SUMATRA! The name itself oozes exoticism, yet I knew nothing of the place when I arrived on a whim from Malaysia. And I wasn’t disappointed by the rainforest clad island with misty mountain peaks.
But the spectacular scenery was just a bonus. What I wanted was a rare, face-to-face encounter with a wild orangutan. In late 2002, I headed deep into the rainforest…before it was too late. (Click for map)
From my base in the village of Bukit Lawang, my guide Sonny and I set off on our 2 night, 3 day search for the wild men, though he warned me that my chances were slim. Of the last six groups he’d guided, Sonny said, none were lucky. Not good odds. But with Sonny’s catchphrase of ‘never try, never know,‘ instilling confidence, we pushed on. It’s since become my life’s mantra.
The forest terrain was tough going, and intense heat and humidity took their toll. Parrots squawked high above, and unseen monkeys quarreled noisily. Mist swirled round giant rocks, and the scene was real life Jurassic Park. We camped beside the turbulent river, but by nightfall on Day 1, no wild men.
Late afternoon on Day 2, Sonny ‘ssshh’d’ me with his fingers. My heart raced, and it was an anxious hour before I sensed movement high above. And perhaps, a flash of orange? The anticipation was palpable.
And then, she emerged into view. Very slowly, about thirty feet away, a large female made her way toward us. Her colour was like fire against the forest greens, and I was amazed she’d remained concealed so easily. Sonny’s smile grew wide…he didn’t expect this. He motioned for me to hold out a banana. I did, nervously. She was just three feet away now…and then I saw the baby. I couldn’t believe my luck.
The mother and I shared a look. I couldn’t know what she thought. Fear? Anger? I know we humans are destroying her homeland, killing her species. Orangutans are intelligent, graceful, gentle creatures. Their habitat is among the most inspiring and important on the planet. Both their future and ours depend on it.
NB Just days after I left the village, a devastating flash flood swept through. Click here for the heart breaking story. (Wikipedia)
All images, care of the Nomad.
Except Feature image via www.tripadvisor.com