is ready for planting more cassava. Much of Borneo’s rainforest is quickly disappearing due to slash and burn agriculture or for the planting of palm oil plantations.

We saw more frequent bridges and a few small villages. A man and his wife passed us pushing their raft up the river. These people may seem lost in a remote wilderness, but they want the same comforts as us all. One hopeful point is that they are using solar voltaic cells to power their homes. They are about as far off the grid as it gets.

The old bridge

As we traveled further down the river, the signs of civilization became more frequent, such as this old bridge leading to a few huts along the river. It reminds me of the bridge in Emperor’s New Groove.

We asked if we could pose with the bamboo pole, and Amli told us to wait until we reached a long calm spot, then we traded places on the raft to pose. It is like trying to stand up in a kayak, but a bit more stable. I was beginning to get sunburned – I brought sunscreen to Kalimantan with me, but forgot to apply it today even though I did put on a thick coat of bug spray. The sun was hot but the air was cool and refreshing, much nicer than the humidity down in the lowlands and I didn’t realize I was getting sunburned until it was too late.

Craig with pole

Craig Hendrick posing on the raft. We asked Amli if we could take a turn at pushing the raft. He waited until a quiet spot and let us pose. It is trickier than it looks to keep your balance on the flexible raft. Notice how the water comes up through the bamboo poles.

After two hours on the river we reached a group of houses and another bridge and Amli pushed us to the shore, where Amat and Budi waited for us. We clambered off the raft and climbed up to the waiting minivan. I had kept my black shoes on, and they and the bottom part of my pants and my butt were soaked from the water splashing onto the raft as we ran the rapids. But I didn’t care if I was a bit squishy.

We're in trouble now

We’re in trouble now! It’s harder than you might think to balance on these flexible rafts. Sitting on the central seat, water would often splash up as we shot down the rapids and I got a bit wet. Looks like I had an accident. These shoes were already worn out, so I threw them away after this journey.

I would recommend this rafting trip to anyone with the means to arrange it. We paid a very small price for an unforgettable experience. I will treasure the hundreds of photos and video clips I took. I had to keep mentally pinching myself all the way down the river because I thought I must be dreaming, and in my dreams will frequently return to this voyage through the rainforest on a bamboo raft. When I think that someone from a small town in the desert of western Utah could ever be in a tropical rainforest, doing what I’ve done today; I would never have believed it.

Rocks in river

Rocks and rapids along the Amandit River in southeast Borneo. I still cannot believe I had the opportunity to do this!

David with pole

I don’t think I’m doing this quite right. It takes practice and balance to pole the raft along. I got a bit sunburnt but the air was refreshingly cool as we traveled along the river.

Rain forest

Another view of the rainforest along the Amandit River. As nice as these photos are, they cannot convey the sense of brilliant green life surrounding the river.

Poling up the river

A husband and wife team poling their raft up the river. These were the only people we saw going upstream, and this only at the lower end of the river.

Poling raft in rain forest

The plants along the river here look very similar to sugarcane but are not. In some areas the banks were relatively flat, in others steep and overhung with trees.

Kids with raft

Children playing with their own raft at a village along the Amandit River.

Coconut canopy

Coconut palms form a major part of the rainforest canopy along the Amandit River in southeast Borneo.

Bamboo canopy

Bamboo grows profusely along the river, along with wild coconut and banana trees. There is a plant that also looks like sugarcane but isn’t, and tall, thin trees such as this one with tannish gray trunks.

Bridge at take out point

As we traveled down the river, villages and bridges became more numerous as the river curved back toward the main road. Once we reached this point, after two hours on the river, we pushed to the side of the stream and climbed out

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