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Asia » Indonesia » Sumatra » Bukit Lawang
October 18th 2015
Published: November 21st 2015
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We arrived at the entrance to Bukit Lawang to a crowd of locals surrounding the car. The driver rolled down his window to a man who peered into the car and asked for 'Marcs Hunter?'. We were relieved that after the ordeal of the morning, something had gone right and the guy from our hostel was here to greet us. However we had to walk 15 minutes into pedestrianised (mopeds only) town that ran along the river.

Bukit Lawang is a very simple and beautiful town situated on the edge of the jungle. We arrived at our hostel in a sweaty mess and grabbed a couple of well earned brews. The hostel was a lot busier than any we had stayed at before. The complex was a very quaint set of two story blocks with 4 rooms in each, situated on the banks of the river that we guessed we would be venturing into at some point.

We checked in, spoke to the owner who was surprisingly knowledgeable about Scotland and had our first taste of Indonesian cuisine for lunch. Although knowledgeable, the owners attempt at a Scottish accent was truly awful and resembled cockney more than anything. However, we would learn that most attempts at the accent would produce the same result in Indonesia. We spent the day chilling at the guest house and talking to other European guests. We booked our two day jungle trek for the following day where we would be joined by a German and two Dutch. We had dinner at a place down the road, sampling some more Indonesian curries and planned for an early night, but we forgot this was Saturday night in Bukit Lawang!

When we got back to the hostel we found the party in full swing with the younger members of the guest house team playing the guitar and singing a variety of popular western songs from Bruno Mars to Oasis. The Europeans sang along while the beers were flowing. By midnight we thought it was time to hit the hay as we had had a long day and were up early in the morning for our jungle trek.

We met our guide Thom in the morning, who resembled action man, and we set off for the jungle. We were quickly melting in the morning sun as we made our way to the entrance of the the Gunung Leuser National Park. Thom was brilliant at teaching us about different plants that you can find in the jungle and what they can be used for. Usually this is for treatment of cuts or upset stomachs. He also showed us how palm oil is collected, as Sumatra is famous for its production.

We spotted our first monkey before we even reached the entrance. We can't remember the actual type of monkey, as Thom referred to them as 'funky monkeys' due to their impressive hair style. He confidently showed us how to hand them some banana, and the monkey barely blinked as he reached out to take it from our hands.

We had been trekking for about an hour before we reached the entrance to Gunung Leuser National Park. The national park is in the Barisan mountain range, and made up of a tropical rainforest, famously home to orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinos and leopards. The trek we had chosen was focused on spotting orangtans. Before entering the jungle, we were aware that there would be wild orangutans and semi wild orangutans. Semi wild refers to orangutans who were looked after by the local Bohorok Orangutan Centre in Bukit Lawang And then released into the national park. The centre was set up in 1973 as a rehabilitation centre for orangutans. In 1980 the centre was taken over by the Indonesian government, and stopped operating as a rehabilitation centre. Nowadays there is a feeding platform, usually for female orangutans who have young babies who visit if they are in need of extra food.

We definitely did not anticipate how mountainous and steep much of the jungle would be, which made for a pretty challenging trek. We were very lucky as we managed to see four semi wild orangutans with their babies and one male wild orangutan throughout the day. It was incredible to see them so close up. The guides that we were with would leave sugar cane for them on low down tree branches, and they would come down to fetch it. We were unsure how we felt about this, as they are living in the wild and should not learn to expect food from humans. But it was certainly amazing to be so close to them.

We joined up with another group from our hostel for lunch who had decided to trek for an extra day than us. They would be camping with us on the first night but it was better to trek in smaller groups during the day for spotting orangutans. Lunch consisted of curry and rice with prawn crackers in a banana leaf, and plenty of fruit cut into clever shapes. The ants that appear in the Indonesian jungle are red jungle ants and they are about the size of your pinky finger. This made a certain someone who is terrified of spiders very uneasy.

During the day we were very thankful for our camel backs which meant we could drink water as we climbed through the jungle, because we were loosing pints of sweat! Thom went very quiet along the way and was peering up into the trees. He told us he wasn't only looking out for orangutans, but for one orangutan in particular. Her name is Mina. We had already read about Mina as an orangutan who had been rescued by the sanctuary in Bukit Lawang after being mistreated by humans, and had been released into the wild. However she is well known to local tour guides as being very vicious. Thom told us of a time when Mina had tried to attack some tourists that he was with, and he had unfortunately gotten very hurt and ended up in hospital. He told us that almost every tour guide had had a run in with Mina and many had scars from the feisty orangutan. Thom asked us to try to be as quiet as we could because we were trekking below Mina's territory, and she tended to attack when she approached from above. It was pretty nerve wracking, especially when Thom disappeared for half an hour from the back of our group. But eventually we safely made it past the danger zone without a visit from Mina.

We kind of expected to reach a trail at some point because we were going to reach a camp, which we assumed many people had trekked to before, but no such luck. There were a few moments where some people went skidding down on their bums, including poor Marc. The total trek took about six hours in the sweaty jungle heat so when we arrived at the camp, it was a huge relief to see a river running along the bottom inviting us for a swim- hallelujah!

We had experienced our first Indonesian thunderstorm the night before so it was no shock when the heavens opened up in the evening. The thunder is MUCH louder when you are up a mountain in the middle of the jungle with only a tent as shelter. We weren't worried to begin with, as Indonesia has rainy season each year so we had faith that the tents were designed to survive the storm. However Thom started to look worried when our tent started to produce some leaks, and when we asked him how many times he had camped during a storm he said this was only his second time. Eek!

The river running just down from the tents started to rise due to the heavy rainfall and the rapids became extremely fast. We were told if the river continued to rise all night then we would have to find an alternate trek for the next day, as we were supposed to trek alongside the river the next morning. as the storm continued, we played card games and many of Thom's silly singing games inside the tent which was a good laugh. Dinner was a wide spread of chicken and vegetable curry with rice and prawn crackers. And luckily lots of cups of tea to keep us warm.

When it was time for bed, we shared out some sheets and lay down on the solid ground for one of the worst sleeps we have had so far. In the morning we were served up some egg sandwiches and biscuits as we would need lots of energy for trekking back to the hostel. We set off in our flip flops instead of walking boots, as instructed by Thom, and climbed into the (still pretty fast moving) river. We were walking against the river which was really difficult, especially for Marc who had useless flip flops and had to tackle the river in bare feet. This resulted in a few very purple bruised toes... luckily not broken though.

We split up from the guys who had another night in the jungle to go, and we didn't envy them. The trek on the second day was much more tough than the day before . We climbed up seriously steep ground and even had to climb down backwards, clinging to the edge. Safety standards are somewhat different in Indonesia and we knew fine well that if one of us slipped, it was a long way down without anything to save us.

Along the way we came across another group who were sitting quietly with their tour guide. One of their friends had unfortunately been attacked by Mina that morning and been taken to hospital. Pretty scary!

After five hours of extremely tiring climbing, we made it to a safe point of the river where we were going to tube back to our hostel which was situated down stream. Tubing consists of sitting on inflated truck inner tubes which are tied together. No life jackets are provided, and Thom told us that the river ride was almost high enough that it would be too dangerous to go tubing. Way to calm our nerves. In the end it was fine though. Thom and his friend used long bamboo sticks to push us off any rocks or the river edges, which clearly took a lot of strength. It was great fun and the rapids got us drenched.

When we returned to the hostel, we got a freezing cold shower and some food and spent the evening relaxing with the others singing along to the acoustic guitar and drums. In the morning we would be setting off for Berastagi with two of our friends from the hostel.


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