Orangutans in Sumatra

My first two days in Bukit Lawang have made me feel so emotional in a way that is hard to describe. I can’t imagine a place more suited to my interests and passions and all the things that make me feel alive.
My introduction to Indonesia was somewhat stressful. As I arrived off the plane in Medan, Sumatra, I was searched so thoroughly, I was quite perturbed. I need to stop dressing like a complete hippie on plane journeys, as it isn’t the first time I have been singled out. Every item was taken out of my backpack, closely examined, and she even smelled all of the toiletries to ensure that my sun cream was sun cream and not Class A intoxicants. The pat down was horrible and I felt totally violated, but once I had passed the test of not being a drug mule, the lady gave me a beaming smile and welcomed me to Indonesia.
I’m here on a tour with Expedition Jungle, who offer nature experiences in Sumatra. One of the team, Murad, was there to meet me, before driving into the centre of Medan to pick up the only other person on the tour, an Aussie called Sophie, from her hotel.
It was about three hours driving to Bukit Lawang, the base for our adventures in the jungle with orangutans.
Bukit Lawang used to just be forest, but an orangutan rehabilitation centre was built here many years ago, to rerelease the captive apes back into the wild. The rehabilitation centre has closed now, due to the fact that the orangutans were becoming too familiar with people and it was getting difficult to send them independently back to the jungle.
After this, the village was built for tourists seeking orangutans and the jungle experience. It is full of guesthouses, shops with handicrafts and tour operators. But while each restaurant serves pizza and sandwiches as well as traditional Indonesian fare, it isn’t tacky or overwhelming with foreigners.
The vibe is relaxed, the locals embrace the tourism and what it does for the economy, and most importantly, it is on a white-water river, surrounded by jungle. 
It is raucous with the sounds of crickets, birds and the flowing rapids. I feel excited here by everything around me, but also calm and peaceful.
I’ve spent the time here relaxing and exploring, sipping iced coffee in the bar of my guesthouse, lying in my hammock on my balcony, swimming in the river and experimenting with different Indonesian dishes.
This morning we did a practice hike in advance of our 6 day jungle trek to come. We headed into the national park, starting with a tough hill climb. Our guide, Wanda, pointed out the rubber trees, the insects, the primates. 
Most people come to Bukit Lawang for a 1-2 day trek into the jungle, so it was busy with other groups. After trudging through mud, happening across lots of monkeys, clambering over fallen trees and slipping on tree roots, we found some orangutans.
These kings of the jungle were lulling in trees, moving on branches and nursing babies. This was when I got very emotional and tears started falling from my eyes. I have loved primates for as long as I can remember, and dreamed of meeting orangutans for many years. For that to become reality is very special. The creatures were so majestic but nonchalant about their onlookers.
To start with, they were higher in the trees and harder to spot, but after some time, one came right up close. We watched and watched, and I decided at one point to put my camera away and enjoy being with them.
We also saw a gibbon, hanging still in the trees, which can be rare as they can move at 60 kilometres per hour.
As it was a practice day, we were only hiking for three hours, so headed out of the jungle when the orangutans had moved on.
Later in the afternoon, we met some locals who offered to take us tubing on the river.
Now, for those not familiar with tubing, it is an adrenaline inducing practice where you lay in a large rubber ring that has netting at the bottom and let the Rapids carry you.
We hiked 2km to get to the start point. In the first set of rapids, my ring was turned right on its side and I had to cling to the netting to avoid falling out. There were some calmer points to just enjoy the river, but the White-water patches were wild.
After some time, it started to rain. Now when it rains in the jungle, you really know about it. The drops were heavy and fast, and as I floated along with intense rainfall, I became emotional for the second time today. This really is paradise.
Right now, I’m in a bar with someone playing guitar in the dim lights with the sounds of the river and the nature.
I feel at ease and am soaking up the moments. Tomorrow I head into the thick of the jungle for six days. It will be tough in the heat and the humidity, but it will be worth it. The more I travel, the more I fall in love with this planet and its nature, its people and all it offers.