Tracking wild Orang-Utans in the Sumatran Jungle
Trip Start May 20, 2010
195Trip End Sep 05, 2011
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Day : 98
Temperature : 30 degrees
Weather : Sunny and dry
Our adventures over the past few days have taken us well and trully off the beaten path, and consequently we've had very little or no internet connection to do our blogging. Soon after arriving in Takengon it became obvious that this region receives very little foreigners. According to our bible (the trusty Lonely Planet) this is due to the decades of civil war and turmoil which only ceased after the tsunami when a peace agreement was sealed. Aceh province was granted special autonomy and the area was slowly opened up for tourism. We received waves, smiles and shouts of "hello mister" at every turn, hoteliers brought us free drinks, and the "toursim minister" came out of a meeting to have chat to us about where we were from and where we were going
We'd travelled there for the horse-riding festival which takes place each year after Independence Day on August 17th, but we soon discovered that it had been postponed this year because it coincided with Ramadan. This however gave us a day to relax and enjoy the scenery, and an opportunity explore the grounds of the strangely quiet Renggali hotel. The hotel is situated 2km out of town in a beautiful but isolated location on the lake shore. The hotel rooms were built in large blocks sprawling away from a huge open plan reception / dining area. Oddly, Kevin and I were THE only guests staying in the entire hotel. This was great during the day, but at night it was a completely different picture. We were left to wander the deserted, eery corridors. The silence was spooky and our voices echoed in the empty, gloomy reception areas, and looking outside the windows was like looking into a pitch black, dark abyss! Picture the film The Shining and you have the idea!
Thankfully, we survived 'till morning and we headed back into town to get a local bus further south towards Ketambe. Now, on the map, Ketambe looks as if it might be about 70 miles "as the crow flies" from Takengon. However, what you don't realise is that the road zig-zags it's way up and down the mountains
We stayed in Friendship Guesthouse in Ketambe which is situated in the Gunung Leseur National Park and our room cost a whopping £3.50 per night! We decided to come to Ketambe to track the Orang-Utans rather than go to the much more popular Bukit-Lawang. This is because the Orang-Utans at Bukit Lawang are fed by the guides who call them down from the trees despite this being against park guidelines. As a result there is a significant risk to humans catching diseases from the Orang-Utans, as well as a risk of attacks on people as they associate humans with food. But, perhaps more worryingly, the Orang-Utans are catching human diseases from being in close proximity with people. Diseases such as influenza are spreading throughout the Orang-Utan population, killing many and having devastating consequences to their population numbers.
We took a two day trek into the steaming jungle, and stopped overnight at some hot springs high up in the mountains where boiling hot water gurgled and spurted out of the ground, steam billowed up into the jungle and the rocks were so hot you could dry your clothes on them....a sure sign of the volcanic activity not far underground. It was certainly precarious getting to the bathing area since you had to walk over a fallen log, under which passed a river of boiling hot water at a temperature of nearly 100 degrees.....knowing that if you fell off the log you would not just get wet, but you would surely die was certainly not a reasurring thought!
We did manage to see the Orang-Utans, several in fact. Our best sighting was a mother and her baby who slowly came down out of the trees and were about 7 metres away. Unfortunately the photos aren't the best in the world because we were shooting into the light, but it's a small price to pay for seeing some of the last trully wild Orang-Utans in the world! Sadly however, the amount of deforestation in this region is shocking as illegal logging continues and this really makes you wonder what the future holds for these incredible, yet critically endangered animals. In addition to our red haired cousins we also saw Thomas Leaf monkeys, Hornbills, squirrels and many weird and wonderful insects. Sadly though we were a month too late to see the infamous Rafflesia flowers in full bloom....ah well, next time maybe?
We left Ketambe yesterday heading south for another long day of uncomfortable travelling
We are here now on the shore of the lovely Lake Toba and plan to spend a couple of days relaxing and swimming in the refreshingly cool waters of the lake. We have booked our flight from Medan to Jakarta in a couple of days, and hope that the craziness of Java combined with the festivities marking the end of Ramadan will not be too much for us weary travellers.
I am trying to upload some photos but the connection is terribly slow. So please bear with us and check back soon if you don't see many on this blog right now.