Sunday, February 15, 2009

Going Ape in Bukit Lawang

What to do on Sunday? There are only a very few places left in the world where one can still view Orang-utan apes in the wild. Luckily for us there is one about 2.5 hours drive outside Medan in Gunung Leuser National Park. The destination town is Bukit Lawang. Sarmad organized a car and driver and off we went. There has been an Orang-utan preservation program running there for almost 40 years and there are currently about 5,000 orangs in the park.

We were about an hour or so from Bukit Lawang when a stern man on a motorcycle flagged down our car. Some words were exchanged with the driver in Bahasa - we were beginning to wonder what trouble we were in - then the man announced that he was a guide at Bukit Lawang and would be happy to meet us there. A true entrepreneur, or - was it organized by our driver? We're not sure.

We arrived at Bukit Lawang and there he was waiting. Some good negotiating by Sarmad and we had a guide and three fore-runners for a two to three hour jungle trek to see the Orangs.
The initial climb up the hill was strenuous and by the time we reached the top we were drenched in sweat. I'm guessing we walked about a mile, or so, back into the jungle on a well-worn path.  

At the top of a very steep slope the guide asked us to wait while the fore-runners descended. Much clapping and calling was followed by what we had waited to hear - a short whistle followed by "Come on down!"
So, we slipped and scrambled down the slope. Then he pointed off to our right and said "Orang come". We could see tree branches moving about 50 yards away, finally, we got our first glimpse - a long way off but definitely a creature of the ape variety. I tried to get closer but she disappeared. Was that it? Were we done? Not quite!

Cautiously, a female Orang was moving closer - hmmmmm, how close? She kept coming, closer, and closer, and we waited expectantly.

Real close as it turns out!

Next thing we know we have two female Orangs right above us. They took the small pieces of carrot we offered as a treat. Their faces are extraordinary. We spent about a half hour as their guests - a very special treat for us. Then, as quietly as they had appeared, they disappeared back into the foliage and we hiked back down the hill for a well-needed glass of fruit juice and rice/noodles for lunch.

The mountain river below the restaurant looked so inviting after the jungle trek but, alas, we didn't bring extra clothes, bummer! Hot and tired, the ride back to Medan was a lot quieter than the outbound trip - most of us took a nap!

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