Monday, August 4, 2014

Jungle Trek in Sumatra

"If you have the time, do a jungle trek in Sumatra to see the orangutans," said Miriam and Jim, our friends from volunteering the Philippines, "they could go extinct in our lifetimes."

We were sold. We had a few extra days at the end of our time in Indonesia that we didn't know what to do with so we booked the trip: 4 days on the island of Sumatra, including one night camping in the jungle.

From the airport in Medan, Sumatra, it was a 4-hour drive through busy streets and poorly maintained roads to Bukit Lawang.

In Bukit Lawang, our base lodge Sumatra EcoTravel was a very nice place, but the half-open bathroom made me curious as to what creatures we might encounter during a middle-of-the-night trip. Sadly, the open roof proved to be uneventful.

Fashion advice from the guides to prevent leeches: tuck jeans into long socks, then spray socks with repellent.

Early the next morning, we hiked just 30 minutes to the feeding platform where semi-wild orangutans come twice a day for bananas and to get their photos taken by tourists.

After an hour at the feeding platform, our group of seven began the six-hour jungle trek. Along the way, we were hoping to see wild orangutans. The guide warned us about the dangers when we encounter them: these orangutans have learned that if they grab a tourist and hold him hostage, the guides will give them bananas and sugar cane in exchange for release.

When we did encounter the wild orangutans on the trail, it was an exciting but frightening moment. The guides took precautions and placed some bananas off the trail to distract the orangutans as we took photos and scurried past, hoping not to be taken hostage.

After a hot, humid and exhausting trek, we arrived at our camp where the staff was already preparing our dinner. We all immediately jumped in the river to cool off and enjoyed some tea and cookies. We prepared our beds for the night, which consisted of a thin sleeping bag on a sleeping mat on a concrete slab covered by a plastic tarp structure. A well-worn mosquito net was affixed to the ceiling above each sleeping place. The toilet was a hole in the ground about 20 feet up the slope from camp, BYOTP of course.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of ramen noodles (actually pretty tasty) and a beautiful tropical fruit arrangement.

Our transportation back to the base lodge was "rafting" down the river. These large inner tubes were strapped together to make our rafts, and our gear was wrapped in plastic bags. The ride was calm and relaxing. The staff steered the rafts with long, straight, wooden poles: no paddling necessary.

That night, we had dinner with the others from our trek and shared a bottle of wine from probably the only store in town that sold it.

We enjoyed our time in Bukit Lawang and the Sumatra jungle. It's a shame that future generations may not be able to see orangutans in their wild habitats.

Thanks for the recommendation Miriam and Jim!

-- Grant

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