We slept again under our mosquito net canopy, listening to the monyet Belanda chatter high up in the trees above us. Early in the morning, a torrential downpour started, further reducing the chances for my optimistic washing effort from two days ago. The rain belted down for hours in the lead up to the scheduled feeding session, our guide slightly less keen than usual to walk into the jungle in the rain. “There will be less orangutans here than at Camp Leakey, and with the rain, even less will come….,” he carefully explained. After some gentle persuasion on our behalf and the easing back of the downpour, we headed back into the jungle for one final time. We couldn’t miss one last chance could we?!
We had arrived at Pondok Tanggui, a former rice field for our final day, final feeding and final chance to see the orangutans. We were greeted at the dock by a large male high in the trees, checking out who was coming and going. There has been a history of orangutans and monyet climbing on to the klotoks and stealing food at Camp Leakey, but apparently the orangutans here are a little more timid. We make our way up the wooden path that leads over the swamp mangroves and on to dry(-er) land. The rain had definitely eased but had left plenty of water around the place.
Heading into Pondok Tanggui
The further we went into the jungle, the hotter and steamer it became. Our highly fashionable rain-coats becoming mobile pseudo-saunas as the pounds dripped off of us, and by the time we made it to the feeding station, I felt like I’d sweated Jack’s weight in water. We arrived to the wondrous sight of a massive male orangutan perched on the feeding station, his cheeks flaps well and truly developed (a sign of maturity) and dark orange hair resplendent in what morning sunshine that had managed to filter through the jungle canopy. This was a big orangutan, probably as big as Camp Leakey’s Tom, if not bigger – and the Raja of Pondok Tanggui. He had an amazing commanding presence on the feeding platform, no other orangutan brave enough to attempt to grab a cheeky hand of bananas as he sat and slowly ate. Eager to capture a photo of this impressive Raja, I grabbed my camera and quickly took a few photos, an exercise largely pointless as the humidity in the jungle canopy had completely fogged my lens over (and the cameras of a few others). Rueing my decision to leave the little point and click camera on the boat, we had no other choice but to actually stop, watch and enjoy the display, rather than trying to frame a perfect picture! Not necessarily a terrible outcome.
Desperate not to miss out on some food, a cheeky mother carrying a tiny baby swung down behind the rangers and swiped a cane basket still half-full of pisang (bananas) and took up quickly up the tree. Our clever friend perched high up in the tree and tried to eat as many bananas as possible before another, more dominant female orangutan swung through the trees and grabbed the basket for her turn. We sat, drenched in sweat and rain in the jungle watching these majestic creatures play and fight, swinging quickly through the trees, lumbering along the ground and watching us back with interest – for nearly two hours. Eventually, hunger, heat and the desire for a mandi won over and we made our way back to the klotok for a final meal and our cruise back to land.
Mandis on the klotok were an “embracing” affair, washing with what felt like a bucket of ice drawn straight from the river, tannins and all. There were no long, luxurious washes – it was get clean(-ish) in as few bucket throws as possible. A quick stop off at a Dayak village in the jungle to buy some oleh-oleh (souvenirs), some fresh rambutans and have a chat with the locals was a nice end to the trip. Tanjung Harapan is a tiny village of 200 people that survives across the river from the national park. Life is reliant on the river and what it provides, or takes in the case of flooding. Life seemed pretty basic, but there was no-one wandering around half-naked, covered in body paint, back from hunting in the jungle. That’s unrealistic. They wear jeans and designer knock-offs. Boar hunting with rifles and Giorgio Armani or Gucci t-shirts. As with almost everywhere in the world, the kids ran around in Chelsea and Manchester United rip-offs, there were (ridiculously) a few people with motorbikes getting around the village (see previous post about Indonesian’s and walking distances), everyone smoked cigarettes and loved sinetron (Indonesian soap operas). I didn’t take many photos at Tanjung Harapan village. I looked at other bule walking by and snapping people sitting on their front porches or washing clothes from a metre away, then walking off. It seemed so inappropriate when I reversed the situation – would it be fine for a complete stranger to walk into my laundry and take a photo of me loading the washing machine, then turn and walk off? Or pictures of me relaxing with a coffee out the front of my house? I know everyone wants that amazing photo from another culture, but at least get some form of consent before you take close-ups of people, and at least show the person!
The main street of Tanjung Harapan.
We began the slow journey back to Kumai tired, but absolutely amazed at what we had seen and done. We had wondered how many orangutans we would actually see, how close we’d get and whether four days on a klotok was actually achievable with a nine month old, active and mobile child on a river that was formerly known as Sungai Buaya (Crocodile River- in fact a British tourist got taken a few years ago swimming at Camp Leakey’s dock). We had survived, no small part to our fantastic crew, who looked out for us, played with Jack and did an all-round amazing job. Their knowledge of the hutan and the animals in it was incredible and they went above and beyond what a lot of the other guides and crew were doing to give us a little bit more. I think this was partly down to our attitude, we wanted to eat together and talk together in Indonesian, and were able to make a few jokes together; while other tourists kept a lot of distance between themselves and their crew, maintaining more of a “staff” like relationship.
We had an incredible adventure in the Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting that will never be forgotten. Four breathtaking days meeting our orange-haired cousins in their own environment, amazing food, the beautiful river and meeting the other inhabitants of the lush jungle rate as one of the most amazing things we have ever experienced. All that remains is to plan another trip, deep in to the Borneo jungle, to catch up with the likes of Pan, Princess and Tom again.