Bukit Lawang 2009


Time to pack the bags once more and head back the way I came and back to Medan. I wasn’t planning on a stop over here as I wanted to head up North East of Medan to a small town called Bukit Lawang. The overnight bus journey was far less eventful that the original one coming up to Palau Wey as it was less crowded and I even had two seats to myself. We arrived in Medan at 4am and I had to wait until the rest of Medan woke up until I hoped on another bus that would take me into the hills. Eventually by 9am the driver had finished his 20th cigarette, coughed his lungs up and washed his face to wake himself up properly and had a strange drink of egg yoks and orange juice he was ready to roll. If I haven’t told you yet i think that pretty much every Indonesian man smokes. They have a special brand of cigarettes over here called Sampoerna which is a very different type of cigarette. It is mixed with cloves which gives off a very unique and sort of pleasant smell, well more pleasant that sitting on a bus with everyone chain smoking standard cigarettes. You can pretty much light up anywhere, apart from a mosque that is.

Eventually 3 hours later we were rolling into Bukit Lawang loaded with about 500 hundred people on board, lots of school kids, 3 chickens and a goat. The poor thing looked as though it hadn’t been on a bus before as it got a little travel sick and threw up. I was headed for the guesthouse Jungle Trek which had been recommended by friend in Palau Wey which was out of the main part of town and overlooking the river. After unpacking and getting some laundry done I soon found a guide and by lunch time I was booked up for the trek the next day.

On the 2 day trek we would hopefully see lots of monkeys, an orang-utan or two, maybe some gibbons. I met up with a couple of fellow British travellers that night and they had just returned from a trek into the jungle with the same guide that we would have the next day. Seni our guide was apparently a larger than life guide (with an amazing laugh) that spoke great English, had been taking people trekking for 20 years and was an oracle on jungle animals and life. Good start considering the crap guides that we had endured in previous trips.

Up early I met up with our group at 8m for a spot of light breakfast and coffee. Seni met us all and lead us on our way through the village and then up through into the jungle. We had only walked around 500m before we encountered our first monkey. A Green Leaf Monkey that resembled more of something of a Gremlin that anything else. It was good to have a breather as we were all starting to sweat badly even though we had only walked 500m uphill. The jungle is very humid. Just around the corner we encountered some more Macaque monkeys and then we really started heading into the dense rain forest. We followed Seni up down around some beautiful little valleys, streams and walked amongst some gigantic trees and then we heard a rustle in the canopy above.

We all froze to see what it was and there floating and gliding through the trees were a group of White Handed Gibbons. Luckily I managed to get the camera out just in time to capture them swinging gracefully through the trees with such ease. They didn’t hang around for long and were well out of sight in a few minutes. From one amazing sight we turned around to see yet another. About a 100m below us was a group of French tourists all standing around looking up into the trees. Surely they weren’t on strike out here, but no it was here that we got our first glimpse of an Orang-utan. About 15m up in one of the trees there she was a mother and a baby. She was lying down in a homemade bed of leaves and branches just chilling out and watching her baby mess around in the trees around her. We were all in awe, jaws open and watching the mother relaxing and eating whilst the baby was mucking around and playing.

They have an interesting sex life as Seni told us – Orang-utans only mate once every 3 or 4 times in their lifetime as the baby stay with them until they are around 6 – 8 years old and will not entertain any male company until her child has left her and is fending for itself. After that however it is a different story as she becomes a bit of a hussy! She will mate with just about any male around. I guess for an Orang-utan not having sex for up to 7 years makes them a little desperate. We hung around underneath the two of them until they were bored with us and moved on. The experience was magical and to look into the eyes of these great apes watching their expressions was truly amazing. They are so human like when you see their expressions when they are figuring something out, eating or interacting with their young. Not surprising then that these apes share 98% of our DNA.

Our first meeting only wetted our appetites to see more and hoped that we would soon!! After a break for lunch of rice and curry high up in the forest and enough time to dry off a little we got back on the trail looking for anything dark orange in the trees. Again we were not disappointed as an hour later we bumped into a guide who said he saw another one 100m deep into the jungle. Seni armed with a machete cut his way through the jungle and there we saw another female very high up in the trees. With a little coaxing with some bananas and some passion fruit she was making her way down to greet us. This meeting was just as good as the first time and now this ape was in touching distance for me to feed her a banana. I stood breathless as she hung around in front of us for about 20mins feeding on bananas and passion fruit.

It is such a shame that these great, majestic and striking apes are an endangered species due to mass de-forestation. They are now only limited to two areas in the world. Borneo and Sumatra and is the only great ape in Asia and outside of Africa. Iindigenous peoples of Indonesia and Malaysia call this ape “Orang Hutan” which literally translates as “Person of the Forest”. We had to make tracks to our base camp which was a 3 hours walk away. Within 2 hours the heavens open and we were treated to a cooling but heavy downpour. We got soaked and as we were battling down to the base camp near the river we were almost swept away with all the water pouring down the side of the forest! The last obstacle was to cross the river to make it to where we were sleeping that night. It was a nice refreshing dip as plunged into the water and swam for our lives to the other side. Seni battled across with our bags wrapped up in plastic bags as we settled into our outdoor campsite and changed into dry clothes in the rain.

A refreshing cup of tea and we then enjoyed a most welcome dinner of vegetable curry, sardines and Tempe, fried chicken and rice. It was still pouring down as we attempted to stay dry under a few outstretched tarpaulins and Seni introduced and amused us with some card and matchstick games. Tired from the trekking we had to find a comfy place amongst the rocks and get some shut eye.The next day it had  luckily stopped raining but as all of our stuff was still soaked so we chilled out and dried  our clothes out in the morning sun, swam in the river and drank plenty of cups of coffee. By lunch time is was time to head back to town and this time no walking was involved. The porters who had arrived at the base camp to set up the kitchen, food and sleeping quarters had also brought up large inflated rubber tubes. We all hopped on and proceeded to float down the river back to town which was a thrilling ride in some of the fast flowing rapids. Back in Bukit Lawang was good to be back in a normal bed and also give us time to reflect on the amazing animals we had seen the previous day. It still saddens me to thinks that these majestic creatures are now an endangered species due to man’s profit from its habitat nd also some are taken for the pet industry. After a gin and tonic with some of my fellow Dutch trekkers it was dinner then bed as then next day would involve lots more travelling and onto the capital of Indonesia – Jakarta.

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