Another long bumpy journey and we were in Bukit Lawang. The small riverside town on the edge of the jungle has grown in popularity in recent years for one reason. It is one of the few places, along with Malaysian Borneo (which we visited in 2011), where you can see the animal that we share 97% of our DNA with.
It seemed as if everyone in town was a guide, and being that it was low season, there were not enough tourists to go around. We spent a day relaxing on the river (and getting gently hassled) deciding which company and which tour.
We opted for 2 days/1 night in the jungle and set off at 9am the next day. We had a good group (made up of a German couple, a Dane and another Deutschlander) and a really good selection of guides (we had about eight different ones over the two days).
After a 30 minute steep climb using tree roots for support, reminiscent of the ‘cross-island track’ in the Cook Islands we did a few months ago, the guide suddenly stopped and pointed up. In the vines above us, no more than 10 metres away, was a female orangutan and her child.
It was crazy that these wild beasts were so close to us and lived so near to town. We gawped in awe for ages and took heaps of photos.
A few minutes later we came across two more of our ginger haired cousins swinging between trees and then another one a little further on. In between we saw monkeys, macaques, and bizarrely, a jungle peacock.
By the time we had reached our riverside camp (after lunch and some hairy river crossings with a current so strong the guide had to pull us), we had seen seven orangutans and therefore barely acknowledged the two hanging out in the trees (with a macaque) above our sleeping quarters.
We changed out of our wet clothes and chatted while the guides prepared food and a fire. The Indonesian spread was delicious and the best food I’d eaten in Sumatra with rendang, sambal, potato cakes and coconut curry.
The guides entertained us with match and card tricks as we sat around the fire and listened to the jungle orchestra in the background.
Weary legs took us to bed and a good sleep followed (apart from when I woke up panicked that something was crawling on my face!).
After breakfast, we headed back across the river near camp to a waterfall where we cooled off and had water massages.
By the time we got back, camp was packed up and loaded onto the five rubber rings which would carry us back to Bukit Lawang along the rapids.
Becki had a traumatic tubing incident in Guatemala back in 2005 so given the choice between trekking back to the village or rafting it was a difficult decision. Especially as the water was particularly turbulent, the current crazily strong and we had seen other people being thrown around whilst we’d been walking along the river.
However we all convinced her that is was safe and that nothing would happen. We set off ok and despite feeling like she was in a washing machine she was quite enjoying it. And then disaster struck…one of the inner tubes burst and suddenly submerged the German couple in the river. Luckily we were in one of the few calm patches and we paddled to the riverside and the guides re-tied the raft minus the burst ring.
Luckily we got home without further incident and luxuriated with a shower (albeit cold) and clean clothes. An amazing tour.
Next stop: the white sands of Pulau Weh