Trip Start Sep 02, 2010
Trip End Jun 10, 2011

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Flag of Indonesia  , North Sumatra,
Thursday, January 20, 2011

After saying goodbye to my parents in Ubud, we flew back to Malaysia for a 1 day layover before flying to Sumatra.  We flew into the large city of Medan, which was nothing like anything we had seen before (except on National Geographic).   The city was extremely run down, dirty, noisy, busy, old buses, tuk tuks, motorbikes, taxis, and pedestrians filled the streets.  The traffic was terrible and the pollution was even worse.   We arranged for a car and driver ahead of time so we could get out of the city as quickly as possible.  Our destination was the small village of Bukit Lawang, about 3 hours outside of Medan.   While driving through the city, it was quickly apparent that this was going to be much different experience than Bali (even though it was still Indonesia).  We were also riding along with a British woman who owns the guest house we would be staying at in Bukit Lawang.  She spoke Indonesian and was able to give us some insight to what people were saying.  During our slow drive in the city traffic, people where staring at us saying “look, white people” as they pointed.  Sumatra does not get as many tourists and is not as ethnically diverse as other areas in Southeast Asia,  So seeing white people is still an uncommon event for many people here.  

 The drive to Bukit Lawang was also an experience.  The main road was filled with potholes and only a little wider than a single lane road.  Drivers use the whole road even if there is oncoming traffic.  We were passing busses and dump trucks while speeding strait into oncoming traffic.  A constant game of chicken that we were just happy to have survived.   After a few hours we made it to Bukit Lawang.  There was the Friday market going on and the stinky smell of rubber filled the air.  The rubber is only sold during the Friday market after being harvested from the rubber trees. We were happy that smell was only temporary.  

 At the end of the road we put on our backpacks and walked 15 minutes up river into the jungle.  Our guesthouse was just across the river from Gunung Leuser National Park.  We were about as far from the city as we could get now, right in the middle of the jungle.  Our bungalow was perched on the side of a cliff with a hammock on the deck and great views of the river and National park directly in front of us.  Our deck was also home to bees the size of hummingbirds (seriously). Our bathroom had a western style toilet but no running water.  You had to poor water in from a bucket to flush it.   The shower water came directly from the waterfall behind our bungalow and flowed into the bathroom through a bamboo tube.  It was definitely jungle style lodging but at 17 dollars a night it was as good as it gets that close to the national park.   
We were told to keep our eyes out across the river because you never know what you’ll see.  Sure enough, fifteen minutes after arriving a giant 6 foot long lizard (Monitor Lizard) came crawling out of the river.  Don’t see that every day!!  Except if you’re in Sumatra because we saw it again the next day!  The national park is best known for being one of the last places on earth where Orangutans live in the wild.   The National Park is also home to the Sumatran Rhino, Tiger, Leopard, and Elephants, although it is extremely rare to spot one.  

 On the morning of our second day I was looking across the river and spotted an Orangutan just hanging out in the tree. It was climbing the giant trees and feeding on the fruit at the top.  Soon it was joined by another Orangutan.  They both ended up building their beds/nests for the night directly across from our deck.  

 The next morning we were woken up by smaller monkeys playing on our deck.  One had found a banana peel left over from the day before.  This ended up being a daily event of monkeys climbing in the trees around our deck.    

 Just a short walk up the river was an Orangutan sanctuary where captive Orangutans are reintroduced into the wild.  They still get supplemental food from park rangers until they are self reliant.  We purchased a permit to view the morning feeding in the jungle.  We had to cross the river in an old wooden canoe that also had a sizable leak.   The boat was connected by a pulley system to shuttle us across the river.  We then hiked up a muddy path into the jungle.  About this time Dana freaks after noticing a leech attached to her skin.  She quickly turns  and wipes it off on me!  Thanks!  When we arrived to the feeding area, a slap of a stick by the ranger was enough to call in two Orangutans, both with small babies.    We watched the babies practice their climbing skills while staying close to mom.  It was a great experience.   

 Later in the day we went into the village to find some food.  We were surrounded by kids wanting to practice their English with us.  There were more people in town that day because it was Sunday.  Many people come from the city of Medan to relax and have some fun in Bukit Lawang.  The people are all very friendly.  Their faces seem to light up when they see us foreigners in their village.  A few younger women were literally bouncing and screaming with excitement just to shake our hands and get a picture of us.   Dana was somewhat of a celebrity because of her light skin and blue eyes.  People from Medan and Bukit Lawang all wanted their picture with her because she looked so different.   Light skin is considered more beautiful by many Indonesians and some ladies use white make-up to lighten their skin.   

 Oh…and the food!  The food is so delicious and cheap.  A large dinner for two people is only 2 to 3 dollars.  Dana fell in love with the pancakes made with coconut milk especially for her.   Our comfort level for restaurant sanitation has definitely changed here.  Our favorite restaurant is run by Mudi, a very friendly 27 year old woman.   Her restaurant sits right over the river in the village.  While sitting and waiting for our food, we observed how the river is used for everything.  Just below the restaurant deck, the locals were using the fast moving river to wash clothes, bathe, brush their teeth, wash and clean the restaurant chicken, and oh yes, clean the restaurant dishes we would be eating off of in another minute.  We would never eat the food if we saw this happen in the USA, however, here it was somehow OK because the food tasted so good and we hadn’t gotten sick yet.  

 During our last few day’s in Bukit Lawang we hiked to some bat caves (with giant Flying Foxes buzzing by our heads), saw more Orangutans, tried not to get attacked by monkeys while carrying bananas back to our bungalow, lounged in the hammock and just relaxed.  Well, relaxed until a snake fell from a tree onto our deck and a huge spider pooped on Dana while she was in the hammock!  

 Next on the itinerary is a short stop in Malaysia and then on to Cambodia (where we will meet up with my parents again), Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, ext., ext.,….
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LeeLina on

i want to see the huge spider that pooped on Dana!

Tracie on

Amazing! What an experience!

Pat Richardson on

What an adventure!!!! Beautiful scenery and what a fantastic opportunity to really see the world.

Nancy on

I lived in Medan as a young girl and have many fond memories of this city and its people. I am sad to hear it is dirty and polluted now. The country side is beautiful, I especially loved the Brastagi area.

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