Sumatra: Gibbons & More Orangutans

Our plan for Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra was to do the overnight trek in Ketambe and continue north to the Rainforest Lodge in the village of Kedah to do day treks with Mr. Jaly. We hoped it would check a few more boxes off our wildlife list, such as black and brown gibbons that evaded us in Ketambe.

Unlike Ketambe, which has more infrastructure and guest houses, Mr. Jaly’s lodge is alone at the edge of the jungle and he is the main guide. It’s also higher up in elevation and thankfully much cooler.

The drive to Ketambe was in the back of a local bus with bad Indo pop music blaring out of the rear speakers. After 2 hours of that we transferred to a pickup truck/bus for the final leg. As per our previous experience with Indonesian buses we were dropped off at the wrong place, which had us wandering lost in a valley that deadended at a river with the only way forward being a 30 foot long log across the river. After some awkward conversations with locals (the log crossing was indeed the quickest way to the lodge, but with luggage?), Mr Jaly’s son and grandson came to the rescue and we finally made it to the Rainforest Lodge by a longer, non-log route.

The bungalows were even more basic than the ones in Cinta Wisma Alam.  The cool thing was we were the only guest there and in the evenings and we had the place to ourselves.  It was so dark we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces.  We slept to the sounds of the river, bats, crickets and frogs.

Only G had the energy for a trek on day 1, and he and Mr. Jaly took off early that morning without D.  The trekking was steeper up and down than at Ketambe but Mr. Jaly took it slowly, stopping every 20 feet or so to listen and look around to spot wildlife.  It was more like stalking for wildlife than covering a lot of territory. We immediately found a black gibbon overhead and got partial views through the trees. We then trekked in the direction of brown and then black gibbon calls but never got to see any. Still the cacophony was awesome. We stopped off at a hornsbill’s nest and nice waterfall before heading back to the lodge.

The next day D joined the trekking. But before we even got started a group of brown gibbons visited the lodge.

We took it slow again as we hiked the trail straight up to the tobacco huts, a good area to find more gibbons.   Again Mr. Jaly would stop, listen and look around to spot wildlife.  We didn’t see much more on the way to the plantation so we stopped there for a break and had some biscuits and hot tea.  Mr. Jaly took the opportunity to catch up with the owners/workers of the huts while we sat and watched them process tobacco by hand.

As we re-entered the jungle, Mr. Jaly continued his stalking and just when you thought there was nothing there he would suddenly find an animal and point.   We spent some time observing a female orangutan with a baby, and soon after we ran into a group of black gibbons displaying cool acrobatics from a distance.  We then ran into another group closer to us, which allowed us to get clearer pics.

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Each time we spotted an animal Mr. Jaly would get just as excited as we were at seeing it.  When we spotted the orangutans, he sat down and looked up at the mother and her baby, taking it all in as if he was seeing these animals for the first time.  It was amazing to me that after probably having hundreds of these types of encounters with these awesome animals that Mr. Jaly was still as fascinated with them as we were.  He was a phenomenal spotter and you can tell that he cared deeply about protecting the park for the animals.

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Mr. Jaly sharpening his machete

Finally, on our 10 hour drive back to Medan we saw a bunch of pig tailed macaques on the side of the road looking for handouts from passing cars. Naturally our driver complied with handfuls of bread to attract them for our benefit.

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