We’ve arrived at Kerinci Seblat National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site and preserve for the Sumatran Tiger, Rhinoceros and, reportedly, the Orang Pendek – a small, bi-pedal, ape-like creature whose cravings for sugar and tobacco compels it to raid the huts of high terrain farmers. Incredibly, and to my own astonishment, it’s this small ape creature we’ve come here to track and, hopefully, film. Never would I have imagined as a small girl growing up in East Alstead NH, that I’d be hiking through a rain forest in Sumatra, Indonesia in search of a mythical creature. And yet, here I am, and in full, unapologetic jubilation of the impending adventure. The whole village gathers around us, curious and excited, eyes-wide as we unload our gear. They are anxious to help, to be included in what is for them a historic occasion. I expect we will live on as the subject of future village legends.
Landing at the base of the mountain trailhead I get my first look up into the forest. The thin path, disappearing into the dense, fragrant green, treaded so frequently it’s worn into the earth, glistens; it climbs up the mountain at a grueling, preposterous angle, soaked and terrifically greasy, too narrow for an adult’s foot. A small stream flows down from the peak cutting into the clay base, creating jagged, narrow steps which will serve as toe-holds. My hiking boot sinks and lands lopsided against the path’s edge. A mere 30 pound backpack full of tape, equipment and gear, pulls backward against every step. I already feel a change in my lungs, they twist and pinch fighting the hot, humid, dense air. I shake my head in disbelief of this moment, at the awesome absurdity of the life that’s happening right now. As the path dissolves into a sudden rain shadow gibbons howl and scream, a siren to the jungle that says, “strangers have come”.