Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bukit Lawang

A couple of weeks ago we had a holiday from school and I went to Sumatra.  I met Al, my Spanish friend there.  As the one usually in charge of making plans for the group, I was delightfully surprised that he'd already sorted out our two day trek and transport. We were whisked away from the airport in Medan and off into the North Sumatran jungle after a four-five hour car ride. Map here.  We spent the first night in a "town" just outside the national park. It's so tiny I'm hard pressed to call it a town. It's mostly a collection of guest houses and shops for tourists who go to Bukit Lawang to see the orangutans.  It's one of the few places where Indonesia got the right idea and made it a protected national park before all the animals were exterminated.

We were a group of six: Al, me, two dutch girls and a couple - he is Belgian, she is Indonesian.  Our trek started the next morning, up a steep hill into the jungle.  About 30 minutes into the hike I saw Emily, a friend from Jakarta.  Random.  She was supervising students on a school trip.  You know it's a small world when you meet people you know in a Sumatran jungle. The trek was an all day affair and regardless what Al thinks, it wasn't easy.  I was alright until lunch, which sat like a bowling ball and made the afternoons climbs much less fun. We spent the night on the bank of a river, sleeping on packed dirt, being attacked by bugs. No much joy in that.  The next morning was a short jaunt over the river and through the woods to a waterfall. Then the girls packed up and headed back to town by inner tube.  We dropped the boys off part way and they hiked the rest. Another night in town before a car outta dodge.

Orangutan is from the Indonesian words orang meaning person and hutan meaning forest.  So orangutans are forest people.  It's also probably the only Indonesian word that is used "worldwide". It's easy to see why they call them that.  Orangutans are a species of great ape not so far removed from people.  In the forest one of our group members was grabbed by an orangutan momma with a baby.  You could see her logic as it only took bribing her with some sawo and bananas to get her to release Natalia. Their hands look remarkably like ours, as do their eyes.  We had to wait and run past Meena, an especially bad tempered orangutan.  They all had their own personalities and the guides knew who was who.

I saw hornbills, a couple different kinds of monkeys, and more insects that you can shake a stick at.  There were five different orangutan sightings. It was wonderful to get out of the city and feel the fresh air again.  The experience isn't one I'd willingly repeat but I'm glad I did it once.  The car ride there is enough to let you know it isn't a trip for wussies. Seeing a part of Indonesia that hasn't been ruined by mining/oil, logging or tourism is a rare opportunity. Add a few monkeys and orangutans and it was a real pleasure.

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