Tag Archive for SOS

Supporting SOS in Ape-ril!

Unfortunately I can’t claim praise for the ingenious pun found in today’s blog title; it seems that the Sumatran Orangutan Society have already staked their claim on it as they promoted last month’s ‘Ape-ril’ campaign, which encouraged supporters across the world to grow a beard in solidarity with our orange relatives. We actually share a huge 96.4% of our DNA with orangutans, but we are pushing them to the edge of extinction due to the boom in palm oil plantations and other agricultural expansion across Borneo and Sumatra, the only homes left now to these iconic animals that were once widespread throughout the forests of Asia. Through their Ape-ril campaign, SOS is raising awareness (and money!) to make a lasting impact on the survival of the orangutans and the conservation of their rainforest home.

I’m pleased to say that Charity Challenge has also been able to support SOS throughout April, with 3 groups going out to Indonesia to take part on our Sumatran Jungle Expedition. Because of the huge presence of the Sumatran Orangutan Society directly in the area that we trek in, we make a donation of £50 for each person on this challenge, and we’ve just had the amazing news that we were able to make a humungous donation of £1400 for our 3 April groups! SOS rely principally on donations to carry out their work, so this money will go towards the campaigns, projects and other incredible work that they are already carrying out.

Our Sumatran Jungle expedition is not just a physical challenge, but also a learning experience as the group treks through the Gunung Leuser National Park, home to hundreds of our orange friends, and learns about their plight and the conservation efforts taking place in Sumatra to try and protect these endangered animals. The Sumatran Jungle Society plays a massive part in supporting the reforestation of the national park, promoting conservation among villages and communities who depend on the Gunung Leuser National Park for their livelihoods, and helping these communities to live sustainably and without animal-human conflict. If it wasn’t for the continued effort of SOS, we would not be able to run this challenge with a clear conscience, but because of them we are able to send groups out in the knowledge that they will be contributing to the protection of the Sumatran wildlife.

I think our participants can express their thoughts better than we ever could:

“To actually see the palm oil industry moving in and hearing the chainsaws while walking in the jungle was a strong reminder that we need to stop this deforestation and destruction of the orangutans’ natural habitat. If you think life is hard when you struggle with climbs and descents – think about the orangutans that get killed every day”.

“To have the opportunity to experience an adventure like this whilst doing good, with an amazing group of people was an honour. It was tough but when we all got back to the Eco Lodge and thought about what we had done and what we had achieved, from the fundraising to the trek itself, it left you feeling incredibly proud.”

To learn more about the Sumatran Orangutan Society and their conservation efforts, go to http://orangutans-sos.org/. Or alternatively, why not take the opportunity to visit Sumatra and see for yourself! For each person on our trip we donate £50 to SOS, so you can go in the knowledge that you are not only supporting the charity of your choice, but you are also helping to give back to the people, wildlife and environments you will be seeing during your time in Indonesia.

You can also find out more about our Sumatra Jungle Challenge by clicking here. If you have any questions on this challenge, please contact Jo, our Ops Manager on jo@charitychallenge.com. To see more information about the array of amazing challenges we have, please visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, please subscribe to this blog. You can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Last days in the Rainforest – Leading the Sumatran Jungle Trek, by Operations Manager Jo, part 5

The day started with a well-earned lazy morning, giving us the chance to sit back and really soak in our surroundings. We bathed in the river, giving ourselves a good scrubbing with dirty brown t-shirts which slowly turned back into the crisp white Charity Challenge t-shirt given to us at the airport.

For breakfast, the guides serve us pancakes with hundreds and thousands on. Yum! The next part of our journey is all about trekking down the river in search of Jungle fern and learning the tricks of the jungle – how to build fish traps, how to make delicious curry out of  banana plant, how to bind up scratches and deal with bites and travel sickness with medicines picked from right under our noses. Essentially the day was all about realising just what it takes to survive in this prime rainforest. This day was one of mine, and one of the groups, favourites times in the jungle, as not only did we learn lots about living in this amazing ecosystem, we got to have a much appreciated break before our longest and toughest day began.

Trekking in the deeps of the Jungle to Alur Perak….

We woke up early, ready for the long day ahead, excited to be back on the trail but also a little apprehensive. As we set off into the jungle, we were faced with steep narrow climbs, and trails that were barely visible. We made our way downstream to meet the Bohorok River, where we were reunited with the other groups, who had been doubtlessly spending their days thinking and wandering how their experiences have been compared with ours.

Excited to be together again, we sat sharing stories and sipping at our morning coffee, watching as Eddy’s Group came marching upstream, bright eyed and rearing to go! We set off again, as one, and more determined than ever before! With Iwans group leading the charge we trekked upstream, heading deeper still into the heart of the Sumatra Rainforest!

At first, the coolness of the river was rejuvenating, and we trekked and chatted, but after 30 minutes or so we came to a halt. Our guides set us up on the river bank, and advised “river shoes off, boots on!!” One of the guides started to chop away at some foliage, uncovering for us a hidden trail that would lead us back into the world of the underbrush! Our joyous laughter and energised spirit soon turned into balls of sweat as we pulled ourselves up and onwards with jungle vines and roots, and navigated through the steepest sections of the jungle we had ever climbed through. Luckily, we had eaten our way through the weeks worth of food and our guides were carrying a lighter load and had the energy and spirit to keep us going, offering a hand here or a pull up there!

When we finally reached a clearing, bags were off and we crashed out for a five minute break. Things got very exciting as we caught a glimpse ‘wild Orangutans’ swinging through the trees, a rarity here in the depths of the rainforest. We were exhilarated to be able to sit and watch with amazement and wonder as they swung nimbly through the canopy. It occurs to me that if you ask any of the guides in Gunung Leuser National park what are the two most popular words used here in the jungle, it would be “wow!” and “amazing!” You don’t realise it at the time but you just can’t help yourselves as there are so little words, or maybe too many, that can possibly be used to describe the sensations of what we experienced in the prime, ‘remote’ Sumatran Rainforest.

We somewhere tore ourselves away from the wondrous site of the wild Orangutans and trekked on. We stopped at what must be the biggest tree I have ever seen, that acted as gatekeeper to a scarily deep descent on its other side. When Benny threw a safety rope down and asked us to turn around and use the tree roots and safety rope to guide us down. For a second we thought he must be joking, but when we caught sight of Hilary and Christine cruising down the slope unaided, we were inspired and knew we could do it too!

It felt like the descent was never ending, holding onto tree roots while looking down between our feet to see where to manoeuvre each foot. Each step was accompanied by a rush of exhilaration, it was exciting but mentally and physically very draining

The afternoon continued with steep climbs and a gruelling descent to a magnificent waterfall, where we proceeded to shuffle our way down on large slippery rocks. The final hour’s trek through the waterfall and down a long muddy river proved the most testing of all, which is saying something! The rain had fallen hard last night for many hours, so the water was deep and had been churned up so that the visibility underfoot was barely there, and we had to be on our guard against the multitude of hidden slippery boulders. When we finally made it to the last campground of the trek we were beyond jubilant! The bamboo canopy’s were up and a team of guides who had trekked upstream with the 27 Rubber tyres that we were  to tube down the river the following day were waiting for us, there were hugs and tears all round from us!

We feasted the evening away with traditional Indonesian barbequed chicken, and rice that had been slow cooked in bamboo over the fire. We all ate happily and chattered away, telling stories and playing games. In the background our newly acquired team of guides were busy pumping the 27 tyres in preparation for our bumpy 2 hour ride done the rapids of the Bohorok River.

A bumpy ride out of the depths of the Jungle to Bukit Lawang

The following morning was a very social breakfast with all 16 of us in Camp plus our now 27 guides. We packed our bags in waterproof covers, cleared up camp, slapped on the suncream, fitted our helmets and lifejackets and watched and waited while our team tided up the last few tyres and bundled our kit on to the rafts of tubes before we jumped in and allowed ourselves to be washed downstream.

The river was looking high. We had arrived in camp the night before just in time for yet again another a heavy down pour that lasted a good 6 hours! So we knew a bumpy ride was to be expected. The tubes were tied together in sets of 4 with a guide at the front and a guide behind to steer them downstream. Hurtling down the river was an exhilarating experience! It was a bit like one of those rapid rides at theme parks… But for real! Quite the experience.

We were tubing down the river for a good 2 hours, working up an appetite until we are back at the Orangutan Feeding centre and the opening of Bukit Lawang where, as it was a Sunday, families were out in full force bathing in the river, kids were playing in tubes waving at us as we passed by. We also spotted a mother Orangutan and her baby sitting by the river. It wasn’t long before we arrived home at the EcoLodge in Bukit Lawang, and with that, our epic Sumatra Orangutan Jungle Challenge came to an end.

We were wet, exhausted and hungry with a million thoughts and emotions running through our heads, no one knowing what to say or do now apart from to head straight to the bar order a large bottle of Beer and get started with the cheers, hugs, tears and stories, the adrenaline still flowing and the bumps and bruises of the tube ride and the last 6 days still hidden beneath the surface. After a freshen up and some chill-out time in our rooms, we come back  for lunch, where the realisation of what we had achieve, accomplished and put ourselves through in the last week in the wild and remote Sumatran Jungle hit home!

If Jo’s experiences in Sumatra has inspired you, check out our Sumatran Jungle Trek here, and subscribe to this blog to hear about more of our challenges adventurers! To keep up to date on all our challenge news, both jungle and not, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Into the Jungle! – Leading the Sumatran Jungle Trek, part 3

Seeing the orangutans is an incredible experience. In Bukit Lawang, you can usually see them near the world famous orangutan rehabilitation centre, however we were extremely lucky to spot ‘wild’ orangutans on Day 5 of our Jungle Trek.

The semi wild orangutans will not stray too far from the feeding platform so you are pretty much guaranteed to spot them there. When it comes to truly wild orangutans however, you will be lucky to catch a glimpse of one in the distance while you trek deeper into the jungle. You will have to be careful to be very quiet and not scare them away! Wild orangutans will stay high in the tree tops, so spotting them takes a lot of patience and a very good eye from your guides!

Into the Jungle we go! Bags packed, re packed and packed again and the three teams with their respective guides Eddy, Iwan and Kinol set off within 15 minutes of each other on their epic journey into the depths of the jungle! An initial tough climb with a surprising amount of steps greets us as we approached the entrance to the Gunung Leuser National Park. It was an extremely humid morning, so the start was tough going, but we were all in great spirits, and rearing to go!

After a morning of trekking we soon discovered this was definitely not a stroll in the park!  Flat ground in the jungle is something of a rarity and for every steep climb there was an equally steep descent. We now understand exactly why Tarzan chose to swing through the trees – it’s a much more efficient way of getting through the jungle, there are far less obstacles up there!

After clambering up and over fallen trees, untangling a foot or two from the cunning and craftily hidden jungle vines,  taking a skip and a hop over the abnormally large tree roots, we finish by swinging from tree to tree as we manoeuvre our way down the extremely steep descent. The jungle was soon testing our mental awareness and strength to the extreme!

Our first experience of lunch in the jungle was a delight for all. A blanket of fern displayed juicy pineapple and passion fruit and ‘nasi goreng’(fried rice with omelette) wrapped in a banana leaf. It was delicious! However, we soon found ourselves ambushed by a gang of ‘Thomas Leaf Monkeys’ or ‘funky monkeys’ as our guides liked to call them. They took a fancy to our lunch and I have to say I can’t blame them, I’d much rather have Nasi Goreng over leaves any day!! The Thomas Leaf Monkeys are very distinctive with their black mohawk hairstyle, they live in female groups of around 6 with one male ringleader. Their population, like most species in the rainforest, is decreasing due to their primary habitat being taken by logging and conversion to oil palm plantations. They are however, protected by Indonesian Law and are incredibly fun to watch!

It was a tough days trek, feeling the effects of jet lag, acclimatising to the humidity and realising that maybe a bit more training, scrambling and step climbing shoud have been in order. The steep climb into camp felt like it lasted forever, with every step seeking for that next branch,  roots or jungle vine to hold onto to ease us down. Part shuffle, part scramble, I think I can safely say we all had a couple of slips and bumps, with a struggle to get back on our feet with the weight of the backpack. I was anxiously scanning the trail hoping that there was enough low lying forest to ease the falls. We were exhausted and just about to throw our toys out the pram at our ‘oh so lovely guides’ through sheer exhaustion when we suddenly see smoke from our camp. We were very pleased to be greeted with hot tea and coffee and biscuits. and quietly welcomed by the sight of a mother orangutan with her baby watching us from across the river. A prefect end to a very tough day!

Next, we bathe in the river and the guides once again triumph with an amazing spread of dishes for our evening meal. Later, whilst sitting under a bamboo frame covered tarp listening to the pouring rain, someone shines their torch through the darkness across the river and into the jungle and for a split second we think we see a pair of shining eyes starring back at us! We turn off our headtorchs, huddle down into our sleeping bags and watch the fireflies go by. We sit in silence listening to the noises of the night and ponder over the days trek, realisation hits that we are here, in the prime jungle, just the 6 of us (and the other two groups maybe just 10 minutes downstream but you would never know!) and our team of guides. I know we are all thinking ‘how do we share this – how can we possibly describe living in the jungle? An experience as Barbara later said to me ’’ hard enough to sort it in my own head and finding almost impossible to explain to others’’.

The silence was soon broken by screams of  ‘blood’!. The Leeches had arrived. The trees were wet from the rain and the Leeches were in their haven – fresh blood had arrived!!

If Jo’s experience in Sumatra has inspired you, check out our Sumatran Jungle Trek here, and subscribe to this blog to hear about what happened next. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, both jungle and not, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Leading the Sumatra Orangutan Jungle Challenge – Part 2 – At the Orangutan Feeding Platform:

The day begins with an early morning rise and a short walk, followed by a canoe crossing to the orangutan feeding platform at 8.30am. Everyone’s doing well to acclimatise to the heat and humidity today, rehydration sachets have quickly become everyone’s best friend!!

The Gunung Leuser National Park is one of the orangutan’s last remaining strongholds, with more than 5000 animals thought to be living in the wild, and our first encounter with the Pongo abelii, ‘the Sumatran Orangutan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumatran_orangutan) was certainly something to remember! The orangutan, the world’s largest arboreal mammal, means “people of the forest” (Orang – people, Hutan – forest) in Indonesian. We’re all tired from climbing the steep slope up to the orangutan feeding platform and paying too much attention to our feet, when suddenly the group comes to an abrupt halt. Being the last one in the group I later discovered  that our path was blocked by a female Orangutan  standing 3ft tall, fists clenched and refusing to move to let us through.

The Sumatran Orangutan Society have devised a set of regulations when visiting the Orangutans in the Gunung Leuser National Park and our first encounter showed us just how important these are. There are many guides who will try to entice the Orangutans with food so they come close to tourists. This actually teaches them to be aggressive if they don’t get what they want!

 It is important to follow the guidelines and listen to the licensed guides at all times. (for more info see our Sumatra Jungle Challenge Q&A’s). All of our guides follow a strict code of no contact with the Orangutans. Some of our guides are also involved with research and conservation projects based in the area and are fully aware of the importance of following conservation guidelines, both to protect the jungle and the indigenous wildlife, but also to set an example to other guides and visitors.

It’s really a memorable experience to watch the orangutans in the tropical rainforest of Gunung Leuser National Park, but these animals need to be protected with care. The Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) are rarer and smaller than their Bornean relatives, who have lighter hair and a longer beard. Today there are approximately only around 6,600 left in the wild, most of them in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. The expansion of oil palm plantations into fragile Eco-systems is the most acute threat to their survival. But also illegal logging and the pet trade add to their declining population.

The purpose of the centre we visited was to rehabilitate orangutans in captivity so they can be released in to the wild again. Rangers teach the orangutans all the necessary skills to survive in the wild. After an intense period of quarantine, readjustment to the natural habitat and reintegration into the (semi-wild) population, the orangutan is released back into the jungle. All orangutans released are still monitored by the rangers and they still provide them with supplementary food at the feeding platform until they become fully self reliant. The Gunung Leuser national Park is also a life support for the people of Bukit Lawang. All Charity Challenge guides are employed by Expedition Jungle who is fully inclusive of the local population. Their viability depends on the knowledge of the people of Bukit Lawang as well as the natural and cultural environment. They also hope that by exposing tourists to the beauty of the rain forest and the current issues they can generate outside support and contribute towards highlighting the plight of Sumatra ‘s rainforests before it is too late!

Part 3 coming soon!

If Jo’s experience in Sumatra has inspired you, check out our Sumatran Jungle Trek here, and subscribe to this blog to hear about what happened next. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, both jungle and not, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.