|Bukit Lawang is located in the Northern part of Sumatra. It is one of two places that Orangutans still live in the wild. They are highly endangered. Places like these make me love traveling. The experiences are worth enduring the constant waiting, and the less than clean accommodations.
Jan 15th, I had a goodbye dinner with the friends I had made in Jogja and headed to bed early as I had a busy day of travel ahead. I had a 6am flight from Jogja to Jakarta and then a connecting flight to Medan where I had to catch a bus to Bukit Lawang. I thought I was going to be traveling alone for this part of my journey as not many people go to Sumatra. However in moments of uncertainty, me being afraid of getting lost and not understanding, I ask random people questions to make sure I am where I am suppose to be. This really benefited me this time.
I was waiting for my early flight to Jakarta and there were no planes visible from the boarding gate and it was past the scheduled boarding time. I looked around and saw another lone Caucasian. I approached her and asked if she was going to Jakarta. She was. Her name was Yulia and she was from Russia. She admitted that she was watching me too and wondering about our flight. So we sat together and chatted. We boarded our flight 30min late, but unfortunately we didn't sit together. We caught up after the flight. She was supposed to meet some Russian acquaintances that were going to the same place as she was. We chatted about our plans and realized that we had similar plans. We were getting along great, so she decided that she would change her plans slightly so she could join me. Yay! We were both headed to Bukit Lawang. Yulia was supposed to take a chartered taxi Bukit Lawang with the other. They were going to do a one day hike, and then go to lake Toba the following day. She decided that my local bus trip and the two day jungle hike was more appealing. I was happy to have a companion to share this with.
We arrived into Medan airport and grabbed a taxi to the bus station. I was told that the buses here in Sumatra were an experience, and that I should try them at least once. Whoever told me that was right. It was 90km from Medan to Bukit Lawang and it took 4 hrs. The pot holes were enormous! They could have swallowed some smaller vehicles. I learned to not eat or drink on these buses as they do not have bathrooms and don't stop for bathroom breaks. On the bus we were constantly being questioned by the local people. They wanted to practice their English. "Hello Miss, What is your name? Where are you from? Is this your first time to Indonesia? How long are you here?" etc. Yulia and I tried to act busy so that we could avoid the repetitive conversation. A guy, we will call him "Shady guy", came and sat beside us. I nicknamed him this because; one, I couldn't remember his name (big surprise for me!), and two, because I don't think he was ever really truthful to us. He said whatever made himself look good, while trying to get us to book a tour through him. We saw right through him! But, long story short, he persisted so much that we ended up booking with him anyways. The tour started the next day.
Our persistent guide picked us up at 9am. We went and picked up two more tourists. One was from the UK and the other was from Holland. We also picked up two more guides. We were a little suspicious of our own guide, as he had brought no gear with him. The other two guides had backpacks full of food and supplies. Sure enough after 10min of hiking, "Shady Guy" gets a phone call on his cell and says that it is an urgent family matter and he has to go. Can you say "Bullshit!"
The trek was the most intense form of exercise and danger I had ever experienced. It would definitely not have been offered in Canada. The lack of safety precautions and the danger it imposed was crazy! In Canada, we would have had harnesses, helmets and there would have been railings everywhere. I am not scared of heights, but I was during this trek. My photos don't do it justice. Some parts of the trail, if you want to call it that, were not even distinguishable from jungle. The trek consisted of going vertically up and/or down, no matter the incline. I felt like a monkey, swinging and bracing myself from one tree to the next, trying to keep my balance. I also used some trees like ropes and rappelled down them on the steep areas. Because this trek was during the tail end of the rainy season, there was mud, exposed roots, and the rocks were all so slippery. I felt like, one wrong step and I was a goner. The trees in the jungle were awesome and overgrew everything. Some of the trees truly were like ropes. We trekked for 7 hours. It was quite a workout. Halfway through the trek, my muscles were already shaking from fatigue and I was completely wet from sweating. I tell you, hot yoga has nothing on jungle trekking!
Seeing the Orangutans was worth the intense trek. They were beautiful, peaceful, and they never stopped eating. We came across three Orangutans during the trek. The rangers/guides do the same trek so often that they have named most of them. First we came across Mina, and of course she is the one that is actually dangerous. Go figure! The story behind her aggression is that she had a baby long ago and for some reason it died. She still carried it around even though it was dead. The baby started to decompose and a ranger finally had to remove the smelly baby from her. Ever since that, Mina does not like humans. She has bit over 50 people. The ranger got out bananas and distracted Mina and her new baby, while we slowly inched past her. It was intense. The second Orangutan (I cant remember the name) was huge! He was eating a whole pineapple in his mouth. He was funny.
To my excitement, after 7 hours of hiking we made it to camp. Ti was next to a river. I jumped in fully clothed. I was so sweaty and dirty from the mud I did not care. The current was strong but I grabbed onto some rocks and let the water cool me off. I got out, cleaned up and changed, and then the guide/ranger told us we were switching camps. We needed to cross the river and set up camp in another area. Seriously? I just got all changed and now they wanted me to get these clean clothes dirty. Ahh well. We held hands and slowly made our way across the river to the second camp site. It was so beautiful with the river and jungle pressed up next to you. Our dinner was amazing. I am definitely loving the spices more and more over here. We played cards and chatted with our guides. Our sleeping arrangements were not much. We slept on the ground with a black tarp underneath us and one overhead. Good thing because it down poured that night. None of us tourists slept well, but that was to be expected. One tourist said she was glad it was pitch black at night time because she thought that there was something visiting her at night time (who knows what?) and then she woke up with cockroach in her bag. Monkeys woke us up early by throwing rocks on our tarp. Ah the joys of camping! The other two tourists said they had done hikes in Thailand and China and nothing was as intense as this. Welcome to Indonesia!
Yulia and I had breakfast and then went to see one more Orangutan before rafting down the river to our hotel. The last Orangutan was really small and when we tried to feed it, other brown and grey monkeys were faster and more aggressive, so the little Orangutan retreated to the trees, while the other monkeys stole its food. I did not realize how aggressive the local monkeys were. As we were nearing our departure from camp, the local monkeys kept inching closer, trying to grab our food. Once we were on our raft and heading out, 12 monkeys and 2 babies raided our campsite. Crazy!
We arrived back at our hotel at about noon and we were wiped! We decided to have an early dinner and go to sleep early as well. Well of course, nothing ever goes according to plan. We enter our room after dinner and I see a cockroach on the bed. When it sees us, it runs and hides underneath the bed. Yulia and I tried looking for it, but couldn't find it. It was still under the bed some where. We decided to just tuck in our netting around the bed and go to sleep. This plan failed! at about 11:30 Yulia wakes up screaming. We both reach for our glasses and flashlights. She said something landed on her head, and then we spotted the culprit. The same cockroach! Eww! I trap it in the netting and Yulia was supposed to grab it with toilet paper and remove it. Things didn't happen like that. Yulia almost had it and then it moved. She screamed and dropped the tissue. I get it trapped a second time, but this time I tell Yulia to go get help. Yes we are lame, but at least I am getting better at not screaming! However; I still don't want to touch it. If you squish a cockroach, it spreads it's eggs and then you have to remove them too. Yulia goes and gets a hotel guy. He brought raid and sprayed the bug, which stunned it so he was able to remove it from our room. We then went around the whole room spraying raid. It made us feel safe. We were finally able to go to sleep. Ahhhh!!!