On my second full day in Bukit Lawang it was time for the jungle trek and to see some orangutans which is why Bukit Lawang has became so popular and my main reason for visiting.
A few years ago they started a rehabilitation program for orangutans as a lot were being poached and sold around the country so slowly they came to Bukit Lawang and were watched for a number of months in a semi wild environment, taught how to build nests, hunt ect and then slowly released.
I had read online that the program had become a victim of it’s own success as now all orangutans have been saved in the country and none are owned as ‘pets’ but because it has become such a huge tourist attraction that they aren’t releasing some of them fully into the wild anymore as they need to keep them close for tourists to see.
At the side of the river and the edge of the jungle they have what is called a viewing platform where they feed the orangutans who are in that area twice a day and that is where we started our morning. A few minutes in we were walking up some steps to the platform and comments started going down the line that an orangutan was in front so we all got out cameras out and the guide that me and the 2 Americans had said quickly ‘don’t open your bags in front of them, turn around’ the orangutan came down from the tree and onto the path which was full of people and started to walk down it towards us.
By this point I was pretty nervous as we had had no briefing on what to do or how dangerous they could actually be so we started walking back and then it touched the guy that was in my group and then went on to grab the girls arm and then just stood there standing with her. They were only a foot in front of me and the orangutan (with her baby inside) kept looking at me and I still didn’t know what to do so I was just avoiding eye contact! Judith stayed extremely calm and still and later said that she was praying to all gods that’s it wouldn’t hurt her!
At this point the many guides were talking to the orangutan and then opened their bag and gave her some bananas.. Hence why we were told not to open our bags infront of them! After this she let go and we all just walked up the path as quickly but calmly as possible! It was so strange and Judith said she couldn’t believe the grip that it had and that every time a guide came up to them to try and get her off she just tightened her grip and said she could of easily broken her arm if she wanted to!
We then got to the platform and sat on some make shift benches and watched while 2 guides sat on the platform with some bananas and the same mother and child took them off them and then headed up into the trees which was a good opportunity for some photos as I was far too scared to take one while it was so close before!
Afterwards we started our jungle trek which lasted about 5 hours. It was actually a lot more intense that I thought.
A lot of up and down and at one point we were climbing down the roots of a huge tree in a rock climbing type position and just hoping that the root we were holding onto wouldn’t snap! The hope of the trek is to find some more orangutans but in a more natural environment. At our first break we got to see some gibbons which are small monkeys that just swing from tree to tree so this was great. After lunch and what I hoped was getting to the end of the walk we had just walked up a steep incline and the guide told us to be quiet as there was an orangutan ahead.
I was pretty tired from the climb but it made my speed increase slightly because I didn’t want to miss it. Just as I got to the top and the ground flattened out there it was just sitting there on the ground. The guide quickly got out some food for it as we heard they get quite aggressive when they don’t get any (I guess this is why they are only semi wild as they are used to getting this constant food source as soon as they show any aggression towards us). I remembered to turn around and get my camera out and got some great photos from a few feet away.
It was so strange being so close to this majestic animal and it’s baby was also sat next to it eating too. After a few minutes the guide all of a sudden said ‘Ok now just walk’ it seems they had run our of bananas and the mother was now starting to get up and head towards us. Me and Judith who had been quite tired until this point got a huge burst of energy and walked as fast as we could while still seeming calm along the track away from the orangutans. Now and again we called back if we still needed to walk and the reply from the guide was just a clear ‘yes’ (!!) I also had just gotten quite a few mosquito bites which we’re annoying me until this point but I quickly forgot about them in the rush!
We could finally start to hear the river which we knew meant it was the end of the walk. When we got there we were greeted by a guy who had hauled 4 tubes up the track from the village to where we were so we could go back down the river in them. He sat in the front and our guide sat in the back and they both directed the way and made sure we didn’t bump into any rocks and we just had to sit in the middle and hold on. It was great fun! The night before there had been a huge amount of rain so the river had really filled up which created some fun rapids. All in all it was a great day and an amazing experience.
The guide told us that you can only find wild orangutans in Indonesia in Sumatra and in the Borneo side so I was very lucky to be able to see them in the environment they were in and although the start was a bit worrying I did feel very safe with the guides. They have spent a huge amount of time with these animals and really know them well and they trust each other.
It ended my trip in Bukit Lawang and in Sumatra on a high as the next day I got a bus back to Medan where i stayed for a night before I flew to Malaysia. Because I had been feeling a bit ill over the last week or so and not had the best experience with accommodation in Medan when I arrived I decided to book into a nice hotel and I’m really glad I did. It was nice to feel like I was in luxury for the night in a comfy bed, hot shower and a flat screen tv which lots of films and even a Starbucks downstairs!
I’m really glad I went to Sumatra although I only saw such a small part to the huge amazing island. It was definitely going ‘off the beaten track’ which is what i had wanted. The journeys are long there but I guess the harder a place is to get to then the better it will be when you finally reach it!