Out in the Jungle with the Orang-utangs, Bukit Lawang, Sumatra
It was time for the highlight of the Sumatrian experience, a trip to see the Orang-utans in the jungle. After disembarking off the ferry from Malaysia we spent the night in Medan in a run-down hostel. If the the amplified singing of the five mosques in the vicinity was not enough to keep us awake all up all night, the fear of rats dropping through the large hole in the bathroom ceiling would have been. The next day after running the gauntlet of touts informing us that all buses to Bukit Lawag had been cancelled and that we should buy a tour with them, we finally boarded the bone aching, body rattling. smoke belching local bus. Being the only tourists on the bus and therefore an obvious mark, it wasn’t long before a well dressed, young, English speaking young man squeezed his body into a space on the back row next to us. Pushing our hands into our pockets further and keeping an eye the luggage which was precariously perched on a pile of sacks we eyed him warily. His name was Anton and he was going home to see family he informed us. What an amazing coincidence we all agreed – him earnestly and us skeptically. The books warn you about this kind of ploy but he was nice enough and when we got off our destination he showed us a decent place to stay.
Bukit Lawang is built along the river and some years ago the village suffered a major tragedy when it lost many members of its community and a lot of buildings in a flash flood. Some of the survivors told us that it was the will of God as they had become greedy and were exploiting the animals and tourists alike and they had changed their ways.
Access to the national park is obtained by crossing the river in a boat. No one is allowed to walk around on their own and one has to hire a qaulified ranger. There are several options, a half day, one day or two day tour. We opted for the one day tour and believe me that was enough. We started early in the morning by visiting the feeding station at the rehabilitation centre where they put out a bland diet of food in order to encourage the animals to forage for other food by themselves. Branches that bent in half with the weight of the animals announced their arrival.
After a while we headed out into the hot, steamy, sweaty jungle. Treking up and down steep hills, scrambling over and under tree roots, going where no path appeared to be and all the while looking for the elusive Orang-utang.
After about 2 hours in the wilting heat we stumbled across some juvenilles (read ‘kidnapped by an Orang-utang’ in my stories section for a taste of a close encounter) who were hanging out in the trees and watching us with interest.
Plenty of water breaks were needed and a spot of lunch a la forest floor wsa thrown in.
At 4 in the afternoon we stumbled back out of the wilderness and headed for the nearest bar to watch the locals raft down the river in inner tubes. Considering our state a wash in the river seemed like a good idea but we couln’t be bothered to move and enjoyed the experience second hand.
I can honestly say that it was the best thing that I have ever done in terms of sightseeing.
It was worth all the hard work.