Bukit Lawang, Sumatra - Jungle Living / by Mark Boyd

As I sat on the public bus to from Medan airport watching the city streets slowly move by I looked forward to arriving in the Sumatran jungle town of Bukit Lawang.  The streets of Medan were definitely moving slowly.... i checked to see how much of the 83km journey we'd eaten in to.  An hour and a half had almost passed...  Wow, wished I hadn't looked at my iPhone.  We were 6km closer than we were almost 90 minutes ago.... I was wondering how this total journey was going to take over 4 hours.... After a couple of hours the bus did it's typical 'let's f*#k the tourists day up' routine.  We stopped in a narrow little street... Apparently this was the end of the road.  That old story.... Christ.... We both got in the little becac (side car) transport that would then charge us another few quid for a 15 minute journey to where the mini buses depart for Bukit Lawang (BL from now on).  When we arrived a young guy with rotten teeth and a loud voice shouted 500 to BL..... I said, 250 each.... He said 300 each.  We agreed.  The next two hours were slow.  Incredibly slow.... The big bear of a fella in the drivers seat seemed content at 35kmph.  Then when the road became potholed and rough as hell for a 45 minute period he let off the pedal a little more.... Which was necessary.  He needed to focus on his chain smoking.  Suddenly he stopped in the middle of the road, waving an oncoming bus down.  He talked across the open windows of the buses with the other driver, grabbed two cigarettes, lit one up and drove on.

 The little one obviously has a titanium skull.... and a shark balloon to protect her.

The little one obviously has a titanium skull.... and a shark balloon to protect her.

 The local form of short hops across and around town.....

The local form of short hops across and around town.....

 What happens if you don't keep smoking whilst you drive in Indonesia..... Dangerous!

What happens if you don't keep smoking whilst you drive in Indonesia..... Dangerous!

 I think these are all full of cigarettes..... He's a Sumatran cigarette smuggler for sure!

I think these are all full of cigarettes..... He's a Sumatran cigarette smuggler for sure!

So four hours later we arrived.  Immediately the local 'guides' were on us.  It was evening.... Matheus and I were hungry.  We ate song great food in the first Warung we came to.  Then one of the local 'guides' guided us to where I would be staying, Ecotravel Cottages.  Matheus would continue a few minutes up the path.  Now this was more like it.  What a great spot.

 The 'Mosquito' breakfast..... Massive!  There was also a piece of homemade bread and fresh watermelon juice.... A great way to start the day!!!  Not to mention the coffee and tea!

The 'Mosquito' breakfast..... Massive!  There was also a piece of homemade bread and fresh watermelon juice.... A great way to start the day!!!  Not to mention the coffee and tea!

The following morning I joined an older German couple on a short jungle walk.  It was short, but duration wise it was around 3.5 hours.  The lovely lady had a serious knee problem so was struggling with the terrain.  I walked behind her to ensure I didn't disappear off ahead in to the distance.

 The first of the 'tans.... Orange, hairy and photogenic.

The first of the 'tans.... Orange, hairy and photogenic.

Adi warned us to maintain a good distance.  The orangutans can be aggressive.  Over the years people fed them.  Now they expect food.  One is well known for hiding out and ambushing tourists, grabbing their bags and heading off.  These guys and ladies are big and powerful.  Remember 10 times as powerful as a human.  You don't wrestle orangutans.

 Smell my finger.... Adi shares some jungle knowledge.

Smell my finger.... Adi shares some jungle knowledge.

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 'If I write the names of the animals on the palm of my hand life is much easier'  Ha ha ha ha ha!!

'If I write the names of the animals on the palm of my hand life is much easier'  Ha ha ha ha ha!!

 High & Low....

High & Low....

 Watching....

Watching....

 Orange Jungle Apes....

Orange Jungle Apes....

 Adi demontrates what the orangutans do when it rains....

Adi demontrates what the orangutans do when it rains....

 Jungle peacock... hen?  Damn, should have written it on my hand...

Jungle peacock... hen?  Damn, should have written it on my hand...

 Jungle lunch..... Rice, veg and chicken with fruit salad for dessert.

Jungle lunch..... Rice, veg and chicken with fruit salad for dessert.

 Steep!!!

Steep!!!

 The Jungle Stompers come in to their own once again.

The Jungle Stompers come in to their own once again.

The following day a larger group consisting of 7 or 8 of us headed out on a two day jungle trek.  One night would be spent at a camp on the river.  The terrain was challenging to say the least.  The weather was humid, and people were struggling.  I was fine, but I'm a nimble footed creature with a modicum of average fitness.... The rest were not.

Late afternoon we arrived at jungle camp.  We dipped in the river to cool down.  Enjoyed a stream cooled Bintang beer and watched the big monitor lizards move up and down the river at various times up to the hours of darkness.....

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 Bintangs.....

Bintangs.....

 Big monitor!

Big monitor!

 Swimming monitor!  Far faster in water than on land!

Swimming monitor!  Far faster in water than on land!

 'Hello there, I'm a monitor lizard, and I'm pretty tall too I'll have you know!'

'Hello there, I'm a monitor lizard, and I'm pretty tall too I'll have you know!'

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 Jungle fruit salad prepared by the jungle cook.

Jungle fruit salad prepared by the jungle cook.

Dinner that night was jungle banquet, the jungle cook was legendary!  Tremendous talent with limited facilities and utensils.  He really did rustle up a feast.  That night we watched the fireflies dance on the far side of the river..... Then the rain came.  

The following morning we walked upstream to a very average waterfall.  But on the way to said gravity compliant flow Adi spotted this very 'un'average moth.... It was something 'lamp'.  Let's call it a 'Yellow Lamp Horn', sounds perfect.  Just did a little research... It's a Lantern Fly, over 60 species in South East Asia.  It's not a real lantern, it doesn't emit light.  There you go.

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When everyone was enjoying the waterfall I walked back down to where Adi had spotted the moths and spent a few minutes getting some lovely photographs.  They were stunning.

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 Pig tailed macaque yawning.... He could do with a pair of undies.

Pig tailed macaque yawning.... He could do with a pair of undies.

 Jungle cooks....

Jungle cooks....

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 The pig tailed macaque loved the simplicity of 'knock knock' jokes.....

The pig tailed macaque loved the simplicity of 'knock knock' jokes.....

 Pretty spider...... Built this web himself..... That's what he says anyway....

Pretty spider...... Built this web himself..... That's what he says anyway....

Just after a light lunch the guys strapped together a few inner tubes to construct a couple of makeshift inner tube rafts..... The next 20 minutes were spent floating down river, dips, turns and rapids.  Our arses were sat in the holes of the rings, so by the time we reached Ecotravel Cottages my balls were sparkling and my colon was irrigated.... Quite the experience!  That night I slept like a baby.

 Big Benji and his lovely lady get wedged into the rubber river rider!

Big Benji and his lovely lady get wedged into the rubber river rider!

 Lime ant.... tastes of lime he said as he popped it in to his mouth .... Maybe good in a G&T.... It could stir it at the same time.....

Lime ant.... tastes of lime he said as he popped it in to his mouth .... Maybe good in a G&T.... It could stir it at the same time.....

 Black Jungle Panther..... Elusive.... Dangerous.... Comfortable.

Black Jungle Panther..... Elusive.... Dangerous.... Comfortable.

When I arrived back in my room a wild black panther had made itself at home on my bed..... How the hell he got in I do not know.... But he seemed comfortable.... So I let him rest.  I wandered down the little street to my favourite eatery, Lawang Cafe (I think it was 'cafe'... But it was definitely my favourite.) the lady here made the best pumpkin and potato rendang (Indonesian curry) anywhere in all of Indonesia... Amazing.  On my way back up in the darkness a sign on the side of the path caught my eye.... It seemed I'd almost had a guesthouse her in Bukit Lawang named after me!  It was just missing the 'D' at the end!

This was another little orang encounter..... The iPhone pano distorted somethings but it captures the event quite well..... These orange apes are definitely more used to human encounters on a daily basis, unlike the one that we tracked down in the jungle of Borneo.  Many of these orangutans have been reintroduced, fed and nurtured to where they are today.  This area is now protected and has been for some time.  Ecotravel Cottages do not allow anyone to tempt any animals closer by offering food, this only encourages bad habits along with human and animal conflict.  Sadly some of the other tour companies still use this strategy....

Here are a few more orange ape shots to close this post down....

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Tomorrow we go to an elephant sanctuary where they do not exploit the pachyderms to within an inch of their lives.  They do work them, but in the same way we've worked cattle and horses for hundreds of years.  Some of the guests will enjoy an elephant ride through the jungle, some will enjoy washing them.... Which will no doubt be like washing a truck with it's handbrake off... but worse....

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As he rested his chin on the stick the pig tailed macaque pondered on how he could 'unsee' what he'd just encountered around the back of the tree...... Scarred for life...... Click below....

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