Forest people of Bukit Lawang

Trip Start Oct 31, 2011
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Rainforest Guest House
What I did
Gunung Leuser National Park

Flag of Indonesia  , Sumatra,
Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It'd been such a hectic weekend, painting kids faces at a school fête non-stop for two days, that I hadn't had a chance to really think about what it would be like to spend a night and day in the jungle of Bukit Lawang until we on the road.
 
Kat and Diviya, friends from my teaching days in Korea, had stopped off on their Indonesian travels to visit me in Medan for a few days. I couldn't subject them to too much time in this city, so we decided to head out to the jungle to see some orangutans. I knew only a handful of facts about orangutans; One, that Sumatra is one of only two places in the world where orangutans can be found in the wild, two that orangutan means 'person of the forest' in Indonesian, and three that they are big and orange.

Since we were leaving in the evening to take the 3 hour drive to Bukit Lawang from Medan, we decided to club together and rent a car and driver to get us there, pricier than the bus, but way more comfortable and the safest way to travel at night. It's a long and winding road from Medan to Bukit Lawang and in the dark it can be somewhat nerve racking; the large, random piles of sand didn't help matters, nor did the extreme potholes or the huge trucks carrying palm nuts from the palm oil plantations that line the way. I was thankful that it was too dark to see what lay (or didn't lay) at the edge of the road. We made it there nonetheless and after parking up we were led dwon little walk way down to the river lit up with little huts and stores and with a few women sitting outside to the rainforest guest house, run by the famous Nora (as featured in Lonely Planet, we were later proudly informed). The rainforest guest house sits nestled on the side of a wide, fast flowing, but fairly shallow river, separating the Gunung Leuser National Park from the village.

Twenty minutes after arriving we were whisked off by becak to get some food at a local wedding that was taking place in the village. This one, we were told, was a Muslim wedding and so wouldn't be quite as fun as the traditional Batak weddings, but still there would be food and dancing. I'm sure the three of us (and Sophie) were quite a site, but we were ushered in anyway under the canopies, directed to the table of food, given a plate and told to tuck in. Having been sick the first week I was here, I've been living on a diet that consists mainly of peanut butter sandwiches and cereal, but it was time to be brave and so I loaded up my plate with rice, curry and crackers and prayed for a strong stomach. After bit of food, dancing and singing we were back in the becak for the best becak ride I've had yet (who knew you could get a bike and side-car with 5 people on it down hills like that!) and headed for the guest house and a beer. Here we set up our tour for the next day. Three hours of jungle trekking in search of orangutans.

The next morning armed with cameras, bottles of water and bug spray we set off into the jungle with our two guides, Andy and Oman, really great guys who both spoke amazing English. Can't say I wasn't slightly nervous, particularly with comments from the locals about watching out for tigers! I also realised pretty quickly that it was about time I got my bum to the gym, it wasn't going to be a walk in the park! To the sweet notes of of Andy's jungle song “Jungle trek, jungle trek in Bukit Lawang, see the monkeys, see the birds, see orangutan” (to the tune of Jingle Bells) we hiked through trees and vines, deeper into the jungle in search of orangutans. And we were not disappointed!  

Despite the rain we managed to see at least 8 different orangutans that day, some with babies and infants, some just alone. At one point we came face to face with a big male orangutan, when he started coming towards us and the guides were ushering us to move away quickly we all nearly trampled one another in our attempt to escape! Another scary moment was at lunch time, where we'd sat down on the ground to eat out fried rice and egg in a palm leave and Mina (the orangutan famous for being aggressive) appeared from nowhere on the ground right next to us. Needless to say she got 3 lunches that day, none of us were going to argue with her. The guides tried to insist that we eat some more elsewhere, but we were all miraculously full after that

The guides knew each orangutan by name. At first I couldn't understand how on earth they could tell so many apart, but the more I saw the more I realised how different each orangutan was and how individual each of their personalities were. Some were quite aggressive, others gentle, I even saw one with a smiley face and one grumpy looking old man! I can see how easy it is to fall in love with these beautiful creatures, to see them in the wild was an incredible experience andone that I will never forget. Our tour, which was supposed to take 3 hours, ended up being around 7 hours!

The sad thing is, that according to the Sumatran Orangutan Society (in their facts for kids section) 100 years ago there were 315,000 orangutans in the wild, but today there are only 60,000. Less than 7,000 of these remaining orangutans live in Sumatra. And even more sad, it is thought that Sumatran orangutans may become extinct in the next 50 years unless people help to protect them.If you wanted to find out more about orangutans, these two websites are really great:
http://www.orangutans-sos.org/visit_sumatra
http://www.orangutan.com/about-us/

Check out the photos for all the other weird and wonderful creatures we saw in the jungle; some beautiful and very friendly little monkeys, who let us feed them by hand, a centipede as long as my arm that would put you in hospital with one bite, a turtle disguised as a leaf, the biggest ants I've ever seen and a very long legged Daddy Long-legs!  We also saw a lizard, too fast for my camera...but alas no snakes! 
 
We ended the trip with a swim in the river and singing, guitars and beer back at the guest house. All in all one of the best things I've ever done!My next trip, I'm hoping will be two hours on from Bukit Lawang to see the elephants and take a jungle trek with them.  

I'll keep you posted, but for now I'm off to scrub the mud off my shoes and read up some more about orangutans!  
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