Since leaving Bali in search of more thrills I'd found myself climbing mountains for sunrise, gazing into toxic turquoise lakes and sitting on the fringes of volcanic craters, but it could be argued the best was saved until last. I've been an animal lover for a while, with apes sitting high up on the favourites list (only boosted by King Ceaser and the Planet Of The Apes franchise) so, when I learnt of a place in Western Indonesia that serves as home to one of the worlds largest remaining Orangutan populations, I jumped at the opportunity.
After flying from Yogjakarta through to Medan, we set off on a five hour drive across the torturously bumpy terrain beside the banks of the Bahorok River, into Bukit Lawang - a small tourist village in North Sumatra where our adventure would begin. The following morning, we packed a small day pack each consisting of essentials, and set off in to the heart of Gunung Leuser National Park. On the route, I learnt from our amazing guides Helmi and Bunglah that orangutans are currently classified as critically endangered, and a large part of this is due to rainforest deforestation from palm oil plantations. Within the UNESCO site we were currently hiking in, however, they were protected and monitored, whilst remaining wild and in their natural habitat.
Within our first hour our guides brought us to a stop, patiently assessing our environment before pointing high up into the canopy. Soon enough, we noticed a huge nest within the trees and a broad dark face peering through the leaves at us. Our first orangutan, a huge male! From that point onwards, we encountered a handful of these incredible animals from the trees down to the ground during our trek, close enough at times to hold eye contact. Connecting with them in this way was truly an indescribable feeling. We also spotted the famous Thomas Leaf Monkeys, White Tail Macaques, large Monitor Lizards and Hawksbill birds.
We camped that night in the jungle beside a river, which offered us the perfect bathing spot that evening, after seven hours of trekking in the thick, humid rainforest. We heard brilliant stories from some of the other groups who told us of their own experiences - close encounters with local monkeys and orangutans who interrupted their lunch to steal all the fruit. The footage was massively entertaining.
Overall, the two days we spent within the jungle in search of these wonderful animals was incredibly satisfying. Not only to be so close to such majestic creatures, that share so much of our DNA, but to feel unrushed, and able to observe them in their natural habitat, climbing, eating, nurturing their young, and playing, was an incredible honour - something I will never forget.
If travelling to Indonesia, make time to visit Sumatra, the sixth largest island in the world. Join Sumatra Orangutan Trek group and experience it for yourself!