09 Mar - 12 Mar 2012 Bukit Lawang

Republic of Indonesia
North Sumatra aka Sumatera Utara
Mboy Guest House +6281370895186 bukitlawangtour@yahoo.com
Clean and spacious double room ("honeymoon suite") with private bathroom and a big balcony, great river and jungle views, for only IDR 100,000.- or US$ 10.90 per night.
Beer: 620-ml bottles of reasonably cold Carlsberg and Anker beer for IDR 20,000.- or US$ 2.- per bottle from any of the nearby food stalls.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Mboy Guest House in Bukit Lawang, which we would recommend, and for directions:

Exploring the ATM-free settlement of Bukit Lawang which exists almost solely to service the cynically greenwashing tourist industry and where semi-wild or rather semi-tame Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) play a doubtful part in order to attract both domestic and international, Euro/Dollar/Pound-paying customers for the vast number of “rainbow boutiques”, “one-world curio shops” and “eco guest houses” as well as for the 200 plus guides and wannabe guides who lure the apes down from the trees and feed them for the amusement of tourists.
“In what terms should we think of these beings, nonhuman yet possessing so very many human-like characteristics? How should we treat them? Surely we should treat them with the same consideration and kindness as we show to other humans; and as we recognize human rights, so too should we recognize the rights of the great apes? Yes.”

Learning that orang-utans share 96.4 % of our genes, that there are less than 7,000 Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) left in the wild (the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Sumatran species as “critically endangered” on their IUCN Red List) and that the population is declining every year with the main reasons for the decline being (i) oil-palm plantations for “bio fuel”, (ii) unsustainable logging (both legal and illegal), (iii) large-area forest fires, (iv) habitat fragmentation leading to isolated populations and (v) hunting/capturing for the illegal pet trade.

Hiring one of the obligatory, free-lancing nature guides who work in the Gunung Leuser National Park (a 45-year old, non-cannibalistic Batak man [in 1890 CE the Dutch colonial government banned cannibalism amongst the Batak tribes], for IDR 125,000.- or US$ 14.- per client for the half-day charade of searching for "wild" orangutans, including money-back guarantee), hiking together through the secondary rainforest on the west bank of the river and making two hits, almost immediately and allegedly "by pure chance": (i) after c. 30 minutes at a well-used, trodden clearing a sad-eyed 25-year old, good-naturedly posing orangutan together with his hiding human handler, and (ii) after c. 90 minutes at another widely used feeding point a stage-experienced female with her baby ape, who forcefully approached Konni’s blue daypack for a second serving after she, the female ape, had been fed from our guide with bananas from his own blue backpack.

Joining around a dozen of sweating western tourists for the daily farce of feeding the semi-wild/tame orangutans at the Gunung Leuser National Park’s official feeding station (entrance for the one-hour long animal show: IDR 20,000.- per person and IDR 50,000.- per camera) and having a close, zoo-like encounter with three female apes and their cute babies who obviously enjoyed, lip-smackingly, their breakfast bananas with some pans of milk.

Spotting rare lar gibbons (Hylobates lar) aka white-handed gibbons (their hands and feet are white-coloured, likewise a ring of white hair surrounds the black face), in the treetops of the tropical rainforest and Thomas’s langurs (Presbytis thomasi) aka Thomas’s leaf monkeys in the shrubs along the river bank, thus learning about the distinctive feature between apes and monkeys: absence or presence of the tail.

Taking a Fa. Pemb. Semesta rust bucket from Bukit Lawang’s Gotong Royang bus station back to Medan’s Pinang Baris Bus Terminal (90 km, 2 ½ hours, IDR 17,500.- or US$ 1.90 per person) and thereafter one of the ubiquitous yellow minibuses (angkot, no. 64) for IDR 5,000.- or US$ 0.55 per person) back to our hotel where we discussed the orangutans’ paradox: these apes might have been rescued from logging plantations and from the pet trade but the impact of human tourism (e.g. feeding the orangutans in the jungle encourages dependence, touching the orangutans makes them susceptible to human illnesses, close encounters with humans make the gentle orangutans forcefully demanding and even aggressive) seems to spoil their future as a species, and ours too.

“We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realize that we are apes.”

Click below for more blog posts about orangutans
26 Sep - 04 Oct 2013 Sintang
11 Jul - 01 Sep 2013 Kuching
30 Jun - 07 Jul 2009 Kuching

Click below for a summary of this year's travels
2012 Map Konni & Matt

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