No matter where I move and live, I know my mom will always come to visit. I inherited my travel gene from her and she is anxious to explore the world. When I move somewhere new, she puts in first dibs for where we will travel together. When I returned to Asia her decision was quick and firm – she wanted to see Orangutans in the wild!
There are only three places left in the world to see Orangutans in the wild – Sumatra, Malaysia (in Northern Borneo) and Indonesia (in Southern Borneo). After months of research and for a multiple of reasons, I finally settled on Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan Indonesia. I organized our trip using Siti Tanjung Putting Orangutan Tours. Five stars – we highly recommend her company. She was very responsive on both email and What’sapp. We knew what to expect. Our guide, Iyul was A-MAZ-ING! His knowledge was extensive, his passion was obvious and he was easy to talk with and learn from!
The easiest way to get to Kalimantan Borneo is through Jakarta. There are a couple of flights a day. We were met at the airport and taken to the dock to get started right away. To see Orangutans you travel via Klotok (wooden river boat) down the Skonayer river. A klotok is a simple two or three story wooden boat. You will hang out, eat, and sleep on a mattress on the deck. In fact, I would be cautious of thinking one company looks “better” than other by offering a cabin. It is hot, and you are most comfortable with a breeze on the deck. Our food was magnificent, the bathroom is a simple wet room with toilet and shower head (more for getting wet and cooling off than a serious shower).
Don’t worry about your chances to see wildlife. The park has six species of monkeys and we saw three of them. But of course the orangutans are the highlight and they are plentiful. We saw dozens of orangutans both hanging in the forest and at the feeding stations. In fact, we saw 11 at once! It was fascinating to watch the social interactions. Who eats first. Who moves for who.
Remember you are guests in the park. While you can see them in the jungle doing their thing, you will see them best at the feeding stations. In our two day trip we went to 3 feeding stations where we were able to watch and learn about the orangutans. The feeding stations supplement the food found in the wild and allow the researchers to observe their behavior.
The word Orangutan is of Malay / Indonesian origin and translates as person of the forest. You very much get that sense as you observe them. Males in the wild live beyond 50 years and live alone after leaving their mother. But females and their off spring live in small social circles. Females will have babies from about 15 years old until they are in their mid-30s. With one birth about every 8 years. A baby orangutan will cling to his/her mother for the first 6 months, never leaving. Until they leave their mother at 7 or 8, they will gradually increase their freedom and distance from their mother.
One of the reasons travel is so important to me is what I am able to learn and experience. It is very different in person with up close and in person with the conversations, sights, and smells …. Different than you will ever get from a book, blog, or YouTube. While in Borneo, I learned a lot about the threat to the rain forests and Orangutans. An alpha male needs about 12 km of land! They move fast and even build a new nest every night. And while Indonesia currently has over 5000 known species of trees (there are 34 in England), 220 species of birds, over 50% of all known animal species, 10% of all higher plants in the world, 33% of all insect species, 24% of all the worlds remaining amphibian species, and the 3rd largest tract of tropical rainforests in the world — it is all quickly being depleted!!! In fact, Indonesia has over 760 species that are threatened with extinction.
Palm oil plantations are a major contributor to destruction of the rain forest and lose of wild life (not to mention the ozone layer). While wildlife is protected inside the parks, the parks are not large enough and today, over 70% of Borneo orangutans live outside the national park. Furthermore, big companies are even infringing and destroy parts of the protected lands. Palm oil is widely used in many every day products including food, soaps, cosmetics, paints, feed and biofuels (isn’t that ironic – destroy the environment in order to create a product to sell in order to “protect” it).
Our time in Borneo was one of my favorite trips. I can’t recommend it enough if you are interested in:
*Spending some time in nature, getting off the grid and enjoying the beauty of our planet.
*Learning more about these amazing manuals and the threat to their environment (and then taking action when you get home)
Some closing thoughts:
End of June and early July is the beginning of the high season. By the end of July the number of boats and tourists will have doubled. For your own enjoyment, and to help protect river from the impact of tourism, travel during the off or shoulder season.
You don’t need closed toed shoes for the walking (they were recommended to us which put a crimp in our light packing plan for multiple locations on this trip).
Be prepared to pay attention and follow the rules while in the park!
Note: I wanted to also see Sea Turtles but opted to do it on my own instead of with Siti or another tour. That turned out to be hard and I didn’t get to do it. So if interested in the nearby sea turtles, I recommend you book it through your tour.
(cover photo and ending photo credit: Walter Dedrick, Spokenlight Photography)