Dawn in Borneo

balicareen_1999 (Medium)

The 32-foot ketch Tosca is careened for a coat of bottom paint in Benoa Harber, Bali.

Date: January 1999

Place: Bali to Borneo (Indonesia)


Dawn in Borneo. Fat drops of rain, blessed rain, splatter on the deck of our ketch, Tosca. A blanket of clouds hangs low overhead, rose-petal pink to the east and gun-metal blue to the west. The swelling Kumai River slips silently beneath the hull. Its tannin-stained waters carry dead leaves and fallen limbs.

Anchored along the eastern bank, Tosca lies at the edge of a dark green labyrinth where our water world vanishes. The shoreline reveals a thin patch of spongy peat quickly consumed by a nipa palm swamp. Beyond the palms, mountainous lumps of impenetrable hardwood hammocks belie the region’s irrefutable flatness. Every green thing seems engaged in mortal combat. Branches and roots crawl with successively smaller biota competing for whatever light penetrates this place. The air, thick with the smell of honey-scented flowers and filled with the constant whining buzz of cicadas, rests heavy in the palm of my hand. Each bird’s cry sounds to me like a plea for help. Welcome to Kumai, Kalimantan, in Indonesian Borneo. The heart of darkness, indeed. Continue reading