Jungle Trek!

Trip Start Jan 28, 2009
Trip End Sep 05, 2009

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Flag of Indonesia  , Aceh,
Saturday, June 20, 2009

What to say about Bukit Lawang? It's a small villiage in the jungle that was devastated by a flood in 2004 (I think). Now there are less tourists, which is unfortunate because it was such a nice place to go. We booked a jungle trek with a tout in Medan, who also offered free transport to Bukit Lawang and accommodation for one night. He showed us reviews and letters from other people who had taken the trek and it seemed like a good deal. Not so much.

We waited for two hours in Medan outside a broken-down old minibus, before cramming into it alongside maybe 14 other locals. It was a loooong squished hot ride to Bukit Lawang. Not so fun. When we arrived there our 'guide' passed us off to his 'brother' who tried to get us to pay more money in order to do tubing on the way back from our trek. We told him politely that we didn't mind walking back instead of tubing, but he kept pushing it, saying that "but the other two tourists in your group want to tube, so what do I do?? We all need to do the same thing!"  ...Not our problem, man. Not for 10euros each extra. He finally brought down the price to 10euros for two of us and we gave in. (later on we found out that nobody else had paid extra for tubing... SCAMMED!)

The next morning, bright and early we were to start our trek. Our 'guide' was nowhere to be seen and somebody we've never met before came up to us and another tourist we had met the night before, and introduced himself as our guide for the trek. He had with him a Dutch couple and so now it was five of us going off into the jungle.

(We later found out that this happens frequently, a tout will introduce himself as a guide, get you to book your trek through him and then keep half the money and push you off onto a real guide. It's the same amount of money for the tourist, however the guide who's actually doing all the work only gets part of the trek fee instead of the whole amount, as he should.)

Luckily for us, our guide Thomas was fantastic. He was full of energy, jokes and information about the different plant and animal life we saw. We hiked for about 6 hours into the jungle, taking short breaks as we needed them. Thomas provided lots of fruit for snacks, so we never felt hungry (although I often felt tired and out of shape!). About an hour into the trek we saw our first orang-utan! He was a semi-wild one who had successfully been intergrated from the rehabilitaion center at the edge of the National Park. Being used to humans, he came right up to us swinging from branch to branch. It was amazing to see one so close up, their expressions and body movements are surprisingly human. Thomas allowed us all to hand the orang-utan a piece of fruit, so that we could get photos with him. When our fingers touched it was such an amazing feeling! His hands felt like soft leather and he was really gentle taking the fruit from my hand. We stood around for about an hour just watching him, it was facinating. When I took out my water bottle to have a drink, he came back down and reached out for it, he wanted some too! I felt bad but I couldn't give him any, Thomas said it was bad to keep giving him food and stuff.

Further into our trek we got incredibly lucky and came across a family of black gibbons. These ones were completely wild and also kind of aggressive. Thomas and our other guide made us run into a more open area so we wouldn't be attacked. The gibbons chased after us into the clearing and our guides broke off big branches to wave at them so they'd stay back. They moved really quickly, and all of us were kinda stumbling out of the way and hiding behind our guides with the big sticks, it was a bit scary but also exciting! Oli and Thomas were separated from the rest of the group when a gibbon swung down between us, and then the gibbon dropped onto the ground and chased them by foot! It was so funny to see them running from the gibbon, if you've ever seen the movie E.T. they run like that, with their arms in the air. Hilarious.

It got to be a little dangerous, so we ran away into the jungle. When we finally made it to our campsite near the river we were sooo happy and all of us jumped right in to cool off. I've never been so covered in sweat in my life. Our guides prepared us a great meal and we played funny games until bedtime, when we slept under a long tarp side by side.

In the morning, I was the first to wake up and our camp was surrounded by Makak monkeys! They had come down to scavenge our leftover dinners. The guides called them 'cheeky monkeys' because they were always trying to steal food. I sat quietly for awhile near them and they all came down around me, maybe 10-12 close by. Really cute. I was a bit cheeky myself and brought them handfuls of old rice so I could make friends with them, by they still growled at me when I got too close.

After breakfast we had a ridiculously grueling climb back up into the jungle, and then a two hour trek to where our tubes were waiting to take us back to the villiage. On the way we spotted a couple Thomas Leaf monkeys but they were shy of humans so they stayed pretty far away. We also saw ants that were the size of grasshoppers - freaky. Finally we came down to our tubes and had a fun ride back to the village on the river-rapids.

It was a fantastic trek, and we were super lucky to have seen that many different species of monkey. Our guide thomas was great, as were his assistant guides. He has a website www.ThomasJungleTours.com so I hope that any other travelers who are going to Bukit Lawang use him as a guide.
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