One Very Awesome Orang-utan experience!
Two nights and three days of awesomeness! Awesome place, awesome people, awesome animals, and an awesome experience! I would do this trip again in a heart beat if given the chance. I loved everything about it. The orang-utans and other wildlife we saw, the delicious food, the wonderful crew, sleeping on an open boat under a mosquito net, the gorgeous sounds of night descending and the raucous awakening of birds, bugs and gibbons in the morning!
It took us a good couple of days to get there but well worth it… if you are ever in Borneo do not miss the Tanjung Puting National Park and the orang-utans.
Flights to Pangkalan Bun will get you to Kumai and the access to the Tanjung Puting National Park, however, we were sailing from Pulau Bawean after leaving Java in our yacht. It took us 30 hours to cross the Java Sea from Bawean to Kalimantan, Borneo. The first 14 or so hours, we sailed hard on the wind, unable to point as high as we would have liked, but it was still a pleasant enough sail. It was our 11th wedding anniversary and Dwayne, always the romantic, served me a bowl of chunky Irish Stew after meticulously heating it from the can. We didn’t have candles but the setting sun put on a glorious show for us! When the sun set the wind disappeared with it, and we had to motor the rest of the way. The night was very dark, lit only by the extraordinary amount of fishing boats scattered everywhere.
We arrived at Kalimantan, east of our desired destination, and rested for about 13 hours before setting sail again for Kumai at midnight. We battled against headwinds and strong current, cursing our luck before finally arriving at Kumai late afternoon. Before long, we had our first visitor. It turned out to be Mr Yono with whom we wanted to book our tour, and soon we had our orang-utan tour organised. (Mr Yono’s name had been given to us by friends sailing several weeks ahead of us).
We borrowed Mr Yono’s scooter the next day and went for a ride to Pangkalan Bun, where we bought phone credit, did a little shopping and had lunch. Lunch at a masakan padang restaurant , was interesting, after taking our drink order they just started putting food down in front of us. Dwayne thought he was in heaven! We had eggs, chicken, tempe, beef rendang, goat skin and brains of some sort, probably goat as well.
The next morning arrived and I must admit I was super excited about the trip to see the orang-utans. The Kelotok (our tour boat) arrived to pick us up and we left Thorfinn in the capable hands of the boat-boy that was to look after her at night.
We met the crew and guide that were to look after us for the next three days. They were a great bunch of guys. Joe, our guide, was full of information, not only about the orang-utans but also the other animals, birds, flora and the history of the area. Joe spoke english very well, but when he discovered I was learning Bahasa he often spoke to me in Bahasa, patiently waiting for me to nut out what he said. As we journeyed up the Kumai and then the Sekonyah Rivers Joe made us a wrist band out of the inner part of a fern stork as he sat and chatted to us about the National Park and his time there as a ranger.
Before long Aan, our cook, asked us what food we liked. He was pleasantly surprised when we told him we will eat almost anything, love Indonesian food as well as sambal and chilli. He left us on the deck, enjoying our drinks as, with a huge smile on his face, he scurried down to his galley to prepare lunch.
Aan’s food was delicious and over the next few days we were served huge amounts of delicious prawns, fish, chicken, tempe, vegetables and rice… and he always made us a delicious sambal to go with each meal.
On the trips up and back down the river we saw proboscis monkeys, crab-eating macaques, a water snake, a tiny false gharvial crocodile and an estuarine croc.
We visited in wet season and were told that we may not get to see a huge amount of animals as, at this time of year, the wild animals usually go deeper into the forest because the trees are full of fruit. However, we saw heaps of monkeys and we did get two opportunities to see wild orang-utans on the opposite side of the river (not the national park side). The first day we saw a large male in a tree, and on the second a mother with juvenile down near the water. It was amazing to see them in their natural environment.
We opted for two night / three day trip which visits the three ‘camps’ each of which has a daily feeding time. As I previously mentioned at this time of year most of the orang-utans are in the forest getting their own fruit as there is such an abundance of it. But the rehabilitated orang-utans still visit for the fruit at feeding when they want. Our first stop was Tanjung Harapan. This area was opened in 1982 at which time 49 orphan orang-utans were raised here.
We didn’t have long to wait before “King” the alpha male arrived. With a lot of crushing, rustling and swaying of the trees we could hear him coming long before he swung into view.
King wasted little time, barely giving us a glance before, hanging in an ungainly though entertaining manner, he consumed large amounts of fruit completely at ease with being the centre of attention.
A few other orang-utan crept closer but stayed hidden in the forest until King, who is huge – although joe says he is only medium size – had had his fill and left the area. That was when an older, but smaller, male who walked past us on the path and braved the exposed platform to eat some fruit.
We also saw a female orang-utan with her baby, and on our way back to the kelotok we got a glimpse of a red-leaf monkey swinging through the trees.
Back on the Kelotok, Agus, our skipper, headed further upstream to find a spot to stop for the night. We played cards with the crew, they taught us a game and we in turn taught them one of ours. Much laughter ensued, as is always the way when learning a new game with a little language barrier. Playing cards that night was an animated, fun experience full of smiles and hysterics!
Udin, made up our bed with a big mozzie net to protect us from the creepy crawlies of the night. A bit of lightning and thunder leant itself to the ambience of the night, as it competed with the night-time forest noises. The night time cacophony, made up mostly of insects and frogs, gradually gave way to the call of birds and the woorp woorp woooo of the gibbon as the sun rose on another glorious day.
Our first stop for the day was at Pondok Tanggui. This camp began in 1992 with the rehabilitation of 27 orphan orang-utans. Before going to the feeding platform, joe took us down a little used path to show us what he called a ‘condom’ plant. It is one of the many carnivorous species found in Borneo. When it is found still closed, the liquid in it is used as medicine for the stomach.
On this walk we saw orang-utan scat and Joe showed us the fern he uses to make the wrist bands. He showed us how to strip back the stem to get the piece he uses for bands. At the feeding station, there were no orang-utans feeding, so Joe gave us a lesson on how to make a band with the fern stem. He made us both a ring each while we waited for the orang-utans to show. It was a no-show by the orang-utans but we got to see some colourful butterflies, a huge stick insect and taste a jungle fruit which was some sort of wild mango.
Camp Leakey was the last spot we visited. As we turned off the Sekonyah River into a small tributary river you could clearly see the different water colours. The main river is polluted from the illegal alluvial gold mines that still operate up river. The river has also been impacted upon by the many palm oil plantations along it. Joe pointed out the canals that have been dug to take water to the plantations. Not only does the water that flows back down the canal pollute the river with mud, pesticides and fertiliser, but the amount of water that the palms need daily, has reduced the flow of water in the river. Joe said each palm needs about 15-20 litres of water per day and it has had a huge impact on the water levels since 2010.
The research station is at Camp Leaky and it has an information centre which, although starting to look a little aged, is very interesting.
On our walk to the feeding station we were given some different types of jungle fruits to try, most were delicious. We saw a gibbon feeding in one of the trees. We noticed him as he was dropping fruits on us as we passed below him.
When we first arrived at camp Leakey there was a female orang-utan and her baby in the tree near where the boat stopped and then lying on the walkway was another female. Joe explained that 10 years ago she had cancer and had a hysterectomy and has since then has been very lazy. We all had to walk around her.
The orang-utans you see at the feeding stations are what they call ex-captive. They are the orang-utans that have been orphaned, rescued from captivity and rehabilitated. The ex-captive orang-utans and their offspring are the ones that visit the ‘camps’. We also learned that wild orang-utans spend 90% of their time in trees, very rarely standing, however the ex-captive orang-utans stand or walk perhaps 50% of the time.
Joe explained to Dwayne how to tell the difference between a male and a female tree.
At Camp Leakey we saw a couple of male orang-utans and a female with a juvenile and a baby. At one stage, a male was on his way to the platform and the female, who was there eating fruit with her baby, left in a hurry walking right by me as I was taking photos. Unbelievable!
We awoke on our third day to the sounds of the bulbul and spider hunter birds and after breakfast started to make our way back down the river. We saw a water snake, crocodile, wild orang-utans, crab-eating Macaques, colourful birds and copious amounts of proboscis monkeys. The cicadas were amazingly noisy on our journey downriver and they sounded like the AC/DC bagpipe riff played in “It’s a long way to the top”!!!
After a stop at the resort and a village we were dropped back to Thorfinn. We invited Joe and the crew on board for a look around and were joined by Joe’s wife and his baby daughter as we chatted in the cockpit. It was a wonderful time with wonderful people.
The following day we filled up with fuel and went shopping for fresh fruit and veg at the markets with Aan.
After dropping the shopping back to the boat we went for lunch with Aan and then watched a parade. From what Aan was able to explain to me it was a muslim celebration of some sort and the parade was made up of mostly school kids etc. The bands were great and it was a lot of fun.
We sometimes felt like we were the people on show, as all the people in the parade would wave at us and some took photos! We also had several spectators and even parade participants want to take a photo with us… its very amusing, though we are used to people wanting to take our photo; our popularity proceeds us everywhere we go! ha ha.
Guided Orang-utan Tour – Mr Yono
Our guide Joe Bowo – ph:+62813 5279 2419 and Email: [email protected] (excellent guide).
Our tour – 2 night / 3 day everything included. Kelotok (the boat), food, bedding including mozzie net, water, tea, coffee, cold shower and toilet. Guide, skipper, cook, deckie and boat boy to watch our boat and any national park entrance fees.
Cost – Rp 5,700,000 (about AUS $570)
Don’t forget to – take insect repellant and anything you want to drink besides water, tea and coffee.
ATM – Everything I read said there was no ATM at Kumai. That has changed. There is an ATM on the main street across from the ferry terminal.
Food & Eating – Lots of Warungs to eat at. Fresh fruit, veg and seafood available at the markets. A few mini marts as well.
Alcohol – No alcohol, though if desperate someone can find bintang beer for you… but it is expensive. Ask your tour organiser.
Diesel – For cruisers needing diesel or petrol ask the tour organiser they can usually organise it for you.
Small city / large town – supermarkets, department store, restaurants, warungs, NO ALCOHOL. You may find beer at the few hotels.
When not on the orang-utan tour we, travelling with our home “Thorfinn”, did not need to find accommodation. I think you’d find some accommodation in Kumai and in Pangkalan Bun. If you are joining a tour your accommodation will probably be supplied. If, however, you are travelling “freestyle” have a look at Booking.com for some great deals.
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