It is great relief that I check out of the hotel where I have spent 72 hours killing time. The streets here are paved with plastic, the remains of the local market still hang on their corners, piles of waste picked through by children no older than three. The town devoid of distractions, lest that be eateries serving the same rehash of reheated Nasi Goreng, or the karaoke bars where the silent orchestra plays to a silent crowd. But why would I want to leave my air-conditioned cell, when even the air outside is filled with fug? The cocktail of leftover market produce, made pungent with ever-present humdrum humidity, is complimented by a forest fire haze. Half of Indonesia, it would seem, has been on fire since 3 months ago, and now the air is saturated with the memory of Kalimantan’s dwindling forests and peatlands.
The minivan takes me back county, back to basics and back in time. The never ending curtain call of palm oil plantations are slowly but surely replaced by rising green giants. The sight of these sentinels on the fringe of the forests elicits contrasting sensations within my chest. Somewhere close to my heart I feel hope. Hope, that my months ahead will consist of more than respiratory problems and satellite TV consumer culture. Hope that wild nature can continue to exist, and elicit and enrapture. But at the same time a duller and mounting tensing of what feels like my intestines also signals a yellow belly of fear. Fear because over the coming months I am going to have to climb up some 45 m into the canopies of those trees if I am to achieve the aims which have sent me back to the tropical rainforest that I had left behind a year ago.
A year into my PhD and the time has come to step up, and stand of the shoulders of giants in more ways than one. Hiding in a library, a lab and even a botanic garden have all served their purpose, but paper, pyrex and glass can only get you so far.