Monday, March 7, 2011

Trekking the jungle in Sumatra. Or how to meet "forest men"?

2 days WE, what do we do? Let's go to Sumatra, we haven't been yet! There is a place called Bukit Lawang which is one of the only 2 places on earth where you can see wild orang-utans (the other one being on Borneo)
Departure on Friday evening to Medan, only 1h flight, brilliant! Nothing to mention about the city, it's huge like any Indonesian cities (nearly 2 millions inhabitants), it's hard to find food and when you do, you eat it only because you are really hungry!
Anyway after a night in Medan, our driver pick us up at 7.30am on Saturday morning for 2h30 drive to Bukit Lawang. It takes a long time to get out of the city and then we go through villages, palm tree plantations, we pass huge palm oil factories and we avoid death by millimetres several times, the driving style is as always crazy: cows sleep on the road, there are enormous holes, overtaking blind is a national sport and seat belts are yet to be invented at the back of cars...
At some point we have to abandon the car, the road is not going any further, the last 15 minutes to our hotel are on foot, it's the last one before the jungle!
After checking in our suite (that's how rooms with mosquito nets are called), we book a trek to the jungle for Sunday and we start exploring the village. It's situated on both side of a lovely river, there are 2 bridges and both of them are entertaining to cross...

It's a lovely relaxing place! We have another nasi goreng (fried rice) for lunch and then relax for a while on our balcony.
At 15h we are going to the feeding station with the rangers for the daily distribution of banana to the semi-wild orang-utans.
First we cross the river on a very unstable tiny little boat, then we argue a bit with a ranger because apparently we should have gone to the other side of the village to get a permit before coming here but finally we are on our way; 15 minutes walk in the jungle and we are at the station (with 20 Indonesian tourists). The ranger bangs a stone on the platform and very soon after that some trees quite far away start moving and a couple of orange dots appear in the green of the forest.
They get to the platform and one is given banana, coconut milk and other stuff but the rangers try to push the other one off. 
After a bit of incomprehension, one of the rangers finally explains that he is a wild orang-utan and the rangers don’t want him to get used to be fed. Unfortunately, this explanation hasn’t been well understood by the semi-wild one who keeps on giving his bananas away to the wild one.
Their little game is great for photos even if with all the leaves and trees, it’s difficult to get a good/clear shot!
After 30 minutes all the Indonesian tourist disappear and when it gets quieter 3 more orang-utans turn up including a mum and her baby! Lucky us!

Soon it’s time to go down again; we can’t stay more than 1h.
We go for a drink at our hotel’s bar and we watch the little monkeys climbing over electrical cable, jumping from one house to the other, just having fun!
I suddenly realise that I have left the mosquito spray, the sun cream and my flip-flop on the balcony but seriously, monkeys are not interested in that????
Mmmhh apparently they are, they knocked the mosquito spray off the table (they were right, it’s useless anyway), the sun cream had disappeared and they had a bite at both of my flip-flop!!!!!!!!!
Now next question: what can a monkey do with sun cream? Apparently: bite the bottle, unscrew the top and throw it from the roof in the stairs!
After the monkey story, we have a quiet evening trying to avoid getting drenched by tropical rain.
Sunday morning, 8 am, we are ready, covered with mosquito spray and tiger balm (one of my colleagues told me that tiger balm is very effective against leeches). Trouser tucked in the socks, no entry possible!

We go down the village, cross one of the 2 famous bridges and we start climbing going through trees producing liquid rubber and meeting our first few monkeys. The jungle is made of very steep hills so we are going to spend the day going up and down, nowhere is flat!
We have 2 guides, one who speaks English and one who is really good at dragging us out of the decent path into the deep part of the jungle to get a glimpse of the wild life
We learn plenty of things:
-         don’t touch young bamboos, they have a very itchy surface and if you have touch it (like me) rub your hand in your hair
-         Mosquitoes are nasty individuals who bite through trousers and to avoid them you should start smoking! (according to our guide)
-         Leeches don’t indeed like tiger balm (M-0; R who didn’t believe me-4); they go through socks, and they seem to inject anti coagulant so your trousers and socks quickly turn to bright red!
During the day we get very close to some more orang-utans, pretty monkeys, turtles and we get to see some fantastic views of the jungle.

We do end up completely covered of mud after sliding several times on the very muddy slopes: We use roots for abseiling, we really did have some Tarzan and Jane moments!
But the good new is that we are going rafting to go back to our hotel so the mud should be cleaned away! The raft is made of joint tubes, it’s low key but it works, the water is fresh and lovely and it’s another way of seeing the jungle.
Arriving back at the hotel, we get a good shower and a drink and it’s time to jump in the car again, back to Medan for our flight to Sg!
Bukit Lewang is a beautiful relaxing place and as you can see from the pictures, the orang-utans are amasing and it’s easy to understand why they are “jungle men”, they can smile (at least I’m sure I saw one smiling at me) and they do have lots of expression in their eyes.

And here are a few extra animals we met during the WE:

1 comment:

  1. Oh Mag, That's crasy how you change!! I can't reconize you on the picture, but you climb very well on the trees.