Saturday, October 4, 2014

Meeting Orangutans

In this blog, I continue the tale of my week off in Indonesia.

One of the best parts about playing the ukulele is that you can take one pretty much anywhere. Compact, lightweight, these stringed delights are wonderful companions for the road.  I brought my tenor uke with me on my trip, and I was little concerned that how I was carrying it, looping a strap of my backpack around the handle of my uke case, might be considered breaking the carry-on luggage restrictions of AirAsia.

God bless AirAsia.  This trip was my first time using the airlines, but I've heard and read about them since getting here.  They really have ridiculously low rates.  My roundtrip airfare from Yangon to Medan which included a transfer in Malaysia was only $200 - that's $50 a leg! No meals, no beverages, no check-in bags came with any AirAsia flight, and I was concerned though that cheap fares equated to harsher enforcement of the baggage rules. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and I cruised through my voyage with ukulele dangling behind me with no issues.

The choice to bring it paid off on my second night. I was at the Junia Hotel in
Bukit Lawang.  The place was nice, snuggled up along the edges of the jungle on the far, less developed bank of the river.  The staff had seen me carrying my uke and had asked about it. During the slow afternoon, I'd heard one of the waiters struggle to play and sing a song I knew quite well, 'Knocking on Heaven's Door'.  I busted out the uke and gave him a few pointers on the tune and taught him another easy one based on the same few chords.  That waiter turned out to be named Apri, and he was my guide for the jungle trek you'll see in the video.

Later, after dinner, the staff at the hotel encouraged me to bring the uke down to the riverside, where a circle of guys playing guitar was growing. Actually, it was just one guitar and a drum, but that was enough.  Unfortunately, I didn't bring the camera, so there's no video of it, but for the next two hours or so, I just hung out with the guys, playing music, singing songs. The primary guitar player was amazing, and he had no problem improvising solo's and accompanying bits to the ten or so songs I can play on the uke by memory.  When he played, I just listened or snag quiet harmony bits as best I could.  That jam session is my second-favorite memory of the whole trip.

The best moment of the whole trip happened the next morning when I tromped off with Apri (it was great having my own private guide, for whose services I didn't need to pay anything more than someone who'd signed up for a group with half a dozen other tourists) up into the mountainous jungle in search of wild
orangutan.  Mind you, he'd told me half a dozen times that there were no guarantees we'd see any of those majestic orange apes. They're wild, and although not afraid of humans, they range over a wide area of the jungle. Apri was diligent in pointing out all the other interesting aspects of the jungle including: remnants of wild rubber cultivation; gigantic insects; signs of wild boar and fleeting views of another monkey who lives there who has to have the coolest hairstyle in the primate world, Thomas' Monkey.

After about 90 minutes of strenuous up-and-down hiking, we came around a corner and there they were.  A momma orangutan and her baby, hanging onto a vine, an arm's reach off the trail at eye level.  WOW! I mean, if I was going to see any, I thought they'd be up in the canopy where I'd have to strain my neck looking up high to get a glimpse.  I certainly wasn't expecting to see this pair maybe 10 feet from where I stood.

On the way back down, I asked if we could an easier route as my back was beginning to bother me a bit. It was a longer, but much more level trip down through an adjacent rubber plantation.  We stepped at the hut of a worker there to borrow a knife to cut our pineapple.

 So very peaceful there, a feeling I tried to capture with the understated music accompanying the video. Definitely an amazing hike.  Enjoy the video...


  1. I'm very happy for you. You're truly blessed...

  2. Wow! what a wonderful encounter. Something to think back on often when you feel a bit down. To know they are still wild is nice. Zoos are a safe jail. Preserves are safe too, but wild has to be best.


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