A great cathedral of enormous trees held up vast sections of jungle canopy, opening out the jungle for fifty metres at a time. Then an impassable mass of tangled vines, prehistoric ferns and palms would block our advance like a bombed-out ruin, as they greedily reached for the sky through an opening left by one of the fallen giants. What at first had seemed impenetrable was now simply endless as we followed our Busman guide along the twists and turns of an invisible trail fifty metres below the green ceiling. Squelching and slipping in the shadows, each step sent grotesque insects skittering and slithering back under the sodden ground’s thick brown mulch. Permanently soaked in the total humidity, a case of prickly heat made walking uncomfortable while my muddied gaiters proved havens for droves of leeches – their bloodied bites turning my calves into unnecessary beacons for the clouds of mosquitoes that pursued us.
Again the whooping drifted to us through the jungle, a haunting, howling cry that seemed to come from every direction and none. For the last half hour they had shadowed us unseen, their calls a telegraph, warning others of our presence. But the calls we were hearing were not the cries of apes, though the Orang Hutan are jungle dwellers like their namesakes the majestic orangoutang. We were entering the realm of one of the last primitive cultures on earth, the Orang Hutan or Tree People of Irian Jaya.
The sunlight of a clearing filtered through the trees and minutes later we stood on the edge of a hectare of cleared jungle. What had been invisible a few metres away through the tangle now dominated the slash and burn wreckage of the clearing. Seemingly plucked from the shores of some idyllic lagoon, the house was well constructed of small tree trunks and woven palm leaves and mirrored dwellings I’d seen in the South Pacific except for its possition, it was perched ten metres above the ground atop the trunk of a great tree. Like opening a door to a furnace, the glare and heat of the tropical sun assaulted us as we left the relative cool of the forest and began to negotiate the crisscrossing walk-way of fallen trees to the house. To our small party this was an amazing sight, as well as its physical enormity, the Korowai (a tribe of the Orang Hutan ) tree-house closely resembled the one in the now tattered photo my fellow traveller, David Bloom, had torn from an Indonesian newspaper. The aerial photograph and its accompanying article’s scant description of un-contacted tribes had first enticed us, along with an adventurous friend, James Lindsay, to organize an attempt to meet the structure’s builders.