A step. A rustle. A tree branch that moves. First very timidly, then more and more strongly. He sits in the treetops, the orangutan. He looks at us, piercingly. It’s his territory, his jungle, his habitat. We are only guests.
We are Beni and Lisa from Germany, Thomas from Holland, our guides Vishnu and Indra, and both of us, Kathi and Romeo. We couldn’t have imagined a nicer group for this experience. Vishnu gives us as much time as we need. We meet another group. Your guide seems to be in a hurry. Vishnu says: “Let them pass. We’re not in a hurry.” He knows the jungle, he grew up here. He loves this jungle. He doesn’t say it once, but you can tell it in every sentence he speaks, with every step he takes. We’re just guests, he says. It is not our jungle, but that of the people of the forest, the orangutans.
None 20 Minutes after entering Gunung Leuser National Park, we meet the first times in our lives on an orangutan. We still can’t realize the sight. Less than 3 meters away from us, mom and baby orangutans are happily chewing on a few bananas. We have arrived at the feeding station. There is the same thing every day: bananas and milk. It is hoped that the one-sided meal will bore the orangutans and they will return to the jungle foraging. We stand there for at least half an hour, not saying a word. This moment is too magical, this first encounter.
Everyone else has already left the platform. Only our group stayed behind. “Sit down and enjoy the orangutans”, says Vishu. We grin and all think the same thing: we got the best guide in all of Bukit Lawang.
Not until the Orang utans say goodbye and are no longer to be seen, our hike continues. With every step we take, we feel smaller in this majestic living space. With every step we take, the cicadas get louder and we get deeper into the jungle.
Soon we will see another orangutan mom with her baby. It’s even younger than the first. Quite uncertainly, with childlike curiosity, it scans its surroundings. Another orangutan is perched high above us, in the top of the tree. From time to time small pieces of wood fall down. “He is dropping sticks”. It’s his territory, we’re the guests here. I guess that’s his way of showing who’s boss around here. We feel very small at the sight of the mighty animals.
The jungle fascinates us. We see giant ants that are two centimeters or larger. We see leaves so big that you can shelter when it rains. We hear bees buzzing loudly in tree trunks and see termites for the first time in our lives. This is no ordinary forest, no, it’s pure jungle. Jungle that feels wonderfully untouched, even when we’re walking the beaten path of tourists. We meet gibbons and other monkeys and reach a small oasis in the middle of the jungle. We wash off the exertions of the last few hours with the river water. We can’t believe what this piece of earth has in store for us.
Many more cross on this day Orangutans in Bukit Lawang our way: Young and older, calmer and more alert. So also the orangutan mom Jacky . Along with Mina, she is known for holding tourists and then bartering them for some fruit. When we enter Jacky’s territory, we notice how restless our guides are. We should hurry, says Vishnu, he already suspects that Jacky isn’t far.
We meet Jacky and her baby. Dozens of people stand around them. Too close. Other guides encourage their group to get even closer. Vishnu, on the other hand, asks us to pass quickly. We can watch the orangutans from a safe distance, which is just as nice, he says. Jacky, however, has other things on his mind. She walks towards Lisa unerringly and with quick steps. One hand grabbed, then the second. We have an orangutan hostage. And no matter how hard the guides and Lisa try, Jacky doesn’t give up. She obviously knows very well that she can get fresh fruit this way. “Orang Utans are very smart”, Vishnu told us this morning. Now we understand. Minutes pass, Jacky chews on a bamboo pole with relish. With the other hand she holds Lisa tight – not so tight that it hurts, but still decisive. Further minutes pass, nothing happens. Only against the many fruits from Indra’s backpack Jacky releases Lisa again.
Our adrenaline levels drop and for the first time that day we feel a certain tiredness in our legs. As you know, a jungle tour like this is always uphill and downhill, uphill and downhill. Nothing like a leisurely stroll or anything. Sometimes the terrain is so steep that we have to climb up the roots. Lianas and narrow trees prove to be extremely useful, because we can hold on to them when hiking downhill.
“We’re almost there”, Vishnu wants to encourage us. Just down again. Only. haha Luckily we didn’t know beforehand how strenuous this last descent would be. Somehow we made it after all. The river noise gets louder and louder. Who already see the first huts. Vishnu shows us our camp for the night. He brings us two shovels: “This is for the toilet.” We drop onto the sleeping mats. We immediately feel how rock-hard the ground is. We realize that we will spend the night in an open tent in the middle of the jungle. The five of us lay side by side like dead sardines. Then we all have to laugh.
At dusk we have dinner with our guides right by the river. There’s pumpkin curry and chicken rendang, a well-known Indonesian dish. It tastes amazing. Our chef prepared it for us, yes our chef, he carried the food for us all the way from the village. We think of the long, arduous hike and feel bad.
It’s slowly getting dark, pitch black. We see fireflies in the sky. By candlelight we try to solve the match puzzles that our guides set for us. We slurp fresh, spicy ginger tea (“Jungle Vodka”) and crack peanuts. “Do you give up?”. Vishnu grins. We fail.
We are dead tired, can hardly keep our eyes open. We pad back into the tent. The cicadas sing louder and louder. We don’t see anything and we remember what Vishnu told us earlier. Of course there are tigers here, but they avoid people. “I won’t sleep tonight.” “Me neither.” Eventually we fall asleep.
The next morning we gather at the river bank. We drink tea, eat biscuits and warm sandwiches. Upstream we make our way to a waterfall. Our tired legs feel heavy. They strike a bit, but somehow they manage to conquer the slippery rocks. We jump into the tiny, refreshing grotto and take a shower under the waterfall. This is what aliveness feels like.
After lunch (good cook, what did you have to carry?) there is still a terrific fruit plate, but soon we will really burst! Then we pack up our belongings, waterproof of course, because the journey home takes place along the river. Our boat is made from old tires, the luggage is tied at the front and back. This is how it goes – sometimes fast through the rapids, then again very comfortably – along the Bohorok. The river elegantly weaves its way through the deep jungle.
To the melody of Jingle Bells, Vishnu begins to sing: “Jungle trek, jungle trek in Bukit Lawang” . Another guide agrees: “See the monkeys, see the birds, see Orang Utan.” It sounds bizarre and yet so apt . We can’t look at each other and yet we know: At this moment we are all grinning.
We filmed the most beautiful moments as long as we weren’t too busy enjoying them. This video about the orangutans in Bukit Lawang was created, packed with a lot of emotions. Do you like it? We look forward to your comments!
PS: Are you looking for specific tips on trekking? Find out everything you need to know before your trip to Bukit Lawang in this blog post.