Jungle Hunt for Rafflesia

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Hotel Asia

Flag of Indonesia  , Sumatra,
Monday, April 26, 2010

    One of the tourist draws of this area is a particular flower.  Sounds strange, I know, but the Raflessia flower is quite special.  It has the largest single flower of any flowering plant in the world, growing up to a meter (3 feet) in diameter.  It grows from a parasitic vine and is often called the corpse flower because, when it blooms, it emits a horrid smell of rotting flesh to attract insects, which fall into its nectar and then spread its pollen.  It only blooms, however, 7 days out of 18 months, so you have to be quite lucky to catch it during that brief time.  We weren't able to see the flower in bloom, but we did get to see a large bud.  It was a bit anti-climactic after the trouble we went through to reach it, but it's pretty funny to look back on, and considering how rare it is, it's quite exceptional that we saw it at all.

    We had just ridden a motorbike into a national park when a guide rode up next to us and said he knew where one of the buds were if we wanted him to take us to see it.  We agreed, parked our bikes in a nearby village, and then began our hike into the dense, equatorial jungle.  It started off with a narrow trail hugging the mountainside, but that soon all but disappeared.  Dane had to crouch down to nearly a crawl to maneuver under the tree branches.  It rains constantly here, so the ground was a muddy, slippery mess.  We had to rock hop across streams, not always successfully, and finally, several miles later, scramble up the slope of a mountain as our guide hacked away at some foliage so we could get a glimpse of this bud, which greatly resembles a head of cabbage.

    Upon our return to the village, we were dripping with sweat, covered in dirt, caked with mud from the knees down, and - best of all - infested with leeches.  This is obviously a regular occurrence because our guide's response to our reaction of horror was - "Oh, if I had known you didn't want leeches, I would have told you not to go."  Who wants leeches?  But it actually wasn't so bad.  I was afraid pulling them off would hurt, but it was really no biggie.  I had 3 of them.  Dane had 1, but his was massively engorged. The crazy thing is to see how they change in size.  They start out so tiny, only about the width of angel-hair pasta, but after sucking on us for a while, they were about the size of a thumb nail.  Crazy!  Our guide said they wouldn't have to feed again for another 6 months.  So glad I could help.  The other weird thing is how long we continued to bleed afterward.  The wound was only a tiny little red dot, but it oozed blood for hours because the leeches inject the site with an anti-coagulant to help ease the flow of blood.  It works.

     Two days later, and my leech wounds have healed, but my hiking boots have yet to dry out.  I expect they'll never quite be the same again, but they did keep me from falling off the face of a soggy mountain, so I'm content.

     After we re-emerged from the jungle, our guide took us to a local villager's house to sample Kopi Luwak, a rare and exotic coffee produced in Sumatra and exported around the world.  Kopi Luwak translates to "Civet Coffee."  The coffee beans are collected from the droppings of the wild civet cat wandering the jungle.  Yes, I mean it's poo.  Apparently, some digestive enzymes it possesses adds to the flavor of the coffee.  I couldn't really taste anything special, but it is considered gourmet and is the most expensive coffee in the world, and rightfully so considering the effort they have to go through to collect and process the beans.  We got a great deal on our cup, but it wasn't something I wanted to stock up on.

     So there you have it.  Leeches and poo coffee.

Here's an HD video of our guide killing Dane's leech.  (We didn't want to kill it, but we were already back in the village and couldn't just let it lose on the lady's porch.)

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