I’m ten days away from my flight home to Wales from this incredible, diverse, wild and destroyed nation that is called Indonesia. I travelled here with one aim, to document and investigate the effects that the Palm Oil industry is having on biodiversity and communities- and to bring the story home, through film, photography and word.
Indonesia has lost almost half of it’s rainforest in my lifetime. Sumatra in western Indonesia has been one of the islands that has been affected the most by the industry- with the land once 80% forest, today only an estimated 20% remain, with most of that in the Aceh region in the north. This seemed like the appropriate place to start the documentary, so after three dusty and noisy days in Medan, I made the eight hour journey north to Ketambe.
The four days and three nights I spent in the rainforest, walking deeper into the jungle each day, will be 96 hours that I’ll treasure for along time. Walking among trees older than five generations of your family is an experience that took my breath away- trees intertwined, huge, reaching up for meters into the sky before bursting into bright green leaves where Tomas leaf monkeys hung around. Snakes, birds, frogs, life growing out of the rotten trees that carpeted the floor- rivers raging, waterfalls, hot springs, starry nights and thunder. I had an amazing guide, that spoke honestly about the changes he has seen in his life time, and about the changes he foresees happening in the future. He gave 35 years for this forest in the Gunung Leuser National Park.
Travelling in Indonesia has the essence of also travelling through time- and as I made my way back to Medan and west to Bukit Lawang, it felt as if I had jumped in a time machine and was in the future of how Aceh might look in a few years. For miles from Medan to the village I was visiting stood rows and rows of Palm Oil. I learnt later that it was the London Sumatra Estate.
I had travelled to Timbang Lawan, a village that is situated on the border of the south part of the Gunung Leuser in North Sumatra, to meet Darma. Darma is the founder of the inspiring initiative, ‘Nature for Change’ – the idea to create this initiative came from the realisation that in order to save the forest, the survival of people living near the buffer zone needs to be addressed too. I spent almost a week, exploring the area and documenting the amazing work that Darma is doing in his community to make sure that the land stays in the hands of the local farmers, and to lower the human/animal conflict as much as possible. I was sad to leave his family and I had grown fond of the area, but it was time to leave Sumatra and make my way to Kalimantan.
After a night in Pankalabun, I spent the next three nights and four days on the Sakonyar River in Central Kalimantan, travelling to the world famous Camp Leakey. Orangutans are on the edge of extinction, and I had travelled here to document the work that the Tanjung Puting National Park are doing to ensure their survival in the wild. Visiting many feeding platforms along the river I also saw an amazing verity of wildlife as well as the tens of the red headed apes. From the sky, to the trees, to the ground and the water, the place was alive with wildlife. I saw kingfishers, hornbills, storm stalks, a crocodile, Prombisg monkey, lesser adjutant, silver langur, boar, bark deer – the list goes on. And it was another reminder of the diversity of life that is lost every day as the rainforest disappears.
After a few days exploring Pontianak and Singkawan, I flew to Sulwasei. The last island, and it is where I am now, documenting life in one of the island that hasn’t been affected by the industry- from the costal village in the south east up to the highlands of Toraja in the centre, to see how people live without the industry which has taken so much from Sumatra and Kalimantan.
To read about Palm Oil- I have put together a list of informative links here: https://www.olewdrwg.com/links
If there was 36 hours in a day, this blog would of been bilingual, but unfortunately there is not, and since a simple google search of the words ‘palm oil’ springs up ‘about 18,000,000 results in 0.67 seconds- I think there is enough content already out there to discuss the issue of Palm Oil in the English language. I believe this is an issue that needs to be spoken about in every language, in every country- the important thing is that it’s spoken about.
Together we can change things!
This journey was made possible by the amazing gang at the Alpine Coffee Shop in Betws y Coed. If you want to enjoy tasty food, in a relaxed atmosphere and be sure that there is no Palm Oil close to it- head over there!