Iim of the Jungle: The Best Guide in Kalimantan

Iim, aka Rambo, was to be our guide and companion for the four days and three nights that we were in Tanjung Puting National Park in the Borneo Rainforest. And it turned out that we had selected the best guide in Kalimantan.

Trekking in Camp Leakey Trekking in Camp Leakey Trekking in Camp Leakey Camp Leakey

Well, correction: not we. Toni had selected the best guide in Kalimantan. After all, it was Toni who did all the planning for the whole trip.

(above photos from left to right: 1. We encountered Peta the orangutan during our trek in Camp Leakey. Iim was asking her if we could take some photos. 2. Iim, Toni, Omar and Yoko by the entrance of Camp Leakey. 3. Iim “King of the Jungle” taking an alternative route using the vines. 4. To Iim, even the ugliest creatures are “beautiful butterflies”.)

You can read here about our group and each person’s role in the tour.

On only our second day in Indonesia, we landed in Pangkalan Bun after flying from Jakarta, and Iim was there waiting for us at the airport. He put the four of us in two cars and we sped off to the river 30 minutes away.

You can read here about that eventful car journey and our first experience of the rainforest.

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Iim sat with us on the klotok as we waited for the torrential rain to cease so we could set off. And he told us briefly what to expect.

“Today you will see orangutans,” he said matter-of-factly. Before we could get too excited he continued. “Tonight you will sleep here.” He gestured around the deck where we were sitting.

Despite it being 11am it was dark where we were sitting. The rain was belting down harder than I’d ever seen it. The polythene sides of the boat were down and were flapping about in the wind. The rain was dripping through the roof quicker than the crew could stop it due to the sheer weight of the water. We were beginning to shiver because we’d had a brief soaking as we had boarded.

As we looked around the boat, our faces clearly did not reflect the joy that Iim was expecting. “Don’t worry,” he chuckled. “We will put a mosquito net.”

Ah, that made it alright then.

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On our first day in Kalimantan, when we got to Feeding Station 1 it was clear that Iim was king of the jungle: he knew EVERYTHING and kept diverging from the trail to show us carnivorous plants, tarantula holes and other magnificent wonders of the rainforest.

Our guide in Kalimantan was 34 years old, though he looked much younger. He was married with a one-year-old son and lived in a tiny village not far from Pangkalan Bun. That said, he had not done much living there for the past two months as he had been out constantly with groups like us on klotoks. He told us that after our trip he hadn’t taken more bookings for a while because he desperately needed a rest.

Guide in Kalimantan with instincts to match any wild animal

Iim had been working in Camp Leakey (where we would also be going on this trip) for eight years before he became a guide. He left Camp Leakey so that he could be at home more with his family. You see, due to Camp Leakey’s location deep in the jungle far away from any villages, the rangers there live on-site in bungalows and they generally stay there for three months at a time or more.

Iim had not exactly been a ranger at Camp Leakey when he had worked there; he had been a researcher, though he told us that he did a bit of everything.

When we visited Camp Leakey for the first time, the warden, rangers and other guides greeted Iim as Rambo. It was easy to see why: he was short and stocky, with tattoos down his muscular arms, long hair with a sweatband around his head. He grinned and joked with them. Everyone knew Rambo. And it was clear to see that all had respect and even awe for him.

On our second day at Camp Leakey Iim took us on a trek through the rainforest. He told us that when he worked at Camp Leakey he used to follow the same 3-4 hour route on which he was taking us now, in order to look for wild orangutans.

Whenever Iim took us into the rainforest, it was easy to see that his instincts were every bit as tuned as any wild animal in the jungle; he could spot a bird, butterfly or even jumping frog right through the woods. As soon as he heard or saw the tiniest movement he would come to a dead halt, bringing us all to a crashing, crunching stop behind him, like a herd of baby elephants.

He would turn very slowly towards whatever he had sensed, and then he’d be off, charging through the thick forest with us all thrashing behind him trying to keep up.

He would always be right and we would always see some rare insect or tiny animal that he had spotted from over 20m away.

Once, during the night walk (yes, we went on a night walk in the jungle!) he did exactly that; he stopped dead on the footpath and then charged off into the forest beckoning us. The last thing I had wanted to do was leave the path in the pitch darkness to go exploring the deeper woods. There could be tarantulas, snakes, anything…

“Yes, of course there are tarantulas and snakes,” he assured us scornfully. We followed anyway; turned out the last thing I wanted to do was wait alone on the main footpath.

What he’d seen was a jumping frog. It wasn’t jumping through, it was dead still on a tree. “I saw its eyes,” he told us. Then he made a grab for it. He was always grabbing creatures to show us.

Whenever we saw something horrible-looking with wings, he’d grab it to show us: “It’s a beautiful butterfly,” he said to us one night on the boat when he had hold of something that had flown onto our boat. It most certainly was not a beautiful butterfly. It was such a big ugly thing that we’d all been afraid to walk past it to go to the toilet! But to Iim everything was beautiful, and this was such an endearing quality.

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Driving down the river with our guide in Kalimantan was quite an experience. Iim would perch at the front of the boat smoking and looking, looking and smoking. He’d be perfectly still and relaxed apart from his eyes darting from one side of the river to the other trying to spot things to show us. He would sit there regardless of whether it was pouring with rain or scorching hot.

Guide in kalimantan

Iim watching for monkeys in the trees

Spotting crocodiles with our guide in Kalimantan

Iim would point out monkeys in the trees, birds and even almost completely submerged crocodiles. The first time Iim spotted a crocodile no one else saw it and we were inclined to think that he had made it up or imagined it.

The second time he spotted a crocodile Omar saw it too and Iim made the captain stop the boat and go back. Then we all saw two beady eyes just above the water and the huge jaw lazily swinging open and snapping closed again just beneath the surface.

You can read more about the wildlife we encountered in the jungle here.

Iim told us how at night, the crocodiles stay in the water to keep warm and during the day, if it is sunny, they often bask in the sunshine for the same reason.

“Never swim in these waters…” he often warned us.

Once, it was stifling hot and we we moving down the river. We were desperate for a shower after having been out in the forest all morning. We had just crossed from the Sekonyer River to the Camp Leakey River and the water was so clean and fresh-looking that it was all we could do to stop ourselves from leaping off for a dip. Iim was firm and wasn’t having any of it, even when we went past another boat that had stopped for all its passengers to jump of and refresh in the delicious water. He was right though: about ten minutes further down the river we saw a crocodile.

“Never swim in these waters…”

guide in kalimantan

Never swim in these waters

The most knowledgeable guide in Kalimantan

He told us about the eating and mating habits of just about every inhabitant of the jungle. He knew the names of everything we saw in Bahasa, English and Spanish.

Iim was a mine of information about his surroundings and his beloved rainforest. Some of the things he told us only a true expert would know. For instance, when we went on the night walk with him he was poking twigs into tarantula holes to provoke them so they would come out and show themselves. And they did indeed come out. And we did indeed see their big furry grey bodies and huge hairy legs.

The next day during the trek at Camp Leakey when we saw another tarantula hole during the day when they don’t tend to come out, I casually asked Iim what would happen if a tarantula bit one of us.

“Well the poison would spread around your body and kill you,” he said matter-of-factly. “You’d only have a couple of hours to live.” This from the man who just the night before had been prodding sticks into their lairs to see if they would come out to say hello.

He confirmed that from where we were we would never get to a hospital in time, but that in his village some old people have a magical potion which they could apply after digging all the poison out with a knife.

As reassuring as that sounded, we were too far from Iim’s village too to be able to reach the magic potion in time.

“What we would do,” he said warming up to the theme. “Would be to tie something like this rattan [he indicated the thin length of twine he had been making jewellery for us with] really tight around the infected area to stop the blood flow so that the poison wouldn’t spread to the main arteries.” Apparently we would then dig the poison out ourselves with his deer-horn handled knife and then go and find some old people with magic potions.

How happy I was that I had asked!

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Not just the best guide in Kalimantan but also expert jewellery maker

Orangutans - Borneo Rainforest - Kalimantan, Indonesia

Iim showing Omar how to make jungle jewellery

Iim made us intricately woven bracelets, rings and even earrings from the stem of a flexible plant, from which he first removed all the leaves and then split straight down the centre to make a long twine. He would then manipulate it into jewellery, painstakingly weaving it and plaiting it, creating beautiful pieces of art that we were all soon adorned with.

It had been his grandfather who had taught him this skill, he told us. His grandfather had also taught him to climb trees to get fruit. He told us how he rarely buys food during whole seasons because he can climb up the trees and help himself.

A truly native guide in Kalimantan

Iim was from the Dayak tribe, he told us. There are many people from different cultures now in Kalimantan, but the Dayak people are the natives to Borneo.

The Dayak people are known for their rice wine and he had some with him, which he proudly produced each evening after dinner for us to enjoy. It was like paint-stripper and we could generally just manage a sip.

He told us that the rice wine was drank at village celebrations like weddings and festivals when the whole village congregates in the long-house, which he showed us on the way back to the airport, and each family brings their own homemade rice wine. They all share and compare and there’s a bit of a competition.

Iim told us that he himself had never left Borneo Island or Kalimantan.

This is just one post of twenty that make up the Rainforest Blog.
Read the rest of it here.
I would like to remind you that all the photos used on InMyShoesTravel are my own unless otherwise stated.
You can see my whole collection of Travel Photos here.

Filed Under: asiafeaturedIndonesiaKalimantanRainforest

About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....

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  1. susan sykes says:

    What a fantastic blog and ‘Rambo’ sounds such a character bet you wouldn’t have seen half the things you did see without him as your guide

  2. Jessica says:

    Heck yeah, Iam is the best!!

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