9th-12th December, 2014
It was not twenty minutes after stepping off from the road and into the jungle, that we caught our first sighting; a startled owl flying away. Its companion though, remained stubbornly upon the branch.
After taking a photo we carried on walking, taking breaks every now and then. This first three hours would be the hardest of the entire excursion for my guide, Udin, who was carrying most of the food and equipment. Once we reached basecamp it would be much easier; as we would only have to carry water with us when we went out on hikes. I told him to take his time.
This was a very fortunate arrangement, for it was during such a break that we heard some branches snapping, looked up, and spotted a family of orang-utans.
Mummy, Daddy and baby. We watched them for a while as they climbed between the branches, gathering fruit. I had seen orang-utans before when I visited the Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo but that was three years ago, and they were creatures that had been tamed by the human care they had received. These orang-utans were truly wild; born and raised in the jungle.
An hour or so later, we bumped into another group of people who had been in the jungle for three days, and still not seen a single one of these amazing creatures.
We also came across a group of Thomas-leaf monkeys that morning, but they were quite far up in the trees. I was hoping to see one up close before my trip was over.
Basecamp was, typically, set beside a river and the porter for another group – the same group we passed on our way in – was already there, tending to a fire. Udin finally took the heavy backpack off of his shoulders and began making lunch; noodle soup – a meal I would get very accustomed to during the next few days.
Halfway through eating it I saw a rustling in one of the trees on the other side of the river and ran over to look, seeing something with long arms swinging between the branches. It was too big to be for a monkey, but yet too small for an orang-utan, I realised. Maybe it was a-
“White-handed gibbon,” Udin said, appearing beside me.
Shortly after I finished eating lunch I saw my fourth primate of the day: a group of long-tail macaques.
During our afternoon trek we found another group of orang-utans; a mother with a small baby and older child. We sat down and watched them for almost an hour as they fed on leaves. At one point a group of wild pigs walked near to us, not realising we were there. They soon fled in that piggy-like way, making lots of grunting noises.
Possibly the highlight of the day for me was when the younger orang-utan swung onto a tree above us and proceeded to urinate. Fortunately, his aim was not so good.
We wandered back to camp at about 4pm, and I had a wash in the river while Udin began preparing dinner.
After a stormy night in a leaky tent, I woke up feeling very tired. Yet I was also eager to get going and see more of the jungle.
I managed to get close enough to Thomas-leaf monkeys to see their funky hairdos that morning. They were noisy and playful creatures.
Later on the sound of woodpecker sent our eyes up to the sky. We never spotted the bird, but instead, we found a ratufa high in the treetops. They are large tree squirrels with big, fluffy tails.
There was another family of orang-utans passing through our part of the jungle that day and we spotted them twice. It was a mother with a baby and child of around five years old (and nearing an age of independence). We witnessed them encounter a group of Thomas-leaf monkeys, who made a big show of making loud sounds in an attempt to scare them off. The orang-utans, of course, being much larger creatures, paid them no heed, and carried on swinging through the trees.
After a supper of noodles, rice, vegetables and egg we rested for a while and then, after it got dark, we got ready to begin our night walk.
For the first hour or so we didn’t see much, apart from lots of strange and beautiful creepy crawlies, like this little critter.
It was nice to be out in the jungle at night though, and eerie. Eventually we found a kingfisher sleeping on one of the branches. I managed to get quite close to it.
The flash of my camera caused it to fly away. Just as I was climbing back up to the trail Udin yelled out; “Quick! Quick!” as he pointed at something in the undergrowth. I ran, getting there just in time to see a porcupine scrambling away.
We carried on walking, occasionally spotting big spiders, crickets, and strange caterpillars. The highlight of the night was definitely the mouse deer I found. It was a very timid and shy creature, with big yellow eyes which glowed in the night. I never managed to get a photo of it; we followed it for a while as it tried to slink out of sight, but it was impossible to get my camera to focus on it in the dark. For the purposes of illustration though; here is a photo of one I lifted from the internet. Just so you can see how awesomely cute they are.
By then I had reached a place where every time I saw a Thomas-leaf monkey I would just look at it for about ten seconds and then think; Great, another one. Next!
Which I guess makes me spoilt.
We didn’t find anything else that third morning, apart from a fleeting sight of a rhinoceros hornbill flying between the trees, an eagle soaring over the river, and a trogon resting in a tree.
I guess our orang-utan-athon had to end somewhere.
Udin was being a little bit lazy that day, which I guess was understandable with me getting him to take me out on a night-walk the night before as an extra. We were both a little tired.
As it was my last night in Camp 1 (which is said to be better for wildlife than Camp 2), I said to Udin that I would like to watch the orang-utans make their nest if we could find them. Udin seemed quite confident and said; “Okay, we leave at four.”
At 3:30 I woke him up from his nap and we got ready. I didn’t take us long to find them. It was the same three we bumped into the day before; the mummy/baby/junior family.
And then it was a matter of waiting. We watched for over an hour as mummy orang-utan gorged herself on endless leaves. Eventually it began to rain, forcing the orang-utans to climb down a bit lower and begin searching for a suitable place to make nests for the night. We followed, and the rain got heavier. By the time the orang-utans finally pulled branches of leaves from the tree and arranged them into their beds for the night, it was pouring. When it was over, Udin and I ran back to camp.
Udin had been coughing all night, and by the morning he didn’t look well at all. He slowly made breakfast – noodle soup, again – and, after eating a few mouthfuls, he ran into the trees and threw up.
He had a fever: it became clear that we were going to have to go back. He was very apologetic about it. I told him it wasn’t his fault and helped him pack up.
We walked to Ketambe slowly, Udin stopping every now and then to rest or cough up bile.
For more photos, click here.