Bukit Lawang: The jungle of orangutans
One of my dreams was seeing orangutans in the wild. There’s something so special about those beautiful animals which are so smart and so alike in their expressions. Did you know they share 97% of our genetic code? Incredible right? There are two places to do so in the world which is either Borneo, Malaysia or in Sumatra, Indonesia. As lucky as we are, we are traveling around both. However, we touched base in Sumatra first so that’s where we headed into the rainforest of Bukit Lawang to find these special creatures.
Bukit Lawang is a small jungle village where you can book tours ranging from day trips to multiple days and nights in the jungle. The village of Bukit Lawang is easy to stick around for a bit. Lounging in your hammock, tubing down the river, wandering through the little town. It’s a very laid-back place surrounded by the greens of the rainforest.
When you are on a mission of seeing wild orangutans I do have to say here that the orangutans in Bukit Lawang are used to people due to the fact that most of them got here through a rehabilitation program. Even though the program stopped ten year ago, the orangutans here are therefore semi-wild. If you really wanna see wild animals, you gotta go to Ketambe. The orangutans in Ketambe have never been in contact with humans, which makes the jungle experience more ‘real’, but also harder to spot them.
So off we went, two days in the jungle on the lookout for orangutans and other animals that would cross our paths. Within half an hour we were sweating our asses off, climbing over rocks and branches, going up and down and up again. It’s definitely not an easy Sunday morning stroll, but that just adds to the fun. Our guides couldn’t promise us orangutans, but we got very lucky and within the first hour we saw two already! Up in the trees, swinging from branch to branch, keeping an eye on us. Maybe I really sound like a girl here, but it almost made me cry. I thought it was such a unique experience and really had to pinch myself for actually seeing them in their natural habitat.
Back to nature
We saw many of them over those two days. Mamas with their babies who where discovering all the tricks of the jungle, teenagers really behaving like stubborn teenagers, and a very cheeky guy who tried to steel our lunch. It was both hilarious and mesmerizing. It was not just orangutans we saw. We saw Thomas leaf monkeys, macaques, many bugs and some incredibly big lizards.
Sleeping in the jungle was quite the experience as well. Don’t expect comfy mattresses or nice little huts. This was back to basics as much as you can. Sleeping in a tent on a mattress as thick as my fingernail, showering in the river, having breakfast and dinner in the open air. When you think the jungle is nice and calm, wait till the sun sets. There’s so much noise of crickets, monkeys, birds, frogs and probably a lot of other animals I don’t even know. I was surprised by what all those animals can produce. Life in the jungle… So this is how Tarzan and Jane must have felt when they moved into the bush.
Which tour should you get?
When choosing a guide to take you into the jungle, make sure they have the protection of the forrest on top of their priority list. We booked our tour through Junia’s Guesthouse in Bukit Lawang. Our guides Edi and Jojo grew up in the jungle knowing every sound, every movement, every bush. These guys really take the jungle serious and I can highly recommend them. Another option would be Orangutan Experience. We heard some great stories about them and they too make sure your visit to the rainforest is sustainable.
Some of the other guides feed the animals so you can get close to them or even touch them. How cool this may sound, it really is the worst. It is forbidden, but mostly this makes them only more aggressive (associating humans with food), ill and less independent in the wild. With a big part of Indonesia being chopped for palm oil, I think we should do everything in our power to protect the few parts that are still in tact. Don’t leave your footprint here in any way, as you will only spoil it and put those animals in danger. Please keep this in mind when visiting this beautiful place.
This being said, there are still quite a few really good tour guides that will give you the experience of a lifetime. In my opinion the orangutans are one of the coolest creatures in the world, and seeing them in their natural habitat was like a dream come true. The whole jungle trekking was truly amazing and we learned and saw so much. Just do your homework, respect nature and enjoy this experience to the fullest.
Photos by: M. Barends & J. Roeland©