Getting close to our ginger cousins
04.05.2012 - 09.05.2012 30 °C
Orang-utans share 96.48% of our DNA, and staring into their eyes makes that seem more believable. Like there is some long lost connection there between us. To be able to share the jungle with these primates was an amazing experience that almost became our last experience of our trip... but more on that later.
We subjected our self to a torturous night by getting an evening flight from Phuket to Jakarta. This meant we landed around 11pm and then had our flight from Jakarta to Medan leaving at 4.40am the following morning. It was hardly worth the effort of going into the city just to sleep for a couple of hours and then head back out to the airport. We found a nice little cafe that was closed up which had long sofa’s to sleep on. I had just dozed off when a security guard came along and told us that we had to move outside as the airport was being locked up! What!!! What kind of airport is this? So we headed outside to where the experienced Jakarta airport passengers had already secured their seats for sleeping on. We managed to find some seats and ended up with a broken couple of hours sleep before getting back up to check in for the early morning flight. At least it was really warm outside and this is all part of the backpacker experience. Right?
When we landed in Medan it was straight onto a taxi to get us to the bus station where we had to negotiate for a minivan to take us out to Bukit Lawang. That ended up being a gruelling few hours on a cramped van with 4 people to a seat which should only really house two peoples butts! We were really lucky though as one of the young guys that hopped onto the minivan lived in Bukit Lawang (BL) and his cousin was the owner of the hostel that we wanted to stay at. We spoke with him for a while and it turned out that he was one of the guides at BL. The final transport of the day ended up being a scooter with sidecar attachment that took us two, our bags, our newly acquired guide and the driver into the small little town of BL.
Thanks to finding Asain on the bus, we were shown the way to the guesthouse and after checking in agreed to go out on a jungle trek the following day with him. To pass the rest of the afternoon though we went out to a feeding platform that is set up in the jungle. Orang-utans are highly endangered and are only found in two places in the wild - Sumatra and Borneo. There are a number that get rescued from poachers, illegal animal dealers and other unscrupulous individuals as well as orphaned youngsters. The best thing to do with these guys, is to rehabilitate them and release them back into the wild. As there is a decent sized wild population around BL, there is a sanctuary set up in the national park where these semi wild orang-utans are nurtured and then integrated back into the wild. The feeding platform acts as a half way house for these released individuals, providing them with basic food and water needs but keeping this simply to bananas and water so that the Orang-utans have the desire to search out more tasty treats in the jungle and become less and less reliant on the platform.
Its a short walk and river crossing to get to the sanctuary where we watched a video on the rules about being in the presence of the primates before following the handlers up the mountain to the platform. We passed some other monkeys just sat in the trees watching the people pass by. There were a few Indonesian tourists in the group of us up at the platform as well as a handful of other western tourists and as soon as we arrived, swinging through the upper branches of the trees a mother and baby orang-utan appeared.
We were allowed to spend up to an hour at the platform and were mesmerised just watching the orang-utans. There were 3 orang-utans, 2 of which were carrying babies, and the way the handlers dealt with them it was clear to see that they really had a good connection with them. The handlers would get a good look at the children to make sure everything was alright with them while the mothers were feeding and drinking from the buckets. They would grab a bunch of bananas and then take them high into the trees to eat them. There were some little monkeys around which were quick to snap up the discarded banana peels to look for any traces of banana that the orang-utans missed. After the orang-utans had eaten enough they just wondered off back into the jungle as secretly as they had arrived
It was really amazing to be up close and personal with the orang-utans and the playful young children that they had. The expressions on their faces at times are so human like that it’s easy to see our evolutionary connection with them.
We got back to the guesthouse and immediately crashed from tiredness after the limited sleep and long travelling. I didn’t even bring myself to get up for some dinner, preferring the extra time in bed.
We were up the following morning for our jungle trek with Asain. There were also two Slovakian guys that had been up at the feeding platform the prior day in our group. We set off into some hot and humid jungle walking in search for some wildlife. Asain was really good and knowledgeable about the jungle telling us about different plants and the medicines that can be made from them. Unfortunately we only managed to find a couple of true wild orang-utans deep in the jungle and then we could only see them up in the canopy above us. At one point we ended up walking past the feeding platform and there were 2 individuals hanging around there which we watched for a little while before heading back out into the jungle.
The little town of Bukit Lawang
Rubber trees outside the national park
Kids playing around
We stopped by a stream and waterfall for a swim and lunch stop. The swim was so refreshing after sweating our way around the jungle for a few hours. And for lunch Asain pulled out 6 parcels of palm leaf from his pack and revealed some Nasi Goreng with fried egg. When he gave it to us, he said that we can eat it Indonesian style... with our hands. It was still warm, tasted great and way better than we were expecting. After the lunch stop the rest of the trekking wasn’t too eventful just a lot more sweating and walking.
The final part to the trip was a bit more eventful however. We knew that we were going to be tubing back down the river to the town and we had seen a number of people floating by when we were walking the prior day. Asain said that we would instead raft down by tying our tubes together. Fine sounds safer I guess. About 30 mins before we finished our trekking the heavens opened and we were saturated within seconds. This probably contributed to the river looking a lot more menacing than it had before. We put our backpacks and shoes in a big plastic bag and secured them to the raft before hopping in ourselves. There were 4 tubes, the driver (with his long straight stick for paddling) and backpacks in the first one, Tanya and I took the second one, the two Slovakian guys in the third and Asain and the assistant guide in the rear.
The ride started off fine enough, although we should point out that there were no life jackets or helmets. After a few turns the water looked to be getting a bit more interesting and we went down a rapid heading straight for an exposed tree stump. The driver tried to push us away from it, but the stick just slid off the slippery surface. Before we knew it, one of the Slovakian guys had been flung from the ring and the rear tube was next to Tanya and I on the other side of the log.
The guy managed to swim to the bank not too far down stream while the 3 guides tried to wrestle the tubes free. All the while Tanya and I were being submerged by the strong rapid, so we jumped ship and swam over to the bank. It took a good ten minutes for the guides (and a random passerby) to free the tubes as they were fighting in the current. The rest of the ride went without a hitch and we got a story to tell from our river rafting adventure.
The following morning we were up bright and early for a mini bus to take us over to Lake Toba. 9 hours later we crested a hill and had views of the massive lake and island in front of us. Thanks to a large ancient volcano the caldera filled up with water leaving an island in the middle the size of Singapore. From the ferry port the island just looks like the opposite side of the lake it is so big.
We only had one day on the island so we hired a flash new scooter in the morning to go for a ride. We stopped at a tribal gathering place on the way out of the main town of Tuk Tuk and then knocked up 100kms riding to the north and back. It was good not having any specific goal, just cruising around and taking in the views.
We caught another minibus back to the main city of Medan where we spent a relaxing night. We went to a little cafe/bar which had this young band playing live music. We gave them some applause when they played some good cover songs and when they took their break, they came over to speak to us and say thanks. There wouldn’t be too many westerners staying in Medan, so they seemed to enjoy talking with us. They were really friendly, much like all the Indonesians that we have met so far!
Daniel – Seeing the Orang-utans was a memorable experience. Just sitting there looking into their eyes was something special. Their facial expressions are so emotive and the little children orang-utans look so funny with their frizzy ginger hair. Lake Toba was also a worthwhile excursion just to have a relaxing day exploring the island.
Tanya – Sumatra has been a great introduction to Indonesia. It wasn’t the easiest to get around initially but we soon got to know how the bus system worked. Unfortunately our limited time here meant that we could only make 2 stops although there was so much more to see. The orang-utans and other monkeys were very amusing!