Where: Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia
I will never get tired of seeing animals in their natural habitats.
In recent years I’ve tried to avoid going to zoos, mainly because of their treatment of animals. I realise they still have a great value as an educational tool to people who aren’t as lucky or privileged as I am in regards to travelling, but I still can’t personally being myself to go to them anymore.
So when I knew I was coming on a trek to see orangutans, I did what any reasonable person work access to Internet would do – I binge watched documentaries! But that all didn’t prepare me for how crazy an adventure it would end up being.
Getting to the national park was hard enough, involving an early morning flight to the airport and a long drive to a nearby village where we stayed the night at a guest house. But the really hard part was getting around IN the park. The heart and humidity saps your energy like nothing else, and it is a lot of climbing up and down muddy mountains trying not to fall on your face. There isn’t really much of a “trail” to speak of either – I felt like I was constantly climbing over our under plants and scrambling on tree roots as footholds.
But oh was it worth it.
The first few times we saw orangutans we were pretty far away and there were too many other tourists to really enjoy it. But one really special moment came near the end of the hike. It had started pouring rain (note: you haven’t heard rain until you’ve been in a rainforest when it starts to storm) and we were close to camp but hasn’t reached out yet. As we were on our final descent, an orangutan actually appeared out of nowhere next to us, and actually started climbing down with us as part of our group! It was super surreal to just be casually walking with an orangutan in its rainforest.
We spent that night at the riverbank with some other groups and were treated to a special surprise the next morning – the same orangutan who had walked down part of the way with us greeted us during breakfast in the morning! What was really fascinating was it’s use of tools – mainly leaves and whatever as a coat from the rain or to make share from the heat.
It breaks my heart that these wonderful animals are apparently so endangered. They’re so graceful moving along the trees, something truly special would be lost if we let them go extinct.
P.S. Something crazy I thought of in the jungle was how accurate movies like Tarzan were. The vines he swings on exist and orangutans use then to swing, the roots be slides on are really slippery in real life, and even minor details – like how it is common to see trees move because of animals but not the animals themselves – are true to life. Fascinating.