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In Search of Wild Orangutans

In Search of Wild Orangutans

on Jan 5, 2015

(Location: Borneo, Indonesia)

We saw a documentary on orangutans, and it was filmed at “Camp Leakey.” Some googling revealed that was located in the Indonesian part of Borneo. This is how we found ourselves on a klotok on the Sekonyer River looking for orangutans.

It was another insane travel day to get from Cambodia to Indonesia, and because of a canceled flight, we spend two nights Semarang, Indonesia (a place we didn’t even know existed). We got four new passport stamps, were fingerprinted four times, and had to reclaim and recheck bags twice. Andy almost gave up and flew home from Kuala Lumpur. After the first wild orangutan sighting, he agreed that it was all worth it.

Because of a flight cancelation, we wound up with 24 hours in Semarang. On New Year’s Eve. We didn’t really leave the Crowne Plaza (another giant suite for under $150) – we had some laundry done, walked around an insanely crowded mall, ate a cronut, and had a really good meal at the hotel’s Chinese restaurant.

It’s not easy to get to Indonesian Borneo. Our journey started with an hour flight to Pankalabun (in Kalimantan). Our guide was waiting and we drove about 30 minutes to the port of Kumai. Along the way, he made some calls to order lunch, and to procure some beer for us (only available on black market in these parts).

Kumai is a port city known for factory farming of bird nests for soup. There are dozens of really odd looking concrete buildings that are actually giant bird houses for swiftlets. Oh, and it’s NOISY.

From Kumai, we took a boat two hours up the river to Tanjung Puting National Park.

We stayed at the Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge, and booked directly through them. This is pretty much the only option unless you stay on one of the klotoks (the narrow boats). The lodge reviews online were not stellar, but we were there for the wildlife so as long as we could sleep and didn’t get sick, we were fine with whatever. We were in the nicest category of room and it turned out to be fine. It had air conditioning, and there was a mossie net. Breakfast was good. Meals on the boat were good. Dinner in the restaurant on our last night was not good (but it didn’t make us sick). We did go through three bottles of insect repellent, but only got a few bites.

Each day we would visit one orangutan feeding station in the morning and another in the afternoon. Some days we ate lunch on the boat, but on others we returned to the lodge. The food on the boat was better, but the lodge had a proper toilet 🙂 The feeding stations were great opportunities for closeup We saw LOTS of wildlife (orangutans, proboscis monkeys, langurs, gibbons, and macaques) while cruising the river. One night they took us down river a bit and tied up in a forest that had thousands of fireflies – SUPER cool but unfortunately not possible to photograph (night + moving boat + moving bugs).

Did I mention it was hot? Like insanely hot. Or it could have been the humidity. We were sweating through our clothes (which were the special “moisture wicking” “high performance fabric” t-shits and pants). Meanwhile, many of the local women were covered from head to toe in dark shrouds and looked perfectly comfortable. The locals kept asking to take pictures with us and seemed fascinated by our inability to handle the heat. There aren’t many tourists in these parts.

Favorite animal photos
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And some “behind the scenes” ones too
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