Orangutans, Gibbons and Thomas Leaf Monkey's


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Asia » Indonesia » Sumatra » Bukit Lawang
March 17th 2014
Published: June 21st 2017
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It took me a few days to cycle from Lake Toba via Pemantangsiantar and Medan to Bukit Lawang but the roads are crazy, really fast and furious with all sorts of obstacles and challenges along the way. I've been forced off the road several times with buses overtaking trucks on narrow roads, they give you no option but to get out of their way, dodging the potholes and other bikers! So it's been a fun start to cycling in Indonesia but on the plus side I'm always amazed at the people I meet along the way and the kindness of them although they can't believe I'm traveling out here on my own.

Permatangsiantar and Medan were both cities with really heavy traffic and I didn't hang around too long although Medan had a fantastic Central Mosque and Palace which I enjoyed visiting. The road out of Medan was fun trying to find my way with all the one way streets but I managed and followed to signs out to Bukit Lawang through many rural villages and palm oil plantations along the way.

Bukit Lawang is a tourist hub for those wanting to trek in the jungle to see the many animals,
although the main draw is the Orangutans. Unfortunately the trekking is quite expensive for 2 days or more which included camping out in the jungle, so I ended up just doing a one day trek with two lovely girls that are staying beside me Lizzy and Natasha, and had a really wonderful experience.

We start our trek from the hostel and were in the jungle before I knew it and our first sight of Thomas Leaf monkeys, these are grey and black in color and have a funky hairdo! We saw many of them and was fun seeing them in their own habitat and natural environment, playing around and watching us with interest and we spend some time with them watching their antics. No sooner had we left when we saw White Hand Gibbons although I don't have any great pictures as they were a bit far away.

We walked further into the jungle along paths and I can see how it would be very easy to get lost therefore the need for guides, I could imagine it being very disorientating. We had two guides, one at the front and one at the back making sure we were safe, they were really informative of the local plants, trees and flowers telling us which is used as medicines, or to make the local home brew but some of the trees especially are massive... They also entertained us swinging around on some of the vines in thicker parts of the jungle but looking after us all at the same time.

I was over the moon when we stumbled across our first orangutans, a mother and baby and I'm so delighted as this ain't no zoo, you could easily strike out but we were really lucky. Unfortunately though there are quite a few other tourist around but we have a better encounter when most of them leave, one Japanese girl though started feeding them some bananas... I don't know protocol but I'd say this was a major no, no! It's not something I'll be doing or taking part in, we're in the wild, how are they going to survive if they start getting free food! While we were watching them a peacock wandered along, this is unlike any that I've seen before with a blue head and long spotted feathers, it was really quite beautiful.

So after an eventful start we climbed to the top of one of the hills for our lunch and were delighted to be joined by another orangutan and 2 year old baby. The guides set up lunch and ensured we were safe and they kept their distance, we spent a good couple of hours sharing their space and their antics while we all took a million pictures... wow an incredible close encounter with these fantastic animals, we were so lucky!

Our lunch was egg and fried rice and plenty of fruits which were delicious although I felt a bit guilty with the orangutans looking on but you can't tamper with their environment. The guides told us the name of this orangutan as Julie (I think) but the baby hadn't been named yet and one of the guides was wanting to call him Clare, 'but it's a boy' I protested but who knows the legacy may live on!

We had a fantastic experience, this is all I wanted was to see them out in their own habitat, there are many other animals in the jungle here, tiger, panther, elephants, snakes... all sorts really but I am definitely glad we didn't have a brief encounter with a tiger...I don't think my heart could take that one!

Bukit Lawang is set on a fab river which I enjoyed with the girls and locals alike and had fun splashing around. The weather here is hot, mid thirties pretty much all the time and they haven't had rain for the past couple of months so the river is fairly low but worse than that, the wells are running dry.

We went out to visit some local nearby villages on motorbikes with a guide from the hostel which was an interesting day, as the motorbike we were given was manual I was the only one that could ride it but the roads we were taken on were all loose stones and rocks so the day was spent dodging and weaving. A couple of times I had to get off and get our guide to take the bike over certain areas as it was treacherous and I'm so impressed that we manged to stay safe and upright throughout our day, slowly slowly was the order of the day although my nerves were shot by the time we made it back!

We drank and ate fresh coconut with a local family and were told lots of information about their lives, most of which revolved around work in the palm oil plantations which is anything but easy. They have a tough life and live with basics, it's hard to comprehend how difficult their lives are compared to mine, traveling is a complete education especially when you grasp it and get involved.

Bukit Lawang was devastated in 2003 by a flood which resulted in a number of lives being lost, although reports say around 250 people died, the locals estimate almost 600 people actually lost their lives. A lake had built up in the jungle above the town and the damn of logs that was holding it outside the village resulted in a massive landslide. One side of the river, all the homes, businesses were wiped out completely while the other side took an extreme hit too. I've talked to a number of people that were here at the time who lost friends and family, from locals to tourists alike (one of which had returned to set up a memorial) but the stories are haunting and extremely sad. Everyone here seems to have lost people and it's incredible that they have rebuilt their lives, re-establishing their business and even tourism again and have carried on with little help, they're a resilient lot and a pleasure to meet.

I spent a day down at another river, Landruk I think it's called with one of the local guys to show me the way, it was only 2-3km walk through the jungle but I was glad of his guidance. Agus was fun company telling me about plants, trees and their crop and fruits along the way. The river was deserted and ideal for swimming with a few large holes which was fun and I was entertained by his 'Tarzan' antics which was fun. On the way back we sat and had dinner and watched the sunset from one of the posher hotels before heading back through the jungle in the dark and onto a singsong in my hostel which was fun. There's normally a number of local guys in every night playing guitars, drums and singing, they're a fun lot and entertain us and any tourist around and it's a nice way to finish off the day.

Next stop Banda Aceh, I'm just keeping my fingers crossed I manage the roads in one piece!



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