Orangutans, Strangers and Tropical Storms | Once upon a time in the jungle of Borneo
We woke up that morning in a bed surrounded with a mosquito net. The sheet had hearts all over it and it was a perfect little romantic spot in the middle of the jungle, literally, and the only thing breaking our solitude were the two girls sleeping in the room next to us, making four of us the only visitors that night to Kutai National Park, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. We met Fatima on a bemo (shared taxi ride) in Bontang the previous day. She saw the paper in my hand with the address of the ranger station we were trying to find, and in broken English said that she would tell us when to get off the taxi. There was absolutely no information on this national park on the internet, and we felt we were going to get lost as soon as we boarded the bus from Samarinda to Bontang, not to mention that our hotel hosts had never even heard of the bus station we departed from.
We chatted a bit with Fatima while on the bemo, she signaled to us to get off at the same stop as she did, and with a little bit of confusion we realized that we are in front of Fatima’s sister’s house, not the ranger station. After hesitating for a minute, we decided to accept her invitation to go to her sister’s house, and little did we know these would be the two sweetest girls we’ll probably ever meet in our lives, and two days of adventure that we will never forget.
Kutai is one of the last places on earth to see orangutans. It is estimated that there is only 600 of them left in the park, and illegal logging is brutally destroying the forest and these animals are all concentrating in one area.
We crossed the river at sunset with our guide Uli, who took us in a boat deep into the jungle until we got to Prevab research center, where, other than a few scientists, we were the only visitors. This national park sees about 100 visitors a year, and sleeps the maximum of four people per night.
That evening we went trekking in the dark with headlamps searching for tarantulas and other nighttime creatures, as well as for the first time seeing birds and butterflies asleep.
The next morning, Uli woke us up at 6am to go orangutan hunting. We saw three in their nests in the trees, and even a mama with a baby!
On the way back from Prevab, we decided to make a stop in Sangima to see a 1000 years old ulin tree, and since we still had plenty of daylight, we opted for a trek with hanging bridges that led from the tree back to where the taxi was waiting for us. We somehow forgot that we were in the middle of the jungle in Borneo where adventure infrastructure is not their primary concern, and that we had two girls with us in sandals that are not big adventurers either.
About an hour into our trek, the bridges were too sketchy or completely impassable, a tropical storm rolled in (and if you ever experienced one of those you know how hard it rains when it hits), the trail was slowly disappearing under our feet as the water was reaching up to our ankles, we had no map, no idea if the trail loops or how long it is, and honestly, we were completely lost.
I had my camera wrapped in a plastic bag hoping that it would survive. The girls were slipping everywhere since sandals were not the best option for an adventure like this, and the lightning was hitting closer and closer as we came up to the sketchiest bridge of them all (made out of metal of course, just waiting for that lightning to hit). The girls got too scared to cross it, the crocodiles started piling up underneath (or at least that’s how it felt) and I just kept crying about my camera!
About two hours later, we came to a fork in the road. Luckily, the path we chose quickly led us back to the park entrance. The other one probably would have had us looping around for another couple of hours.
And as if all of that wasn’t enough of an adventure, on our taxi ride back to Fatima’s house, they made us try durian. If you’ve never tried durian, don’t. It looks gross, it smells even worse, and it tastes exactly as you would expect it to – absolutely horrible.
We spent that night in the girls’ house. They gave us their clothes (since we had nothing dry to wear) and took us out in town for dinner.
More about their beautiful town in my next post…