"2011? That's a serious case of procrastination!", ..a friends reaction on my plan to write a blogpost about our trip to Borneo in June 2011. In years, yes it is! But by now we can really see the effect this journey had on us. It literally changed our lives. On so many levels. I think this is the perfect time to share this pretty awesome story. It's probably my longest post ever, so take your time!
In 2011 we decided to switch to a greener energy supplier (Eneco). A partner to the World Wide Fund (WNF for Dutchies) and to highlight that partnership there was a contest where you could win a special trip to Borneo. Stefan entered and forgot about it. Then, a few months later he noticed an email in his spam folder, saying we were selected to compete with some other Eneco customers on a special day in Blijdorp zoo, Rotterdam. He read the email one day before the deadline. The first thing I said when I heard we were competing was: "WE'RE GOING TO BORNEO!!" Talk about getting ahead of yourself.. ;)
In may 2011 we arrived early morning at Blijdorp. The day had 2 rounds, the first was a photo contest, the second was a presentation. We got a small camera to make a photo in the theme 'Energy'. I can tell you this: photographing yawning, chilling and sleeping animals early in the morning.. easy! Energetic animals however, not so much. But we succeeded to snap a parrot in flight. The jury (with a.o. the editor-in-chief of National Geographic, aaaah!) picked ours as one of the best and we made it to the next round! After the presentation round a nerve wrecking end result followed and out came the big word: WE WON!! I was so excited, I cried immediately. I'm such a softie. (also: told you so Stefan!)
A month later, we boarded the plane to Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. Our company: Martijn (he won the Eneco-employee-part of the contest), his neighbor Rob, Ellen (WWF) and cameraman Kevin (New Earth Films). Yes, a cameraman. Because the whole trip would be filmed and documented, for WWF, Eneco and National Geographic.
During our trip we visited several WWF projects, such as the replanting of a rainforest, an orangutan shelter, small rattan & rubber farms in a remote village and an island south of Java where people work hard to keep the last 60 Javan rhino's alive. Total heroes.
We also saw palm oil plantations. Small ones, but still impressive. And not in a good way. Big companies burn down the rainforest to grow palms. Animals loose their home, their food, their life. Ancient forest turned into ashes. These plantations are the biggest reason for the deforestation of Indonesia. More about what you can do about this at the end of the blog!
See that pointy triangle shaped mountain? That's Krakatau, an active volcano. After the sun set, the true magic happened. See for yourself in the photo below!
Told you, magical!
The entire journey was one hectic and emotional rollercoaster. We travelled for 10 days, including two sleepless 24 hour flights. We got up at 6 almost every day, sat in cars, boats and canoes for hours, hiked, walked back and forth for the camera, told our story, and made a thousand photos. We ate our weight in rice, veggies and freshly caught fish, tried crazy hot homemade sambal and durian (NEVER again!), drank warm ginger milk at night, had banana cake on a boat at the edge of the Indian Ocean during sunset, dined with countless geckos above our heads and enjoyed the endless hospitality and kindness of the locals.
But most of all we had an experience of a lifetime, seeing these WWF projects up close. We feel incredible lucky we got to do this. And we had the best time! I can honestly say we made friends for life. We belong to a pretty special group of people that will always be connected because of this extraordinary trip.
Emotional 'lowlight': walking on a palm oil plant, where the ground was still smouldering and everything smelled like smoke. The massive trees of the old rainforest visible in the background, you could see the clear difference between the forest and these lifeless monoculture fields.
Emotional highlight: seeing a wild orangutan, in the freshly planted rainforest. We were some lucky prizewinners, because the local WWF crew was looking for it for months!
After the journey our story was published in National Geographic magazine, Panda, Quest and the local newspaper. Nat Geo also aired a short infomercial about this 'Expedition Borneo' during the Summer. So bizarre to see your own face on tv! But also so cool we got to share all this with lots of people!
What we saw in Borneo planted some very important seeds in our minds. When we got home our main question was: What can WE do? The answer was quite simple. We can eat less meat and more local produce.
After a while, we stopped eating animals. And we reduced our use of fruit & veggies from across the world. We started to pay more attention to bio/eco brands, shop second hand, plant flowers for bees, buy package-free if we can, recycle and try to share interesting things that can raise awareness. Like this story. The truth is, it started small but it keeps adding up. There is still so much to be discovered!
If you want some tips or recommendations on green living, feel free to leave a comment!
The palm oil thing is a tricky one. It's in almost everything, from cookies to shampoo. And although Dutch companies are doing okay-ish on the sustainable palm oil front, it's hard to see wether or not there's 100% sustainable palm oil in a product. We just keep our eyes open and go for alternatives if there are any. If you want to know more about this, check out this page on the WWF website.
If you read nothing else than this last sentences: there is no such thing as a drop of water in a ocean. You can make a difference. You alone. I know it's easy to say: "oh, but what can I do? I'm just one person". But a lot of one persons together.. after all, the ocean wouldn't exist without countless of single drops.
Photos by Anne van Midden / Okta Simon (wild orangutan) / Ellen Hendrix / don't use without permission!
PS: curious about the infomercial that aired on National Geographic? Watch it below!