Wed 12 Oct 2016 08:08
Morning dawned and we motor sailed across the shallow sand banks in the huge mouth of the Sekonyer River and dropped anchor and had a decent night’s sleep before sailing up the river to Kumai the next day.
It was 12 miles up the river to the busy port of Kumai (gateway to the Tanjung Puting National Park – home of the Orangutans).
We dropped anchor in the river and next morning went in search of booking a trip to see the Orangutans.
Kumai is a typical busy Indonesian Port, very uninspiring and all along the waterfront are giant concrete cubes which resemble communist style housing blocks – they are in fact home to the thriving ‘bird’s nest soup’ industry and are home to the Black and White nest Swiftlets that create the nests used in this dubious delicacy. Eating the nests is believed to provide health benefits such as increasing ones libido, aiding digestion, strengthening the lungs, alleviating asthma, cough prevention and an overall improvement in ones life force (impressive!). The sound of birds was overpowering – that is until prayers started and we realised we had never truly heard the full brunt of Moslem prayer. This area is 75% Moslem and prayers happen 7 times during day and night. It could only be described as a cacophony on the grandest scale – nothing vaguely tuneful as the whole population seemed to be singing in different keys! Our first thought was ‘let’s see the Orangutans and escape as quickly as possible’!
The Rally suddenly announced that we were to be invited to 2 days of festivities and ceremonies in the nearby City of Pangkalan Bun – these 2 days turned out to totally change our initial feelings about Kumai. We were treated like celebrities. We joined in the huge carnival in the City as guests of honour and were greeted by the Mayor of the City, we were then taken on a walking tour of the traditional markets and on long wooden boats along the river to see the boatbuilding on the riverbanks. We had lunch in a restored wooden palace hosted by the grandson of the original King. We were taken by coach with a police escort on both days and on the second day visited the Junior High School where the children performed dancing and music then bombarded us with questions. Everywhere people wanted their photographs taken with us and were so excited with our visit. It was an amazing experience and we were made so welcome by these incredible people. The second visit included a traditional ceremony where we were invited as guests of the Mayor and treated to a buffet lunch with music and dancing. Pangkalan Bun is trying very hard to get tourists to visit as most visitors fly in and go to the National Park to see the Orangutans then fly out again. It would be worth anyone spending an extra couple of days there just to experience the warmth of the people.
In between all this celebrity status we booked a day trip by speedboat to visit the Orangutans. Most people opt to go on the wooden houseboats (klotoks) for between 2 and 4 days meandering slowly through the jungle. We decided that as we spend all our time taking forever to travel such short distances we did not find the prospect of a long slow trip up the river in the vaguest way appealing so we opted for speed!!!! Great decision and we had a wonderful day with our guide Dian and his driver. We had told them we liked to go fast and zooming up the windy river at high speed started to resemble a scene out of a Bond movie. The trip became even more ‘Bondlike’ when we came across a narrow part of the river which was blocked by tangled weeds. This was no problem to these intrepid young Indonesians, they turned and took a run at it, one stood on the back and lifted the outboard as the little boat launched itself across the reeds. Dian, his driver and Syd all leapt out onto the mat of reeds and hauled the boat over and on we went. Impressive or what!
The Orangutans were totally amazing, we visited 2 camps including Camp Leakey for feeding and were treated to a close up view of nature in the wild – nothing is scripted here and anything can happen. One of the highlights was while we were sitting at Camp Leakey, Dian tapped us on the shoulder and told us to move – Tom was on the way!!!! Tom is the King and does not always make an appearance – we were lucky. We leapt out of his way and he sauntered in centre stage, glowering at everyone (no, you would not have argued with him!) He was huge and commanded respect, all the other Orangutans who had been happily feeding hastily took to the trees and as King Tom ambled into the feeding area one baby Orangutan who was clinging to his mother in the trees cried out uncontrollably – Tom gave him a look! Tom sat there on the platform stuffing bananas in his mouth then appeared to get bored and sauntered off into the jungle.
Another highlight of our day was spending time close up with a female Orangutan aged 48 years called Saskia. Our guide Dian who had worked at Camp Leakey for years and knew most of the Orangutans told us she was lazy and liked to hang around where the visitors arrived. She was lying on her back fast asleep with a leaf in one hand and her other hand holding her foot. It was amazing watching her so close and she opened her eyes and watched us but was quite happy for us to be there.
On our trip back as the sun was setting over the beautiful jungle the trees were filled with monkeys and we got to see the rare Proboscis Monkeys swinging in the branches – a perfect end to a perfect day.
We left Kumai Friday, 7th October after stocking up with fresh vegetables at the traditional market. We motored back down the river and anchored in the river mouth to get a good sleep before the dawn start on Saturday.