The Jungle.

by Lori Dwyer on May 25, 2013 · 14 comments

“The overwhelming sensation of the jungle is the oppressive humidity- the dampness permeates everything, a palpable physical presence that one can taste on the tongue, and a mildewed, musky odor that fills the nostrils…”

‘The Paradise of Eden’, by Dr Birute Mary Galdikas


It’s hot. Breathing in hot air, sweating out the two litres of water I’ve already drunk today. The jungle smells green- despite the heat, there is moss everywhere, and the air is scented with soft decay.

Klotoks are huge, comfortable boats; the entire top deck is ours to do with as we please. There’s a table where meals are served, decks at the front and back for sunbathing and monkey-spotting. We leave the tiny town of Kumai (“Welcome” in Bahasa, the first port into Kalimantan) at 7am and we’ve spotted our first monkeys within two hours of being on board. Proboscis moneys, with big, ugly noses. They dive into the water in the wake our boat creates, knowing it means safety- any crocodiles in the fresh water river would have been scared away by the klotok’s chugging engine.

Watching the water change is incredible. It’s dark blue in the harbour. There seems to be a line drawn through it- as we turn on the Sekonyer River it becomes muddy brown. The next turn takes us on to Camp Leakey river, and the water changes again- now it’s black like onyx and reflects the sky like a mirror. It’s relatively clean- we shower in it on board the klotok that night. The discolouration is a result of the tannin that seeps in from the plants on the rivers edge.

It’s entirely pleasant, and I drift off halfway along, the humming of the engine and the lapping of the water lulling me into a deep, warm sleep.

When I wake, we’re almost at Camp Leakey. It’s one o’clock in the afternoon and we’ve not yet seen an orangutan to speak of.

That’s about to change.

We pull up and alight onto the Camp Leakey wharf, follow the six foot high boardwalk around to the ranger’s station. All I can think is how difficult this must have been, at first- how dedicated Dr Gildakas, the woman who started all of this, must have been. She came here, into the middle of the steaming Borneo jungle, and stayed for years at Camp Leakey, observing the orangs and earning their trust. She worked with the local people to protect the forests. Her and her crew dragged everything that is here into here, trekking the jungle on foot and navigating the river in small canoes.

We’re barely in the Camp itself before Ivend, our guide, who seems to know every tree, every fungus, every ape by name; points ahead of us on the trail.

“There. An orang, with her baby.”

I think I might faint. Just there, just three metres ahead of us, is the most human-like animal I’ve ever seen. Standing upright, her baby clinging on her fur. It seems as though she’s waiting for us.


And maybe, she is. This orangutan, baby clutched to the front of her so only it’s tiny hands are visible, leads us along the pathway to the feeding platform. She stops every twenty feet or so, looks back at us- she’s making sure we’re following her.

This continues for two hundred metres or so before she diverts course into the forest. I’m so gobsmacked I’m nearly in tears.

This is, without a doubt, the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.

We reach the roped off, wooden feeding platform;  and there’s an orang already there, eating its fill of the bananas and potatoes left for them by the rangers. The skies open thirty seconds after we’ve arrived. And down comes the rain, the way it can only do in the jungle- it buckets. Great heavy drops of aqua soak us to the core. It’s refreshing and cooling and no one seems to mind at all.


Except, perhaps, the orangutans. They do not appear impressed- one of them scoots their tiny baby up a tree and begins to fashion itself an umbrella from the foliage. Still, more come to the feeding platform, mothers with babies- there are ten, maybe twelve of them, all in our sights at once.

A big, ugly warthog comes to join the feast; as does a gibbon that’s hanging in a nearby tree. The gibbon is quick and feisty- he darts down on to the platform and escapes again with a handful of bananas.

We stay for hours, just watching- we could stay all day, I think, and still be mesmerized  They’re so unbelievably human. Babies annoy their mothers, who flick them away in annoyance. The great apes scratch under their arms and stretch. Big orangs lumber away from the feeding platform with hands and mouths full of bananas, climbing trees with one muscular arm.

Half an hour later, the rain stops and the orangutans return in force. They wander around and past us, inches away, tiny babies clinging on their backs. We watch two mummas sit close together, their babies playing and reaching for one another. As we’re about to return to the klotok, a big male arrives. He is not the resident alpha male, but a possible contender for that title in the future, huge cheek pads jutting from the side of his face. He is massive- his back, his arms, even his gait is monstrous compared to the females we’ve seen. He climbs to the platform, flops on his bum and proceeds to eat with terrible table manners- he pushes a half eaten banana to the front of his massive lips, slurping it back again to swallow.

We’re soaking wet, drenched to the bone, but it’s comfortable and pleasant after the humidity of earlier. We make our way back along the clay soil, through the Tanjung Puting National Park. As we reach the beginning of the trails, we spot another solitary female orang. Her eyes, her rolling walk, her demeanor  she seems sad. And she is sad- she lost her baby three months ago, the victim of an unidentified illness, Ivend tells us.


As we approach the boat, our path is slowed by a tribe of long-tailed makak monkeys, and Ivend warns us not to look the males in the eye. Stepping on deck, the silence is broken by sudden squawking and the splashing sound of tiny monkeys dropping into the water under the boat. They are fighting, between themselves, over a loaf of bread. They’ve stolen it from our boat, one of them sneaking in then sharing his spoils with the others.

Our beds for the night are on board the klotok, under mosquito net canopies that would satisfy the fussiest princess fantasies.

I’m comfortably, deliciously exhausted. We sleep wrapped in the trills and calls, the atmosphere of the jungle at night.


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

edenland May 27, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Lori, so beautiful. You are doing it! You are!

Hope you slept well xxx


Brenda May 27, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Thank you for sharing the journey with us, Lori. xx
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Jane Francis May 26, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I feel I’m there with you living that dream, so beautifully written, looking forward to reading more and hearing more from Mum and Emma.. Love your pictures too…just gorgeous x


Melissa May 26, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Beautiful. Just beautiful.


bigwords May 26, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Beautiful. Sounds amazing x


Griff May 26, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Ummm, Lori. Frikking awesome again! As I started reading your post, I was reminded of here in the Wet season, thinking of home. Then you began to describe the Orangs. And tears welled in my eyes. *Then*, you start about how you nearly cried. Truly in awe Ms Tiny Train Town Lady. Beautiful imagery. I could see what you saw, before looking at the photos Lori. Thank you again. Oh, in the next two weeks a donation will be coming. I have something in the works. Hugs lill Ozzie Jungle (princess was it?) girl. Enjoy :)
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Kylie May 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm



Louisa Simmonds May 26, 2013 at 11:28 am

Sounds magical – loved reading this.


Emma Joyce May 26, 2013 at 12:52 am

Beautifully written about our wonderful day shared , amazing Lori x


Mrs Woog May 25, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Every word. Inhaled. More please.x


Kirsty Forbes May 25, 2013 at 9:03 pm



Emma May 25, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Wow, Lori…what an incredible picture you’ve painted for us. Thank you so much for letting us experience this vicariously through you! :-)


Miss Pink May 25, 2013 at 8:13 pm

That picture is stunning. I almost feel like I am there with you breathing in the scents, hearing the sounds, absorbing the feel.
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Whoa, Molly May 25, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Oh Lori! It sounds so amazing, I’m so glad I am getting to experience this through you.


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