Hey, Hey With The Monkees
24 October 2019
I never did tell you about our monkey trip up the Kumai River, which was, after all, one of the highlights of the Indonesia trip.
Now, normally I'm not that into wildlife. I mean, generally speaking, one has to go to quite a lot of effort to see it, traipsing up hills, through bogs, usually in steaming heat or pissing rain when, it's all instantly available on YouTube or an Attenborough series. Even more pointlessly, if or when you finally get in front of whichever wildlife you're after catching the merest fleeting glimpse of, you take a thousand pictures of this tiny spec of flesh and bone capturing mostly trees and twigs when again, a quick Google search will bring up stunning photos of your desired, photographic prey.
There's people on this rally, who should remain nameless, although attired in long trousers tucked into even longer socks, they really ought to be named, or at least given some guidance on sartorial elegance while stalking their feathered friends, who can tell wee birdies apart just by the sound of their squeaks. Me, I just separate them
into Number Ones - Big Birds and Number Twos - Wee Birds. Why complicate things?
Anyway, in groups of four to eight we all went through the fairly pointless task of negotiating our luxury river cruises to see the monkeys, orangutans crocodiles and any other beasts of the Forrest. A good number of the local fishing fleet have learned pretty quickly that by converting their "Klotoks", pointy fishing boats, into luxury cruise vessels, they can make a somewhat better living, in more comfort by filling the old fish hold with tourists rather than fish, at anything from two and a half million to four or five, depending on how gullible the tourists are.
Now, I'm fairly hardened to the negotiating tactics of unscrupulous people. I spent a career dealing with them. However, over the last months, the Indonesian people we've met have given us everything and asked for nothing and off we went to arrange a tour with the "official Rally representative". It was only later we found we'd paid more than what seemed to be the going rate so negotiations were re-opened, a discount agreed and after a brief tour of our cruise boat, we did the deal.
Next morning, different cruise boat turns up. Not as large or as luxuriously appointed as the one we'd seen, but what the hell.....and off we went.
Now, keep in mind we're in Indonesia and the cruise ship is an old fishing boat. Dispel any images of P&O or Danube cruise ships. Instead, think old garden shed, liberally painted in whatever garish colour was on offer, then add another shed at the back to act as the outhouse and shower block and another accommodation shed on top. Fortunately these Klotoks don't go too fast and the river wasn't too windy as I'm pretty certain there were no stability tests to see how far it could lean to the point of no return. And no holding tanks. Take twenty Klotoks of say four crew and four tourists for one or two nights........ eating curry. I shan't labour the point but we didn't see many fish.
The accommodation was sparse. The top deck for the tourists, laid out during the day with a table and four chairs, wooden slatted benches or sun loungers or, if you were lucky, bean bags. Below decks in the dark, steaming heat and bilge water, was the galley and crew accommodation. As it should be.
At night, while we Muppets were being walked through the jungle in the dripping, pitch black looking for anything
G living the guide could find to justify the added value "night hike", the crew transformed our day deck into, mosquito covered boudoirs, each punter getting their own memory foam mattress. Unfortunately, my mattress remembered the size and shape of the last guy that was in it so I won't say it was the best nights sleep I've had. Among the most expensive, but not the best.
Finally getting to the point, (it's been a slow morning) we visited the Orangutan reserve and each of the three "feeding stations". These are large wooden benches set in the middle of the jungle where the tourists sit on a few rudimentary benches to gawp at the monkeys trying to see how many mangos they can stuff in their mouths at one time. If you've watched babies and young children eat you'll get the picture.
It was all rather exciting. First the walk through deepest jungle, then, at the gawping station, we'd sit in silence presumably while the apes combed their hair and anxiously checked their watches, pre-performance before making their appearance. Ever so dramatically.
First, there'd be the rustle of leaves and branches high in the canopy. Nikons and Canons would swing from the hip to firing position in milli-seconds. But again, only silence. Next, another rustle. This time from stage left. Nothing.
Then, "look!" and way up high an Orangutan would be spotted. Gawping down at the tourists and no doubt looking for the two guys carrying the sacks of mangos, sugar cane and other ape-tisers. (Get it?). And then there were two. And three. All, swinging through the trees in a stunning show of balance, agility and , even for these big hairy lumps, grace. I've seen it before on Attenborough , YouTube and the Tarzan movies but it still came as a surprise to see how they swung from limb to limb through the canopy then hand over hand, all four of them, they'd down climb the trees to the grub. Once there, depending on how bold the ape was they'd either pull up a seat, lay out their cutlery and napkins and proceed to gorge themselves to a standstill. The more wary would stuff four or five mangos in their gob and shoot back up a tree, one handed, as the other hands were clutching more mangos, then sit and chow down. Then repeat until all the food was gone. They'd then pack up and leave. We did the same, back to Klotoksville, a cup of tea or a beer, a stunning Indonesian meal on the upper deck as we cruised back down the river, through the deep jungle, monkeys on every tree.
Worth every Rupiah. However many of them it was.