In Search of Wild Orang-Utans

Those of you who know us will also know that we are both huge animal lovers, and going to Borneo to see Orang-Utans in the wild was pretty high on our bucket list. Well after 3 weeks in the rest of Malaysia we were finally heading there for a 6 day/5 night trek through the Sarawak rainforest. We kept a diary each day so rather than a long winded blog post here’s the main highlights.

Day 1

We were picked up by our guide Edwin at 8am and began to make our way to Baring Ai Jetty, where we would board a boat for the rest of our journey to Nanga Sumpa.

About ½ an hour in Edwin asked us if we have rubber shoes and we both replied, no, but we have good walking boats. He pretty much told us they would be useless and we should get the rubber shoes at our 1st stop. They cost a whole £2 – though Steve wasn’t able to find any in his size – they actually laughed at him when he asked and tried to get him to fit his size 11 feet into their biggest size – an 8! – I can’t believe we‘ve spent so much money on hiking boots for this trip (and carried them around for no reason!) – also I hope Edwin is a little wrong and Steve’s boots aren’t totally useless.

After arriving at the jetty and began to make our way by Iban Longboat to Nanga Sumpa lodge, about 2 hours up river in the Sarawak rainforest. Nanga Sumpa is a Iban long house village, and the company we are using have built a lodge there. The local Iban people work in it, and are used as local guides and boatmen for the tours. Edwin told us they rotate which family gets the tours and works in the lodge to spread the money around which seems like a good idea. Edwin went through our itinerary, which he had changed from the published one to make the most of our chance to see the Orang-utan. This means 1 night in the fairly luxurious lodge before making our way to the apparently very basic jungle camp for 3 nights and then coming back here.

We’ve also met a couple of girls from Austria who have just come back from the Jungle camp – they have seen 6 Orang-Utans so we are hopeful!

Day 2

We did two treks today, one in the morning around Nanga Sumpa, and then one around our jungle camp later in the afternoon. We also went to a local Iban long house to buy some Rice wine, which will be our only comfort in the long very dark nights in the Jungle cam. As seasoned campers we know alcohol is he way to pass the time in the woods. I think we’ll be okay.

Neither of the treks today were hugely challenging but we expect more difficult treks tomorrow. My walking boots are not up to the task but the £2 rubber shoes are. Bloody typical. Thankfully Steve is made of sterner stuff than me and he seems to be coping in his walking trainers.

The Borneo jungle is absolutely stunning, and it was amazing just to be able to walk around it. We’ve also got a chance to check out our jungle camp, which is set on a river – Apparently it was built by the BBC for a teen weight loss programme so its designed to be basic. Our room is essentially a wooden room with a mattress and mosquito net. There’s no electric, and the toilet is primitive (I found giant ants crawling on it tonight).

We also have a lot of giant bees here that don’t live in Hives, and don’t sting. They do burrow holes into wood though, which is quite cool to watch. We both agreed that school lied to us though because today we found out that there are Bees that don’t live in hives, and giant ants that don’t live in Colonies. Also the black ants are the ones that bit – not the red ones. Then Edwin decided to tells us they all just wash in the river when they are here – this should be interesting!

The boat men are doubling as our cooks and the food is amazing!

Things we’ve learnt so far

  • Orang-utans are difficult to find.
  • 1 walking pole is better than 2
  • It rains A LOT in Sarawak

Orang Watch

  • Oranguatuans seen: 0 (boooo)
  • War wounds Steve (0) Sarah (2, fire ant bite, splinter)
  • Falls Steve (0) Sarah (1) (maybe the boots aint so bad)

Day 3

A long trek in the morning (4 hours) We smelled Orang-tan urine – which is generally a sign they are around, and we saw new nests in the trees but no actual Orang-Utans. I swear they were following us and keeping out of sight. This trek was much much tougher and involved some trekking through leech infested areas., and up some fairly steep hills It was hard going,, and really hot on the climbs but we managed it (only just though for me – the heights thing was really a problem). This was the point I became really glad that no one else was with us as I think I’d have held them all up. We were both hot, tired and a bit itchy when we got back, but I am pleased I got through it.

I decided to sit out the second trek, but then it started raining heavily, which meant it was cancelled anyway.   So we drank some more rice wine instead :).

Things we’ve learnt today

  • Orang-Utan urine is VERY smelly
  • I am REALLY afraid of heights
  • Adolescent Orang-Utans build separate nests to their mums but still close so they can be kept an eye on (very cute)

Orang Watch

  • Orang-Utans Seen: 0 (double boooooo)
  • War wounds: none
  • Leeches Steve (1) – though he swear it came from me 🙂 Sarah (0)
  • Falls Steve (0) Sarah (1)

Day 4

Edwin told us that often the people who really really want to see Orang-utans don’t, so we started our day by telling the jungle we weren’t that bothered aboutseeing any. Clearly it knew we were lying to it.

Today we trekked for a couple of hours in the morning, and did a short trek in the afternoon. We are focusing on Palm trees now as Orang-utan eat the Palm hearts when there is not fruit in season. Also, they don’t tend to move around too much when it rains. In fact Edwin told us that they have spotted Orang-utan holding leafs above their heads as umbrellas before.

Again, we found lots of nests, and smelled urine but no actual Orangu-tans. We also decided to go back to camp via the river from one of our treks – due to all the rain last night it was a bit deeper but there was a chance we’d see some Orang-utan by the banks. It was a nice day for a chest deep walk in the river! The boatmen have been out hunting and caught a porcupine for dinner – thank god it wasn’t the frogs they were aiming for..

Things we’ve learnt today;

  • There’s no point in lying to the forest – it knows if you really want to see Orang-Utans.
  • River water is really cold after its rained!
  • Porcupine is very tasty.

Orang Watch

  • Orang-utans: Nope
  • War wounds : 0
  • Leeches: 0 yay!
  • Falls: Steve 0 Sarah 2 – I am officially clumsy, but also we were trekking some fairly high bits and so my legs were all wobbly.

Day 5

After 3 nights at the jungle camp we’re on our way back to Nanga Sumpa – this was the point Edwin decided to tell us most people ask to leave the Jungle Camp early – given that Steve had been bitten to death all last night we were pretty relieved to be leaving. It was in a beautiful place, but washing in the river for 3 days was enough for us.

On our way back we went to a stunning waterfall for a swim. It was beautiful, and we had it all to ourselves too. Back at the lodge we had our first shower in what felt like forever, and Edwin introduced us to rice whisky –rice wines potent big brother!. It’s basically moonshine, Steve and him finished the small bottle before we planned to set off for our last trek.

As we were about leave another tour guide came in – he had seen a mother & baby by the river bank whilst on a longboat coming in with 2 more guests. We hopped in a longboat which drove us at breakneck speed to see if we could see them – as we got to the spot we could hear them moving off through the trees but couldn’t see them. All three of us were absolutely gutted –the people before us had seen SIX, and the people after us hadn’t even got off the boat and they’d seen them. We did our trek as planned but still no sightings. It’s just not to be for us on this trip, though in 2 years our guide had only seen 5 so I think they were all lucky rather than us being unlucky.

After dinner we went to visit the chief & his family in the longhouse and shared more Rice wine with them. It was a great end to our trip.

Orang Watch

  • Orang-utans – NADA
  • War wounds: none
  • Falls: none!

Day 6

Back to reality today, with a bag of washing that I think we’ll need to pay double for our guesthouse to wash for us. We’ve had a great time, despite the very skanky camping, the nearly passing out half way up a hill when I realised I was going to have to come down it again, and Steve getting attacked by every single biting insect in the forest. Even though we didn’t see any Orang-Utans it was a real privilege to live in one of the oldest rainforests on earth, even for a few days. We will be back!

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