• August 14, 2014

Postcards From Borneo: The Best Swimming Hole in Gunung Palung

Jessica Laman
Tim Laman

I dove into the freezing water with a splash, and a chill swept through my body. As I resurfaced I saw the tall, thundering waterfall up ahead, roaring like a lion. We had gone to the waterfall because it was one of those days when there were no orangutans around to follow. My brother, Russell, and I love to swim in the river in our free time. We have lots of good swimming spots near camp, but the better ones are higher up on the river. The best swimming hole of all is the waterfall. Unfortunately, it is also the farthest away. It is a relief when you hear the rumbling of the waterfall because you know you are getting close.

WATCH: Jessica and Russell Laman make a video of their hike to a waterfall in Gunung Palung.

But one advantage of taking a hike through the jungle is that we get a chance to see a few of the other animals in the forest, including macaques, red leaf monkeys, and gibbons. When the red leaf monkeys cross the river you can get a good view of their bright orange bodies and long tails. The macaques are also pretty easy to see. They like to hang out in some of the trees around camp.

Picture of a white-bearded gibbon sitting on a tree branch in the canopy of the forest in Borneo
A white-bearded gibbon sits high in the canopy in Gunung Palung.

LISTEN: White-bearded gibbons call from the trees.

The least common primates are gibbons. They have dark gray bodies with white splotches around their eyes that remind me of goggles. They also have a tuft of white beard, so they are called the white-bearded gibbons. Their legs are short, but their arms are so long that if you stood them on the floor their hands would touch the ground. They swing between branches like Olympic gymnasts and are so nimble and quick that they are rarely seen. When we do see them, we usually only glimpse them for a few seconds, but we hear them every morning. They wake us up with their long calls echoing through the forest for a mile around, like the jungle version of a rooster.

As we descend the last hill to the waterfall I hear another one of the coolest animals of the rainforest: the hornbills. We can hear the beat of their wings as they soar over the canopy, their calls ringing through the trees. Although we don’t see them often, we had really good luck this year: We found two nests, which like all hornbill nests, were built in tree cavities. We got a great view of a nest belonging to a family of bushy-crested hornbills as the dad flew back and forth transporting food. Since the mother bird was inside the nest, sometimes we could see her beak stick out to grasp the insects or fruit that had been brought to the hole.

Picture of two bushy-crested hornbills perched on the side of a tree, passing food into the nest cavity to the female and chicks inside
Bushy-crested hornbills at the entrance to the nest cavity where they have come to deliver food to the female and chicks inside.

Finally, we wade across the river and up the slippery rocks, and arrive at the edge of the waterfall pool. A little further and I am right in front of the roaring waterfall. As the droplets of water hit the pool below, some of them bounce off the surface like beads on a tabletop, sending water flying in all directions. I take a big breath and dive underneath the waterfall. I feel the water pounding on my back and head, like someone pounding me with their fists, and with one final kick I am in the space behind the waterfall! I have to stick my toes into notches in the rock to make my head stay above water, but it’s cool to be able to look up and see the water pouring down in front of me. The noise is deafening and if someone else is behind the waterfall with me, we have to scream in order to hear each other.

Gunung Palung is full of lots of fun things to do.

Picture of father and daughter, Tim and Jessica Laman, sitting patiently in the forest, watching for an orangutan in a tree to wake up from a nap
Tim Laman and his daughter Jessica share a quiet moment as they wait for an orangutan to wake up from a nap. For Tim, it has been a rare pleasure to spend time in the field with family while on assignment.
Photograph by Trevor Frost

Over the past weeks, Proof has been following the adventures of Tim, Cheryl, and their children, 10-year-old Jessica and 14-year-old Russell, in the rain forests of Borneo. Tim’s story on orangutan behavior will be featured in an upcoming issue of National Geographic. Cheryl is a 2004 Emerging Explorer and has received grants from the National Geographic Society for her work with orangutans.

Related story: A Family Adventure Begins Anew
Related story: The Boat Trip Up River
Related story: Chasing Orangutans
Related Story: The World’s Stinkiest (But Best) Fruit

There are 25 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Peter Palmiotto
    March 31, 2015

    Following in your parents footsteps. Wonderful descriptions and photos, nice to recall the memories of that amazing place. Thanks

  2. Mark Sielski
    October 27, 2014

    What an amazing family! Jessica and Russell will cherish these memories.

    September 16, 2014


  4. liza
    August 27, 2014

    Borneo, Kalimantan as we call it, does have amazing beauty. Thank you for the inspiring adventure. I live in Sumatera and have seen the forests. Borneo has been my obsession. I envy you, guys…… Well Jessica, hope there are more people like you

  5. Lauren Fullerton
    August 21, 2014

    That is so cool. Now I remember the times when I lived in Indonesia. I cant wait to go back and see all the animals all over again.

  6. M.j
    August 20, 2014

    You life seems so fun even if it doesn’t look easy. Exploring learning about every thing around you. I would love to have that-

  7. Suzanne Powers
    August 20, 2014

    Thank you for sharing your adventure! It’s a treat to read about Borneo from your view, I could hear the crash of the waterfall and feel the pounding water droplets. Good job! When I was in grade school a schoolmate lived up the street his father was a national geographic photographer I didn’t think about it much then (no one in my family took many photographs), now I love photography, nature and am little jealous! What a wonderful legacy your parents are giving you and your brother.

  8. Carolyn Hutson
    August 19, 2014

    Jessica, wonderful commentary and photos of the land below the wind.

  9. Margie Singer
    August 19, 2014

    Jessica, I am so proud of the way you’re writing. This is beautiful — so filled with images and description that helps us feel like we’re there with you. What an adventure you’re having! I’m delighted for you.

  10. Paulette Woods
    August 16, 2014

    Wow Jessica you certainly are having interesting adventures with Mom and Dad. I saw the chair you and Grandma made last week. You are blessed with and amazing family. I look forward to more of your’s, Russell’s and your parents stories. I LOVE NATIONAL GEOGRPHIC AND WHAT THEY DO!!!!!

  11. Gordon Laman
    August 16, 2014

    Beautiful writing, very descriptive. You make me feel I am back there again after 26 years. You and Russell did really well on the video making.

  12. Benny
    August 16, 2014

    Excellent writing. thanks also for the recording of the sounds. I am listening as I write.
    Looking forward to see you at the end of the month. “uncle” Benny.

  13. sebastian
    August 15, 2014

    también me gusta mucho la naturaleza y mantengo en excursiones y enseñándoles amis amigos sobre el cuidado del medio ambiente, como hago un vídeo sobre los mejores lugares de Manizales/ Caldas /Colombia SOLO necesitamos el apoyo de una cámara por algunos dias y asi también conozcan lo hermoso de nuestra región cafetera que es una aventura mágica y maravillosa para la gente. gracias por su respuesta

  14. Melody Fox
    August 15, 2014

    p.s.: The video doesn’t open…

    • Alexa Keefe
      August 15, 2014

      Thank you, Melody. We are looking into it. In the meantime, you may want to try viewing the post in Chrome.

  15. Melody Fox
    August 15, 2014

    How interesting, Jessica! Thank you so much for sharing your stories… (~_*)

    While reading, since I have a vivid fantasy (and have also experienced similar situations during my childhood and adolescence), I can just see you guyz… (;o)*

    It’s amazing on how well you write, being a 10-year old! (is it all yours, or has it been edited and proof-read by your dad or mom? lol )

    May you and your family walk in sunshine,
    Melody Fox (aka the Princess of Rock)
    Love Peace Music (always and forever…)

  16. Vivian Montalva Sepuñlveda
    August 15, 2014

    Que fascinante y hermoso trabajo que realizas me encantaría hacer en forma profesional lo que tu haces. Pero lo que yo hago es muy básico en comparación a ti. Pero le seguiré haciendo lo mejor de mi par ser mas profesional en lo que yo hago solo por pasión y amor a naturaleza. Me encanto te felicito

  17. prasanth
    August 15, 2014


  18. Thesa
    August 15, 2014

    How an interesting story you’ve shared, Jessica…I awe the way you spent your childhood with your parents, exploring the nature..:)

  19. tova
    August 15, 2014

    Thats my province who i work and stay now…

  20. Anuga
    August 14, 2014

    I have learned many new things from your story. Thanks for such an interesting story & great pictures too.

  21. clare farrar
    August 14, 2014

    What a blessed childhood you are having. I love reading your blog

  22. Joyce Knott
    August 14, 2014

    Wonderful story! You write so beautifully, Jessica. I’m so very, very proud of you and Russell!

  23. antonio perez valdez
    August 14, 2014

    In spanish of the MEXICO for please…

  24. Fredrick Musa
    August 14, 2014

    Hey guy thank so much to see next time.

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