Greenpeace Southeast Asia

The King of the Jungle by Chuck Baclagon

Earlier this week – myself and four other guys set out from the Climate Defenders Camp to join a team already in the field preparing for a couple of giant banners to be displayed in the peat swamps of Riau, urging both Sarkozy and Merkel to do their bit to make history in Copenhagen.

We were leaving at 0430 of course nobody was up, everyone was knackered from the last couple of days intense activity to finish the camp and be ready for the opening yesterday…which we were. I wasn’t going to miss this though and I had to wake all the boys up to at least try to come somewhere close to the departure time. Bleary eyed, no coffee and we were off to the pick up point in Teluk Binjai. Dark and foggy the boat team did well to keep us from hitting any stray logs or other obstacles in the river and we were climbing up the bank ready to wake Doni up, our driver. By 0530 we were on the road, well it’s not really a road, gravel and dirt, we were running a bit late so Doni was stretching things a bit in places. We got to the site of the place we now call stupid stupid, so called by our Indonesian colleagues after the work we did a month ago for the global premier of the Age of Stupid and a live cross to 500 cinemas across North America. I like the name Stupid Stupid, it is absolute trashed peatland, burnt only a few months ago for Acacia plantation conversion, and it’s just plain stupid.

And into the trashed peatland we went. This place is worse than Mordor, burnt stumps, fallen trees, nothing standing and a big canal to drain it all so that the acacia can grow. You have to try and step on burnt logs and branches because if you don’t you sink knee deep into the boggy swamp.

We stepped knee deep into the boggy swamp all the time, that is all of us except Ugang one of the volunteers from Kuala Cenaku who just seemed to skip through it and walk along branches and dead trees as if it were entirely normal, as well as being in bare feet! Unbelievable. It was slow going and I was glad it was still cool, only about 25 degrees celcius, and after half an hour when we crossed the first drainage canal I was a bit disappointed to look back at the road and see Doni by the 4WD only 200m away from us, so close I swear I could see him laughing in the gloom. The day before the boys had to negotiate this hell but also had to transport two 70kg banners as well. They did this by hiring a couple of local guys with canoes and got them to paddle against the canal current, while walking next to them and lifting the dead trees which had fallen over the canal.

One hour in and progress got a bit faster, Ugang had found a sort of path where the peat had started to dry from the drainage (good for the acacia and climate change, bad for the tigers and anything else that may have lives there) and walking was a little easier but we were still only one kilometre from the road, totally black from supporting yourself on tree stumps, I could still see Doni laughing. The fog started to lift, and the temperature started to get up, well over 30 by now and rising and exposing the wasteland for what it was….stupid stupid. Ugang was still firing on all cylinders while the rest of us were dropping back. Then back into the wet peat just to make it hard again. I think I lost about 5 litres in sweat getting to the overnight camp and it took over two hours in the end but I was sure glad to close to where the guys were, getting ready for the banner deployement for the helicopter which was leaving from Pekanbaru to get the shots. 35 degrees and climbing.

The last 200 metres. This was where the guys had unrolled the banners into a worm and carried it the final step, single file that morning. Only problem was there was no way of stepping on burnt trees, this was knee deep all the way. The day before we had cleared the dead and burnt trees, 50 X 50 metres to accommodate these whoppers, it was over 40 degrees. We didn’t quite get to where I wanted to because of masses of swarming bees, so we pulled back a little. I think everyone was quite happy about that.

The first banner is already laid out, ready to go. A picture of Sarkoy on a bank cheque for 30 billion Euro, what we think this protection is going to take to save the forests and the climate. The boys strategically placed around the edge of this 40 x 20 metre thing. We practice, it looks bloody good from where I am.

It was hard to look good myself though by this time, totally soaked with peat bog and sweat and black with soot, great says Kasan, time for a piece to camera Rob he says, yeh right, you gotta be joking, that was never part of the plan….no, not at all just wipe that black shit off your face and you’ll be right, took me a dozen attempts. Got there in the end. I’ve seen it, I look like shit.

Then the blades of the chopper can be heard, Mr Y standing on a stump, bare chested yelling to the team for all he’s worth “TARIK! TARIK“ which simply means pull the bugger as tight as you can here comes the helicopter. Banner goes tight and Ardiles gets the shots hanging out the side of the chopper with the door open. Mr C (in the heli) and Mr Y talking by radio….with beautiful correct radio protocol (Tom our radio op would have been proud), choreographing between each other the shots. Must have been a good dozen passes, then back to Pekanbaru, refuel and head back for the second banner, this time an evil stylised pic of Merkel “climate change starts here, less talk more money”….and an hour later and a few litres of water and we do it all again. It’s not easy rolling up something this size and getting the second one out but that’s just what we did.

Round two went like clockwork and it was off to get the pics and footage back as fast as we could and get them to Europe for use. Myself and Kasan were lucky, we got the canoe ride back, the boys had to get the banners out and hike back…still 40 degrees. They were back by 1800 at the camp, plenty of back slapping and story telling, Mr Y showed pictures of the last two days, he’d documented it all and a fine essay it was. Everyone slept well that night after the debrief.

Now we head into the next activity, damming canals, climate change starts there and we’re gonna stop it.

By history as I said at the beginning of this, what I mean is that these leaders have opportunity at Copenhagen to make a difference for the forests and the climate, to put money on the table in an effort to halt the rampant deforestation in places like Indonesia which help to make this particular country the 3rd big emitter of CO2 on the planet. I’m hopeful. Stupid, stupid.

>>To see the banners and read more about what the Climate Defenders have been up to in the forest click here


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