Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Visiting the relatives

Soon after dropping anchor and starting to contemplate the evening meal my musings were interrupted with a call of "hallo mister" from outside. It was Harry from "Harry's Yacht Services", testing my interest in his tours. Negotiations were swift and a deal was quickly completed. The following day I'd be picked up at 8am, a guard would be deposited to watch over Kika, while I'd head off in search of the orangutans in the company of Rosy and Michael from Jeremiah.

Sure enough 7.30 the next morning, while still packing for the two day trip, a call of "Mr Nick" announced the arrival of my guard and a little later our forest transport arrived. The boat was a little over 40ft, narrow with a worryingly sharp bow and built on two levels. The three of us lived on the upper "deck", where we were looked after at various times by the captain, a guide, and a ship's boy. The designations seemed arbitrary as they all shared the steering of the boat, cooking and administering to us tourists - what a treat.

We headed back down the river before turning off into a tributary. Quickly the ferns lining the river gave way to more diverse thicker jungle.We started seeing large dragon flies, herons, then suddenly our first monkeys appeared, nonchalantly watching us from their perch in the trees.All the more unexpected as I feared the loud thumps from the unrefined single cylinder Chinese diesel would scare away all wildlife - but I guess they must be used to it. Our solitary progress was occasionally interrupted by a roar of a speed boat; straight from a game show prize catalogue.
After a few hours the river started to narrow, bringing the damp slightly mouldy smell of the forest to us and soon after we arrived at Camp Leakey.
Our guide explained that the camps were "research and rehabilitation institutes" for orangutans not tourist spectaculars. Sure enough there wasn't an orangutan gift shop in sight, though fortunately the camp included a helpful information centre. The rehabilitated orangutans are offered food once a day. If none turn up that's a good sign - as they've foraged for themselves. Fortunately for our visit they seemed happy to take meal hand-outs from their relatives. As we approached the feeding station, we were followed, or rather overtaken by one large determined male, speeding towards his meal.

Once the ranger placed the inevitable bananas on the platform, the orangutans arrived in all directions.
Some raced along the forest floor, others arrived via the forest canopy announcing their imminent arrival by the swaying and creaking of branches as they made their slow, purposeful progress towards the food. They seemed oblivious to our presence, allowing us to watch their antics up close.
In many ways they seemed so similar to us, the way in which they carried and tended to their young, the way in which they seemed to sit or more often hang around and contemplate life.It was as though they were a different race or tribe, not a different species and with some work we'd be able to converse with them and have them teach us how to effortlessly hang from and climb trees.
It wasn't easy to drag ourselves away from our privileged view of such amazing creatures but eventually we returned to the boat and headed back down the river. En route we briefly saw the Pinocchio-like noses attached to a group of proboscis monkeys, before arriving at a small bay in the river where we tied the boat between two trees for the night. As we tried to sleep under a mosquito net on a lumpy Teletubbies mattress with Tinky Winky, Laa Laa, Dipsi and Po keeping us company, the forest awoke. Our dreams were accompanied by high pitched calls of cicadas, croaking frogs, whining mosquitos and the bizarre, clanger-like, extra terrestrial call of the gibbons as well as many other sounds whose origin remains unknown.The following day we visited a couple of other camps on the way back to the main river. After Camp Leakey the other stations were less impressive for sheer quantity of orangutans, but once hooked seeing any semi-wild orangutans was a treat.We returned as the sun-set with birds darting over the river, fish jumping from the still water, with a camera full of pictures, a head full of memories and a desire to learn more about these incredible creatures.

1 comment:

Nadiana said...

Very interesting post and your relatives look cuter than you :-p