The adventure begins as Team Taronga touch down in Medan at 8:30pm on a very balmy Friday night after a short stint at Singapore airport.
After refreshing at our deluxe hotel and enjoying our last hot showers and flushing toilets, we travelled three hours by mini bus through Palm Oil plantations to arrive at Bukit Lawang. This small town is located at the perimeter of Gunung Leuser National Park, an area renowned for its lush jungle and various primate inhabitants, particularly the Sumatran Orangutan.
After a good night's rest, refreshing cold bucket shower and fuelled with Nasi Goreng, we set off into the jungle. 20 minutes into our trek we spotted our first Orangutan female and infant, the female climbing and brachiating through the trees and the infant clinging tightly to her belly. It was such a privilege to watch these great apes move so silently and easily through the dense jungle. 40 minutes later we watched another female make an intricate nest, using a variety of branches whilst her offspring swung on vines nearby.
All of a sudden the jungle music changed and the loud and musical call of two White-handed Gibbons filled our ears. And this was all in the first hour! The next five hours were spent climbing upwards and downwards and sideways through the jungle until we descended to our first camp site on the river. After a refreshing swim whilst watching Long-tailed Macaques play in a tree nearby we had a lovely candle-lit dinner before settling in for the night. The next two days were spent trekking and pushing our bodies to the absolute limit. All of Team Taronga embraced the Orangutan within, and we were swinging on vines and climbing up trees and crawling through logs all day long, all whilst seeing more Orangutans, Thomas Langurs, Long and Pig-tailed Macaques and even a couple of bush rats, iguana hatchling and a giant black squirrel along the way!
A couple of the trekkers even had the privilege of meeting an Orangutan female and her infant along the path as she brushed past them on her way to a small stream nearby. The final day saw the team trek high up into the hills before descending down using vines and tree roots to the large river below. One by one the trekkers made it to the river, to the cheers and hoots of the rest of the team and our local guides. After a well-deserved lunch and cup of tea, the team then jumped into large rubber tyres and floated down the rapids for the next half an hour before returning to Bukit Lawang.
Words really cannot describe this incredible experience! The whole team have banded together and supported each other through the toughest of physical and mental challenges. It truly has been a life changing experience for us all!
By Alison Smith, Zoo Keeper