Orangutans :)

Trip Start Mar 30, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Indra Inn

Flag of Indonesia  , North Sumatra,
Thursday, May 19, 2011

We waved goodbye to Mizi our new found friend from Banda Aceh and headed south again back to our nemesis, Medan! After a rather uneventful but surprisingly refreshing 12 hour bus journey we arrived into Pining Baris bus terminal in Medan. We braced ourselves for whatever Medan could throw at us, grabbed our bags and headed off to find the bus to Bukit Lawang, the home of jungles and orangutans.

 After a bit of searching we found the stop that the Bukit Lawang bus left from, with a sign with the bus times on, going every half hour. Thinking that this was all a bit too easy for Medan, we approached the counter to find a guy lying on some benches. We asked for the bus and got back "no big bus, big bus finished, minibus". We pointed at the schedule trying to explain that there is meant to be a bus and that there is a bus parked up with Bukit Lawang written on the side. Still no local bus he explained that it was a holiday, that the schools had broken up. We explained that we had seen kids this morning going to school in their uniforms! Still no bus! Very frustrated we decided to find a minibus and see how much they were charging this time around. 100,000rp, unbelievable, it's like we were destined to never see orangutans. We were told to walk 1km to a bakery where the minibuses go from. On the way we saw the local bus to Bukit Lawang head for the bus terminal, lied to again, oh well! Andy thought he knew the way but didn’t, so after a bit we realized we weren’t sure where we were going, we stopped to ask directions. Tat asked a man on a motorbike with a police sticker on. Turns out we had met our saviours, the nicest people in Medan!

They were the Suzuki Thunder Independent Club Medan, a 12 strong Suzuki motorcycle gang on their way to Bukit Lawang to celebrate their clubs third year anniversary. The leader Erphan told us we could get a ride to Bukit Lawang in their friend’s car. So we set off in a luxury 4x4 with leather seats and AC following a convoy of 7 bikes. We had somehow landed on our feet again. We chatted to Erphan on the way to Bukit Lawang who had kindly gone in the car to keep us company. It turns they were only there for the one night and were having a bit of a party, so we agreed to join them. Arriving in Bukit Lawang we sat with the guys for a bit while some of them scouted for rooms, until the need for breakfast took over, so we agreed to find them later.

We ate at a warung called Yusris. The food was excellent, probably the best yet and definitely the cheapest and the owner is really nice with the most infectious grin we have ever seen. We have eaten at his place for pretty much our entire stay in Bukit Lawang. Once we were sufficiently filled we set off on the hunt for a room (not hard as there are more guides than tourists, waiting to help you organize trekking and rooms). A small guy with a passing resemblance to Rambo called Ambri greeted us and told us about a place that had rooms for 50,000rp a night, Indra guesthouse. To get to the place we had to cross the river on the 'monkey bridge’, a very unstable looking wooden bridge with sporadic bamboo poles for handrails, that gets smaller and lower towards the middle, forcing you to duck, shuffle and grab blindly for support. After a tense couple of minutes we made it across with our bags to the hostel. The room is clean and big, perfect for us. We showered and went to the restaurant for coffee and met Ambri who showed us photos of jungle treks he had done. We chatted and quizzed him for a while and decided he seemed a good guide to go with so signed up for a 1 day trek for 300,000rp each (about £25, the price is fixed across Bukit Lawang) for the following day. After gathering supplies - batteries and loo roll, we head out on the hunt for cheap local alcohol. After being in Aceh, a dry state, we deserved it! We met Robbie, again another Sumatran Rambo look-a-like, who took us to a small bamboo hut on the waters edge to watch live music in a hotel over the river and drink jungle juice. Jungle juice is a palm sugar wine, it’s a very strange taste and is cloudy, and tastes fizzy although there are no bubbles. In small quantities it’s meant to be very good for the kidneys! So for the next couple of hours we drank a jug of jungle juice and marveled at a talkative Sumatran toddler who had an incredible amount of words for someone so young.

With one jug gone we decided to pick up some more jungle juice to take away in a plastic bag and go find our new found friends, The Suzuki Thunder Independent Club. Thinking a group of 12 guys in identical shirts with a sound system wouldn’t be hard to find we set off. We were wrong! After a while we bumped into Ambri our jungle guide, we explained our predicament and in good small town spirits he knew exactly where they were staying and led the way through a dark labyrinth of paths until we came to a house on the rocks. The boys from the bike club were all inside and we passed a few hours eating cookies, drinking palm wine and watching a few of them entertain everyone else with magic tricks and hypnosis. Very fun! We said sad goodbyes early, as we had to get up early the next day.
That night Andy got sick with a stomach bug and got barely any sleep at all, so we weren’t sure if we could go ahead with the trek. After an hour of coffee and food he decided to dose up on loparimide and we were off to the jungle! It was fairly hard going for the first half an hour or so as it had rained solidly all the night before so it was quite slippery climbing over trees and up steep steps made naturally by the jungle. Ambri pointed out various plants and we climbed a redwood as high as we dared! We were really excited to see orangutans and every crash in the trees above us had us stop dead in our tracks, looking up at the canopy above, happy if we could just catch a glimpse of one. After about an hour, another guide came towards us and told us there was an orangutan in the next clearing. Excitedly we headed in the direction he told us too and as the jungle opened up we were face to face with an orangutan! She was so close, sometimes less than a meter away. Apparently she is known to the guides as she loves to pose for photos! Grasping onto her vast orange belly was a tiny baby. Orangutans stay with their mother for around 6 years and this mother had 2 of them playing together in the tree tops. This was the start of a very productive day of orangutan spotting, in about 3 hours we saw at least 7 different orangutans, some of them more than once as they went hunting for fruit. Along the way we chatted with the guides, played with giant ants and swung on vines (otherwise known as Tarzan transportation in Sumatra!)We had regular breaks sitting down on vast tree roots to munch on fruit brought along by our guides. We had oranges, mini bananas and the most delicious passionfruits ever tasted! On one of these breaks we were eating fruit and chatting with the guides when all of a sudden we heard a rustling quite close to us. The guides shot to their feet and looked around, it was a big mother orangutan and 2 babies. They had smelt our fruit and fancied joining us. They were enormous, the guides started to move everyone back. As we moved back a guide grabbed hold of Andy and brought him back up, he had forgotten the backpack and the orangutan was moving in close. The backpack was saved while the other guides coaxed the orangutans away by throwing fruit into the jungle. As we moved off we started to ask the guides whether they were dangerous, he said they can be but they were just after our fruits. As we continued the guides mentioned Meena, the most aggressive orangutan in the area who has attacked guides and tourists alike. Just our luck as we rounded the next section of the trek Meena came into view. There was definitely more urgency this time. One guide told us to run in the other direction, back the way we came, about 50 meters. while the other tried to distract Meena with coconuts. As Meena ate we slipped around the back, taking a few pictures before the guide informed us that as soon as she had finished eating she would follow us. It definitely got the heart racing. We stopped for lunch which was nasi goring (fried rice) eaten out of a banana leaf with your hand followed by pineapple. Just as dinner was finished the heavens opened, this stopped any chance of seeing anymore orangutans but we had seen much more than we had imagined. The rain was unbelievable, the trek back to the guesthouse was hard, wet work that required our full concentration to try not to slip and land in puddles of leeches. We finally made it back to the guesthouse exhausted and dripping wet but unbelievably excited, we had just seen wild orangutans!

The next day was spent relaxing and moaning about our sore and stiff bodies, muscles were aching that we never knew existed. That night we had agreed to go to a traditional dance and buffet at Yusris café. 30,000rp and it was all you can eat and 4 girls about 9-11 did a traditional dance show for us. The girls were all dressed up in traditional costumes and did dances to Malay, Batak and Achanese songs. They danced for about an hour we had no idea how they could remember so many dance moves. Near to the end they obviously got control of the music to dance too as traditional dances were mixed with Shakira and Justin Bieber! As always with Yusris they were the perfect hosts with the most amazing array of food. They even delayed the buffet so we could get there as we were trapped on the other side of the river as a huge storm passed overhead, making it too dangerous to cross the metal bridges. At the end of the dancing the girls came over and invited us all up to join them in a dance, Tat was too full but Andy got up and gave it his best shot, shuffling and twirling along with the girls. Looked strange though as Andy was at least twice the size of the girls!

The next day was to be our last so we looked around the town a bit and relaxed with a few of the guides and helpers at our guesthouse. The day and night passed too quickly, we sat and listened as the guys at the hostel  passed around a guitar and bongos, breaking into spontaneous song, both Sumatran and Western. The guys were all very nice and talkative. One of the more interesting theories we leearnt that night was why the majority of English people seem to have bad eyes and need glasses and Sumatrans don’t. The idea being basically when we are in England and we are waiting for anything, like public transport, we don’t talk or be nice to anyone near us. We just ignore them and stare ahead. Whereas Sumatrans all talk and move their eyes to make contact and look all around them for more people to talk too and so their eyes get more exercise and work properly! A very interesting and unique take on the problems of losing your sight in England!

The last day in Sumatra we went for our farewell breakfast at yusris and swapped contact details, they very kindly gave us breakfast for free as long as we mentioned them on here! So everyone if you go to Bukit Lawang, GO TO YUSRIS CAFÉ!

Then it was back to Medan by a very cramped minibus before a becak across the city to the airport and a flight back to Thailand. Thailand will seem so easy compared to Sumatra, back to our second home!

It felt good to be back. We hit Bangkok for a night after deciding it would be easier to do that than to try get to Kanchanaburi that day.  Jenny who we had met in Chiang Mai and spent a lot of time with in Pai was going to be in Bangkok the following morning so we gave her world  class directions ansd she found us in time to head back to Kanchanaburi. We were heading back to our comfortable place again, we couldn’t wait.
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