A Borneo Adventure by Sadie (13)

Written by Sadie, Girl on the Hill



I woke up the first morning at the Swiss-belle Hotel at 5.30am! I had everyday cereal for breakfast (coco pops in my case) but there was loads of amazing Indonesian food as well. Packed and ready to leave, we were headed for our Klotok (boat) that we were ready for our big adventure! 

The boats are amazing. They have two floors. On top are couches and a table for eating at. Downstairs is for the crew cabins, kitchen, toilet and shower. When I first boarded, it was a lot to take in, that I was going to be staying on this boat for the next few days. 

The big Seponyer river, where we started our trip, was murky brown water. The wind whipped our faces and the trees around us swayed. On either bank were trees that hung over into the water and banks of mud making space between the them. 

                   “As it sat grasping with its big hands and feet, it stretched out its legs and arms as if hovering between two trees. I was stunned at how beautiful it was.

It was the most amazing experience I have ever had. We looked off the boat into the jungle for anything that moved. I saw a crocodile but that was nothing compared to what came next. 

We saw our first Orangutan! It was in a tree on the riverbank. It was a wild Orangutan. 

It was orange with long hair and what looked like four arms. As it sat grasping with its big hands and feet, it stretched out its legs and arms as if hovering between two trees. I was stunned at how beautiful it was. I have no words to describe the feeling that swept over me when I saw it. I am privileged. 

As we continued our our journey we saw so many birds: Black Hornbills, Asian Pied Hornbills, Stork-billed Kingfishers, Black-and-Red Broadbills, to name a few. 

Just before we reached the first Orangutan feeding station, we turned a corner in the river and the water suddenly turned black. We were told that the black water was cleaned by the forest.  It was crystal clear and that created amazing reflections of the trees and blue sky above. It was like we were floating in mid air, it was such a mirror image. 

We next arrived at a tiny little dock and stepped off the boat onto a wooden boardwalk and we were at Camp Leakey. This was the first feeding station in Tanjung Puting National Park. 

We went on foot through some shallow mud and water, arriving at a museum. There were pictures of all the Orangutans that had ever lived there. They had their names on the framed pictures and some even had a timeline showing pictures of when they were young, to now. 

Then we ventured onto a path that led to the feeding station. We were told that the feeding stations were to help the rehabilitated Orangutans get their food and to help move the Orangutans to different locations. There are a few feeding stations all over that jungle. 

When we arrived at the feeding station it was nothing I would've thought it would be. There was a big wooden table about a metre and a half high. There were wooden benches where we sat and waited for the Orangutans behind a rope that separated us from the them. The rope protects the Orangutans from us. However the Orangutans have no rules. There was one time when the Orangutan came under the rope and walked straight past me around three metres away. It was extraordinary. 

Two guys came up onto the station with baskets full of bananas. They emptied the baskets onto the station and walked off making whooping sounds to attract the Orangutans attention and let them know the food had arrived. This also attracted the Bearded Pigs that were waiting for fallen scraps. 

We waited for a little while and eventually an Orangutan came. Soon after we had watched seven Orangutans come and go for two hours. We saw a mother with a less than two-year old baby. Another 7-9 year old boy and other males that were so greedy eating bananas, one of them had six whole bananas in his mouth at the same time! 

As the mother and baby left, the mother was very wary of the pigs. She swung around so that she could see them and waited for them to move away before carefully, with her baby, climbed down from the station and left. 

We walked back down the path mesmerised by what we had just seen. Back at the Klotok, Ivend was waiting for us with cold towels in ice ... mmmm ... and a table laid out with a colourful array of dishes for lunch: beef curry, veggies, mango cordial. The food was so nice. The cook was amazing. 

We set off for our next stop and even while eating, we spotted more Orangutans in the trees at head height.  

We headed deeper into the jungle to a place called ‘Crocodile Lake’ and as it got dark at around 5.45 we sat and chatted. We were staying on the boat tonight. We had mattresses and sleeping bags and pillows. We slept next to someone else under a mosquito net on the top deck. 

We were shattered and went to bed at eight o’clock. Even though it was humid, we were lulled to sleep by the chirping sounds of crickets in the forest. 

The next day, I woke up to beautiful sunrise. The air was cool and there was the sound of birds and Agile Gibbons whooping away in tree tops out of sight on the horizon. Frogs called from the riverbanks and a Black-and-Red Broadbill flitted past, with its brilliant turquoise and yellow beak. 

Breakfast was banana pancakes with toast and eggs, dragon fruit and mango. 

Afterwards we headed downriver to station no.2. We had to walk bare foot through water to get to the feeding station. We saw lots of Orangutans but not as many as the day before. At one point a big Alpha male came down from the trees behind us. We heard a massive crack and rustling on leaves and looked behind us. He was just sitting there waiting for us to get out of the way. He didn't move until we did. He moved across and under the rope to the platform. 

We then set off again to another Orangutan feeding station. The crew called it Mosquito heaven or Kingdom of Mosquitos - but it really wasn’t that bad after all. In fact, the mosquitos weren’t anywhere near as bad as I expected they’d be.  

We went up a path and it began to get very muddy. We were all stepping over roots and dodging the mud and slipping into it sometimes. It was so much fun. 

Every couple of weeks they move the feeding stations. I think this is because the palm oil industry is getting closer and closer to the Orangutans habitat and they have to help the Orangutans learn about new areas of the forest. 

Back on the boat we went looking for Proboscis Monkeys. While it’s not the focus of the trip, they are one of the most anticipated moments on the whole journey. They are so much fun.  

We were lucky to find an entire tree full of them. 

We cut off the engine so we could watch them quietly. Their noses are fascinating. The females have pointy ones and the males have long, wide, droopy, flat ones. As the sun comes down, they fight and jostle for the best and most comfortable branches to sit on. They move between trees by jumping. One will climb to the top and start swaying backwards and forwards, until the whole tree catapults it through the air to land with a crash. The jumps look impossible.   

The male we watched was sleeping in the tree and when we went to depart, the noise of our engine woke him up. 

He screamed so loudly and ran around the tree hopping from branch to branch. Some of the branches fell into the water. It was quite hilarious but we also felt a bit guilty. 

That night we stayed at Rimba Ecolodge, which is a hotel in the forest, where all the buildings and on stilts. That night we had a lovely dinner out on the wharf next to the Klotoks.  

In the morning we went for a bird walk but the bridge to the hide was flooded, as the water levels were really high. So we went back around the buildings. The Proboscis Monkeys had set up camp over our room and it was very noisy! The males would run along the tin roofs (a lot louder than our possums at home). 

A troop of Macaques were hanging around reception. They are a bit intimidating and you they get angry if you look them in the eye, so I didn’t. 

The weather this morning was a bit cooler and there were clouds forming. We’d been lucky with the weather so far and this morning we headed back to a feeding station for one more close encounter before beginning the slow journey back home along the river.

The day wasn’t over though. There were still plenty of Orangutans to see. As sun set, we came across a massive group of Proboscis Monkeys in the top of a tall tree. They glowed orange in the setting sun and there was forked lightning behind them. It was magical. We also came across some Silver Langurs, one of a few types of monkey that live along the riverside.

There was one last treat left as we stopped for dinner. Along the riversides, in the wild palms, thousands of fireflies live. They have a bright yellow light that sometimes blinks on and off. They are only tiny, about the size of a grain of rice but they are so bright. 

We sat and ate a final farewell dinner as we were entertained by the light show around us. 

Wildiaries •