This is part two of my jungle adventure in Sumatra. Read part one here.
I woke up early the next morning – a mix of my body being on a different clock and excitement about the possibility of seeing orangutans in the wild.
I met up with my guide Obiwan and fellow trekkers Alex and Andy, an English couple three months into a year-long trip around the world.
Obiwan led us along a track to the river, where several locals were waiting, along with a few tourists. Climbing into a small wooden boat, a young, sinewy guy used a pulley-like system of wires above the river to pull us across to the other side of the river. Not without incident though: as we hit a particularly rough patch of water, he spun off the end of the boat and was flung into the water, smacking his knee on the hidden rocks below. He did the macho thing, though, and shrugged off our worried calls of “Are you okay?”
Once across, we paid the entrance fee to Gunung Leuser National Park (20,000 rupiah, or about $A2) and began the uphill hike to the orangutan feeding area. Here, we were guaranteed to see orangutans.
And we weren’t disappointed. A crashing sound above us was the first we knew the orangutans were there. Looking up through the trees, we saw a blur of orange fur swinging between two trees. Then suddenly we saw her in full view, as she shimmied her way down a tree and headed straight for a small platform where two of the national park’s staff were waiting.
She greedily grabbed at a bucket of milk and started slurping, and that’s when we saw her baby clinging to her back, his tiny face peeking around her side. One of the staff gently pushed her back and put a tin cup in the baby’s hands, which he drank from like a human child.
It’s difficult to describe the feeling of seeing animals like this. Particularly orangutans. Their similarity to humans is uncanny, their wide eyes looking around and human-like hands moving the way we do.
We heard more noise and looked on in amazement as one by one around eight orangutans descended for their feed of milk and bananas, many of them carrying tiny babies on their backs.
Most of the orangutans had headed straight for the platform, but out of the corner of my eye I saw another mother and baby coming down on the right.
“Move back everyone!” One of the staff called. “This is Minah and she’s dangerous – she’s bitten over 200 visitors.”
That was enough to make all of us move rather quickly up a small embankment, as Minah climbed onto a wooden fence separating the path from a steep drop and eyed us off, no doubt sizing up her next victim.
We spent the next hour silently watching the orangutans as they moved up and down from the feeding platform. There are two feeding sessions a day in the morning and afternoon, and around 10 orangutans go to each feeding. The area used to support a rehabilitation centre for orangutans, most of them rescued from people who owned them illegally. According to Obiwan however, most of the orangutans have been released fully into the wild now, and few new orangutans are introduced, which is a good thing as that should mean that there is less illegal ownership.
It was difficult to drag ourselves away from the orangutans, particularly because we knew what was coming next – a five hour trek through the jungle. But I had no idea just how hard it would be.
Next up is part three in the jungle adventure series – the jungle trek!