A Travellerspoint blog

Jungle Trekking in Sumatra

sunny 29 °C

Jungle trekking in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra was easily one of the best of our travel experiences; it was amazing. We were lucky enough to join a three-day trek, and were paired up with three great guys, Peter from Norway, 48, Connor from Canada, 18, who was nicknamed "Justin Bieber" because apparently he resembles the pop star, and Peter from Russia, 28. We could not have been assigned a better guide. 25-year-old Yansen was so jovial, always cracking jokes and keeping us entertained with stories and games even in the evenings in the tent. He was also very knowledgeable about the jungle, and we saw a lot of animals and learned about many different trees and plants and their uses. Yansen's porter was Andre, a tiny, older man, who did a little bit of everything (cooking, cleaning, carrying the supplies, building the tent, saving Leah from the river rapids, assisting Leah down the cliff side, etc.), and never ceased to amaze us with his abilities; he even seemed to possess superhuman strength. Together we were quite the motley crew. Yansen labeled us the "mosquito group" because he said we were "small but dangerous."

Our adventure began at 8 on Monday morning. We met the other members of our group and went into the jungle where, a short time later, we happened upon a beautiful, massive bird called the Great Argus Pheasant. This was a rare and lucky sighting.


Not too long after, we came upon the big daddy of orangutans. He was sitting not 3 meters away on a vine, looking almost bored as we snapped photos. When he'd finally had enough of our shutter clicks, he turned his back to us, and we moved on.


We spent most of the rest of the morning moving through the thick jungle, going up and down hills and in some cases, steep cliffs, chasing after the orangutans. We saw several mother/baby pairs high in the trees. We also saw a large chameleon. We stopped for an amazing lunch of rice, vegetables, and fruit, which the guides had prepared ahead of time. Everywhere there were giant ants, which we learned secrete a foul-smelling urine to deter their enemies. Apparently, however, the orangutans suck out the urine because it relieves indigestion. Our guide demonstrated how to do this, and later on some members of our group tried it as well; the urine is reportedly very sour tasting. Unfortunately, it started raining in the mid-afternoon, so we quickly made our way to a small river, which grew massive as it continued to rain, to set up camp for the night. Andre had gone ahead earlier in the day, so the large tent, made from a bamboo frame covered with plastic, which we all shared, was already up, and water for coffee was boiling in the cooking tent nearby. We spent the rest of the day sitting in the tent, watching the rain. We were visited by two animals, a poisonous water snake, which our hero, Andre, quickly chased into the river, and the tiniest, most adorable frog, about the size of a pinky fingernail. That evening we had another fantastic meal with several different Indonesian dishes, and swapped stories and played games by candlelight in the tent.


We awoke early the next morning after a restless night, and had a breakfast of pineapple pancakes. To our amusement, several Long tail monkeys emerged from the jungle and tried with varying degrees of stealthiness to steal our food. At one point, when unfortunately no one was looking, one monkey managed to steal a bit of pineapple. Our guides did not look amused.


After breakfast, Yansen asked us if we wanted to go straight into the jungle or walk along the river for awhile. We opted for the river. To our surprise, we didn't walk along the river so much as in it. Trudging through the water sometimes waist-deep on wet rocks proved to be very difficult but was a lot of fun. After a leisurely swim by a small waterfall, we went into the mountains again. This time we basically had to hoist ourselves up a cliff side using hands and feet. Leah trekked in socks for awhile since, after the river walk, her shoes were too slippery to make it up the rocky mountain. Our hiking continued with varying degrees of difficulty well into the afternoon, and then the most amazing thing happened. We came upon an orangutan and her baby. She was hanging in the trees but froze when she saw us. She studied us for awhile looking very intrigued, then she came down out of the trees and walked right up to us. Russian Peter was at the front of our line and she approached him and took his hand. Yanseninstructed him to remain still and he did. In fact, we all stood frozen in fear and amazement for several minutes while the orangutan clutched onto Peter. Then, all of a sudden, she began to climb him. She put her arms around his shoulders and hung with her legs wrapped around his waist. Her baby stayed on her back. The rest of us were instructed to move some feet away so the guides could attempt to separate the orangutan from Peter. They did this by tempting her with fruit, but she didn't seem interested. The baby, however, tried several times to detach itself from its mother to grab at the fruit. It was funny to watch her pull it back each time it tried to move away. Peter, burdened by the weight of this massive creature, had to kneel down. Eventually, the guides were able to separate the orangutan from Peter, and we parted company with her in opposite directions in total awe and slightly jealous of Peter's experience.

Jackie's Story:
We later learned that the mother orangutan is named Jackie, and this is not unusual behavior for her. Apparently, her mother died when she was quite young (orangutans usually spend about 6-8 years with their mothers), so one of the park rangers "adopted" her. He used to carry her around on his back, so she has very fond memories of humans and still craves that attention to some extent. According to Yansen, she almost always latches onto humans she encounters in the jungle, sometimes holding hands but mostly always climbing them, and she prefers men to women. For us, however, it felt like a one in a million experience.

At the end of a second day of trekking (13 km in total), we came to a different, much larger river. We spent awhile swimming before a massive water monitor emerged from the river making us second guess the idea. We wound up seeing monitors on six different occasions.


The guides set about building a new tent out of bamboo and cooking, and the monkeys emerged from the forest. Several monkeys ventured close enough to camp to steal bits of food out of a fire pit left by earlier campers. Watching them creep out of the trees and up the hill, and rummage through the pit, shifty eyes darting about, kept us amused for much of the afternoon. We had another delicious dinner complete with a jungle greens salad scavenged by Yansen himself, and went to sleep early.

Our third day in the jungle was easily the most adventurous. We decided to do a short trek despite the pain in our bodies. This trek proved to be the most difficult, and culminated with us literally climbing down the side of a very, very steep cliff, at times with only vines to hold and very small breaks in the cliff face to put our feet in. It was terrifying and we moved in deadly silence, as, on several occasions, Leah's slippery shoes (good for hiking, not for climbing on wet rock) gave out and she clung to the cliff until she regained her footing. We had joked about "jungle skiing" during the previous days' hikes, but now sliding down the mountain had potentially lethal consequences. Down and down we went, until finally we came to a beautiful waterfall where we swam away the physical and mental pain, congratulating ourselves for surviving the trek.

So we wouldn't have to backtrack, we had to cross the big river again to return to our camp, so this meant we had to take what Yansen called a "jungle taxi." Andre, who had not accompanied us on this final trek, appeared out of nowhere at the river's edge with two giant tubes. (We had crossed the river previously on foot, but the rapids at this new spot were much too strong.) The Peters and Connor got into one tube and Andre guided it to the other side of the river. Then he crossed waist-deep on foot through the rushing rapids (this guy was unbelievably strong) to where Colin and Leah waited. We got into the tube and started to cross when Colin decided to readjust his position, sending the tube over on top of Andre. We toppled into the water and off we went, caught up in the rapids. Leah went under, but Andre pulled her to the surface. Colin then grabbed onto Andre. There we were in the river, Colin and Andre pulling Leah from the rapids until she had found solid ground. The tube took off and Andre went after it, retrieving it safely.

We made it back to camp finally and safely, but the adventure with tubes had only just begun. We packed up our things, wrapped our gear in plastic, and nestled into 5 tubes that had been bound together making one long raft. With Yansen in the front and Andre in the back, they guided us with long bamboo poles through the rapids and down the river back to our guesthouse. At times the ride was smooth, and we sat in awe at the beauty surrounding us. We remarked at how incredible it was to see the jungle that we had trekked and conquered from the outside and on both sides of the river as we lazily floated along. At times, however, the rapids picked up and twice Yansen's bamboo pole broke, which he admitted later had never happened before. At one point, because he had no pole and was not able to guide us, we got stuck on several large stones. The guides jumped out of the raft and attempted to pull us free. When the raft finally dislodged, it got swept into the rapid and headed toward a massive rocky cliff wall. Although we would've been okay had we hit it, Yansen Super Guide, came running after us over the sharp rocks and lunged toward the raft, stopping it before it hit the wall. For a moment we thought he was hurt as he dangled from the raft with his head in the water, but then he reemerged, hopped into the boat, cackled in his now famous, lovable way, and we were off. Andre passed forward a new pole (not entirely sure where it came from), and we continued. Tubing down the river was a "small but dangerous" end to an amazing three days in the jungle for the mosquito group.

After proper bathing and some early evening resting, we reunited for a barbecue dinner and some tropical cocktails to swap tales of our jungle experiences and enjoy a final night together. Everyone was definitely in agreement that our jungle trek was pretty awesome.


Posted by colinandleah 18:44 Archived in Indonesia Comments (3)

Jawa (Java), Indonesia

A quick look at our week in Java...

sunny 29 °C
View Itchy Feet on colinandleah's travel map.

To view all the photos from Java, click here.

The following is a brief summary of the four major attractions we visited in Java:

Ijen Crater
Though technically closed due to "poisonous gas," we were able to arrange a tour to Ijen Crater. Ijen is a massive crater filled with sulphuric acid near Banyuwangi in Java. When conditions permit, miners dig out the sulphur and carry it down the mountain, sometimes making two trips a day, with bundles weighing 80-90 kg. For their work, they receive 690 IDR per kilogram, which is about 7 US pennies.
The "tour," which was a bit pricey (400,000 IDR) despite our best efforts at negotiation, consisted of a 4 a.m. jeep ride into the mountains and a guide, who accompanied us on the 3 km hike to the crater even though his presence was completely unnecessary due to the somewhat straightforward and easy nature of the trek. He was a really nice guy, however. We had to pay a small park entrance fee, which felt more like a payoff so the park ranger would turn a blind eye. On our way to the top, we encountered two friendly miners, and watched them descend into the mine; they were the only ones left to maintain the water pipe, while all other miners were temporarily suspended due to poor conditions (at this point, we started to wonder if it really was okay to be there). Overall, Ijen offered stunning views, and was definitely worth the hassle of getting there.


Mt. Bromo
Our next stop in Java was Mt. Bromo, an active volcano, which is nestled in the mountainous Tengger-Semeru National Park. Mt. Bromo rises some 500 meters from the center of a vast crater. We awoke early for a jeep ride/1 km hike (in the dark, with no flashlights) up the edge of the crater to view Mt. Bromo and the neighboring mountains at sunrise. This turned out to be fairly anti-climactic since Bromo is not in the east and therefore the sun did not rise behind it as we'd imagined it would. However, it was beneficial to see the park early since the rain started at 9 a.m. and lasted all day. Following the sunrise, we drove down into the crater, which we then opted to cross on foot (others rode horses), and climbed the 240 steps up to the edge of the Bromo volcano. Seeing the volcano was a great experience, and the views have been labeled everything from "scary" to "interesting" to "awe-inspiring," but was decidedly not very beautiful. Overall, however, the trip to Bromo and the two nights we spent in the mountainous park were well worth the trip.


Our next stop in Java was Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia; it was built in the 9th century. While it was originally comprised of 237 temples, most have crumbled and really only 6 remain. We were offered a lovely tour free of charge from some high school girls completing an assignment. They walked us through the temples, explaining about their rich history and translating the tales of the reliefs. It really is a spectacular sight.
After that, we crossed the grounds to a Buddhist temple about a kilometer east of Prambanan. It was equally as fascinating, and also interesting to see two major temples from two different religions in such close proximity to each other (apparently a Hindu prince built the second temple for his Buddhist fiancé).


The next day, we went to to see the world's largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur. It was equally as impressive, if not more so, than Prambanan, though structurally very different. It as also built in the 9th century. We had a lovely day exploring the temple and surrounding park grounds. We even got to spend some time with elephants and deer.


Our week in Java was adventurous and stimulating, and really could not have been more exciting.

To view all the photos from Java, click here.

Posted by colinandleah 21:28 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Photos on Photobucket!

rain 28 °C

We've decided to upload out photos to a different site, so that we can show them to you in better quality. Sorry for the inconvenience, but we will do our best to alert you when new photos have been uploaded. Click here to view photos from Bali and Gili.

If the link doesn't work, please copy/paste the following: http://s1055.photobucket.com/albums/s507/colinandleah1/Bali%20and%20Gili%20Trawangan/

~Colin and Leah

Posted by colinandleah 02:35 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

Ubud, Bali: City of Adventure

rain 29 °C
View Itchy Feet on colinandleah's travel map.

Writing about Ubud was no easy task, as words cannot describe much of what we experienced there. As you read, please try to use your imaginations to fill in the details. And when you're finished reading, please take a look at our photos from Gili and Bali... http://s1055.photobucket.com/albums/s507/colinandleah1/Bali%20and%20Gili%20Trawangan/

Ubud is the "cultural center" of Bali and home to numerous artists and entertainers. Immediately upon arriving one can sense the creative energy of the city. Almost every home couples as a studio with signs outside explaining what art form the occupants practice (woodcarving, painting, music, etc.), and many residents also offer private lessons in traditional dance, music, and the like. Many of the home/studios are open, so that one can easily observe the artists at work, and everywhere there are galleries displaying local work. We were even lucky enough to see a couple of massive sculptures being created in the town square.

The area is known for its woodcarvings, and the outskirts of town is lined with studios and shops displaying some of the most beautifully and intricately carved wooden doors and furniture we've seen. Equally impressive were the stone carvings. This area of Bali is Hindu, so most homes, which are divided by massive stone fences covered in an intensely green moss, have large stone altars and statues, presumably of Hindu gods, at the gates. (It seems that the Hindu ritual of prayer and offering is frequently observed, as we have seen it practiced at all hours of the day and night in most establishments, as well as on the streets.) These gates are works of art themselves, and we wish we'd had more sunny weather and free time to photograph them.

We only spent a couple days in Ubud, but we did a lot. In addition to taking the time to visit galleries and enjoy the local art, we went to the nearby Monkey Forest. This is exactly as it sounds: a forest with monkeys. It was a great experience and a lovely walk, but with no unusual stories to share (the monkeys didn't attack us as they did other tourists, despite the fruit hidden in Colin's pack), we'll let the photos do the talking.

After the forest, we followed Leah's vague memory of a walking tour she'd read about online, which led us through a neighboring village and  into the countryside. Along the way we tried some new local food, stopped at a roadside juice bar for some fresh papaya juice and the company of some cute kids, stumbled upon a duck farm, and eventually met a local guide, who encouraged us to go into the rice paddies. We walked through the maze of rice paddies for awhile trying to figure out how to get out (the guide had long since abandoned us when he realized we weren't interested in paying for a guided paddy tour, and even a group of ducks seemed confused, running back and forth in one muddy pit), when at last we heard the sound of drums in the distance. 

We followed the sound, walking alongside a cliff with a river below at the edge of the rice paddies, when we came upon a small house. We decided to cut onto the property to find a way down the cliff and across the river to a road, which we hoped might lead us back to Ubud. As we approached the house we saw that there was a group of men sitting outside, some of whom were dressed in costume, while others had painted chests and faces. They were excited to see us and offered up a sip of local brew (we've yet to find home brew or for that matter, any affordable alcohol in this heavily religious nation). We snapped a couple photos and inquired about their costumes and the music we were hearing. The only English they muttered was, "traditional dance." 

Excited to see the dance but not sure where to go, we followed their hand signals down some narrow stone steps and across the river, realizing all of a sudden that we were surrounded by people. Some were costumed as the boys had been. Others were dressed only in traditional Hindu garb (the sarong must be worn by men and women to enter the temple). There were women in beautiful, colorful, jeweled gowns and headdresses, and many men dressed equally as elaborately. 

Men and women, old and young, appeared to be gearing up for something massive. There were huge floats of Hindu gods, drums of all shapes and sizes, and many more instruments. We walked up a hill to discover that everyone was congregating outside of a temple. We weren't sure how to enter, nor were we dressed appropriately (we later tried to enter anyway and were asked to leave), so we decided to join the masses on the streets. Everyone seemed to be waiting for so something, but we weren't sure what. There was a great deal of bustle and excitement as many more costumed or fancily dressed people arrived by motorbike, truck, car, or on foot, and entered the temple. 

After about 45 minutes of watching various people enter the temple, but mostly amused by the crowds and excitement on the streets, the temple doors opened and a procession began. For almost 30 minutes, clusters of people streamed from the temple, each new group dressed identically to one another but drastically differently from the last. We saw so many amazing clothes and costumes, and with each group that emerged, the crowd became more and more excited. This culminated with several young couples appearing at the top of the steps and descending to the applause of the crowd.

(At this point, we wondered if we were witnessing some kind of mass wedding ceremony. We later tried to find out what we'd seen but with no success. Our guesthouse owner said that there are often massive celebrations or festivals at various temples scattered throughout the nearby villages. He thought our wedding theory seemed plausible. Many of the boy/girl duos were quite young, but we've since learned that some children wed as young as late elementary here. I guess we'll never know for sure what we saw.)

The final boy and girl to emerge were being carried on separate chairs. They were the last two to depart the temple, and generated a great deal of cheering and enthusiasm from the crowd. They, like all the couples, were covered in heavy makeup and ornamented gowns. They were really young, perhaps 11 or 12, and both had very sour, almost angry, expressions. The best part was that, under his fancy clothes, the boy was wearing bright white knee-high tube socks. We thought that, because of all the fuss, they might be a prince and princess.

Observing what we did of this celebration was awesome, and we walked away feeling almost fulfilled by our Ubud experiences. However, we still had not seen the traditional dance. On our walk back to Ubud we found an outdoor venue that had an evening performance of a traditional "fire dance." 

The show was really interesting with about 80 men sitting around a candle fire providing powerful vocal chants while costumed men and women performed the traditional dance/play. About halfway through the show, the skies opened up and poured rain, and we we were ushered under a covered stage area where the performance continued flawlessly with almost no break. It culminated with the candles being replaced by a real bonfire, set ablaze with lighter fluid than reduced to hot coals. A man then appeared, dancing over the coals and kicking them toward the crowd (thankfully it kind of scared the French people that were annoyingly blinding everyone with their flash photography). Overall, it was a truly stirring performance, and the perfect end to the uniquely Balinese experience that was Ubud.

Posted by colinandleah 08:09 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Snorkeling in Gili Trawangan

(or Colin's "near death" experience)

rain 29 °C

Snorkeling in Gili Trawangan was a pretty amazing experience and better in a lot of ways than most of the coral scuba diving we've done in SE Asia. There is a very strong current, so we walked to the most northern point of the eastern shore, entered the water and swam out about 30 meters, and let the current carry us back to the main beach. We opted to rent the fins along with the mask (25,000 IDR for the set), so that we could swim against the current if necessary; this proved to be very helpful in conserving energy when we needed to swim back against the current to see something we'd missed or view something more closely. 

As we floated along we saw numerous species of fish of all sizes and colors. (Unfortunately, we are not familiar with fish varieties and only recognized swordfish, but suffice it to say we saw a lot.) Perhaps the most striking were medium-sized, multi-fluorescent colored fish, of which Leah saw two. 

We saw numerous schools of fish of various sizes. At one point just after Leah entered the water, a massive school of small fish swam directly at her and for about ten seconds, she was completely encircled in fish. It was like something out of a nature documentary and a really amazing experience.

We also saw seven sea turtles. Gili has a small sea turtle conservation center, which probably explains why there are so many living close to the shore. As we we're observing one particularly large turtle, he decided to surface for a bit of sun. He swam up right next to us and stuck his head out of the water (we did the same). For about a minute, Colin, Leah, and turtle floated together. It was definitely one of the more exciting sea experiences we've had. Colin reached out and touched the turtle's shell, which sent him shooting back down to the sea bottom, but was definitely worth it for Colin to feel this massive, majestical creature. 

After his encounter with the sea turtle, Colin must have been feeling brave, because later on he decided to dive down toward a particularly large fish (perhaps 2 or more feet in length) to get a closer look. This fish was not interested in bonding with Colin, however, and as he approached, she did a full 180 in his direction and shot up toward Colin, teeth glaring. Needless to say, Colin and Leah, who was also nearby, swam away as fast as possible. Later in the day, when we reentered the water for a third time, following the same route along the eastern shore, we saw this same fish again. This time there were other snorkelers nearby and we watched as a young boy dove toward the fish (there wasn't enough time to warn him) and again, the fish responded with intimidation. This is when we saw that there was an identical fish significantly smaller in size, her baby, following her every move closely and carefully. It was remarkable to see how protective she was being of her little one.

Overall, snorkeling at Gili T is safe and well worth the time and money. In addition to fish and turtles, we saw numerous corals, which were just as beautiful.

Posted by colinandleah 06:20 Archived in Indonesia Comments (5)

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