Thursday, April 5, 2012

Kumai River Trip

This trip has been something we've been looking forward to for a long time.   We've heard from other cruisers that this was a highlight of the trips through Indonesia.    I just love the orangutans and we've seen them before at a few sanctuaries in Borneo, however, we've never had a really close up experience with them.   At Camp Leakey, you just can't help getting close to them, they are all around you.  It was exciting to say the least.

Before our anchor hit the mud, we were approached by several little speedboats each with guys offering to take us up the river on their Kloktok.   We knew that Harry Rosterman came highly recommended from several sources, so we looked him up and he definitely knew his stuff.  He was full of information, friendly and helpful, and we had our plan working in just one day.

Here comes our kloktok, right on schedule.   Our crew was great.    Fardi was our guide and he couldn't have been  more gracious and helpful.   He was well trained and could answer almost any question we had about the orangutans, the river, or the jungle environment.

Although our little boat was pretty basic, everything was confortable and the crew set everything up for us.

.We had delicious Indonesian meals served to us by our cook, who deserves some kind of medal for cooking on her knees in such a small place.  And she was usually singing as she did her chores.   Great lady.

 This is our captain, Yaya.

It took 5 hours to go up the river, which was a little uneventful except our captain spotted a crocodile along the river bank and backed up to show us.

Fortunately for us not only did we have great weather on this trip, but there were relatively few tourists.  We maybe had 10 other people at the feeding stations with us, and just a handful of kloktocs tied up at the docks whereas during the higher season in the summer, the river would be jammed with these boats and maybe up to 100 people at the feeding stations.   When we got farther up the river, the brown river water turned to black just like that.

We arrived at Camp Leakey at mid day and in time for the 3 p.m. feeding.    Boy, a gibbon, was hanging around the dock getting snacks from the cook.   He especially liked pineapple and when our cook gave us a snack of pineapple he swung up onto the boat and on our table to steal some.

We started on down the boardwalk to the camp when there was a loud commotion right behind us on the dock.    The king orangutan, or dominant male, Tom, had arrived and the boat hands hustled to move the boats off the dock.  If Tom got on to a boat, it would be a big deal to try and get him off before he swiped some souvenirs.   Jim and I were a little concerned as he loped along behind us until Fardi explained that the orangutans don't move all that fast on the ground.   And Tom seemed unphased by our presence, although you wouldn't want to get up close and personal with this guy.  He's enormous.

Tom followed us all the way to the camp where he pestered the rangers for some food.    I don't think anybody turns Tom down when he wants something.  After his snack of milk and rice, he posed for pictures, and then shared some of his food with other orangutans.

We were lucky enough to see not only Tom, the dominant male, but the dominant female as well, and many babies.    When one orangutan is on the platform and another more dominant one arrives the lesser orangutan skedaddles.    We watched as the queen bode her time just a few meters away from the platform, and then when she was good and ready she boarded and everyone else scattered into the trees. We sat and watched as they satiated themselves with loads of bananas that the park rangers hike into the woods for them.   We could see the mothers training their babies to get from one tree to another.   One little guy gave a loud squeak when he wasn't too sure of what to do and his mother turned back, swung her arm out and made a bridge for the little guy.

 That was a pretty successful first day.

At night our mosquito net went up, our bed was laid out, and we parked quietly along the river bank, falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle and waking up to the calls of the gibbons in the trees.  In the morning the "anchor" was raised (a tire thrown into the weeds - very effective) and we went back to Camp  Leakey to check on the orangutans, who by now were our very good friends.....well, maybe not friends exactly...

Our second morning at the camp was just as exciting as the first.    One of the queens came by for a visit, eating some fruit she picked herself, then just lolling about for the day.    She amused herself by covering herself with branches and then rearranging the whole affair over and over again.

What a life!!!

Later we net Ursula, a precocious young lady.  At six she is really supposed to be on her own, but she still hangs out with mom and whenever mom moved along, Ursula would put her hand on mom and go with her. Ursula had a sibling she seemed to be much taken with and played with it in between chasing games with Fardi who teased her with bananas hidden in a pocket.

The rangers live a kind of lonely life out there.   Here a young ranger cooks in his kitchen.  No modern conveniences here!!

There were 3 feeding stations that we visited all together.  On the last trail one big orangutan was hanging off a tree right on the trail, waiting for the rangers to bring the bananas.   On each trail we were accompanied by the orangutans as they made their way to the feeding stations for their daily treat.

 So enough of the orangutans, already.   I've got a million pictures of them, but I'll spare you.   In addition to them there were the ubiquitous macaques, my least favorite monkey ever since I watched a pack of them terrorize a puppy in India.    While focused on the orangutans, we had a visit from a herd of wild piglets.

These are pitcher plants, just waiting to lure in an insect for a drink.

 We visited a reforestation project.   Several years ago the park was in danger of obliteration from a devastating forest fire.    We could make a small contribution by purchasing a sapling and planting it for the future growth of the forest.

And, on our way out of the jungle we visited the village of Sekonyer, built along the river.   The folks here have to move every once in a while as it floods along here regularly.   We were there at the end of the day and families were together on their porches while children were playing and washing in the canal.

And last, we watched elderly craftsmen and women ply their trade, which they have probably done for their whole lives.   A man weaves a fish trap and a husband/wife team make leaf panels for roofing.

Cruiser notes:   Anchor just right of the center of the river.  You will most likely see ships and tugs/barges anchored as well.    Harry's office is just to the right (from the river) of the ferry dock and we were anchored across from his office.    The trip was more expensive than I thought it would be.  We did the 3 day trip and we paid $430 for it.   You can for slightly less do the 2 day trip in which you see the same things as we did only you don't spend the day at Camp Leakey.   You would have a small chance, then, that you won't see any orangutans at all.   You can get fuel and laundry done also through Harry or any of the other speedie boats that come by wanting your business.    They charge a lot for fuel, 8,500 Rph when it is 4,500 Rph at the station.    We went to Pangalan Bun town via bemo.   The grocery store leaves a lot to be desired but there was a nice coffee house on one of the side streets with good shakes and coffee drinks.
  Not a lot in Kumai town itself, however there is a market but you need to get there early.  They close up by mid day.



  1. wow, looks like an amazing adventure! Love the photos :-)

  2. thanks for your uploading photo.

  3. Jim and Joy Carey
    Nice to see you again.

    Photo looks good. :)