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  • Writer's pictureLulu Gibbons


Orangutans now only exist in the wild in 2 places in the world. These 2 locations being Borneo and northern Sumatra. Since I had the luxury of having a whole 5 weeks to wander around Indonesia, it meant that i could easily squeeze in a quick stop to Kalimantan, the Indonesian side of Borneo, to see the Orangutans that inhabit the protected land of the Tanjun Puting National Park. The only way to fully appriciate the wild monkeys here is on the traditional Klotock boats that line the river,taking the many tourists to each of the feeding stations run by the national park rangers.

The boat tours generally run for 2 nights and 3 days,with everything you need included whilst on journeying from the port at Kumai all the way up to Camp Leaky and back. There is a variety of different boats that you can choose from; from private ‘luxury’ boats from operators like Borneo Eco Tours, to the more common boats that you share with up to 9 others, which is the route we ended up taking. However, a word of wisdom: if you decide that you do indeed want to see the magnificent apes first hand I would suggest booking as far in advance as you can. Since myself and my travel partner only solidified that we were in fact going to do one of the boat tours a fortnight before we actually did, it turned out to be pretty tricky to find a boat that we could join for our desired dates, despite the number of boats that meander the river! Aboard the boat, it emerged our fellow boat companions had seemingly all booked via different agents rather than a central one meaning that we all ended up paying different amounts (luckily we were towards the lower end) one couple being ripped off at double the amount we paid! Even saying that, I know that I paid much more than I would have if I’d booked far enough in advance where you would expect to pay around 1.5 million IDR or around £160.

ANYWAY! Back to the boat! Charlie and I got ourselves flight to Pangkalang Bun- the tiny local airport – to arrive at 12pm where we were greeted with our names on a sign of the agent’s taxi driver. We were taken to the boat to find that we were the las to join so swiftly departed the port and sat down for lunch. Now this was an aspect that I was somewhat apprehensive about. I had more or less come to that I would be eating rice and soy sauce for the duration of the trip as I was sure that catering for vegans would not be easily facilitated on board. How wrong I was! There was no chance of me going hungry with either tempeh or tofu served as well as vegetables (and of course plenty of rice) for each meal, I was sailing in vegan paradise. This would appear to be the norm on all the boats too. I was honestly amazed at the variety and really high quality of the food that was served to the 10 of us at each meal. It was truly delicious. The first site that we went to was on an hour or 2 down the river, where we all disembarked in the head of the day to arrive at the feeding station a whole 40 minutes early. At this point we were somewhat peeved to have to sit in the clammy heat for the official feeding time to begin, however we were later enlightened that this was actually a useful tactic since we nabbed the last of the spots on the wooden benches in front of the viewing platform. As the minutes passed, swarms of people would join us making us feel somewhat smug about our sweaty bottoms having a plank of wood to sit on. At this viewing platform we were quite spoilt as not long after the bananas were dropped we were greeted by the largest dominant male, that according to our guide hadn’t been seen in a fair while at the stations. We watched, absolutely enthralled at his size and sheer capacity to demolish the piles of bananas in front of him, sparing no thoughts for any other monkeys who might too be peckish. Soon enough he was joined by a friend and we couldn’t believe our luck. We sat perspiring, a trend that would come to be a constant for the next 2 days, until they’d had their fill and we plodded back to the boat to find refreshments waiting for us.

We, along with all the other boats, then got going for another few hours to where we would be stopping for the night, with dinner ready to go when we arrived which we enjoyed sitting on the roof of the boat. Following dinner we returned to the middle deck to find that our mattresses had been laid out like sardines, each draped with a mosquito net.

The next morning we awoke with the sunrise, each confirming with surprise at just how cold it was during the night. Since Charlie and I had packed extremely lightly there was unfortunately no solution to this problem. Breakfast was again had on the roof of the boat as we ventured to the next feeding station for 9am. It is for this reason that I sat we were spoilt the previous day as at this station we only had minimal sightings of monkeys that took their time arriving in the first place. Somewhat down hearted, we trekked back to the boat, feeling anxious that the same might happen at the next station that we were heading towards. After another glorious lunch we arrived for the final feeding station at 2pm. Any fear we had was rapidly forgotten as we were treated beyond imagination after waiting for about an hour, humidity seeming to be increasing by the second. The first to arrive was an incredibly courageous gibbon monkey, who could be the inspiration for the phrase ‘cheeky monkey’ as he swung across and scurried down to pile of bananas to swipe as many as he could hold before one of the big boys came along. Next up was a mother orangutan who we discovered to be carrying the most beautiful little baby under her arm. She too was joined by a wild adolescent who was causing havoc shaking the trees about and breaking off the branches in the canopy above us. We couldn’t have even imagined just how close we were able to get to the mother where she came all the way down to ground level and at one point was sitting only a meter or so away from the crowds that were transfixed on her every move – or more so their camera screens.

Meanwhile, on the actual feeding platform numerous monkeys were coming and going as they pleased, so much so that after the 2 hour feeding window had elapsed and we were told to leave, up to 20 orangutans had collected aloft around us. None of us could quite believe what we had witnessed. The fact that we had gotten just that close to the completely wild monkeys was just surreal and I was completely taken aback at their sheer size yet also how comfortable they were around us foreign spectators.

Back on the boat we had a long journey back towards the port so that we wouldn’t have far to go in the morning. We had dinner on arrival and then, all shattered from our much earlier that normal wake ups, swiftly went to bed.

Our last morning just consisted of breakfast en route back to the port for around an hour where we disembarked to the taxis waiting to take us to the almost seamless operation that far exceeded m expectations. This short adventure really opened my eyes to just why these creatures need to be protected, which the national park seem to be doing incredibly well. The palm oil industry, that admittedly I know very little about, is monumentally destructive to the even diminishing numbers of wild orangutans, thus the trip has enlightened me to the critical need to avoid the products it exists in wherever possible. I wasn’t too fussed initially about making the trip to Borneo, it was more Charlie that was keen to visit, however I’m so glad that we did as now I can without doubt say it was one of the highlights of my trip.

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