Robert Ferguson, a Trustee of the UK Conservation Charity Explorers Against Extinction, tells of his visit to Bukit Lawang National Park in Sumatra and an unexpected guest at his evening meal. PureTravel is proud to support their work.
We climbed up from the river through the lush undergrowth, largely sheltered from the tropical sun by the thick canopy of the trees above. The humidity surrounded you like a shower, sucking the sweat out of you. The forest was full of the sounds of life; birds chattering from the branches, insects buzzing busily around, all with the backdrop of running water slowly fading away as we climbed.
Minutes after crossing the small bridge into the National Park we were in a different word, swallowed by nature. We stopped frequently, our guide pointing out plants that were used locally as sources of food or for their medicinal qualities. Huge butterflies flitted from flower to flower, oblivious to our presence and admiring gazes. It didn’t take long to see larger wildlife. A small deer stood watching us for a few seconds as we rounded a corner on the trail, before diving into the undergrowth and quietly vanishing.
Every now and then could hear crashing in the dark undergrowth as branches were bent and released, whipping back to their original positions. Movement caught our eye in the gloomy undergrowth and a gibbon came swinging into view, moving effortlessly through the bows. It stopped in a tree not 10 metres from us, settling on a comfortable bough to watch us pass. A tiny baby clung to its side, its huge eyes watching us unblinkingly. It felt like a stare-off as we watched them and they watched us. More of the group arrived and they settled to some grooming of each other as they watched, making it feel as if they had searched us out for a morning’s entertainment.
We trekked on, stopping frequently for water as the sweat ran off us in streams. Our boots felt squelchy on our feet and sun hats were saturated but still worn mainly to keep the insects from our hair. A quick lunch came and went – bread and fruit brought from the hotel that morning. It tasted like a feast. We trekked deeper into the forest and the trail became a barely discernible path through the carpet of fallen leaves and surrounding foliage. A scramble down a steep ravine led us to our campsite on the banks of a fast flowing stream, placed on a small bar of land by a meander in its course.
The tents were pitched on small bamboo platforms to keep them from the wet ground and we sat on a semi-circle of smooth stream boulders to eat a a meal that had been cooked over small, hissing stoves. Birds darted around, feeding on the insects above the water. Just as I finished by meal there was a dull thud as a wild fig fell from a tree and exploded on the rock beside me. We laughed at the close escape. Another landed, and then a third.
One of our guides pointed up to the canopy above and there, swaying in the tree branches was a young orangutan, She hung effortlessly to the tree with her legs, casually picking the figs with her arms and testing each one before popping the tastiest into her mouth and chewing contentedly. The ones that were rejected were dropped down to us far below. It felt as if she’d joined us for supper.