Hey all! It’s once again Friday, which means that I get another opportunity to provide a sneak peek of my current adventures. This week I’m hanging around Bukit Lawang, a teensy river town deep within the jungles of Sumatra. There are supposedly some rare surprises swinging around in the trees here, which sounded like a perfect reason to check this place out for myself.
Now, getting out this way proved to be quite a challenge, which is something that I’ve been finding to be more of the norm for long distance domestic travel within Indonesia. 2 different flights mixed with a long layover and a 3+ hour car ride already sounded like a recipe for exhaustion. But add in a missed early morning flight and a mysterious plane cancelation during that layover, and you’ve got the makings of some serious frustration.
But I eventually made it, and couldn’t have been happier. I was one step closer to the whole reason that I put up with all of these travel shenanigans: Gunung Leuser National Park. A world renowned UNESCO world heritage site primarily known for its wild orangutan sanctuary, Gunung Leuser is conveniently located just within walking distance of Bakuit Lawang.
Initially I had planned to go for an overnight camping trip within the park, which would have given me 2 full days to explore and hopefully get some good shots of the local wildlife. Unfortunately though, my entire bottom half is still in the process of recovering from that Mount Rinjani climb, so I instead just went with the full day hike. This ended up being a very good call and something that the still present colony of blisters on my feet thanked me for profusely.
On the day of the hike, I started out the morning with the same delicious breakfast combo I’ve been enjoying throughout most of my time in Indonesia: a banana pancake with fresh fruit. Seriously, I can pretty much eat this for just about every meal out here and be perfectly happy. I mean, look at this thing…
Breakfast foods now firmly planted in my stomach, our group set off across the river and into the deep, dark jungle in search of these notoriously camera shy wild orangutans.
It didn’t take long for the humidity to hit me like a ton of wet steamy instant mashed potatoes. With every step forward, I’d be hit with a brand new wave of flop sweat that refused to do anything other than just stick around. No matter how long I attempted to cool off or rehydrate, the river consistently running down my back just kept trickling. It was completely gross and didn’t get any better over the next few hours.
Being so focused on my general discomfort, I just about ran into the back of my guide that had a hand up as if to stop the group.
“Shhhhhhhhh,” he whispered and slowly pointed his finger out ahead of us into the treetops. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the giant bright blob ahead of me, I suddenly realized that I was staring right at a large wild orangutan. And it was staring right back at me.
Seemingly unimpressed, there it sat. Just calmly and casually hanging between 2 vines, wondering what the commotion was all about. After a brief stare-down, the orangutan began to pull itself up, reaching over to a nearby branch and then disappeared back into the dark jungle canopy. My small group just stood there for a second, absolutely amazed and speechless by what we had seen.
Throughout the remainder of the trek, we were extremely fortunate to come across a few others, in addition to some macaques and gibbons. But really, none of these came close to that first experience seeing one of the wild orangutans outside of Bukit Lawang.