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Published: November 7th 2016
Riding the MRT in Singapore to the airport I had worries of getting into Indonesia due to no onward travel ticket. I did have my rigged “E-Ticket” prepared in case I was asked but the uneasy feeling persisted. Of course when I got to the airport the airline agent never even asked the dreaded question. After landing in Indonesia I secured a Visa on arrival at the airport for the fee of $25 USD and not even the Indonesian immigration official at the border asked me for an onward travel ticket. Nice. After all of the bureaucracy was sorted I was able to breathe and relax. I had arrived in Sumatra. Wild, untamed, and the great unknown lay in front of me.
The infernal city of Medan where I landed is nothing short of a pit. I planned to get out immediately. I negotiated past the taxi mafia at the arrival hall and hailed a cab on the street for the 10km trip to the bus terminal. The taxi driver wanted $INR50,000 which is just over $5USD for the trip ($1USD=$INR9,600). It’s funny how quick my mind switches gears. Two weeks ago in Australia I would have jumped all over
this price. Here I knew the cost I was being asked was two much so I haggled with three different drivers until I fetched a price of $INR20,000 and thirty minutes later I was on my way all to save about $3USD. Let the negotiating wars begin. Once at the bus terminal I again pushed my way past the transport mob and found the sketchy public bus crammed with locals going south to Bukit Lawang. Four hours later and a mototaxi ride across a rickety bridge over a raging river I had arrived at my destination high in the malaria ridden Sumatran rainforest. Everything foreign once again surrounded me and I could not be more excited.
I found a room for $INR50,000 and was settled. My original plan was to relax for a day or two and try to recover from being on the go so much lately, but after talking with the guy at the reception desk that plan quickly changed. Bukit Lawang is right on the border of Gunung Leuser National Park - an 8,000 square km preserve of some of the last remaining native rainforest in Sumatra. It is here in this preserve, one of two
places on Earth, where one can find and view Orangutans in the wild. This is why I had come here. Mowgli (I doubt that is his real name) was guiding a two day one night trek deep into the jungle the following morning and I quickly signed up for the bargain price of $INR660,000 ($69USD).
Up early the next day the trek began. I was with a Canadian couple and an older German couple who did not speak much English. The trek itself was quite challenging. The heat and humidity were stifling. The trails were not very defined and consisted of slippery muddy tracks and a few river crossings. At one point we even scaled down the face of a waterfall! Memories of the Amazon and of my Colombian jungle journies ran in my head. One slip in the wrong spot and surely injury would follow. I doubt Mowgli had any sort of first aid skills or supplies and deep in the jungle you do not want to be immobilized. I wondered what my insurance rider on this type of activity is. Pushing aside those thoughts I was able to relish in the adventure of it all and really
soak in my surroundings which were so different from where I come from. The jungle is always a special place.
A few hours in Mowgli spotted our prize. We had come upon a mother Orangutan and her child high in the canopy above. My heart pounded with excitement. Seeing these creatures in the wild was a real special treat for me and made every hardship of the journey here fade away. They were magic! As we all looked up and took photos it was funny to see the expression on the great ape’s face. They looked down upon us like “what on earth are you doing?!” It was also quite amazing how quickly these creatures can move up in the trees. Upon first glance they look cumbersome, but high in the trees they are nothing but agile. Continuing our hike in the jungle the skies opened up (as is apt to happen in a rainforest) and we made our way to camp after a thorough soaking and a calamitous descent down the mountainside. Camp was uneventful and the sounds of the jungle night quickly whisked me off to sleep.
The following morning we made our way to the
river and jumped into massive inner tubes for the float back into Bukit Lawang. The hour or so long drift down the river was a lot of fun and the scenery of native rainforest covered mountains on either side was nothing short of breath taking. And just like that as quickly as my jungle adventure had started it had ended. I felt very fortunate to have seen the orangutan in the wild as shrinking habitat due to illegal logging and the ever expansive palm oil plantations are killing off this incredible animal. Another 10-15 years and they are sure to be all but gone here in Indonesia.
A couple of side notes. I’m really upset with myself as I lost my iPod in Singapore. I can remember the last time I used it but cannot recall for the life of me how I misplaced it. I do not think it was stolen, but I cannot be sure. A minor inconvenience really. There are worse things to lose like my passport or credit/ATM cards. I’ll be able to replace this when I reach Jakarta but man I hate when I do stupid things like this. No iPod also makes for
incredibly long bus journeys and nothing moves fast here in Sumatra. Also after talking with someone the other day I’ve been away from home just under 9 months now. Hard to believe. It seems like I just blinked my eyes and yesterday I was in Denver. Anyways, they asked me aside from friends, family and pets what I missed most. The first was easy. I miss my motorcycle. I miss riding in the mountains on my bike. The second was unexpected. I miss clothes. I’ve been wearing the same three outfits for 9 months and now that I've been in the tropics I've been wearing the same board shorts for over a month and it really is quite boring. Maybe I’ll ditch everything and re-up on some cheap duds in Thailand.
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