Published: July 23rd 2012July 16th 2012
We had come to Kalimantan for only one reason - to see orangutan. We knew that they could be spotted at various places in Borneo but that if you want to see them in the wild and not at a feeding station, the best place to go was Kutai National Park.
The big issue is that the information on getting to them at Kutai was very hard to collect. Lonely Planet had a small section which was full of names and options which made it confusing. There were blogs from people who gave several options and a link to the Ntional Park website. This was on Bahasa and set up in such a way that finding information was like searching for a needle in a haystack. One blog Fiona found of people who had been in 2008 seemed the easiest to follow, so our plan was to go to Bontang, register with the park office and then travel to Sangatta and into the park.
The phone call to Sipiani, the Park ranger, last night changed everything. He is actually based at the camp in the park and organised everything for us. He told us to get the 7.00am bus
from Samarinda straight through to Sangatta. At the bus terminal we were to get a yellow minibus and he would organise the boat to the camp. He was also organising accommodation, food and guides. We booked for one night and 3 walks including a night walk-much to Harriet's horror.
We had to get up pretty early which didn't please Harriet, leave the bags at the hotel and grabbed a bemo to the Lempake bus terminal. The bemos are different colours depending on their designated route, so this one was brown and was heading the same way as we had returned from Pampang. We had intended getting a car to Lempake and had booked one at the hotel. Unfortunately, or fortunately as we saved loads of money, it never turned up.
A bus was waiting at the terminal marked for Sangatta, so we boarded and grabbed seats near the door. There was no AC so the door was left open the whole trip. Harriet and Fiona sat behind the door and had the stair well space to stretch their legs. The advertised time to leave was not the intended time for the driver or most of the passengers, so
we set off about 7.30am.
The road to Bontang is in very bad repair, there are potholes the whole way the size of a car or bigger. The bus had big wheels though and ploughed through most only swerving to the other side of the road for the biggest. We made several stops filling the seats and the aisle with passengers. We also stopped for a coffee and toilet break after about 2 hours.
When we arrived in Sangatta, a man rushed up to us saying Kabo, Kabo. We had no idea what he meant but he mentioned Sipiani and pointed to the minibus, so we got in. Toby called Sipiani who assured us we were on the right track and that the boat was organised. We were feeling a little out of control and not sure what was happening but we sat back and let it happen. After a good 30 minute trip the driver dropped us off in the middle of nowhere near the river. It turns out this was Kabo Raya where you can get a motorised canoe, or ces as they are locally known ,to the camp. We walked through the mud to the
river bank where a ces was moored. The man with it pointed to another man who was just arriving. This guy was expecting us and was our boatman to the camp. There was no way we would have been able to hire a ces here if we hadn't already organised it.
The ride to the camp was very serene. We were told there were crocodiles in the water which is a little disconcerting when your boat is only 2 inches above the water, but we didn't see any.The boat dropped us off at a wooden plank up a mud bank. We scrambled up and found a path that led to a boardwalk which in turn led to the Prevab or Kacap camp. Sipiani was waiting for us and there were two other guests from Hungary.
We sat down to lunch prepared by Sipiani and chatted to the Hungarians. They had just returned from a walk where they had spotted a large male orangutan and were heading out again in the afternoon. We were shown our room which was the most basic we had stayed in but clean and comfortable enough. There were mossie nets and room for all
three of us which was all we needed.
We packed a bag for the afternoon walk, taking all our valuables with us along with rain jackets. We were going to change into shorts but Sipiani told us to leave long pants on as leeches are a problem. Not what we wanted to hear, but we stoically headed off.
It took about 1/4 hour until we came across an orangutan. We were so excited. She was not quite so pleased to see us and threw stuff at us and then we realised there was another further up the tree. It turned out it was her baby. After a while she seemed to be comfortable with us watching her and we followed her as she and the baby moved and played and ate for about 2 hours. The baby was so cute. The guides spot the orangutan by looking for chewed bark as well as listening and looking in the trees. The orangutan chew the bark to get the moisture out. Next to the camp is a research centre and one of the researchers joined us. She told us that the baby would have been about 2 years old. Orangutans
are solitary creatures and seeing a mother and baby is the only way you would usually see 2 together.
We went for a bit more of a walk through the forest before we headed back to camp and saw lantern bugs and loads of ants who insisted on biting Fiona. It was only painful for about 5 minutes but those 5 minutes were agony. Toby and Harriet did their best Bear Grylls impressions, drinking water from freshly cut creepers and eating plants.
There was time for a rest and a chat with the Hungarians before dinner. They had found the information for Kutai confusing too. They stopped at Bontang as it is "the gateway" to Kutai and were asked by their hotel staff why they wanted to go to Kutai and the staff had no idea it was a National Park!
After dinner it was pitch black and perfect for a night walk in the forest. Harriet was not looking forward to this because she knew what we were looking for - tarantulas. We hadn't brought torches but the guide found us a couple and off we set. We kept close to each other expecting things to
jump out at us. It was surprisingly quiet. Frogs and crickets were chirping and we saw both, but there were no large animals moving. Then the guide stepped off the path to hunt out a tarantula for us. He called us over and sure enough there was one in her hole. Shining the light on her obviously frightened her as she rushed back inside. Toby saw it move and said "oh" to which Harriet completely overreacted and grabbed at him. It was very funny. The guide decided to find us another one to look at and soon spotted one. This one was completely out of her hole and quite beautiful. None of us were going too close though. We managed to get a photo before she too rushed back to her hole. This time no one jumped hysterically though.
We saw a couple of other big spiders, huge ants and fireflies before we got back to camp and settled down for the night. We were just about asleep when there was an awful noise at the window and scrabbling on the roof. Harriet was on edge again, but as nothing came in she soon got to sleep as did
Toby and Fiona.
There are more photos below