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Seeking Orangutans On a Sumatran Jungle Trek

by Contributor on March 11, 2013

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Today’s guest post comes from Kerry Law of Goodtrippers, who describes her incredible journey through the Indonesian jungle to view orangutans. 

High up in the trees sat a creature with fur that glowed orange in the light – it was our first sighting of a wild orangutan. This was day one of a six-day trek through the Sumatran jungle in Indonesia, and we were here to spot one of the world’s most endangered, and endearing, animals – the ‘person of the forest’, the orangutan.

There are thought to be less than 6,600 orangutans left in Sumatra (and under 54,000 in Borneo). Their jungle habitat is being chopped down at a rate of knots to supply the huge demand for resources such as timber and palm oil. Sickeningly, some baby orangutans are also taken from their mothers and sold as pets.

orangutan high in the trees c Sam Owen Seeking Orangutans On a Sumatran Jungle Trek

An orangutan high in the trees – (c) Sam Owen

The small Sumatran town of Bukit Lawang, on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park, has become something of a wildlife-lovers destination thanks to its orangutan rehabilitation centre. The town was devastated after the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 but has rebuilt itself with ecotourism initiatives including jungle treks that are sensitive to the natural surroundings and local wildlife.

You can choose from a variety of treks from just a few hours to several days exploring the national park. We chose the latter and spent seven days and six nights in the depths of the Sumatran jungle. Be aware that while you don’t need to be an expedition expert, a decent level of fitness (and aversion to creepy-crawlies) does help. We were covering around 10km a day but the hills are incredibly steep, and the climate hot and humid, making it tough going. You will be wading chest-deep through streams, traversing slippery ledges, swinging through the jungle on vines, and climbing down waterfalls (yes, really!).

Nights are spent on the ground (in your sleeping bag) under makeshift canvas camps, all together with your fellow trekkers, guide and porters. The rain will be kept off but the open-sided tent means anything can crawl in. I was convinced a rat was running over me during one night – but I was so exhausted I just didn’t care!

makeshift camp by the river Sumatra c Sam Owen Seeking Orangutans On a Sumatran Jungle Trek

Makeshift camp by the river in Sumatra – (c) Sam Owen

The local guide and porters really make the trip special. Our guide was a keen environmentalist and would point out various flora and fauna as we trekked. The jungle is home to an incredible number of plant species, insects, birds, snakes, mammals and even Sumatran tigers, although you would have to be very lucky to see one – they prefer to stay as far away from humans as possible.

It’s clear the trek team have grown up in this environment and are extremely jungle-savvy. Our porters could carry 20kg backpacks containing the group’s bedding, equipment and food while walking at twice the speed we could manage. And if you get into a spot of bother (which I frequently did), they were there with a helping hand.

Orangutan Bukit Lawang c Sam Owen Seeking Orangutans On a Sumatran Jungle Trek

Orangutan at Bukit Lawang – (c) Sam Owen

The food on the trek was a wonder in itself. I was expecting basic rations of beans and rice but our porters cooked up a veritable feast of Indonesian dishes that would be welcome on any restaurant menu, every evening. Spicy chicken, sambal, vegetable curry; and when the rations grew lower the porters gathered food from the jungle – fresh fish, banana shoots and greens.

It was an incredible experience, although I must admit to relief when we reached our final destination.  The going had gotten incredibly tough and there was not much energy left. The end of the trek was celebrated with a refreshing dip (fully clothed!) in the river before the porters strapped together several large rubber rings. This was to be our final jungle ride, a fun-filled white-water rafting journey all the way down the rapidly moving river and back to Bukit Lawang. What an experience!

The Indonesia Jungle Adventure (Sumatra) is available to book via Frontier.

Bio: Goodtrippers is the ‘eat / sleep / do’ for responsible travellers. Visit www.goodtrippers.co.uk for recommended eco accommodation, organic restaurants and cafes and volunteering projects. You can also follow us on Twitter @Goodtrippers. And if you have your own responsible travel recommendation for Goodtrippers, become a guest blogger – for more details visit www.goodtrippers.co.uk/guest-blogging.

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