We planned an early arrival at the mouth of the Kumai River to take advantage of the high tide to cross the shoals and navigate the 15nm up the river to anchor opposite the town of Kumai. Arriving on Sunday 30th September we had barely dropped anchor when a speedboat approached us with a fellow with features vaguely similar to actor Harvey Keitel wanting to know if we’d pre-booked a tour. Having decided to pay for a tour upon arrival, we were in a position to negotiate with cash. Wayne invited the guy (Adi) aboard to negotiate and managed to get a pretty good deal for a two-person kelotok for two days/one night. Much cheaper than booking through an online tour operator. We handed over copies of our passport and visas for the park operator and local Police and paid a deposit, which we paid in full before the trip. Over a dozen other yachts from the rally were already in Kumai, some on tours with others waiting their turn. Others had no problem recommending this guy so we were pretty comfortable with the arrangement.
Our trip was on Tuesday 2nd October and by 9.30am a kelotok putted its way across the river to pick us up. Apparently they’re named kelotoks because of the noise the motor makes as it chugs along. The trip up the river would take around four hours, but it wasn’t too long before we saw the first monkeys. The proboscis monkeys are endemic to this area. As the name suggests, they have unusual noses; the younger have pointy noses while the older monkeys have bizarre larger and droopier noses. The monkeys sat in the trees close to the water’s edge allowing me to take some great photos. Brightly coloured kingfishers with their red bills and blue wings flew along the waters edge before settling on a branch hidden within the green foliage where I could snap them.
On the first day feeding time for the orangutans was scheduled for 2pm. Our guide, Andreas, looked after us during the entire trip, making sure we were fed and looked after. Camp Leakey has been in operation since 1971 rescuing orangutans from poachers and palm oil plantations and rehabilitating them back into the wild. Orang-utans live to between 40-50 years and the babies stay with their mothers until they are about seven years old. We walked about 25 minutes along an easy path passing a few gibbons along the way until we reached the feeding platform with around 40 other tourists. Guides yelled ‘woop-woop’ to attract the apes, while stacks of bananas were placed on the platform to invite the apes to eat. Before long orangutans appeared from the forest, swinging from high above the trees to the spread of food placed out for them. There were dozes of apes, and many babies of various ages. The apes are semi-wild, having spent some youth in captivity and with daily interaction with tourists and rangers. Although we were not supposed to feed the apes or approach them, they were allowed to approach us and walk through the gathering of tourists. The young apes are adorable and were the subject of over hundreds of photos I took that day! We watched as the apes stuffed bananas into their mouths, masticated, spat the mush back into their hands for a look then scoffed it down their throats. I caught one little ape eating a banana with the funniest expressions! (see photo). This was a fantastic experience to watch the apes, and so close too. Walking back to the kelotok, we stopped at the information centre which had old photos of some of the original apes from the 70s, 80s and so on, plus information about the orangutans plight and efforts to reintroduce them back into the wild to avoid extinction.
Our kelotok captain put-putted the vessel down the river where we and other kelotoks stopped at the riverbank for the evening. Our chef, Anja, prepared so much tasty treats for our lunches, dinner and breakfast – rice of course, and with a delicious variety of spicy fish, fried prawns, tempeh, mie goreng, banana pancakes, plus other tasty dishes. Fellow yachties in the next kelotok (Russell, Christine from ‘Christine Anne’ and Kerry, Lynette from ‘Fayaway’) invited us aboard for nibbles and drinks so we joined them and had a great evening chatting before we went back to our boat for dinner.
The ablutions on the kelotok are, shall we say, unpretentious. The ‘western style toilet’ has no plumbing but drops waste directly into the river. The same river where our shower water and dishwashing water comes from. (I write this three days after the trip and I haven’t had any signs of dysentery).
The second day we motored to Post 2 – another feeding platform – with feeding scheduled at 9am. Once more the orang-utans appeared from the jungle heights or bashed their way through the scrub to reach the feeding platform. Today they were served bananas and a big pail of milk, which the older ones had no trouble picking up and drinking out of. The little ones had to dunk their heads into the pail, lifting their fluffy heads to look around with milky chins. Once more my camera shutter got a good workout as I snapped away at the apes as they hungrily ate the goodies. Our second day with the apes was just as enjoyable as the first day. Although I could have sat there all day, we had to return to the kelotok. Resuming our journey down the river, once more we were served a great meal before being dropped back at the yacht by 12.30pm.
I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who loves these hairy apes. Sure it’s a long way from anywhere but the four day sailing was worth it. But with a two day sail ahead of us, we opted to raise anchor and head to the river mouth for departure the next morning, to take advantage of the tides and remainder of the waning moon.
So I’m writing this blog while we sail across the Java Sea between Borneo and Belitung Island. We plan to reach Kelayang on the north-west corner of Belitung Island by Saturday morning (if you’re reading this then we made it!), then continue up to Nongsa Point Marina across from Singapore by the 12th October.
Along the way we’ll cross the equator for the first time as sailors – very exciting! Although I’ve read various reports about equator-crossing rituals to indoctrinate the ‘pollywogs’ into the mysteries of the deep, I’m still uncertain as to the correct proceedings. To be on the safe side I’ll be hiding hard-boiled eggs, rubber hoses and chocolate sauce in case Wayne gets any weird ideas! Perhaps just a splash of seawater and a drop of Bintang will suffice!
Until my next entry from the northern hemisphere. Selamat siang!