Travels with V

Indonesia & Singapore

Slipping in the orangutan forest

Bukit Lawang

We now move on to the northeastern tip of Sumatra where there are still large areas of wilderness and a big national park that has a population of orangutans. These peaceful tree-dwellers were once abundant throughout Indonesia, but extended farming, and especially deforestation to allow large scale oil palm plantations, has ruined most of their habitats.

But in Bukit Lawang, a small village by a foaming river you traverse the river on a jangly bridge, follow a footpath and you’re in the orangutan forest. By definition it’s a population of previously captured, freed and rehabilitated monkeys, and they don’t shun humans. But all the same it’s a wonderful experience to see them in the freedom of the forest. There’s another monkey here too, an odd looking makak resembling a baboon, with a pig’s tail. It’s called pig makak and has a confused look on it’s face.

We walk with our two guides deep in the jungle, deeper and deeper we walk. After four hours we stop for a snack. By then we have met several orangutans, mostly females with cubs full of energy and curiosity. The small ones rush up and down trees to take a closer look at us. We have also seen some males, big guys, never moving much, just watching us with a look that says “You sorry sods, you can’t even climb trees”. Orangutans almost never touch the ground, that’s why they can’t live in the oil palm plantations.

Here’s a clip with a mischievous little orangutan, and some more pics of forest with these soulful animals.

After lunch we walk for another three hours, up and down, down and up again. When we finally stumble into the base camp we’re absolutely drained, batteries empty. We’re supposed to sleep there, with only a thin tarpaulin between us and the jungle. Anyway, that’s the plan.

But when we later walk by a little creek up to a waterfall to wash off the dirt and sweat, I hear a scream behind me. And when I turn around poor V has slipped on the muddy bank and her right wrist has a crazy s-shaped form. Her face is pale and she’s badly hurt.

It has started to rain, and the night falls quick. The guides who initially tried to assure us that a little massage would surely help, finally realize that the situation is urgent. We understand the fix they’re in, if a tourist is hurt on their shift they might lose their attractive job. But we have to get V to a hospital, and the nearest place is Medan, a big city some 40 kilometers east.

We leave the base camp in a hurry, and just as we should have done the next day – by rafting the river. While the rain gets worse by the minute and lightning tears the darkness all around us we are rushed down the raging river perched in rubber tubes tied together. We don’t wear much clothing, everything gets soaking wet from water splashing from all directions.

Will we reach Medan? Will V get help for her deformed wrist? Will we be able to continue our journey at all? All will be revealed – in the next chapter!

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