Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bukit Lawang, Indonesia

We made it to Medan from Banda Aceh without any problems. It was a fairly smooth ride. I wish all my bus rides in Indonesia went as well as this one did. We found out that the bus station we were dropped off at didn't provide connecting buses to Bukit Lawang, but that there was another bus station, a few miles away, that could take us there. Why our bus couldn't have just dropped us off at the other station is beyond me? Just like every other city in southeast Asia, I guess, it is a way to create local jobs. Of course, the taxi services knew this, and were all waiting for us outside of our bus when we exited.

As I was being surrounded by annoying men trying to get us to take a taxi, I noticed Scott, an English fellow that I'd met in Pulau Weh, in the bus terminal walking in the opposite direction.

"Scott!" I yelled loudly, trying to get his attention. He kept walking.

"Hey, Scott! Scott!" I repeated. He finally turned around after calling his name ten times.

He approached me and Ian with a surprised look on his face. "Hey, fellas," said Scott, "I thought to myself, surely that couldn't be someone calling my name." We all laughed, as it was funny running into each other here after spending nearly a week together at Pulau Weh. "Have you seen Kirsty?" Scott asked. "She's right over there; I'll get here and come right back."

Scott and Kirsty were traveling to Bukit Lawang as well, so we all decided to walk together to the other bus station. First we needed to find an Internet cafe, as Ian lost his cell phone and needed to notify his cell phone provider. And not too long afterwards, Scott and Kirsty realized that they needed to find an ATM before they left for Bukit Lawang. So we would briefly split up before meeting up again at the bus station, later. However, Ian and I had been unsuccessful finding an Internet cafe and Ian really didn't want to go to Bukit Lawang until he found one. So he decided to search again on his bicycle, taking a later bus to Bukit Lawang. And off Scott, Kirsty and I went--so we thought. The bus didn't go but two blocks before stopping again. You see, in Indonesia, the buses don't leave until they are filled to capacity. It doesn't matter what time your bus is suppose to depart, if the bus isn't full, don't plan on leaving any time soon. It doesn't matter how seasoned of a traveler you are, sitting in a bus with no air con, under a blazing sun when you were supposed to have left over an hour ago, will make anyone snap. Oh, and I forgot the blaring karaoke Indonesian music that was being played, which, Scott finally had enough of, and walked to the front of the bus and turned the music down. Nice.

In the bus on the way there I met--just like my guidebook said I would--a guide. He told me he would bring me to the cheapest hotel. So after we made it to Bukit Lawang, I parted ways with Scott and Kirsty and had the guide show me to the hotel. What I liked about the guide was that he didn't pressure me to make any decisions. I'm glad I went with him too because he brought me to the cheapest hotel, called Bukit Lawang Indah. It had a nice open restaurant with a view of the village across the river. After I settled in I scheduled a one day jungle trek with the guide, Sinar Sipayung, for Ian and I the next morning. I was anxious to see some orangutans after failing to see any in Ketambe.

Orangutans can only be found now in Sumatra and Borneo. The orangutans existence continues to be threatened due to logging and agriculture, which reduces their habitat. Bukit Lawang has established a rehabilitation center for orangutans to assist them rejust to the wild. And after they have trained the orangutans how to survive in the wild, they let them back into the jungle. So when you go on a jungle trek in Bukit Lawang there's a good chance that you will see orangutans; however, it's more likely you'll see the semi-wild orangutans that have been released back into the wild after rehabilitation.

We left at 8 a.m. for the jungle trek. Our guide, Sinar, also had an assistant guide come with us. His job was mainly to carry our lunch, which Ian and I thought was a bit odd. However, we would soon find out why our guide didn't want to carry the food. Within thirty minutes of entering the jungle we encountered our first orangutan. It was a semi-wild one, who loved attention. It slowly swung its way down from the trees towards us. It's amazing how strong orangutans are. They move so effortlessly, while hanging onto tree branches with one arm. The orangutan, now close to us, hung in the trees allowing Ian and I to take some close photographs of it.

We probably saw about four or five orangutans during the jungle trek. One of which, however, gave all of us a bit of a scare. Sinar told us about a particular orangutan whose known to be a bit vicious, named Mina. Apparently Mina has a nose for smelling food, i.e. the lunch that guides carry in their backpacks. And what Mina wants, she gets. After our guide briefed us about Mina, Ian and I weren't too enthused about the possibility of seeing her.

"Wouldn't it be sensible to eat our food now, no?" Ian commented.

"Don't worry. Don' worry," our guide said.

"Well, I reckon it would be more practical to eat now, so if we did see Mina, we wouldn't have to worry about her wanting our food," Ian responded.

"You're fine, you're fine. Don't worry, don't worry," our guide repeated.

"No? Okaaay," Ian said with a skeptical tone in his voice.

And as luck had it, we saw Mina within the next hour. "Oh, there is Mina," our guide said, "You very lucky!" As one could imagine, I didn't feel too lucky. Mina was further down the trail, high in the trees.

"Let's go! Let's go!" our guide said enthusiastically. Sometimes I felt that our guide was more excited to see the orangutans than we were.

"It would be quite dangerous to approach Mina any closer, no?" Ian said, with a cautious tone in his voice again, looking at me as if to say, 'this is crazy, right?'

"Not dangerous. Let's go! Let's go!" said our guide, giggling.

And as we walked further down the trail Mina began to approach us, descending from the trees. Nervous, I quickly turned around and began walking in the opposite direction.

"Wait, wait!" our guide shouted to me, as Mina stopped her descent. "Come back, come back!"

Observing that Mina had indeed in fact stopped her descent, I slowly crept my way back to our guide, who, at this point, was standing directly underneath the ape. Mina was hanging above us in the trees, no higher than 15 feet. And she was a large ape, too. She also had a minny Mina clinging on to her. Apparently, Mina had recently became a mother. After taking some photos, we decided to continue on with the trek. Bye-bye, Mina--so we thought.

After about 5 minutes we decided to take a break. However, we noticed that Mina was still in sight, heading in our direction. Earlier in the day, our guide told us how it is very dangerous if an orangutan descends from the trees to the ground. This, obviously, was in the back of my mind as Mina slowly swung in our direction, getting closer...and closer...and closer...and...

That's right, Mina touched the ground.

"Okay, go now," said Sinar. Even our guides were looking a bit nervous now.

Zoom! And I was outta there! Our guide, Sinar, stayed back to distract her as we all bolted further up the trail. After we stopped to catch our breath for a second, I noticed that Sinar was still MIA Ian and the other guide continued trekking as I waited for Sinar. Within a minute, Sinar came around the corner moving rather quickly, and being tailed by Mina! It was a horrifying moment for me to see Mina on all fours chasing Sinar.

"Oh, shit!" I yelled, and took off--again.

It didn't take me long to catch up with Ian and the other guide. "She's coming!" I hollered, "She's still coming!" Ian and the guide's eyes lid up, and quickly scrambled to start climbing. At this juncture, our trail had turned into a steep incline, so we weren't exactly trekking anymore--it was a bit more like rock climbing.

Once we made it to the top, where the trail was level again, we were greeted by another orangutan who was near the ground! There were some other trekkers standing by taking pictures, too. After I told them what had just happened, Mina became visible again, swinging up the trees in our direction.

"She's baaack," I said, as everyone began to slowly retreat. Once Mina touched the ground again, the other orangutan headed for the hills, as she didn't want anything to do with Mina either.

And nor did I.

Zoom! I began sprinting down the trail again. This was getting to be a bit absurd. I proceeded to yell to our guides to follow suit. For some reason, however, they kept staying behind, as if they were trying to convey a message to Mina that we meant her no harm. All Mina cared about was the food, obviously! Duh! After a short lasted standoff with Mina, the guides retreated and joined me and Ian.

After we felt that we lost her, we made it to the river where we ate our lunch--finally. It was a quite scenic area too, with lush vegetation. There was also a pleasant little waterfall which I happily used to rinse off. After our delicious lunch, which consisted of egg, fried rice, and loads of fresh fruit we continued our trek. We would make it back to our hotel in one piece, thankfully. Just remember: if you decide to trek the jungle in Bukit Lawang and come across Mina, I'd suggest you do what the other orangutan did on our trek and run for the hills. Do what the locals do, right?

On New Years Eve, Ian and I met up with Scott and Kirsty. After a late dinner together we went back to their bungalow, where I enjoyed good conversations, music, and alcohol--all while swinging from their hammock on the balcony. Real nice. Afterwards we went to a New Years Eve party that came highly recommended. When we first arrived there wasn't many people there, but soon after, it was quickly flooded with Indonesians.

If anyone would have told me last year that I would be spending the last seconds of 2009 in a jungle in Indonesia, I probably would have thought that they were crazy. But there I was, counting down the last seconds of 2009 with loads of Indonesians and with my new English friends. Good times.

"...Cause I've got a golden ticket." When we entered the party everyone was granted a raffle ticket which would be called after the new year. Scott happened to have the golden ticket. His prize? Bags upon bags of noodles! We laughed for hours after that. Oh, man, bags of noodles. Ha. Only in Indonesia.

The next day Ian decided that he would ride his bicycle to Berastagi before traveling to Medan, where he would take a ferry to Malaysia. I really enjoyed my travels with Ian. I couldn't have asked for a better traveling partner. Hopefully I'll see him on the trail again.
As for me, my plan was to travel to Medan where I would attempt to CouchSurf again. After my bad experience in Bangkok, I thought I'd give it another shot and hope for the best. Don't let me down Medan!

Next stop: Medan, Indonesia

1 comment:

  1. Hello
    I'm french, and I will be in Bukit Lawang in october
    I'm looking for a guide for jungle trekking
    Your guide, Sinar, seems to be a good guide !
    Do you still have a phone number, or an email of Sinar ?
    thank you for your help