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Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra

Sophie's Relatives


I had managed to convince everyone that a short flight to North Sumatra was the best plan to see some jungle. Me and Soph couldn't have left Southeast Asia without seeing the orangutans (insert Sophie being ginger joke) and Bukit Lawang had been highly recommended for such a venture. It would have all been quite easy were it not for Rich...


Arriving 48hrs late would have meant that we could meet at the airport and fly together from KL. To add to Rich's misery both of his flights from London and then Dubai were delayed. At last contact from him before leaving KL; we expected him to miss our flight and arrive on the one 2 hrs after ours. All we would have to do is delay our prearranged taxi at Medan airport by a couple of hours and wait around a bit...


In the end Rich joined us around 58hrs late, after we had waited in Medan airport for 5 hrs. Our driver, Harry, was amazing about it and never lost his smile! Given the ordeal that Rich had been through, we were all very nice to him, not once asking for an apology for how we'd all been put out, or asking him to pay our coffee shop bill... That's what good friends we are!

We had a 4 hour drive to Bukit Lawang, which was pretty bumpy. Rich got some sleep, nearly headbutting the windscreen and gear stick several times as he bobbed away. Harry drove steadily whilst surrounded by mayhem! I'm not sure any of us were looking forward to our return to Medan in a few days time...


Arriving in Bukit Lawang, I think we all had a big sigh of contentment. Even Rich may have thought the journey was close to worthwhile. We were led down from the car, over a footbridge with a gurgling river flowing below. The place felt instantly relaxing and we were given nice rooms right on the river, before being ushered to the restaurant for a few beer Bintangs and a feed. A great way to destress!


Soph and I left the "lads" looking fairly sleepy, but in the knowledge that a party seemed to be getting going somewhere across the river... Naturally they couldn't resist. Apparently it was entertaining despite being a bit of a grill (a party with only men present).

We decided to give ourselves a day off to catch up on a bit of sleep before starting the trek. Our day consisted of swimming in the river (having first forded part of it, which was quite a challenge), floating in the rapids, watching Rich "calmly" battle the rapids; telling us how fun it was despite the occasional look of extreme panic, Bintang stops and plenty of eating...


Sam was a little concerned about muscle deflation whilst away from a gym. He decided that the best way to combat this was to order most of the menu for each meal, partnering with Tom to justify the order. To be fair, Tom tried to compete and ate his fair share so as not to be outdone.

We did manage to fit in an afternoon cave walk. This proved a little more arduous than anticipated with plenty of climbing around. There were lots of bats that got a little close for some people's comfort (Rich was like a coiled spring, ready to go at moment). It was a fun little excursion and a bit of preparation for the day ahead...


Our trek was described by our guide Thomas as a little grueling given the heat, humidity and gradients. We set off not knowing quite what to expect. Within a few minutes, we were dripping with sweat, but within half an hour we were too busy watching the wildlife to worry about any of that. Our first encounter was a load of longtail Macaques with babies.


Next up was Sandra, the Orangutan! We had expected to trek for hours before spotting some orange way up in a tree. No, it would be much be much easier than that!


We were just getting close to Sandra when Thomas called us to follow... We had heard gibbons, but knew that we'd be lucky to see them. Me and Soph had heard them elsewhere on our travels, but they can be fairly elusive...


They were pretty high in the tree, but we could clearly see their graceful acrobatics and they stuck around for a good while. We had been lucky!

It seems that the orangutans around Bukit Lawang are semi-wild. Happy to disappear into the jungle for days, but knowing that there will be free meals on hand from the guides wanting to provide the best experience for their tourists. Sandra had gotten a little jealous of the attention we'd been giving the gibbons and followed us in the branches above. She took a pee on me to make sure she had my attention - "oh Sandra..."


Eventually the gibbons moved on and we left Sandra to search for more orangutans. We learned that baby orangutans are cared for until they are around 6yrs old. The next "man of the forest" that we met was 7 and very mischievous! Grace wouldn't have been a word to describe him; erratic, energetic and a little scary may be better...


Sophie had a stick launched at her and we all ducked as he swung overhead. We hadn't expected such a close encounter!


The Thomas leaf monkeys were entertaining little characters.


There were plenty of other orangutans, each with their own personalities.


We even met Mina, the much fabled "aggressive" orangutan. A few of the guides reported being bitten by her in the past. She definitely had a mean attitude and walked along the ground, unafraid. The guides distracted her with food and she was pretty hilarious, refusing to look at them and holding an outstretched hand which ignored anything she didn't fancy, but took any carrot that was offered. Thomas informed us that Mina was responsible for an increase in employment as every group needed an extra guide for when they encountered her... They carved out a path around her and we all filed quickly past and continued on for 10 mins before our guides decided it was safe. We then waited the guides on Mina duty to catch up. Rich was just about to answer the call of nature when Mina came walking up the hill and we had to quickly move on again... There was definitely something a little menacing about Mina.


The last part of the walk was pretty grueling, going up and down with a fair amount of climbing. We were very glad to reach camp and find a crystal clear river to bathe in. It was stunning and whilst we wallowed around in the water, we watched monkeys and a big monitor lizard on the opposite bank. Candra, Sam's favourite guide, even brought over coffee and biscuits - it had been a great day!


This wasn't to be the end of the entertainment though... Thomas informed us that he had to go, but that we would be left in the capable hands of Ollo and chef Ali. The food was plentiful and delicious; even Sam was defeated by the quantity. Afterwards we were told that there'd be "thinking games" and then "laughing games"... We were a little sceptical about the laughing part, particularly as we would be alcohol free for the evening.


Ollo was a pretty infectious character and it was a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere as he challenged us to "move one matchstick to...". After a few of these, it was " time to laugh". Its a little hard to describe what happened next, but all 5 of us were in stitches from the start as Ollo and Ali demonstrated the first game. We have a few drinking games for the future... The day definitely goes down as one of our best on our trip so far!

Sleeping conditions were rustic to say the least and the toilet was a pit, with its main fault being a complete lack of privacy. Sophie had me on guard duty whenever there was business to be attended to...

We all seemed fairly fresh the next day and by the time we had taken another good feed, crossed the river, jumped into a waterfall pool and received a "massage" from the falling water, we were good to go. It turned out that our day would be considerably easier than the previous. We had time for a bit of sunbathing and swimming and another mamouth meal. When it was time to leave, we climbed into our inner tube raft and floated back to Bukit Lawang in about 40 mins. It was a great end to the trip, with Ollo singing away and beaming back at us for most of the journey. There was one obstacle remaining: fording the river. Sam lost it a little at this point, being a little top-heavy to carefully pick his way across the river...


All that was left was to have a last few Bintangs and thank our amazing guides and hosts (in no particular order): Thomas, Candra, Bendy, Ollo, Ali, Tuwes, Lilik and Harry. They had made a good experience unforgetable!


As we sat waiting for our overnight car to Lake Toba, we found out that 3 members of Thomas' family had been involved in a fatal motorbike accident whilst we were in the jungle. On the trek Thomas had told us about the effect of flash floods in 2003 when nearly 300 people from the village died and about how he had lost his mother. The people we had met seemed very happy and lived good lives. It would be hard to say that many people rushing around their lives at home are better off, but when it comes to the value placed on a life, we are certainly much more fortunate.

Posted by bloorsontour 21:26 Archived in Indonesia

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What an adventure! These have to be the best selfies ever!
(But to throw sticks at your relatives? How rude!)
However, a sobering end - condolences to Thomas) xxx

by Ma and Pa

Looks and sounds fantastic. Love the baby orangutans xxx

by mutsi

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