Sabah: In the Orangutan Sanctuary, I watched the orangutans milling about and eating bananas on the platform erected for the tourists’ easy viewing. We were close up, but it was too much like being at the zoo. So I filed the paperwork for a “hiking permit” to walk along a trail in the forest. After only ten minutes on the trail, I saw a large apelike creature swinging in the distant trees. Already, I considered the “hike” a success.
Later on, an orangutan even came onto the path; while still a distance away, it was looking at me! I guess I’m not all that intriguing because within minutes, it had left the trail and returned to somewhere in the surrounding tall trees. Then, the same orangutan was behind me and coming closer. Sizing up the situation, I decided that caution was the better part of valor. I tried to stay calm and not pay the solid ape much mind. I was a good head taller but the orangutan had solid looking legs and long arms that could reach me far from my striking distance. The face looked thoughtful, calm and self aware. (In fact, I felt I was looking into the face of someone who was a bit self-conscious.) With still a dozen feet between us, I realized it was my camera arousing such curiosity and put the camera out of sight.
I didn’t see the orangutan leave because just then, a Rhinoceros Hornbill flew overhead and the sound of it commanded my attention. The loud swooshing sound of its large, beating wings made me think that big bird could press a lot of weight at the gym. Later, I walked through crowds of orangutans swinging from tree to tree. In a very skilled manner, they would jump on the thinner trees to bend them in the desired direction so they landed on other trees next to clusters of red and brown fruit. The Sanctuary staff later told me they were clusters of figs. I inspected a fallen, bitten “fig” and it looked much like a peach to me. But they must know.
Some orangutans were swinging through the trees in vertical pairs. The pair would both be upright with one linking its two arms to another’s two legs. Even in that manner, they maintained a fast pace and continued traveling in a precise and calculated way. Unlike me, those athletes didn’t seem to mind the steamy heat. They were having a swinging time.
“Action is at bottom a swinging and flailing of the arms to regain one’s balance and keep afloat.” —Eric Hoffer