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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October 4 & 5, 2012 – Kumai River - The Orangutan Tour…A Once in a Lifetime Adventure

Hans, Ute, Barb, Frank
Relaxing down the river
Thursday morning, equipped with sheets, towels, toiletries, insect repellant, sun protection, hats, cameras and of course plenty of Bintang, we boarded the double-decker river boat named "Princess" that was our home for the next two days. Noval brought along a boat boy who would sleep in our cockpit and look after Destiny while we were away, introduced us to our adorable young guide, Ivend and then he sped away wishing us a wonderful journey. Ivend immediately stowed our gear, introduced us to our captain, Popeye (yes, truly this is his name!), and crew and then we were underway. As we traveled up-river Ivend pointed out Long Tailed Macaques and Proboscis Monkeys swinging from tree to tree, several empty treetop nests of wild orangutans and many species of predator birds and bats. We passed beautifully multi colored Kingfishers that flitted away much too quickly for us to snap a photo. This is a veritable haven for jungle dwellers. We sat in comfy chairs atop our boat and watched gape-jawed as nature rolled past. Our cook served us mid morning tea and tasty cakes and pastries as Ivend passionately spoke of the river habitat and it's delicate environment – clearly he feels great love and respect for this place, his home. Eventually we came to a site where the palm oil growers dispense their waste into the river while Ivend sadly explained how that industry is slowly killing this extraordinary natural environment. We passed several ranger stations and police dwellings built on stilts over the river, where they try to patrol and protect indigenous creatures from poachers. Unfortunately, some of the police dwellings have been abandoned because not long ago one of the officers was eaten by a freshwater crocodile. OOPS! Oh yeah, they also have crocs here, as well as many varieties of snakes and spiders. Just before arriving at Camp Leaky, our cook served us lunch. What a spread: fresh fish, vegetables rice and fresh fruit, coffee, tea and bottled water. I won't go into each meal, but over the two-day trip we were served incredibly delicious food that included chicken, shrimp, asparagus soup, banana pancakes, omelets, everything fresh and delicious, plus morning and afternoon tea both days. This was apparently the 5-star tour and we were very contented with the service.
The Princess 
Frank, Barb, Ute, Hans


 At Camp Leaky we were advised not to carry any food and to keep everything including hats, sunglasses, cameras, bags, etc. very close to us because the orangutans are quite cheeky and will snatch and grab anything they can before we know what hit us. Walking into the camp, we came upon a pretty little monkey sitting in a tree staring at us.

Soon we came upon the camp where the dominant female orangutan named Siswi was sitting by a cabin munching on some bananas. As we approached another female carrying a baby attached to her side joined Siswi and they sat sharing bananas.

It was so sweet! We watched them for a while until a male came along, darting about the periphery before disappearing into the trees and disturbing the females. Ivend took us into the museum where we learned about the history of the camp that was established for the study and protection of a certain core family of orangutans. The small museum contained quite a lot of information and artifacts relating to the orangutans and other creatures within this and the other camps then he showed us a family tree posted to the wall. Princess was the original matriarch of this group. There are now one dominant/alpha female and one dominant/alpha male. Tom is the alpha male. Obviously the dominant male earns his stature by fighting, and as a male wins each fight with other males, he begins to grow large "cheeks" on either side of his head. Younger, less dominant males have no discernable cheeks, some have just a small ridge outlining the sides of their faces, but Tom looked as though his face had wings. He and his cheeks were massive. We hoped to get a glimpse of Tom while here but Ivend held no promises. We left the building and started down the path leading to the staging area for the 3:00 feeding. On the way, we encountered Siswi again who plopped down directly in our path, flirting with Frank and Hans. 
Siswi showing off to  Hans and Frank

She would lounge back and bare her private parts to them – what a little hussy! She must have thought they were our dominant males. Shortly, along came a young male whom she immediately tried to charm. Wanting nothing to do with the old girl he ran for the trees and quickly swung away giving us a good show. 

Eventually we arrived at the feeding platform where coconut milk had been placed in buckets and piles of mangoes littered the platform. As several orangutans approached so did wild boars and their piglets (boarlets?), that rooted around underneath to pick up the scraps. The orangutans put on quite a show for us, swinging in along the treetops, alighting onto the platform and then sitting down for their meal. A couple of females had babies clinging to them who would eat with one hand while never taking the other off momma. They were so civilized in their table manners, scooping the milk out with a coconut shell cup, having a drink and then peeling mangoes one at a time before eating them. They sometimes took turns and then every now and then a rowdy one would swoop in grabbing 6 or 7 mangoes, cramming them into its mouth while holding one in each foot and then swing away. Some stayed around feasting and acting silly for the cameras. It is best seen in person because my trying to relate our experience cannot possibly do it justice. We sat for a good while snapping photos and taking video footage. On our way back through the camp we heard a commotion ahead as someone excitedly pointed out big Tom sitting outside a ranger's cabin munching on his own serving of mangoes. 
Tom the alpha male

This guy could probably bench press a truck! His head, hands and feet were enormous. We were advised to stay 5 meters away from him and not to draw his attention. He feasted for a good while before Siswi came along, jealous of the attention given to Tom; she began to prance about demanding an audience. Once again she plopped down in front of Hans and began flirting! What a little stinker she is. We snapped dozens of photos and then were advised it was time to leave.

Back on the boat we cruised back out onto the main part of the river where we enjoyed a bit more nature watching as our cook prepared the evening meal. Popeye parked the boat up against the riverbank so that we could get our showers, change clothes and freshen up for dinner. Afterward we enjoyed sitting on the foredeck to watch and listen to the jungle around us. It certainly comes alive at night. We enjoyed visiting for a while as the crew set up our mattresses, pillows and mosquito nets and then retired to bed. We took their cue and followed suit. Early the next morning we awoke to the sound of the engine and the smell of fresh coffee and breakfast.

At 9 AM we arrived at Ranger Station #2 where we got to experience wild orangutans in their natural habitat. Again there was a trip deep into the forest where a much more rugged feeding platform was set up and piled high with bananas and buckets of milk. At first, only a young but well developed male appeared. Ivend told us he is the #3 dominant male here, but is working his way up to #1. He had the platform to himself for a while before a mother and her very young baby appeared. He showed amazing respect toward her moving over to make room, but not before stuffing about 6 bananas into his mouth.  Eventually another juvenile appeared followed by several others, traversing the treetops then dropping down onto the platform. Some actually walked in along the path, staring us down. We couldn't believe we were this close to them. 

The babies were so cute Ute and I wanted to hug one, but were assured this would never happen. Afterward, Ivend walked us along the jungle trails pointing out a variety of creatures and their habitats. He enjoyed playing with a large walking stick and let a very large ant walk across his arms. He clearly loves nature and all of her denizens. He would point out edible berries and seeds, allowing us a taste of them as well.

Back to the river boat our next stop was to be a small village where we were to have been given a tour, see some craft making, visit a small market and have lunch, but there had been a death in the village of an elder and so it was off limits to us while the community was in mourning. Popeye parked the boat alongside the village dock while we enjoyed lunch and watched the first rains of the season blow in. Fortunately for us the rains ended at the exact time that we were due to arrive at Camp 3 where once again, following about a 3 km trek we arrived at the observation post to watch another group of wild orangutans.  These rangers fed the orangutans fresh yams and bananas. This was a lively bunch of primates who came from all directions, swinging on vines and from treetops, walking along the jungle floor and generally plundering while a mother and her baby took center stage. A couple of juveniles would hang out in the tree tops, wait for one of the adults to be distracted, then would creep down and quickly snatch some bits and pieces on the run, scurrying back up to the tree tops. We got a real kick out of this bunch.

Proboscis Monkeys along the river
Proboscis monkey
After the last camp, our cook prepared our final meal as we relaxed on the deck and Ivend told us he had one final surprise for us. He wanted to show us Nature's Christmas lights. The mangroves lining the banks of the river play host to, according to Ivend, a billion fireflies. As we slowly motored back down the river and as darkness unfurled her black velvet curtain, truly the mangroves came alight with millions of twinkling bright white fireflies. Talk about dinner by firelight! It was a magical end to a wonderful adventure. We returned to our yachts at around 7:30 PM quite happy and appreciative from this amazing experience.
I feel I've written a book and still not done justice to this little journey. This is a trip everyone should get to do in their lifetime.


Judy & Bill Rouse aboard S/V BeBe said...

Yours is the best account of that river trip that I have ever read. Great posting!

Ruth Cawston said...

Wonderful account Barb, so looking forward to following in your footsteps next year. x