The main reason for our trip to Bukit Lawang was to go on a day-trek through the Gunun Leuser jungles and try to spot some Orangutan. A friend who is currently working as a volunteer in a different part of the jungle recommended a friend of his, Darma, a local guide and park ranger. Orangutans are native to Sumatra and also Borneo in Malaysia. They have had a chequered past, full of upheaval and displacement from logging and palm-oil plantations and there is still a large population who are kept illegally as pets in small cages or chained to posts. It is believed that there are now only around 6500 Orangutans left in the wild.
Orangutans differ from the monkeys you often see on the outskirts of forests in Indonesia as they are one of the four Great Apes (along with chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos). Humans are said to share about 94% of our genetic makeup with them! When in the wild, they sound like this. They spend most of their time up in the treetops, swinging from branch to branch and building nests for sleeping in.
I'd been lucky enough to see Orangutans when I visited Malaysian Borneo a few years ago, but nothing beats the thrill of that first glimpse of orange fur swinging through the trees. And these were rehabilitated orangutans, living independently in the jungle and foraging for their own food, as opposed to the ones I saw at sanctuaries in Malaysia. They are accustomed to humans, with most having required extensive rehabilitation from humans to help them integrate back into the wild.
We had an incredible day climbing up and down steep hills, using the vines and tree roots to manoeuvre around the mud and moss. We soaked our feet and ate Nasi Campur and delicious pineapple down by a stream at lunchtime and were quickly surrounded by some inquisitive Orangutans.
All up I think the final tally was about 8 different Orangutans, 3 of which followed us all day and were just as curious about us as we were about them. The 'teenager' of the group playfully threw half-eaten mangoes down at us while the young baby peered at us curiously from behind her mother's fur. At one point, while taking a well-earned break with some passionfruit, one of them snuck down a tree until it was only about 2 metres above us and reached its hand out toward the food! It is forbidden to feed the Orangutans though so we quickly packed up and kept moving.
We spent some time with the Thomas Leaf monkeys, who were keen to pose for us like Calvin Klein models, and all fell in love with the baby who looked like a tiny little old man, with its shock of white hair.
And that river crossing I mentioned? Well we finally had to make it as the cable car was broken. So refreshing after the humidity of the jungle!
Our guide, Darma, was so knowledgable about the jungles and the creatures that live there, having spent much of his life working in and around the area. If you're heading to the area and want a great guide, email me or leave a comment and I'd be happy to pass on his details!