What is it that makes a travel moment really special?
Is it crossing something off of a list – a bucket list, a wildlife guide, a guidebook index?
Is it seeing something that none of your friends have seen – like getting bragging rights?
Is it collecting experiences?
Is it the thoughts and emotions of that moment? The *being* there?
Today Eric and I wandered into something really special. We had no high hopes, no list at hand. This morning we had gone as part of a tour – usually groups of 500-900, but because of a rare mix of circumstances, only about 100 people attended seeing the morning feeding of the orang-utans at Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre. That itself intensified the experience. We had been telling our sons about this since the day we broke the news that we were moving to Malaysia. But their attention spans didn’t last even an hour. It was nice, and then on the way out a staff member mentioned that we could come back that afternoon at no charge. The timing just worked out that our boys were in the pool with Eric’s mom so we could wander over at 3:00.
On our way in, I chatted with an official fundraiser from the UK. We went back out to the same feeding platforms as this morning – this time there were only 30 people (yes, instead of 900). The fundraiser came out for the feeding and reconnected with us, telling us about the personalities of the different orang utan. She told us of the secretive alpha-alpha male, named C.I.D, seen only 3 or 4 times a year. Huge, she said. Aggressive, she said. She had been waiting since January to see him, she said.
Then her radio crackled, she grabbed my arm, and suddenly the air was electric – there, in a tree about 100 metres away, was a hulking brown figure. Bigfoot, I thought, but couldn’t be sure I was seeing anything at all. But soon the other apes abandoned the food platform and took off, and before us appeared an orang utan that was truly something else. Huge, in body and personality. He came to a nearby platform and stood, his hip jutting out as he stared us down. I’ve never seen anything like that. The fundraiser was quaking so much she could hardly take pictures. After only about 2 minutes, he disappeared back into the rainforest. All the tourists let our shoulders relax and breathed & laughed together.
What is it about experiences like this? For any of them, we could check google images or youtube clips. The Discovery Channel has already covered it for us all. Yet we want to see, to be a part of it somehow. My cynical side says, “bragging rights and collecting pieces of the world.” But the I witness C.I.D. and I think, is this part of what brought me here?
I am so sorry I can’t post a picture – my camera card reader is at home in KK. But you know you can google “C.I.D. Sepilok” and see those perfectly captured images. You can see the pristine version of the 2 pics I got before the point-and-shoot camera battery died.
But it can’t be only about collecting the pictures, can it. This coming to new places – it is about being grateful for what we do see, being open to surprises, and then trying to explain it to our boys by the poolside. Sharing our adventure and listening for theirs. I think that today reminded me that this world can still awe a gal with google in her pocket. Being met by C.I.D. humbled me. It was not the special moment I expected or counted on.
The question is, can I remain open, and calm, and kind, tomorrow and the next day. As we sail on the Kinabtangan River, can I still be humbled and ready to be moved by what I witness, and by what witnesses me?