Thursday, 11 November 2010

Taking a bath...

After being awoken by monkeys jumping around on the aluminium roof above our room the following morning (the sound better resembling a herd of elephants than light-footed primates), we set off on a two-day jungle trek through the national park.

Fortune on our side, we glimpsed more orangutans on our way up into the thick foliage, and this time they were far more playful (clearly more awake in the morning!), swinging around on the branches overhead and coming ever closer – one older female settled herself in a tree merely inches from my face. Even one of the babies seemed to have found her confidence, leaving mum behind as she attempted a few jumps and swings of her own. We reluctantly left them to begin the trek, which, following the pattern of every hike I let myself in for, was a combination of steep uphill’s, followed by equally steep downhill’s, then repeat until you collapse.

The humidity and slippery jungle terrain left me exhausted, although there was plenty to make the hike worth the pain – as well as the incredible trees and flora around us, we also spotted a variety of wildlife, from the cute Thomas Leaf monkey who became curious whilst we were having a break and literally came to sit right next to us, bringing a few friends (and one very sweet baby), to the soft-shell turtles resting in a stream, the huge tortoise blocking our path, and the massive monitor lizards crashing through the undergrowth.

We arrived at our camp in the late afternoon, next to a river which proved very inviting after our sweaty day’s walk. The murky water was cool and perfect for swimming, and spending the night exposed to the jungle (no tents, just a bit of waterproofing over a bamboo frame) and all its noises was remarkably peaceful and relaxing (even if the hard, bumpy ground did my back no favours!). In the morning we had a final swim before tubing back down the river to the guesthouse and getting ready to move on.

After a two-hour off road trip, we arrived at our next destination, the tiny village of Tangkahan, a small and out-of-the-way place, but absolutely worth visiting for the main attraction – an elephant centre. Run by a group of passionate rangers, the centre looks after the non-wild rescued elephants, and tourists can visit, helping to wash the elephants in the river and then go on a trek through the jungle, with the money raised helping to support the centre. It truly was an amazing experience – washing the elephants was a huge amount of fun, the large animals splashing around in the water, enjoying the rough brushing (mimicking the way they rub themselves against trees after a wash in the wild).

It was incredible how gentle they were, carefully walking and swimming around us and then accepting some food at the end. There was even an extra treat in the form of a baby elephant born just a month prior to our visit, who was a real joy to play around with (and, just like many babies, really did not want her bath!). After washing it was time for our jungle ride, and again we were reminded of both the power but also the grace of the elephants – walking along narrow trails and up muddy hills with steep vertical drops was at times a little worrying, but the elephants were completely in control at all times and we felt safe.

With a final bunch of bananas for our beautiful hosts, we left Tangkahan and the national park to head up, up and up out of the jungle and it's oppressive heat and towards cooler climbs.

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