A bright scarlet sun lifted through the haze across the Kumai River. During the night our ship had entered the river, docking at the town of Kumai. An intriguing mix of craft plied the river’s waters; dugout canoes, large freighters, and wooden klotoks which we would be traveling on later in the day.
Our journey to the famous Camp Leakey—where Dr. Birute Galdikas did her pioneering studies of wild orangutans—would take us deep into the forests of Tanjung Puting National Park. We began this adventure by Zodiac, crossing the river and continuing up the narrow Sekonyer River. The banks were packed with dense stands of Nipa palm. Later, mixed hardwood forest trees rose higher along the shorelines, and we began seeing scattered troops of proboscis monkeys and long-tailed macaques. Our caravan of Zodiacs plied the winding channel farther into the mysterious rainforest.
We arrived at our first stop, Pondok Tanggui, where we hiked into the forest to a feeding platform, hoping to see orangutans attracted to fruits placed there each day by rangers. Swaying tree branches and glimpses of orange fur drew our attentions before a large juvenile orangutan appeared, its wary mother tentatively watching from a distant tree. Dr. Galdikas said the mother was watching for other orangutans before feeling safe to come in with her youngster. The curious juvenile climbed swiftly up two tall skinny trees in front of us, stretching out between them as if posing, then sliding back down. Back up, and then down again, delighting the human audience below. Soon they were both at the platform for a quick snack before retreating into the thick vegetation.
We returned to the river, boarding a fleet of local klotok boats to continue our journey upriver. The winding stream was now bordered by luxuriant rainforest as we watched for more monkeys, kingfishers, and other wildlife. Arriving at Camp Leakey, we walked to the camp’s visitor center, followed by a very memorable visit to Dr. Galdikas’ house where she sat peacefully on the low porch with her dear friend, an orangutan named Siswi, beside her. Siswi was born nearly forty years ago when Dr. Galdikas already knew the ape’s mother. Whenever Dr. Galdikas returns “home” to the camp, Siswi typically comes by to visit with her.
At Camp Leakey’s forest feeding platform a family of bearded pigs was first on the scene, followed from above by the aerial acrobatics of a Bornean gibbon zinging through the treetops with great agile leaps before descending to grab a few bananas. Then the main attraction began with a mother orangutan and her tiny infant clinging to her side, slowly swaying and reaching across trees and hanging vines high in the forest to arrive at the platform. After they fed for awhile and departed, more orangutans arrived to further delight us. There were large juveniles, an adult, and another mother and small baby clutching her side. Several of them came closer, perching in low trees beside of the viewing area. Everyone had a chance to enjoy this special time with these remarkable forest creatures.
Eventually we returned to the klotoks for a wonderful and leisurely trip downriver. We saw dozens of troops of monkeys, enjoyed cold drinks and hors d’oeuvres delivered by the ship’s crew, and then a rosy sunset. We continued downriver, the klotoks navigating by headlight and local knowledge of the river’s path. Gatherings of fireflies created intimate constellations of flickering lights in the dark forest, like a magical metaphor for this most memorable day.