Assalamu’alaikum & Marhaba!
We took a short trip to Indonesia over the long weekend to see orangutans in the Sumatran jungle. What an experience, Subhanallah (Glory be to God)! Unfortunately, there aren’t many of them left. These incredible animals are endangered along with the Sumatran rhinoceros, tigers, and pygmy elephants.
We started our journey from Kuala Lumpur to the city of Medan, Indonesia which was only an hour flight away. After spending a night there, our tour company sent a driver to bring us to a local village on the outskirts of the Sumatran rainforest. It took around three hours – be warned of Indonesian driving and traffic. What really caught my attention were the number of plantations along the way. I was expecting a ride through a lush rainforest, and was genuinely surprised and a tad disappointed by the neatly lined rows of palm trees we were passing instead.
We stayed with the Sumatra Paradise tour company in Bukit Lawang. Our expectations were set low prior to our arrival. It was a welcome surprise to find that it was clean, the staff spoke English well, and the bungalows were quite charming. They also accommodated us by adding an extra queen-sized mattress in our room for the kids. For dinner, they made us a delicious home-cooked Indonesian meal, fried rice and pumpkin curry. We ended the night with a satisfying dessert of fried bananas.
Gunung Leuser National Park, Bukit Lawang
To start our six hour trek, we took a short tuk-tuk ride closer to the entrance of the rainforest around 7:30 a.m. They provided us with a total of four guides since we were bringing along two young children. My husband carried Muhammad (2 years) in the carrier most of the trip, while the guides took turns carrying Layaan (4 years) whenever she felt tired.
Before reaching the entrance to the nature reserve, we walked through a large plantation of rubber trees. It became alarmingly clear why many of the animals in the Sumatran rainforest are facing endangerment: habitat loss.
Not long into our hike, we were met with a semi-wild female orangutan; they are rehabilitated and released back into the jungle. We moved on quickly in search of the much larger male once the guides heard his calls nearby.
They took us on a “shortcut” which was muddy, slippery, and extremely steep. Although we ended up reaching the male orangutan at the same time as the other hikers using the trail, the adventurous route made it more exhilarating. Thank goodness the entire hike was not like that, though!
It was at this point, I noticed my toddler, who is going through a rather enjoyable screaming and whining stage, was uncharacteristically hushed since we began the hike. We all were. Being out in nature brings about a sense of calm and peace over everyone. Thanks to my husband’s determination to take on these adventures with our little ones, they have developed an appreciation and understanding of nature that astounds me.
The most significant part of the hike for me was the encounter with the male orangutan. Face to face with him, I was wonderstruck by his size, his proximity to us, and his movements. The kids were wide-eyed and grinning from ear to ear. You would think fear would consume you in this situation, but it was the last thing on my mind. While we snapped away on our cameras, he watched us intently. He was equally as curious about us as we were him.
Not too far from him, we found a mother and her young. The kids watched with delight as they swung overhead and played in the branches.
Throughout our journey, we came across Thomas Leaf monkeys, which are beautiful white, grey, and black monkeys with especially long tails. They did not approach us, but also did not shy away when we came near. With the help of the guide, Muhammad (2 years) was able to pet one. The smile on his face was infectious and the experience unforgettable. These monkeys are only found in Sumatra.
We came across another mother and her young who were interacting with the tourists a lot more than the rest. We were warned to keep our belongings zipped up. The semi-wild orangutans are not afraid to approach and rummage through backpacks to find food. At one point, they began to follow us along the trail hoping we would feed them. The baby orangutan put on quite a little show for us!
When the guides thought the coast was clear, we took a snack break and they made us a Sumatran fruit salad. While we were enjoying our snack, the mother and her young snuck up on us. At this point, they were becoming more hostile and agitated. The guides made sure to surround us and get us out of the way safely.
We left them with the fruits, and started our descent. The mother and baby pair caught up to us once again, and this time caused a bit of alarm when the mother began baring her teeth. She was grabbing the guide’s packs aggressively. Thankfully, one of the guides stayed behind to distract them, while the others took us back on the trail to make a quick getaway.
Our hike ended at the river, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of nasi goreng (fried rice), vegetables, and a fried egg served on a banana leaf. For dessert, they prepared another fruit salad. Towards the end of our meal, the macaque monkeys began to congregate nearby hoping to steal some food. The kids thought it was hilarious and were growling at the monkeys to help Baba chase them away. We made it a point to clear up all of our trash and food. Sadly, others had left behind water bottles and plastic bags which the monkeys were ripping apart and getting stuck in their teeth.
Rather than trekking the whole way back, the tour ended with a rafting experience down the river towards the starting point. Layaan was sitting with me towards the front, but after the first splash of water terrified her, we moved her towards the back with one of the guides. The cool water felt refreshing after the hike! Muhammad clung onto his dad and was absolutely silent, while Layaan cried nervously through most if (not hysterically). Let’s just say, both were pretty happy to be back on land afterwards.
We were relieved to have finished the entire tour around noon. The heat was beginning to intensify and it was the perfect amount of adventure for one day. Here’s to another amazing trip filled with an unforgettable animal encounter experience to add to our travel stories! Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God)!
After our trip, I did some research about what we observed on our trip. The global impact by the deforestation of Sumatran rainforests is alarming. Take a look at this article about why it should matter to us. And remember to be careful not to leave anything behind the next time you are out in nature.
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