River run

Our second tour day took us further upriver to another feeding station with a beautiful walk through the forest. Herman showed us various plants, insects and birds along the way, and at one point he talked about “hairballs” just like Jack’s doctor in Labuan Bajo.

“Hairballs, hairballs,” I’m thinking, “What the — ?” Suddenly it clicked. Herbals! It all makes sense now. Doh.

The river narrowed and we turned off the main channel into an even narrower stream to our final destination, Camp Leakey. On the way Herman and Ivan kept watch for more sightings while we tried to do justice to another of Yana’s delicious meals and Iyeb took care of a few infield repairs.

Sitting on the bow of this klotok, meandering deeper into a dense rain forest, watching and listening and smelling for wildlife was one of the best experiences I’ve had since we’ve been cruising. On our own boat we’re constantly concerned about the boat, our ground tackle, the weather, the tides, always alert to sounds or changes that might indicate a problem. What a joy it was to sit without a care at all, to just appreciate the place and time, the peace and the beauty. Heaven! I think there might be a river life in our future.

Once again the boats congregated at a feeding station. Camp Leakey is where Biruté Baldikas has been studying these orangutans since 1970. A sign at the entrance informed us that it’s the “longest continuous study by one principle investigator into any wild non-human animal in the history of science.” That’s saying something.

For nearly an hour at the feeding station no orangutans showed up, despite the frequent calls by the rangers. Many of the guests left but we’d been advised by travelers we spoke to earlier to be patient and wait for the entire time. Sure enough, just when those few of us who remained started to relax our vow of silence and talk quietly we saw an enormous head poke up from behind the platform, followed by huge shoulders. Then with a great heave the entire body of a giant alpha male launched over the edge and came to rest with authority as a shaggy mountain beside a bucket of milk.

This is Terry, born in 1991 and not to be messed with, I reckon. Even the females who came soon after stayed at the other end of the platform. I don’t blame them. A few minutes later a young female swung through the trees toward the platform but when she saw Terry blocking the way she wisely took the overhead route, expertly judging the flex of the tree against her own weight, landing neatly on the other side.

Once again we stayed for the entire time allowed, just watching the behaviors and interactions.

It started raining on our walk back to the boat, and by the time we were underway it was pouring in earnest. The rain meant we couldn’t do a night walk in the forest because the rain brings fire ants and chases the other animals into their hiding places. We were disappointed but we’d come for the orangutans and they delivered so we’re not complaining.

The crew tarped the sides of the boat and we enjoyed another wonderful meal and slept like babies with the rain drumming a lullaby on the roof.

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One Response to River run

  1. Nancy

    So cool! And again such wonderful writing.

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