Hiking with Orangutans

Look who is coming?

Our driver makes a stop to look at the rear wheel axle of the minibus. He moves it lightly and kicks a couple of times. It helps, but only for a few hundred meters. Something is making strange noise during the ride, yet the sound fades during acceleration. The vibrations are getting more intense. It turns out that the rear wheel is attached with the last two bolts which were also loose. A mechanic from a nearby village appears with the help. We continue our journey from Berastagi through Kutacane to Ketambe.’

Travelling with two bolts

The hosts in Friendship Guesthouse help us organize a three-day trek in the jungle. We are staying amng gigantic cicadas, praying mantis, lizards walking on the ceiling, loud crickets and two leeches that got into our room. Looking at all these, the jungle hikes promises to be even more interesting.

We choose a three-day variant “for advanced”, meaning a longer daily distance covered. We meet with Ijal, our guide and Rasman, oru chef. Most of our luggage stays at the Guesthouse. we take the necessary minimum and enter the narrow path into the dense forest.

Our first orangutan on the trail

Already in the first hour of the hike we meet some wild orangutans in the distance. We wait patiently in a small hideout, but they are too far away to look at them or take a good picture.

Looking out for orangutans

There are a lot of gigantic trees in the jungle, they must be several hundred years old. Lianas hang from some trees. After testing, it seems to me that it is the same type that tarzan used for moving around.

Tarzan is coming!

We meet a lot of unusual insects, such as the flying Pinocchio butterflies, or caterpillars with a special skill of folding into a ball when they feel threatened.

Rolling caterpillar
That’s how it looks in defensive mode
Pinocchio butterfly
Ant crossing

We stop for lunch by the river, then head towards hot springs. It is a real paradise hidden in the dense jungle. The average water temperature is about 38 degrees, but it can be freely modified by changing your position in the basin of hot and cold streams. Wet clothes will dry quickly on hot stones. The whole evening is very enjoyable, perhaps except for the burn of my right foot which I accidentally put in piping-hot mud in the dark.

Camping at hot springs
River crossing

Our chef Rasman handles all the ingredients in a very organized way and in two hours he prepares a five-course dinner using just one pot. This skill is also undoubtedly useful for playing the Tower of Hanoi.
We pitch a tent, check to see if there are any leeches inside and go to sleep to the balanced sounds of jungle creatures and the nearby stream.

Our chef Rasman is preparing five meal course

After the morning bath we set off for another day of hiking. Most of the day we climb uphill and we pass a couple of waterfalls. This time we have less luck with orangutans, luckily from time to time, odd monkeys and other interesting insects appear.

Spider Monkey hiding behind bamboo
Sumatran Macaque

We make camp in a place called Camp 5.

Leech protection
Rubber tree is cut to extract rubber

This night while our attention is somewhat decreased, a leech sneaks into the tent. The leech starts to suck on Ela’s leg and she wakes up shortly after with a shout and in an instant readiness for fight. There were no major incidents.

One of the leeches that sneaked into our tent
Our camp is packed, we are ready to go

On the third day we are breaking through the thick jungle with heavy backpacks. We overcome slippery, steep, densely overgrown slopes. Some streams are quite deep, so you need to take off your backpack and carry all the luggage on your hands so that you don’t wet everything. The route is extremely varied and finally it closes a loop, at the end of which we get back to our beloved hot springs. However, we still miss some orangutans.

Local kids gang ;-)

Bukit Lawang

We decide to go to the other edge of the national park to Bukit Lawang, a town involved in the orangutan rescue program.

Time for lunch in Bukit Lawang

This is a charming town quietly located in the valley by the river on the edge of the jungle. We decide on a one-day trekking combined with rafting (about € 45 per person).

Ant’s sting inside finger

Our guide Darwin takes us through the jungle. We meet several semi-wild orangutans with offspring brought up in the wild. The orangutan rehabilitation program was established in 1975 and lasted until 2004. For the next 11 years feeding of orangutans was continued and finally, from 2016, they were left to rebuild the population on their own and have natural living conditions. It turns out that orangutans live up to 65 years.

Chill out time

It’s an amazing opportunity to look at these animals. The orangutan genes are about 96% identical to ours. Their gestures, feelings and reflexes are unbelievably similar to human behavior. They can pass and hold objects, grab precisely with their hands, look at you with a calm or curious expression or even demand a “bribe” – in the form of banana and other fruit. One of the orangutans, a veteran, becomes aggressive when he does not get his portion of fruit. That’s about not being raised in natural conditions.

It is all about sharing
Orangutans almost at hand’s reach

“Good times for most of us are over,” begins one of the old orangutans. “Now there is no free fruit, you need to look for food yourself”. It sounds just like humans talking about “old good times”.

Watch your back for orangutans!

During the few-hour hike we also meet other species of monkeys. In the further part of the route, we squeeze through narrow paths, walk over rain-washed roots and slippery muddy trails. We’ve gained a lot of altitude, just to climb down and find yourselves on the river level again.

Spider monkey with a long tail

We are returning to Bukit Lawang on the Indonesian version of rafting. Our pontoon consists of 4 inner tubes connected with rubber straps. The guide sits in the back, we are in the middle and the captain, of course, after lighting up a cigarette, sits in the front – with his second free hand he grabs an oar and steers us between the gusty streams and protruding rocks down the river.

Improvised rafting down the river

Just to think that the water which was pleasantly transparent earlier today, as I write these words, it took only a few hours of heavy rainfall to significantly increase water level which also became muddy. Darkness took over the village and the roar of tropical rain competes with the monotonous noise of the gusty river.

The same river was white and clear yesterday before the rainfall
Packed & ready