Published: August 18th 2012August 18th 2012
As Rebecca's Grandad would say “Oooo Heck!”. Where to start with this one?! The beginning is usually the best place to start so we'll give that a shot...
The last few days of our life have been like living in a David Attenborough documentary. We were in the jungle, surrounded by birds, insects, primates, fauna and flora etc. It has been absolutely unreal! Warning: The pictures we will show you and the blog we are about to share are not even going to come close to justifying what we experienced in the last few days!
Our first night in Bukit Lawang we stayed at a guesthouse we had read nothing but rave reviews about, Greenhill. The reviews were all accurate; it was great! We had a private room pretty much directly in the jungle with a beautiful panorama view of the river that flows right through Bukit Lawang and the jungle that surrounds it. Just a reminder: we are IN the jungle at this point. How freaking cool is that?!? Even while we were walking to our guesthouse, we were both awestruck by where we were. Everything is green. There are hundreds of unfamiliar sounds. And oh yeah, monkey's
view of the river and village
just drop from trees while you walk along the path. If you have bananas anywhere on your person, they will stare at you and perhaps growl a little. I've already strayed off topic... okay back to Greenhill! It's a really beautiful place that is all about conserving the environment - more specifically the jungle - and protecting the animals within it. Our research prior to arriving in the jungle had informed us that it's very bad to feed or touch the animals. Personally I thought that it was because you don't want them getting used to people and people food, but I was wrong. It is actually because the primates are extremely susceptible to human diseases. As soon as I heard that reasoning, I was sure not to get too close because the very last thing I would want is to be responsible for an animal getting sick, or dying or even worse, starting some sort of monkey epidemic! That being said, Greenhill was a fantastic place to start our time in Bukit Lawang since the staff was so full of information. The guesthouse is run by a really nice English lady and her Indonesian husband. You can tell that
they are doing everything they can to make a difference in this village and the national park around it.
The one problem we had was that the room was three times the price we could pay at another place. So we moved to Rain Forest. The staff is super friendly, the food in the restaurant is delicious (A+ on the curry) and the rooms are clean and cheap! Win – Win – Win! Our main concern with moving to Rain Forest was that we wouldn't get to see as much wildlife. We had moved down closer to the river rather than up in the trees. Our concerns were quickly diminished when we went for a dip in the river and a troupe of monkey's seemed to fly overhead. Some got close enough that we could have touched them. They just sat on a branch, looked at us, and then when a friend of theirs came by they sat and picked each others back or belly or butt. The Sungai Bohorok river provides so much for the village of Bukit Lawang and nearby town Bohorok. The locals bathe in the water, do their laundry in the water and so many
En route to the bat cave we crossed a couple different bridges. There are 4 in total along the village.
jobs are based on maintaining the river during dry season so that it doesn't overtake the homes and businesses during the wet season. It's a beautiful fresh water river that defines this village, town and surrounding area.
We had another day to kill in Bukit Lawang before our trek was scheduled so we just hung out around Rain Forest, swam in the river and decided to go for a hike to a bat cave. It didn't look far on the map so we just grabbed our camera and started walking. It turned out to be much farther than we thought but the hike gave us a chance to see a lot of the village and cross a few of the rickety bridges to get from one side of the river to the other. When we arrived at the bat cave it wasn't quite what we had expected. We've seen Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and he just walks along a nice well kept trail and then walks nonchalantly into a cave where the bats are. Well turns out real life bat caves aren't that pretty. Rebecca was totally grossed out the second we entered. We had to watch our
footing very carefully and use the walls to stabilize ourselves at times. Plus it's dark, which of course makes sense, but we only brought one flashlight. We failed to comply with the boyscout motto to “always be prepared”. The first large opening that we came to was as far as Rebecca was going. She found a spot that had some light and sat on a rock probably covered in smelly bat poop while Tyler ventured into the second cave with the guide. He had to crawl through a small tunnel to get to the second cave through an entrance that most people don't know is there. Wow what they are missing. After squeezing through a tunnel as small as Tyler could fit through, the cave opened up into a huge room where the roof of the cave had long ago collapsed. Sunlight was streaming in and that resulted in all kinds of green jungle growth from moss and ferns, to full size trees! Such a spectacular little Eden in the middle of the cave. Continuing on into the third chamber it was a giant cavern maybe two stories high and as long as a football field, with hundreds or even
thousands of bats hanging out. The odd bat would fly by and you could hear the sound of their wings flapping and of course the little sonar clicks they send out for echo location. Definitely a pretty creepy experience. By this point Tyler remembered he had left Rebecca back in the first room by herself with no flashlight and more than a little freaked out so he decided to quickly head back to find her (nothing to do with the pitch-black cave full of bats, I swear).
The following morning we woke up to monkey's landing on our roof, running down the electrical wires directly in front of our room and just chilling on our porch. A troupe of long-tailed macaque's swung/ran/swooped/walked/dangled by us for about 30 minutes. What a fantastic way to wake up!!!
This is where it really gets good. Time for a jungle trek! In the jungle! With tigers and rhinos and really big ants, oh my. Haha alright, so we didn't see tigers or rhinos, they are rarely seen and if ever it is much deeper in the jungle than we went. But the ants were really big and Rebecca was not a fan.
We started our trek at about 9am (after the troupe of macaques went through our guesthouse) and right away we were like “what did we get ourselves into?”.
Our guide Omano was fantastic! He has been a guide for over 15 years. He used to teach jungle survival skills and before he became a guide he worked for scientists to monitor orangutans. He would get sent into the jungle for days to follow orangutan families to track and record their every move. He was extremely knowledgeable and we totally lucked out to have him lead our trek. Then there was Frans, Omano's little assistant. He would climb trees to get a fruit Omano wanted us to try, or he would lead the way while Omano was going ahead a bit to see if there were any animals around. We were shown what leaves you could eat to give you energy (oddly enough, the same plant used to make tonic), leaves to eat that rehydrate you, also other seeds and fruits to eat along the way.
We learned so much from Omano and thank goodness for all those educational stops along the way. This trek wasn't a walk along
a nice scenic trail, it was like going on a stair climber at the gym for 7 hours straight. Sometimes we wouldn't even be on a trail, Omano would just be leading us up a random steep slope through the depths of the jungle. Keep up or you will lose him around a huge tree trunk! As soon as we had climbed up one slope, we were heading back down using natures steps (tree trunks and rocks) the entire time. It was up and down and up and down the whole way to camp (keep in mind we left Bukit Lawang around 9am and got to camp at like 4pm ). But that is only the trekking part. We are both in decent shape so we just sweat it out, drank our water and kept on moving so the bugs couldn't bite... much.
We have now shared what the trekking was like and what we learned along the way, but we didn't mention a single primate. Just so you know, we want a pet black gibbon, and we might have to move to the jungle in order to do so! They are just the cutest ever! The whole thing
is black except it's small light-brownish face. You know those stuffed animals you see at the gift shops that have long limbs to Velcro around and hug you? Well that's like a gibbon. They have exceptionally long legs and even longer arms. They jump and swing through the trees like it's no big deal, and the speed at which they swing from branch to branch is hard to comprehend. If you ran top speed through the jungle and nothing was is your way, you would not be able to keep up with these amazing animals. That isn't even the best part! Since their legs are slightly shorter than their arms, when they run from one tree to the next along the ground (which is rare of course) their feet move super fast and they hold their arms dangling straight above their head ready to grab on to the first branch they find. We came across two, a male and female black gibbon together and the male is pretty easily twice the size of the female. We were very lucky to see the two gibbons because they will forever make us smile and laugh when we think of them - some
of the other trekkers didn't get to see gibbons.
However, the main reason for coming to this area of Indonesia is the orangutans. We saw 9 of them! Three mama/baby duos and one mama/papa/baby family. Fuzzy and orange has got to be the best way to describe them. Baby orangutans stay with their mother's for about 9 years (which is the longest for any primate except humans) - since there is so much to learn about their habitat - which is why you usually see Mothers with one child. It is apparently rare to see the father with them, so it's pretty darn neat that we had that opportunity. Mom usually sits back and watches while the baby explores. The one time the Dad was with them he was playing with the child the whole time. The baby was totally at Dad's mercy when he lost his footing and was forced to let go of a branch. They are stunning creatures; we could have watched them for hours. They have so much expression in their faces and orangutan literally translates to 'man of the forest' which might be why it is so easy to relate to them and a
huge reason we wanted to come to Sumatra.
The third primate we saw was extremely prevalent around Bukit Lawang as well as in the jungle were the long-tailed macaques. These are your typical monkey; they stick together in large groups and seem to be just as curious about us as we are of them. I would say maybe 30-50 in one troupe, could be more, could be less. Where there is one, there are many many more! It's always fun to watch these mischievous little guys; they are so cute. The the babies are born with black hair, and cling to their moms bellies until they are old enough to climb on their own.
Finally the monkey Tyler had been looking forward to seeing the most (aside from the orangutans); the Thomas leaf monkey. They are the coolest primates in the jungle, they have mohawks (they are also known as the 'punky-monkey')! We only saw a few of these dark-haired, white-bellied monkey's and every time they looked just as unique.
As we were nearing the end of the trek we had to start making our way to the camp, which took us through the territory of Mina,
a huge and aggressive old orangutan that was one of the first to be released into the wild from the rehabilitation centre. We linked up with another group while approaching her territory and the guides spread out in front and behind us to find Mina. She is a very smart ape and while she is wary of the guides who know her so well, she will attack tourists to try to get food etc from them; She had bit a tourist the day before our trek. When our guides had located her we were only 15-20 meters away and had to beat a hasty retreat. Omano then went ahead and bribed her with a bunch of bananas and a bag of fruit peels so we could have safe passage past her and her baby while she was distracted. Safely past Mina and only minutes from our camp, we came across another orangutan named Jackie with her baby, where we were able to stop and watch them for a while.
Our camp was set back in the jungle away from the river and consisted of big rectangular tent that could sleep about 10 people, another tent for the guides and
a third for cooking. The river was definitely a welcome sight after hiking all day in the heat and humidity. Tyler immediately stripped down to his boxers and jumped in. After a refreshing swim we lazed around the camp where Omano taught us a new card game before we ate a jungle feast. After dinner one of the guides claimed to have “100 million jungle magic card tricks!” and we were happy watching a dozen or so before exhaustion set in and we fell asleep around 8:30.
We slept for well over 10 hours and got up about 8am. Everyone was very slow to rise, drink their coffee and after eating breakfast, preparing for the day ahead. To our surprise there was pretty much no trekking involved on our second day in the jungle. Instead we went up the river to a waterfall for a “jungle massage” then over to a vine you could swing off into the rapids. It was a really nice way to spend the morning after such a strenuous previous day. After a few hours in the water and some time drying off on the warm rocks admiring the amazing views lunch was ready. Lunch
was another huge meal followed by fresh fruit like the rest. Then it was time to pack up - Frans put our things in plastic bags to waterproof them.
Getting back to Bukit Lawang was going to be a breeze, all we had to do was sit in a tube and let the river take us home. There were about 5 tubes tied together for our group and guides and packs to make the 20 minute trip down river. It was such a refreshing way to end our jungle trek.
When we got back to Rain Forest, we grabbed our backpacks and went to our room that the monkey's liked to frequent. Pretty much everything we brought on the trek was wet so we hung it all out to dry and then didn't do much else that day. The following day was Indonesia's Independence Day. Our guest house had a few little games planned so we stuck around Rain Forest all day and enjoyed a few cold beers in the sun. The games were really silly but the fierce competitor that Tyler is, he just had to take part in the festivities. The first competition was eating a
rice cake that hung from a string while your arms were tied behind your back – Tyler was the winner. For the second game, the contestants had to put a spoon in their mouth and a marble on the spoon then balance it while walking from one end of a volleyball court and back without dropping it. I don't think a single person got very far without dropping the marble so again many laughs were had. Since no one person could be identified as the winner, everyone got a prize!
We hung out with the Rain Forest crew that evening before a sad goodbye the next morning.
Bukit Lawang is an absolutely beautiful village. Not only is the scenery breathtaking, but the people are genuinely happy, outgoing and friendly! We are so lucky to have spent time here and it will forever hold a special place in our hearts. Every day was filled with sunshine and even though it rained most nights, it didn't matter because we woke up to more sun.
After packing everything up on our final morning, we locked our room and turned to see a Thomas leaf monkey running across the yard of
Nella won the spoon race so Tyler gave her a shirt and Tyler won cookies as a participation prize which Rebecca inherited immediately.
Rain Forest. It was really the icing on the cake for us since we didn't get to see too many of that specific species.
How lucky are we?
Now, we are in Berastagi. A beautiful city plopped in the middle of the mountains on the Karo highlands. The next few days are going to be pretty crazy since Ramadan is coming to an end. Then on Tuesday we will climb yet another volcano, Mt Sibayak. We'll let you know how that goes :)
Thank you for taking the time to read this whole blog, I know it's a doozy, but it really was a wonderful experience to be in such a majestic place together. We are happy we could share every detail!
Xoxo Ty + Becs
There are more photos below