Orangutans & Approaching the Edge that Requires Silence

Tanjung Putang National Park - On the Dolphin

Three days ago, leaving in the dark from Sukadana, there was a telltale shadow of trepidation about spending 3 nights on boats of unknown shape, size or origin with 18 women in humidity and heat between 92-96 degrees, destination: Tanjung Putang National Park.

We make the rough bumpy ride to Ketapang moving through the bustle of daily life: motorbikes with neat but bulging panniers, children in school uniforms bicycling to school, a man sweeping his front porch, shopkeepers opening stores. I am intrigued by the small sometimes drab, often colorful simple homes, many with little if any major furniture. Boarding Aviastar, we make the 40 minute and worlds away flight to Pangalaboon. I can't quite name it but it feels a world different from where we came from. Asking Kari about it later, she reminds me that it's been only relatively recently that Indonesia has been united and yet with few roads, the islands and distances are difficult to penetrate; places feel wildly different.

The Dolphin Kelotok

The Dolphin Kelotok

Shortly after arriving at the dock where preparations for a wedding are going on adjacent, we board and move slowly into the nescafe Kumay River soon to take a hard left into the Tanjung Putang National Park where we will end up at Camp Leaky sometime tomorrow. The gentle wind slips across our warm stickiness. There are smiles. One of the guides catches a glimpse of the telltale pendulum action of Nipa Palms and we come to a slow stop to catch a glimpse of a wild, male orangutan. On the bow of the boat, I glimpse his black cheeks and deep set eyes, his russet body and rounded shoulders. Seen or not, we're all awe struck with what we only perhaps imagined.

Tanjung Harrapan

Tanjung Harrapan

We motor for about 2 hours before rounding a bend to arrive at the first station: Tanjung Harrapan, or Peninsula of Hope as our guide Eddy translates. Several of the other cradle-like boats are already docked. Our main boat, the Dolphin leads our pack of 3 as each sidles up "just so" to the dock where we weave and walk away across bows and railings to arrive on the dock. After a brief stop at the Visitor Center where well-intentioned exhibits are fading in the incessant heat and humidity and peat swamp exhibits are long since dismantled, we head into the jungle for the feeding station.

Walking no more than 15 minutes, we are greeted by a young female orang tucked up in the crook of a tree. She stares down at us and I ascribe a curiosity to her I imagine she feels but don't really know to be true. Perhaps all she is imagining is when the ranger will arrive with the sweet milk. And then we hear the crashing of branches that heralds the dominant male, Yani's arrival. His box like body is draped with long russet hair and his black flap cheeks cup his even darker liquid black eyes. Everyone is entranced. Everyone is snapping pictures hoping for that one most amazing shot to share with people back home. Me too.

Yani

Yani

We arrive at the edge that requires silence as we await the orangs that are migrating their way through the rainforest to this feeding station. Emerging from the pendulum swinging trees keeping time to a pulse beyond time, one by one, some with babies clinging, they arrive and are there before and soon all around us. "Us" is a crowd of onlookers come to see from Germany, Norway, America and Indonesian's of lineages as diverse, remarkable and mysterious as the complexity of this rainforest.

We leave Tanjung Harapan where we've met the alpha male of this station, Yani and a family of females, babies and adolescents. I'm left with a vision of long flaming hair sparkling in the swing and arc of the great apes as they move effortlessly from tree to snag to limb. Later, in a different place further up the Simpan Kanan River where Camp Leaky is located, I'll watch two young orangutans use their weight to swing a snag back and forth, arching to catch a further tree: once, twice they try. The third time, the far tree is grasped and from the audible sounds one could imagine they were as pleased with themselves as was the assembled crowd below.

Proboscis Monkeys by Eddy

Proboscis Monkeys by Eddy

With no marker that we can discern, Eddy and Mywardi, our guides, have the Dolphin Captain, Iyan, nestle the boat into the ubiquitous nipa palms. The light is softening to dove blue; the greens seem luminous as the proboscis monkeys shimmer in the fading sun, tails hanging long like fat white ropes. Cradled in high leafy branch bouquets, the proboscis monkey clan is silently watched by one large darker male tucked up under the branches of a distant tree. Youngsters cavort from limb to limb like the Sugar Plum Cat while babes are cradled, groomed and patted. Adolescents from the size squabble over who will get the choicer hold. It is not so different, really, I think.

Suyati and assistant cook dinner

Suyati and assistant cook dinner

With the curtain of dark pulled over this peninsula of hope, fireflies twinkle in trees and stars shimmer through a light mist. Soft, delightfully lumpy colorful mattresses are quickly made up by the deck hands rendering what had been our sitting areas into bedrooms whose walls was dreamy guaze that seemed to breath with the nights shallow warm wind. Rocked to sleep on the top deck of the boat with the rain forest in full chorus, we all fall asleep early (8:30 p.m.) and fast.

Next Stop: Pondok Tanggwei and Camp Leaky

 

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About Michelle Bussard | View all posts by Michelle Bussard

Michelle is the Executive Director at Health In Harmony, based in Portland, OR.