Gunung Leuser National Park


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December 17th 2009
Published: December 26th 2009
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Jungle River with Hot SpringsJungle River with Hot SpringsJungle River with Hot Springs

This was where we camped. One of the most amazing places I have hiked to on this planet!
I rolled into the small village of Ketambe after a 9 hour windy, bone rattling bus ride from Takengon. The bus driver dropped me off at the wrong guest house, but it didn't matter. As soon as I met Ahmed I was at ease. He has those kind eyes that you know can be trusted. Ketambe is a great base for trekking into the park, offering a serene alternative to the tout shakedown at Bukit Lawang. Rates there have soared to $80 a day in the last 6 months. I linked up with a lovely Australian couple, Paul and Gemma, and decided to trek with them the following morning. With 3 it worked out to $30 a day. www.ketambe.com if you are ever on Sumatra, you must check this place out.

Eden and Aris were our guides and we set out around 9 the next morning. We walked up the road a kilometer and then took a trail into the forest by an old, forgotten mosque. Even this close to the road the forest was lush, but already quiet apart from the cicadas and distant bird calls. The first wildlife we saw was the long tailed macaques, swinging around in
Guide and PorterGuide and PorterGuide and Porter

Eden and Aris were fantastic. The first night we had roasted chicken with rice and vegetables, all cooked over a small fire. They used a species of sandalwood which is loaded with resin.
the canopy above us. One square kilometer of rainforest here can have over 100 species of trees alone. Gunung Leuser is rightly famous for some the rarities it holds including, Sumatran tiger, rhino and elephants. Our target species was the critically endangered orangutan which I have wanted to see for a long time. After only about 2 hours of walking we stopped for lunch and the guides set up camp. It was a great spot by the river with a rock to jump off into the rushing stream. In the afternoon we went out for a hike and saw the highly acrobatic Thomas's leaf monkey. They can make huge leaps from branch to branch. We also heard our 1st hornbill and began following it off the trail. After about an hour I was pretty certain we were lost. This hunch was soon affirmed as Eden began cutting a trail straight through the undergrowth. All I could think about was the cool river waiting back at camp. Then I recognized some the same trees and had to call Eden on it. He could still point in the right direction of camp but the terrain was making it hard to get back down to the river. Paul began leading the way and we were soon enough on a main trail and navigated our way back to camp without too much trouble. I was a little frustrated with the lack of birds and sat by the river as the sunlight faded. Then a magnificent sight came in the form of a pair of rhinoceros hornbills. They are 127cm long, but their central tail feathers extend another 50cm! Hornbills are an old word tropics bird with amazing bills.

On the 2nd day we hiked in further upstream. Awaiting us were some of the best hot springs I have ever seen. The jungle came down to the river on both sides and the hot springs were spread along 25 meters of the stream. Simply incredible. In fact this was suppose to be our last night, but we decided to just go out for a night and come straight back to the springs for another night. The next morning we hiked up to a fruiting fig tree, which we thought might attract the orangutans. We were greeted with noisy calls from the hornbills which were all over it. No orangutans, so we decided to hike on up the hillside. Gemma spotted a big black shape high in the canopy. We moved around till we got a good look at a Sun Bear! These small, shy bears are nocturnal and relatively little is known about them. So after going out and resupplying we spent our final night in the rainforest. We had another lovely meal and watched fireflies flicker above us in the trees. The next morning myself, Paul and our new guide Herman got an early start hiking up the steep slope behind our camp. We hadn't gone 300 meters when Herman was excitedly motioning us forward. He had spotted a mother orangutan with a 2 year old baby! They were foraging mid-way up the canopy. We moved in for a closer look. The mother detected us and started some aggressive behavior including shaking the branches around her and tearing some off and throwing them at us! We gave it about 10 minutes and then left them alone. That afternoon we hiked out in the highest spirits and celebrated with a b.b.q. and beers back at the guesthouse.


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Eden our 1st GuideEden our 1st Guide
Eden our 1st Guide

Characteristically with a j. of the jungle variety in hand.
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Filtering Water

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Cleared JungleCleared Jungle
Cleared Jungle

Slash and burn is still an issue on the park's fringes.
Friendship GuesthouseFriendship Guesthouse
Friendship Guesthouse

Porchview from my bungalow. Regularly saw hornbills flying across the river.


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