Of Apes and Fire: a photo story of searching for wild orangutans

One of my dreams has always been to see Orangutans in the wild. So the last time I was in Malaysian Borneo, I spent 4 days on the Kinabatangan river. Several sections of the river are quite touristy, but I was fortunate to link up with a couple biologists and a local guide who were way out in the bush. I was traveling across country on a small 250cc off road motorcycle so I drove  though some very rutted out, muddy, hellish, paths that were called “roads” on the water soaked map I carried. After 2 hours, I arrived at a small lodge where they were staying. The next few days I got to spend 8 hours a day on the water searching the surrounding foliage for a glimpse of red hair and listening to the purr of the a boat engine.   Jungle, boats, and highly elusive wildlife? I was in heaven.Image

The last day we were quite a ways up small tributary on a section of the river only 15-20 feet wide. Suddenly, our driver pointed directly overhead at some overhanging branches.  There nestled in some foliage was a young pregnant female about 15 feet away from our small boat. I had seen several other orangs from a distance, but never from so close. Fumbling for my camera I promptly dropped it into the bottom of the boat. Cursing under my breath I snatched up it and took a few quick shots.Image

The sun set shortly afterwards, and we started the long boat ride back to our hut. In the dark with the motor droning on and on behind me, I wanted to doze off, but I kept imagining myself falling off the side into the dark chocolate brown water. The water slipped by, and suddenly my the researchers sitting in front of me gave a shout and It quickly became apparent that what appeared to be our hut, was fully engulfed in flames. “Oh shit!” we all yelled. Pretty much everything I had to survive the next 3 weeks traveling was in my bag and it was in that hut. My laptop, clothes, journal, money, and passport. Everything. Our driver roared the engine and barreled towards the house.Image

I snapped the above picture as we approached the hut. Fortunately, out of the darkness it became apparent that it wasn’t our hut, but one right next door. Our hut was still in real danger from the fire spreading  We started approaching the dock that was just in front of the hut when suddenly a huge blast sent us diving into the bottom of the boat. Half of the house suddenly exploded and pieces of flaming wood rained down around us and the our driver hit the reverse. The hut had several large propane tanks used for cooking, and it had blown right upon our arrival. We were not going to approach the dock now. We parked a hundred yards off and I could see a couple locals trying to throw water at the fire with small buckets, risking another explosion to try and save there small house. Sadly it was useless, the fire was much to big. We could do nothing, but wait and watch it burn out.



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