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Wondering Wanderer!, South Korea


By Steven Moore
SUMATRA! The very name itself is exotic, and before I travelled to Indonesia I'd envisaged a huge rainforest clad island with misty mountain peaks, tropical wildlife and spectacular scenery. After two weeks traversing this enchanting land, I realised my imagination rang true. Yet I wasn't prepared for just how amazing this island really was.

I knew Sumatra was one of only two places still inhabited by wild orangutans, the other being the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo. Scientists estimate there are only 30,000 of the critically endangered orangutans left in the wild, so the chance to witness these magnificent 'wild men of the forest' was dwindling, much like their natural habitats, and despite efforts by conservation groups, deforestation is rife. I was determined to try and observe one of nature's most mysterious creatures in it's own territory, so I packed my bag and headed deep into the rainforest...before it was too late.

My arrival after dark in the tiny village of Bukit Lawang was an adventure itself. I was led to my hut by candlelight over a raging river via a rickety rope bridge. I couldn't see the river, but it was the most deafening noise I'd ever heard, and I was certain, one false step and I'd die in the thundering rapids below. Luckily, I was led by a chuckling guide named Sonny, and I made it safely to my hut. I hired Sonny, an amazing character, as my hiking guide, and his catchphrase, 'never try, never know,' has become my life's mantra. Before setting off, Sonny warned there was only a slim chance of actually glimpsing orangutans; his last five attempts ended in disappointment. However, with his catchphrase fresh in my mind, I left the village exhilarated and unperturbed, and set off in search of the wild men.

The forest terrain was hilly, and very tough going. The intense heat and humidity took their toll, and I was glad when we took a break. Parrots squawked high in the trees, and invisible monkeys quarrelled noisily. I was dwarfed by everything; trees so wide and tall, with leaves as big as bed sheets. Rocks, large as houses, lie about randomly as if spewed from giant volcanoes. The scene was Jurassic Park...I half expected to be attacked by velociraptors any moment. Later, we camped beside the turbulent river. The break in the canopy allowed moonlight to illuminate the forest, and it was a surreal setting where sleep came easily.

Midway through next day's hike, Sonny made the familiar 'sshh' gesture with his fingers, but with a seriousness in his manner. My heart raced as my hopes grew. It was an anxious hour before I sensed movement high above, and perhaps a flash of orange? The anticipation was palpable, and I could barely breathe. Then, she emerged into view. Very slowly, about thirty feet away, a large female orangutan made her way toward us. Her colour was like fire against the forest greens, and I was amazed she'd remained concealed so easily. As she approached, Sonny's huge smile grew even wider...he didn't expect this. He motioned for me to hold out a banana. I did, nervously, and I realised how isolated we were if anything went wrong. 
She was just three feet away now, and then I saw the baby. I couldn't believe my luck. As she warily came within reaching distance, the mother and I shared a look. I couldn't know what she was thinking. Fear? Anger? I know that we humans are destroying her homeland, killing her species. Orangutans are intelligent, graceful and gentle creatures, and their habitat is among the most inspiring and important on the planet. Both their future and ours depend on it.

She took the banana, and with surprising speed, they were gone. The entire interaction, from first glimpse to last, took less than ten minutes, but it was wonderful, and I felt privileged to be there.

Published on www.enjoybedandbreakfast.com