Beyond its fishing potential and role as bath (and ‘bathroom’), the river is also just a great place to be. After spending time in the damp and often dim forest—its many wonders notwithstanding—it always feels good to sit by the river. The air is slightly drier, and where the river is wide enough, it cuts a narrow chasm in the green roof of trees. These breaks in the canopy let in welcome rays of hot sunlight, enough to dry clothes on makeshift washing lines.
Last week, we had some visitors to the camp: my wife, Kinari, and friends Hotlin and Karen. Kinari is a physician and the founder of Health in Harmony, a human health and forest conservation organization. Dr. Hotlin Ompusunggu is a dentist and the director of the Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) clinic, the local operation linked to Health in Harmony, and Karen was teaching local midwives as a volunteer. Dr. Hotlin, representing ASRI, is a finalist for one of the 2011 Whitley Awards (aka “Green Oscars”). She will be leaving next week for the UK to meet Princess Anne, and possibly Sting and David Attenborough! Since we were already set up here, our camp offered her a good opportunity to explore one of the more pristine areas of the Park.
The highlight of their visit was a group trip downriver to the Riam Parit waterfall, or rather “waterchute.” After a heavy, early afternoon downpour (which, interestingly, barely raised the river level at all—the hydrological buffering role of a healthy forest)—we hiked along riverbank for a half hour through the leech-rich riparian forest. The sun lined up perfectly to throw golden beams through the steam rising from the warm, damp rocks. We waded across the river just above the falls, and carefully made our way down the other side over slippery boulders. The water has cut a deep groove though the granite; hence “parit,” or channel. Numerous circular holes dot the surface of the rocks like cauldrons. These are filled with large, rounded rocks which be formed when the river is in spate: the swift current apparently drives the contained rocks round and round in their holes, but without washing them out; thus these perfect cylinders are ground into the bedrock.
Below the falls is a large, very deep pool. I dove down a few meters in the relatively clear water using Endro’s mask again, but could see nothing but an ominous blackness—probably caused by a thick layer of rotting leaf matter at the bottom of the pool. Semi-serious jokes about water monsters shot back and forth. However, the purpose of this trip was to pluck up enough courage to leap into the rushing water chute as it entered the pool, and eventually everyone rose to the challenge. Dr. Hotlin was fearless, an attitude we hope helps her win in the UK next week.