It was our second day in Mantangai following the BOS rescue team when they got a phone call that the Nyaru Menteng rehab center had received word of three orangutans that had been captured in the Agro Bukit palm oil plantation area. Orangutans are often captured by plantation workers here because they are considered ‘pests’, eating the fresh palm leaf off the oil palm trees.
Two rescue staff members as well as the IFAW team jumped back into the boats to immediately head back to Nyaru Menteng where we would meet up with the other BOS team members. The rest of the BOS rescue team would stay stationed at Mantangai and continue rescue and release operations as well as fire fighting.
I would also like to note that the fire fighting team in Mantangai have worked day in and out, even through the traditional Idul Fitri holiday in Indonesia, to ensure the fires would be reduced around the Mawas release area.
It was 5pm when the decision was made to head back. We filled up two boats with our luggage loaded into one. We were determined to make it back to Nyaru Menteng as soon as possible in order to travel to Agro Bukit for the sake of the orangutans that had just been captured.
But in this haste, we took little notice that the river we were about to travel on for three hours was getting lower. Just one hour into our trip we started to bottom out. The sun was still shining and with just a little push here and there, we were ok…no real problems we could foresee.
But 15 minutes later we truly bottomed out. The sun was beginning to disappear.
Of all places to bottom out, we were surrounded by swamp and burning jungle. There wasn’t even a safe place to stand. I also had to pee, but because the forest had been burnt there weren’t any trees to pee behind!!!
The team tried and tried to push the boat into higher water. Every 5 pushes got them maybe 8 ft. ahead. There was no where to go but straight, and it took nearly an hour to get into higher water. Even with my full bladder, I never complained because the rescue team was chest high in cold swamp water (who knows what else) trying to get us out of there.
And just our luck we bottomed out again 20 minutes later. This time, our flashlights and headlamps had nearly seen their end. With one strong flashlight left and glow sticks hanging from the boats, the rescue team was forced to jump back into the water again and push. The rest of us began hiking down the bank of the river, stepping on any visible tree root that would keep us from falling into the mud.
We hiked down river until we arrived at higher ground to wait for the boats. When we turned around we couldn’t see any sign of light. We started to scream into the darkness to get a response from the rescue team. “Oy! Oy!”, the voices were coming from a different direction. Where were they?
We soon come to find out the poor guys decided to create a new trail through the small standing forest in the river, rather than pushing over open mud. With only a single machete and flashlight, they hacked their way through the forest for two hours, pulling the boat along.
They emerged with scrapes and bites all over, shivering from having stood in the water so long. This was the last of it, they said. We jumped back in the boats. It would have been nice to just pull over and camp, but again, there was no safe ground.
They were right; we never bottomed out again. But the cold air brushing against us as the boat motor pushed on provided no additional comfort. I will be eternally thankful to BOS for getting us out of the middle of nowhere.