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Spotting Orangutans in Sumatra

Spotting Orangutans in Sumatra

Hi, Damo here!

When my brother Tim said he was going to join us in Indonesia for 10 days, I knew we were in for an adventure. Tim is very passionate about Indo, and is very anti-Bali. Having only ever been to Bali and the surrounding Islands, Brit and I weren't sure what to expect from the rest of Indonesia. Alas, Tim was adamant that we don't waste anymore time in tourist-filled Bali, so we jumped on a plane to Java, where we met him in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. Tim was keen to show us what Indonesia was all about - and I must say it is a world away from Bali.  The food, the people, the culture, it's all completely different - in a good way. We saw virtually no westerners the entire time we were in Java, which was really refreshing after spending so much time in Bali. It was quite obvious that not many tourist venture to these parts, as we were stopped numerous times for "selfies" with locals - we began to feel like celebrities. After a few days seeing the sights of Jakarta, Bandung, and Yogyakarta (blog posts to come), and getting a better understanding of the "real Indo" we made our way up to Sumatra, a 2 hour flight from Jakarta. 

Sumatra is Indoensia's largest island, and the 6th largest island in the world. We flew into Medan, a bustling city that borders the Gunung Leuser National Park (GLNP) - our next destination. Sadly, Sumatra has lost over 50% of its tropical rainforests over the past 35 years. This is in large part due to the palm oil trade. As a result, numerous animal species are now critically endangered, including the Sumatran Orangutan. Wildlife conservation is Tim's passion, and he has made himself some ambitious conservation goals for Sumatra, a place that has "the best wildlife in the world". It is the only place on earth where you get Elephants, lions, tigers, leopards, rhinos, and Urangutans living in the same place. Brit and I decided we wanted to watch Tim in action, so we let him dictate out itinerary, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We never would have seen most the of the things we did if it wasn't for Tim.

The best/easiest place for tourists to stay near GLNP is in Bukit Lawang, 86km northwest of Medan. Here you will find a range of accommodation, restaurants and bars etc. It is also the best place to organise a jungle trek to see the wildlife. 

How to Get there?

 - 4 hour private Van - RP300,000 ($30AUD) - organised with our hotel in Bukit Lawang. 

Where to stay?

- Bukit Lawang - we suggest staying at the Jungle Inn, its fantastic. 

What to do?

 - Jungle Trekking (day trips or overnight depending on how much you like to rough-it)


- Trek RP1,250,000 ($125AUD), including 2 days trekking, all meals, and "camping" accommodation.

- Bukit Lawing accommodation - RP500,000 ($50AUD) per night for a triple room at the Jungle Inn (voted #1 on Tripadvisor for a reason) 

- Transport to and from Medan - RP100,000 - 150,000 ($10-15) per person each way for private van - or you can get the public bus if you are on a very tight budget (not recommended). 

The Jungle Trek: We decided to organise the trek through the Jungle Inn, and booked it the day before our departure. We had a group of 7 (3 couples and Tim), and 2 guides Ajar and Gede. We opted for the overnight tour, however there are day trips also available. 

We set off from the Jungle Inn carrying only the essentials at 8.30am. Bukit Lawang is a small town built along the Baharok River, which we soon crossed, and entered GLNP. The trek was challenging, due the steep, often muddy terrain, however our guides catered for all guests and ensured we all kept up. We trekked from 8.30 - 3pm, with multiple stops for snacks (fresh fruit), lunch (Nasi Goreng - fried rice), or to observe the wildlife. Since the closure of the Orangutan feeding platform (for ethical reasons), we were not guaranteed Orangutan sightings. However, within the first hour we sighted a semi-wild female. She was adorable. Being so close to an Orangutan in the jungle is just incredible - they resemble humans so much it's like looking into a mirror (?maybe that just me). With a genetic makeup that is 97% similar to humans, it's no wonder the name Orangutan translates to "jungle human" in Indonesian. 

Throughout the Trek we spotted an array of wildlife, including several species of monkey (including a black gibbon), wild and semi-wild Orangutans, chameleons and multiple bird species. Semi-wild Orangutans are named so due to their familiarity with humans. In the past, they have been fed by humans, and are now adept to human interaction. If a Orangutan is spotted on the ground around humans, it is almost certainly semi-wild. The wild Orangutans are harder to find, and will not come down from the trees. We were lucky enough to spot a handful of wild Orangutans. 

The overnight component of the trek was something we were slightly anxious about - the thought of sleeping in a tent in the jungle that has tigers, lions, rhinos, leopards etc, wasn't totally comforting. Our fears were certainly not quashed as we walked into camp. One thing we have found with Indonesians is that they never say more than they have to. In this case, "camping" was a very loose term. The accommodation (pictured below) comprised of some bamboo poles, some plastic sheeting to make a roof, 7 yoga mats placed on a concrete slab, and a mosquito net. Needless to say, I don;t think anyone managed to get a good nights sleep - but it's all about the experience!! 

The return hike was similar in duration to day one, though slightly harder with sore muscles, a lack of sleep, and a stiff back from sleeping on the floor. All this was a distant memory when we were lucky enough to sight a male Orangutan close to lunch time. These magnificent creatures have massive round faces, and carry themselves with a confidence that says "I could crush you if I wasn't so chilled". 

Overall, we highly recommend a Sumatran Jungle trek to sight the Orangutans. Great guides, delicious food, some incredible wildlife, and of course great company made for an unforgettable couple of days. 




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