*Day 60: Orangutans & French Lullabies

Trip Start May 20, 2008
Trip End Aug 19, 2008

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Flag of Indonesia  , Sumatra,
Monday, July 21, 2008

After a warm fruit filled bowl of "muesli"(actually coconut flavored debris from the bottom of their toaster oven), I was fetched by guide Abdul and followed him on a round through the village to pick up the other four trekkers. The first was a blonde Dutch girl whose Mom for some reason thought "Yolanda" would make a fitting first name, the second was a middle-aged Frenchman named Jacques whose hunched balding figure reminded me a lot of my Uncle Dennis, and the third and fourth were a Dutch couple. I'm sorry, I love Dutch people and have the greatest respect for them, but that language has to be among the world's most grating to the ears. It's just as ugly sounding as German but lacks the "haha he talks like Schwarzenegger/a Nazi!" comedy bonus. Now French on the other hand, when spoken by Jacques... This guy, a native of quaint Montpelier, spoke in the warmest, most relaxing manner while doing very French things with his hands (hard to explain.) I fast fell in love with his presence however out of his element he seemed. Within ten minutes, we had passed through the National Park border, delineated by a battered concrete pillar with a number and pair of letters on it.

I didn't think it was possible for a hiking trail to be any rougher than that in the Himalayas, but Jeebus Fraking Christ... I don't even think the very steep path through this forest could be called a trail, "narrow strip of land that just happens to have less plants" is more accurate. I was immediately glad I only signed up for two days, many trek for more but there's no way my body could handle that. Especially without sneakers (left those in Singapore) or a raincoat (also in Singapore.) Yes, just when I was taking newfound pride in my newfound intelligence, I neglect to bring a raincoat to the rainforest, which isn't labeled such for nothing. Good thinking there, Charles. Luckily enough however, the rain went on vacation for the duration of the trek, though that was only luck. Also lucky were our wildlife findings. Lonely Planet recommended taking two days to trek as this ups your chances of sighting an orangutan from "nothing" to "maybe 10%." Within one hour of walking, we had a run-in with a feisty gibbon. This was followed by commotion from a nearby trekking group. We rounded the "corner" and there, dangling from a vine, sparkling gold in the sunlight, was a smiling and giddy semi-wild teenage orangutan. "Oh my God..." I muttered aloud to myself. Jacques and I instantly began snapping away. Five minutes later... two more orangutan showed up, one of them fully wild. Their movements through the trees were slow, graceful, and eerily reminiscent of a human being. It was the most magical moment of the trip; those monkey faces are going to be burned into my memory forever.

By the time the day's walk (which involved extensive nearly vertical climbs up and down muddy tree roots) was over and we reached the "tent" (or what passed for such), we'd seen a further two orangutan, a smattering of random lesser monkeys, a Komodo dragon, some endangered bird that the Dutch were psyched about but that I'd never heard of before, and a peacock. Abdul said it was one of the best runs of wildlife luck he'd ever had on a trek. We settled down for the night and began chatting over some tea and sugar-saltines (Indonesians bake sugar into their crackers instead of salt) about a whole bunch of random stuff, eventually evolving into singalongs of songs from each person's home country. I taught Jacques "The Cradle Will Rock," and in response he sung some French lullabies to me in his absolutely flawless warm French speak. Included in Jacques's Greatest Hits were "Frarajaka" and some song whose English translation was "Daddy is making chocolates upstairs, Mommy is baking a cake downstairs..." I wish I had a tape recorder. Whenever I'm struggling to fall asleep from now on, I'll dig up the image of Jacques's singing in my head and sleep like a baby. He was a man who seemed transported from the 1940's or 50's, so polite, warm and old-fashioned in his mannerisms... I'll never forget him.
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