If you want to get out of Manado by far the easiest option is to fly. Recently I’ve heard a few horror stories about Indonesian airlines, a few weeks back an aircraft came in to land at Gorontalo airport and collided with a cow, what it was doing on the runway in the first place is beyond me, but apparently everyone on the aircraft could smell burning meat. Just a few days later, a plane overshot the runway somewhere in Bali, for a country that relies so much on the aviation industry it holds one of the worst safety records and it’s not surprising that all Indonesian airlines are banned from European airspace. Some of the tales you hear whilst travelling in Indonesia really do defy belief, one traveller I met quite fittingly nicknamed this country a ‘no logic zone’, hence I wasn’t looking forward to our flight to Medan.
When I found my seat on the Lionair flight, I noticed an invocation card. The card contained various prayers for different religions that should be recited by any passenger hoping for a safe journey. The Catholic prayer contained the verse ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we beg you, bless us with a safe trip with good weather so that the crew of this aircraft will lead us to our destination safely’ – confidence booster!
Sumatra is the largest Indonesian island and the 6th largest land mass in the world. We skipped the capital city Medan and headed straight to the small village of Bukit Lawang to hunt out the Pongo Abelii aka Sumatran orangutan.
Orangutan is a Malay/Indonesian word thats means ‘forest person‘ or ‘man of the jungle‘ depending on who you ask. They’re the closest living thing to humans and we apparently share up to 96% of the same genetic makeup, although if you’ve ever watched Jeremy Kyle, you could argue that this figure is actually closer to 100%.
Pongo Abelii are unique to the Northern areas of the island and live within the boundaries of the Gunung Leuser national park. Their Bornean counterparts ‘Pongo Pygmaeus‘, are slightly larger in size and darker in colour. Bornean orangutans are not as rare because they reproduce faster, the males have a tendency to rape the females before they are ready whereas in Bukit Lawang, they prefer to go on a few dates and change their Facebook status’ to ‘in a relationship‘ before settling down to have kids…
Orangutans are crazy strong, 3X that of an average human. They’re also super intelligent and there has been known cases of orangutans making hand tools to dig for termites. I remember watching a documentary once, where an orangutan checked into a 5 star hotel under the name ‘Dunstan‘, befriended a young boy and together they were so clever that they kept foiling any attempts to capture him, oh, hang on…
Being within touching distance of one of these beasts really was a special experience, the last time I came so close to something so primitively man-like was when I had a run-in with the bouncer at Lloyds number one bar in Newcastle, the only difference is this monkey didn’t say “not tonight mate”, only looked into my eyes with nothing but peace and curiosity. The jungles of Sumatra are drastically decreasing in size every year because of deforestation and logging, so if nothing is done shortly these beautiful creatures may be no more. In the meantime I was happy to be able to tick ‘see a wild orangutan‘ off my Bukit list.