Published: February 22nd 2010February 17th 2010
Warning: This blog entry is excessively long and detailed as this was quite possibly my favorite experience ever, so I have literally recorded everything in an attempt to re-live it. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that, so skim-read and enjoy the best of the ridiculous amount of photos we took.
So after getting a semi decent night’s sleep, with the calls to prayer waking everybody up at about 4am in the morning, we went down to breakfast where we nervously waited to see whether our guide would actually turn up and wondering how strenuous the day ahead would turn out to be.
The main attraction in Bukit Lawang is the Orangutans; it is one of only two places in the world (the other being Borneo) where you can see Orangutans in the wild. There is a rehabilitation centre nearby for Orangutans which have been rescued from various situations including being people's pets. Here they teach the Orangutans how to fend for themselves in the wild before releasing them back into the jungle, although they still maintain a feeding session twice a day for those that cannot find enough food or have young to feed. Apparently the rehabilitation centre has
now stopped releasing Orangutans back into the Sumatran jungle as Orangutans are very territorial creatures and the jungle has reached saturation point. Despite this fact, I had heard tales of people not seeing Orangutans at all on their trek and we were all hoping for the best.
Fortunately our guide did appear and we set off as a group of 8 on our trek. After walking for 5 minutes into the jungle we were surrounded by Thomas Leaf monkeys who were playing around us and posing for pictures. An hour of walking across fairly steady terrain led us to well walked tracks where we saw two Orangutans; one was the mother in her nest which they build in different places twice a day and the other was her baby who was playing high above her in the canopy. After watching the baby play for ten minutes we changed course and began rock climbing, quite literally, up hillside on less trekked routes. A few slips and trips later, we came across a bigger group of Orangutans that were again fairly high in the canopy. After straining our necks watching them and going temporarily blind every time they moved and foliage
came tumbling into our eyes, they started to move lower down the trees and across the jungle. At this point our guides decided it would be a good idea to follow them. This was never going to be a good idea when they are 3 x as strong as we are, more agile and move a lot faster.
Nevertheless, follow them we did, and after much crashing around we managed to get close to a large female, who came down for a better look at us, which was a beautiful moment but also quite scary. She soon got bored of us, so we stopped to have lunch and were served a delicious traditional Indonesian meal on jungle leaves. As we were eating, two people ran past shouting the dreaded word 'Mina.' Mina is the legend of the Sumatran jungle. She is a very aggressive Orangutan who waits to attack passing groups as she has realised that then the guides will have to feed her as a distraction. Many of the guides claim to have received numerous scars by 'doing battle with Mina'. So as we approached, the guides chucked her bananas as an attempt to get her away from
the path, but once she finished these she just took more menacing steps towards us (at which point everybody scattered screaming, including the men) so the guides had to give her more food, we were then told to tip toe down the side of the hill (we had just climbed) through the thick foliage and we would have to climb it again a bit further on. Thank you Mina!
The end of the trek seemed to involve no path at all and this time we were scrambling along very narrow cliff edges and swinging on vines before slipping down everywhere, it was fantastic fun, but I think we were all relieved to reach the campsite which was based by a waterfall. After the heat of the trekking, the freezing water was a great relief, where we sat reflecting on how fantastic the day had been. As we were returning to camp we watched as a large orange figure began making its way down the side of the waterfall with a tiny little baby - this was Jackie - a previous member of the rehabilitation centre. She waded across the river and cautiously got closer and closer before jumping into
a tree and sitting right in front of us all. After watching her for a while and having photos taken next to her, she jumped down and gave one lady in our group a hug before sitting in her lap. It was amazing. She then came and sat in the middle of the circle of people and let us hold her vice like hand and stroke her and the baby. Eventually, Tom and Lee had to half carry/half drag her across the river and encourage her to go away as she had an eye on the food the whole time, and feeding Orangutans encourages aggressive behavior. It was a truly magical moment all the same. After Jackie and baby left us we had another wonderful meal before playing numerous puzzles, watching the fire flies and heading to bed early for the trek the next day that was to be even more difficult.
We awoke early the next morning and were just settling down to eat breakfast when once again we saw the Orange figure creeping down the side of the waterfall, this time there were no cute cuddles but she dove straight in and started drinking Ashleigh’s cup of
tea. As people grabbed her hands trying to restrain her, she began snatching up egg sandwiches with her feet and devouring them. Before anybody had the chance to stop her, she made a beeline for the tent and pulled out a bag that had been filled with fruit for our trek, she then jumped into a tree and devoured the entirety of this bag in about two minutes - she seemed to put a whole orange into her mouth and then would spit out the peel - again whole. Quite impressive! Whilst being a ridiculously funny situation I couldn't help feel a bit sad as if she is able to find food from tour groups it pretty much goes against all of the good work that the rehabilitation centre has done in teaching them to forage themselves and to be dependant from humans. Still she is the exception and not the rule.
After the guides finally managed to shoo Jackie away we finally set off on the last leg of our trek. The first hour or so was relentlessly up a steep, steep hill which was difficult as we were all tired from the day before and had little
to no sleep. Once we reached the top, we almost immediately started the descent which was fun, but again very steep, so there was a lot of hanging on to trees and vines and just jumping /slipping. In the last 50 meters I managed to lean with both my hands and all of my weight onto a thorn tree, so emerged from our trek with a hundred thorns stuck into both hands which the guide had to help me pull out in the river. After a quick swim in the river and lunch, we set off on the final stage of our jungle adventure which was tubing down the river back to the guest house. This involved them strapping four inflated tyres together with 6 people sat inside whilst meandering down certain parts of the river and bumping down all of the rapids, very safe, we only managed to lose one person in the rapids... the guide, probably the least convenient person to lose.
After returning to the village Ashley and I decided to walk along to an orphanage that had been opened a couple of years ago by a Dutch lady and her husband. This lady told us
all about a huge flood that had devastated Bukit Lawang in 2003 and how nobody seemed to be doing anything to help this village and many of the children that had been orphaned. She explained to us how difficult it had been to collect the funds to start the project, the frustrations in coming up against numerous barriers and exactly what you have to sacrifice to do something like that. She really was an inspirational woman. After talking to her for about 30 minutes and buying some of the souvenirs that the children had made. We returned to the guest house contemplating the numerous ways you can help to make a difference.
Once again, an early night was called for after all of the excitement of the jungle, although I think I stayed up to write this blog entry, hence why it is so long, detailed and dull. But, I can honestly say that trekking in Bukit Lawang was one of the best experiences of my life so far and would recommend it to everyone and anyone!
NB Since finishing the trek in Gunung Leuser national park, we have found out that you should avoid touching Orangutans
at all costs, as it is very easy to transfer human illnesses to them which could prove critical. For more information on responsible trekking with Orangutans please visit http://www.orangutans-sos.org/documents/478
There are more photos below