Hanging around in Bukit Luwang
Trip Start Nov 17, 2011
32Trip End May 01, 2012
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Where I stayed
Bukit Luwang Guesthouse
What I did
As the city fell behind us, we got to see a bit of the Samatran countryside flashing past our windows. On the road to Bukit Luwang, this mostly comprised of mature palm plantations stretching out as far as the eye could see. As we got closer to the town, however, we could see the rainforest in the distance and started to get excited.
In Medan, we had arranged a two day jungle trekking tour with the hope of seeing some Orangutans, and were therefore greeted as we disembarked the bus by a guy who called himself 'Ali G'. On the short walk to the guesthouse, Ali G enquired, "Do you know where we are?"
"Um..no", we replied. The first of his many classic lines was, "In the jungle, baby"
We checked in and grabbed a spot of lunch then headed off on a little 2 km expedition to a bat cave. On reaching this, we realised that we had not brought any money with us for the entrance fee. We were kindly let in, but were understandably not offered the services of a guide. On completion of a steep scramble in flip flops (always be prepared) we reached the mouth of the cave and ventured in. It was very impressive, but also very dark, as you might imagine. Luckily we had had the forsight to bring torches. We felt very intrepid as we reached what we thought was a very deep part of the cave and watched the bats swirling above our heads.
On the way home, we had our first experience of the Samatran rain. It was also the last time we were entirely dry during our stay in Bukit Lawang. The rain in Samatra is kind of like having consecutive buckets of water dumped on your head. Unfortunately the poncho Femmy's dad bought for her is still in her room in the depths of Somerset and could not aid with the downpour. Let that be a lesson. Always listen to your dad!
That night we had a couple of drinks in the guesthouse bar whilst listening to local guides playing their guitars and singing along to some western and Indonesian classics
The next day was an early start to begin our jungle trek. We were in a lovely group of 10 that included us Brits, a group of four Aussies, a German couple as well as Dutch and a Spaniard. Very mulinational! Our smartly dressed guide introduced himself and the other non-English speaking guides and off we went.
We were walking in very dense jungle which was muddy underfoot and very humid. The route we walked involved some VERY steep gradients and tracks that were not necessarily well trodden. This would give us the best chance of seeing the Orangutans, but was quite challenging.
At some points we were under the impression that they might be making up the route as they went along, due to its impassibility. A sheer, muddy slope was a good example, which looked impossible to get up. The guide went first and handed a rope down to Ruth, instructing us to "all hold on together". Really? Some awkward looks ensued, followed by an orderly queue. However, we may have misinterpreted the extent of his intended assistance as many massive caucasians started abseiling up the face of the sheer drop supported only by the guides weight.
Our efforts were rewarded when we firstly sighted a female and her baby high up in their nest and were then summon forward by the guide, who said there was a male in the trees just up ahead
Following this little incident, the Orangutan had calmed down and was perched in a nearby tree. We were allowed up to see him (in twos, of course) and it was beyond words to see such a beautiful and rare creature in such proximity. We were also lucky enough to see several Gibbons, Thomas Leaf monkeys and extensive flora and fauna, which our guide was very knowledgable about and took the time to explain. An example of this was sampling the bark of a tree which was the source of Quinine, an anti-malarial treatment. Ironically, Ruth's only mosquito bite of the day was obtained whilst standing next to this tree.
We then rounded a corner to see mother and baby Orangutans, metres in front of us hanging low down in the trees. She hung around (pardon the pun) for a good ten minutes and enabled us to get a really good look at her little baby
At lunch time we settled down to our impressive jungle meal and the guides settled down to skinning up their numerous joints. This resulted in their skills being significantly less impressive after the lunch stop. Our main guides polished look from the morning was abandoned, as was his balance, as he toppled over on a not particularly challenging piece of terrain, beret askew.
Our next challenge was making it to the riverside camp. Everyone, including the stoned guides, agreed that this was not easy with the added pressure of arriving before the afternoon rainstorms.
The final hour involved a muddy, vertical descent. Sweating buckets and falling down repeatedly, Femmy lost the humour and was rather grouchy by the time we all arrived at the river! Spirits were hightened by a sighting of a Toucan. We then tubed across to our camp just as the first drops began to fall.
After a refreshing swim/wash in the river, during which Ruth demonstrated that you do not have to 'rinse and repeat' as often advised on shampoo bottles, just plunge headfirst into a fast flowing torrent, we then had our jungle dinner
Femmy was delighted, as it was chicken on a stick and Ruth enjoyed yet another omlette. We weren't a 100% sure about the sleeping or toilet arrangements, as our guide was slumped over a rubber tube. On asking him regarding these issues, he muttered an incomprehensible answer and stared at us dazed.
We quickly realised that the shack covered in tarpauline was to be our jungle hotel, our bags were to be our pillows and a toilet paper-strewn path, our toilet. We therefore tried to stay up as late as possible learning jungle magic from the more cohesive guides and singing our new favourite song "jungle trek, jungle trek, in Bukit Lawang" (to the tune of jingle bells).
We were both impressed that we obtained NO insect bites overnight in the middle of the Sumatran jungle, whereas in certain guest houses that we have had the pleasure of staying in we have been eaten alive! We woke to sunshine, birdsong and some monkeys who had decided to share our camp. After some coffee and breakfast we all made our way to a waterfall further into the jungle on the camp side of the river. Some of the group walked along the riverbank to reach it, whilst the the Australian contigent and Ruth (who was representing europe) tackled leeches and further dense jungle to reach the cooling waters of the falls
Following our return, we realised that the experience of being dry was to elude us further. NOTHING dries in the rainforest. We managed to find one set of relatively dry clothes and decided that it was Gin O'Clock, so made our way accross a the most structurally unsound bridge in the world, to reach a cluster of small shops. We hoped to beat the impending rain, but this was not to be, and the most spectacular storm ensued. Flash lightening, thunder, torrential rain and completely flooded streets. We got through a couple of bottles of Gin with some new friends whilst waiting for an opportune moment to cross back over the river but were warned by the locals that it was too dangerous. However, in the end we decided that the rain was not going to let up and started our precarious, wobbly crossing. We were very happy to survive and celebrated with a couple more drinks and a singalong.
Unfortunately, our onward journey the next day was twarted by Femmy, as she clearly can't handle her drink and suffered a severe hangover the next day
We finally left the following day, bound for Berastagi. Goodbye Orangutans!