Published: February 3rd 2012February 3rd 2012
During the last few days in Malaysia I had started reviewing my plans for Indonesia. Originally I had intended to travel Indo by land and sea only from Sumatra to Darwin, however with a 30 day visa it appeared to be a ridiculous idea. Trying to travel over a distance equivalent to London to Nigeria, during rainy season when boats were known to frequently postpone travel or simply sink and roads were closed due to mud slides or flash floods.
Maybe a plan for one day, but for the time being I planned to fly from KL to Medan in Northern Sumatra, visit the tourist hotspots and then fly to Jakarta, travel through Java and then onto the islands to the south.
Having camped out overnight in KL airport to catch an early morning flight I was relieved to get to Medan following a night of interrupted sleep on the airport floor flicking cochroaches off my face.
Medan – a very exciting place, far less developed than anywhere I had seen in Malaysia. Tin roofed single storey houses; motor bike taxis with make shift wire meshed side cars and rats scurrying through the open gutters. Not an ideal
place to stay for long but an interesting place to people watch.
I booked a tour to Bukit Lawang, a small town on the outskirts of the Gunung Leuser National Park which is one of the last places in the world home to wild Orangutans.
Although only one hundred miles away from Medan the journey took four hours, on which I got the first taste of Sumatran driving. Indicators were used to overtake, undertake or simply to stop the large truck overloaded with gas bottles from overtaking. Horns were used to let others know how close to death they were.
Our driver, who after a week in Indo I realised was the most conservative driver in Sumatra, would undertake onto the verge or pavement and overtake on blind bends, forcing others in our path to swerve into the direction of another oncoming vehicle who would continue the barging and dodging. Ultimate chaos but a great adrenaline rush.
And so after four long bone shaking hours spent passing palm oil plantations, roadside hawkers selling the stinking Durian fruit and undertaking motor bikes laden with goats we arrived in the sleepy jungle town of Bukit Lawang.
jungle trek last two days, two spectacular days of negotitating jungle paths, up and down valleys and jumping stone to stone across rivers.
Now and again our guide would point and looking up we would come across an orang-utan, often with a baby if female or a large solitary male weighing 100 kilos. If the orang-utan began stepping towards us the guide would hurry us along, which we did in the kind of frenzy tourists get in when confronted with unfamiliar situations.
A number of the ornagutans in the forest were once kept as pets and had been rehabilitated into the wild. One such animal, which the guides feared with reason, was called Mina. We were told that if she appeared we would have to make a very hasty retreat to avoid being malled. Quite a chilling thought, especially since a number of the guides sported scars caused by her.
We spent the evening in the jungle camped out on the river bank where the guides cooked up a huge amount of Indonesian curry, eating and joking with us before we spent the night in the open sided tent listening to the hollering of monkeys and watching
fire flies dance above the water.
Seeing the orang-utans had been incredible but what I was most excited about was the rafting down the river back to the town using only lorry tyre inner tubes.
What I hadn’t expected was to be placed in the same tyre as a pretty large bloke. There was plenty of spare tyre, just not the type to float down the river. The weight in our tyre was so great we would have to lift our backs whilst brushing over rapids to avoid a future of walking with an embarrassing stooped gait.
Bukit Lawang had been incredible – within 24 hours in Sumatra I had been chilling with orang-utans and tubing down a river. Next stop – volcanoes.
There are more photos below