Chasing the Orange Man of the Forest / by Mark Boyd

The Check In Lodge in Kuching, what can I say?  A great place. Big self service breakfast each morning, lovely and clean with AC in the bright window lit dorms, I'd have to go as far to say it's the nicest hostel I've stayed in for a long time, and great value with it. Within a few hours I'd made friends with Phillip and Erin and we grabbed a curry that evening. The super fast internet connection at Check In allowed me to catch up on a few bits and pieces so all was good! I even managed a great Skype chat with the folks back home.

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The following morning at 8am I was picked up by our guides. Lemon (fruity name, not bitter in the slightest).  As I swung my little backpack in to the mini van he asked where the rest of my stuff was. I told him this was it.  This was all I needed for 5 days in the jungle.  He laughed at the size of my 13L backpack, which apparently contained all I needed for 5 days 'away from home', This pack held two cameras, four lenses and a tripod, which was attached to the outside, plus a few bits and pieces. He continued to laugh saying he'd been guiding with Borneo Adventures for 17 years and had never seen anyone bring such a small bag.

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Annet who'd I'd met at at Mulu Caves a few days earlier (and explained her interest to BA in her joining The Red Ape Trail to the chap I was dealing with) had decided to join the tour too. Borneo Adventures had offered her a good deal if she was willing to sign a model release form, so that she could feature in a few promotional images.

There was four hour drive ahead of us to Batang Ai. We stopped after half an hour so that the guides could pick up food for our adventure and so Annet and I could grab some 'Adida Kampong', the preferred rubber studded jungle shoe for Borneo guides. Mine were a tad small, so the shop keeper let me have them for £2.00 instead of £3.00. These were without doubt the ugliest footwear that had ever adorned my ugly feet.

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We stopped for a roadside cafe lunch then ploughed on. On arrival at the hydro electric dam we boarded a nippy little narrow boat and charged our way up the lake and in to the narrower and shallower sections of the river system.  

An hour and a half of fun on the water. It was beautiful. From time to time the narrow wooden boat bottomed out as we tackled tiny dips and troughs in the river. Every now and again the propeller would clank and crash off rogue stones or a submerged tree.

We prayed for the sun to stay out until we reached the lodge, rain would be miserable scenario! Shortly before we arrived Annet's Canon EOS 7D Camera packed in.... humidity problems... something was causing a short circuit causing it to remain in 'live view' mode, making regular camera use a bit of a pain at best. What a time for a camera failure.... This is why I always bring two camera bodies on any of my jobs. Things can and do go wrong.

After lunch Lemon took us out for a circular jungle trail.  We spotted orangutan nests... Little gatherings of pulled todether foliage where the orange apes rest of an evening.  He showed also showed us how rubber is harvested from the trees.  We searched for an hour and a half but alas nothing.  Later that afternoon we relaxed with a Dutch couple who were on a similar 2 day tour. The rain hammered down..... and the wind blew.

 Unfortunately a couple of Chinese chaps from the World Wildlife Foundation (Ironic eh?) were in the middle of their river trip to the lodge when the storm began and they took an absolute soaking.

Later than evening we headed over with Lemon to the longhouse. Long houses are how the Iban people live.  Who are the Iban?  Ibans were renowned for practicing headhunting and tribal/territorial expansion.  They had a pretty fearsome reputation as a strong and successful warring tribe, but since the arrival of Europeans and the subsequent colonisation of the area, they gradually faded out of practice of hacking peoples heads off.  Although many other tribal customs and practices as well as the Iban language continue to thrive.  The elders of the village carry many tattoos, these portray the story of their lives, not just flashy 'tattoo sleeves, cuffs and bands that everyone whose 'cool' has these days, real life stories.  Those with tatoos that travel past the wrist on to the hand have taken at least one head.  Don't mess with the Iban.  cMany have moved away from their old religions and moved on to Christianity.... But many of the old festivals are still celebrated.  Any excuse to get the rice wine flowing!  The Iban still believe in many animal omens.  For instance If a pigeon flies through the longhouse the Iban believe, someone will die very soon.  If they hear a bird when a burial procession is going on, it's seen as a bad omen and that the soul of the deceased will continue to exist around the area.  They tend to drum and make plenty of noise to drown out any potential 'bad omen sounds', if they don't hear them they don't happen.  There are too many omens to cover.  They also believe that their loved one's souls inhabit certain animals.  These particular animals, if encountered cannot be killed for the pot.

And a longhouse is just as it sounds. It's a long house with long porch/communal area with many homes behind many doors. These homes are basic. Usually just one or two rooms

.... and everyone sleeps in the same room... Lemon was telling us how interesting this becomes when there is 'courting' to be done!  Family meetings... then more family meetings, then a little space for the amorous young couple.... and so on.

We learned a lot that evening about Iban life, and about rice wine!  And the variety in strength and flavour from family to family brew.  All in all much fun!

The following morning we began trekking towards the jungle camp.  We searched along the way for the ginger apes and this time we got closer.  

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There were sign of their feeding on one of their favourite fruits....Not the huge custard, cheesy durian fruit, but another.  One that has even managed to evade Google.  Its' around the size of a grapefruit with a tough thick skin.  Inside awaits delicious, juicy, white fleshy segments surrounding a large stone.  Yum!  But no orangs.  We trekked through jungle streams, mud and think foliage. 

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When we reached the camp, a little over four hours later we checked ourselves for leeches.  And yes they were along for the ride!

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Lunch followed by another explore, but nothing. 

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Early to bed then up early the following morning for a 3 hour jungle jaunt.  The guides showed us the fleshy palm heart, with help from a machete wielding Iban chap, that the orangutans love to devour. They just pull them apart with brute strength.... They can... They are seven times stronger than a man.... Buff!  But still no apes. 

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 Of course we are it! Crunchy, juicy and nutritious! 

Of course we are it! Crunchy, juicy and nutritious! 

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That evening we headed out for a final jaunt.  But all of a sudden, within one minute of setting offthe sky darkened...... Really darkened.  The guide was concerned.  'Want to stay dry?' he asked.  It was late so we said yes.  He legged it back down the steep trail toward the camp.  The rain was on.  The wind was up.  A mini storm.  It was torrential.  I urged Annet on ahead of me as a tree crashed down to my left.  Then another.... As we reached the sanctuary of the camp 20 seconds later I was soaked through.  Another tree crashed in to the river below us.  These trees with their large leafed surface area act like sales, even in 20mph winds.  They certainly couldn't withstand a Manx (Isle of Man) Winter.

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The rain pounded through the evening and on into darkness. Fireflies scooted in and out of my little wooden compartment from time to time. I drifted off.

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 The following morning we rose early and filled up on a hearty breakfast. The trek from camp to lodge would be our last chance to see the elusive ginger ape. We had our fingers crossed. Annet was struggling with a couple of cheeky blisters so was a little slower than on the way in to camp. Lemon had set a good pace. I trailed back now and again to ensure she knew the way. We crossed the same zig zagging stream and ended up reaching the 'fruity' area we'd been to before (the previous day we had also trekked back to this spot. We didn't see a 'ginger ape' but we did see a huge ginger Giant Squirrel. It was like a fox running up in the trees! An awesome sight!).

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Suddenly there was a shout back to Lemon.... He hurried on ahead then called us....

And there she was.... a pregnant smaller orangutan sub species.... around 8 to 9 years old according to Lemon. And wasn't she just elated to see us!!?  No! Not one bit...

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She threw fruit and branches at us. She spat down at us.... and finally pee'd at us....

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But she stayed put, and continued to eat and rage simultaneously. Very interesting behaviour to witness.... After half an hour of watching this small ginger ape acting up we continued our trek towards the camp.

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 Panorama with Annet top right. 

Panorama with Annet top right. 

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Whilst lunch was being prepared Annet was stood on the bridge watching some locals cross the river....

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I was walking towards the bridge, when excited shouting ensued from the young girls to the left.... And there it was, a massive cobra swimming it's way across the river, the strong current pushing it down towards the river crossers.... They couldn't see the huge snake due to being level with the river.... One turned back and ran.... The other two pushed on. Luckily the snake made it across before it reached them!

After lunch Lemon sat a plastic bottle of home brew rice wine on the table for Annet and I to pass the afternoon. We chatted.... obviously... alcohol was being consumed.

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We headed over to the long house to explore, and basically take in the day to day existence of the Iban people.

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We were invited in to a room where our guides were drinking and eating with a local Iban family. It was a wonderful atmosphere....

The room spilled into the living room area and the tv came on.... Afterwards Annet convinced a slightly tipsy Lemon to take us up the river looking for frogs and spiders..... at one point Lemon stumbled in to a deep hole up to his waist. Then the rain began.... and we all agreed darkness, rain and rice wine don't mix so well.

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 We headed back over to the longhouse to spend time with one of the families. They sat entranced by what seemed to be terrible TV! The rice wine and sake came out...

a few more drinks and back to the room....

Following rice wine inspiration I grabbed my Leatherman multi-tool and turned my jungle walkers into sandals... Then slept like a baby.

 Unique rubber sandals... Designer! 

Unique rubber sandals... Designer! 

 Heading back.... 

Heading back.... 

 Chef! Let me add... Tremendous jungle Chef! 

Chef! Let me add... Tremendous jungle Chef! 

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