12.03.2012 - 14.03.2012 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.
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.