Sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells:”
Jungle Trek, Jungle Trek, in Bukit Lawang
See the monkey, see the bird, see orangutan (hey)
Jungle Trek, Jungle Trek, in Bukit Lawang
See the monkey, see the bird, see orangutan
Walking through jungle, in Bukit Lawang
Everyone together, in Bukit Lawang.
Walking through jungle, see the animal
If you see the Mina, everybody run!
To Bukit Lawang
For our final adventure of the trip, we flew to Medan in the northern section of Indonesia’s largest island, Sumatra (yes, of Starbucks coffee fame). Here, we began our journey to find the wild prangutans. In Indonesia, there are two places to see the orangutans: Sumatra and Borneo. After some research, we decided on Sumatra because the orangutans are encountered in more natural environments. From many of the reviews online, the likeliest way to see the great apes in Borneo is by placing tons of bananas on platforms and having the orangutan show up. While people still love it, we wanted to go trekking to see the orangutans in the jungle without performance enhancing fruit platforms (s/o Kaelyn).
We decided to do a three-day, two-night trip with Bukit Lawang Travel. Per usual, we contacted several tour guides/vendors to find a good deal and a local company. The company owner, Sophian was knowledgeable, helpful, local, and responsive. He helped us book the trip, get from Medan to Bukit Lawang (a four hour and VERY BUMPY drive), find a hotel the night before, and even helped book our flights back to Bali! His service was unmatched and we would highly recommend to anyone wanting to see the orangutans. Another big plus, since this area is so remote, prices are very reasonable!
In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle
We were led into the jungle by our fearless leaders, Teddy and Dzeri (pronounced Jerry). First reaction, it was ridiculously hot with the humidity to match. We were sweating copious amounts and knew that it would be a filthy three days. The jungle was unbelievably dense and unlike any area we had previously been on the trip; if you didn’t follow the guide closely, you’d get lost.
After a few hours of hiking, our guide told us to put our bags down and follow him. We looked up in the trees to see a mother and young orangutan swinging around. The orangutans are not nearly the size of the gorillas we saw with our family in Rwanda. Still, they were far more active and felt even more human. As we were watching, we saw the baby coming down towards us and walked right by us to a local walking in the area. Next thing we know, the baby is grabbing the man’s leg and punching at him. It was wild.
If you read the song at the top of the post, you will see, “if you see the Mina, everybody run!” Mina is known around Bukit Lawang as a feisty and mean orangutan. If you see her, you drop some fruits and back away. When we ran into Mina, she did not disappoint. Mina followed us for nearly ten minutes while our guides yelled at her to back off.
After our Mina encounter, we headed to our camp for the evening. Camp consisted of a covered awning, flattened platform on the ground, mosquito nets, yoga mat, and a sheet. It was not luxurious, but the sleep was peaceful. Luckily, the weather really cools down at night.
At camp, the food was excellent. Fried rice, nasi goreng, fried sardines, coconut curry, fresh fruit, and more. We played tons of card games and watched Dzeri’s magic tricks. We ended up spending a lot of time at camp on day two because it rained like cats and dogs for hours on end. The rain was so bad that the crew was forced to move the kitchen to higher ground to not get swept about by the rising river. While not luxurious by any means, hanging in the jungle, watching the rain, and listening to the nature was very relaxing.
Even though we saw five orangutans on day one, day three was the best. After trekking for a bit, we climbed up a hill to sit down for lunch. We heard a bit of rustling in the trees and saw a female orangutan coming down. She was extremely calm and just stuck her hand out. We started giving her fruit and ended up just standing, watching, and feeding the orangutan for nearly thirty minutes. Finally, a few other tourists showed up, but the orangutan was full and climbed away. Unlike the gorillas, we personally got to interact with the orangutan. While a bit off the beaten track and not fancy, this was one of the best things we did in our seven months!