We flew out of Singapore to Medan, Indonesia. The flight was uneventful enough, but at customs we had forgotten to take money out of my checked luggage, and we only had fifty Singaporean dollars, not enough for our two visas. So I was told to leave Yvonne, go down the employees isle at customs, through security, past all the cab hawkers, and to the ATM to get the money out. Then, I just had to walk back in. Not one person stopped me. How’s that for airport security. Well we walked out of the airport past all the hagglers to the street, then negotiated our ride out. Much cheaper than an airport taxi. Strange enough, coming back to Indonesia felt a lot like coming back home.
The place we initially stayed in seemed nice enough. Off the road but clean and friendly people. We wandered around the fair city of Medan, and what can I say, it was rough. Really rough. Everything was gray, gritty, and dirty. No matter where you look. And the noise was never-ending, with a mad amount of traffic. We stayed there for a night, and were planning on staying one more day so I could get some work done, but the noise just drove us mad. I changed my mind a million times, let’s go, let’s stay, maybe we should go. It was driving Yvonne mad. She hated it there too, but was fine with the air-conditioned bedroom. I tried to do some work downstairs, but the noise was horrible. The staff kept trying to convince us to do a six-day trip, just not backing off. Finally I had enough, I needed to get out. I asked if Yvonne would mind leaving, and she was sick of the place too, so agreed. We tried to figure out best way to leave, but got fed up with their info so we just grabbed a tricycle to the bus station.
Once again we were over loaded, and our butts did not fit into the seat. I hovered with my butt pushed forward, then piled all four of our bags on top. We were really packed in. We also had no idea the bus station was 13 kilometers away. By time we got there we were filthy from all the exhaust, screaming headaches from all the engines and beeping, and thoroughly agitated. Some men grabbed our bags off us, and I tried to get out, but my leg lost all feeling. I put some weight on it and my whole body flopped into the parking lot. Kkeeeerrrraaackkkk!!! Well I wags laughing, and I had to be helped up. The entire ankle bent in the wrong direction, but did not hurt at all. No amount of weight could be placed on it. After a good amount of time it all went right again. At the same time people were hollering at us, “Where you go?” our bags we’re thrown up on the roof of a van, and we were pushed in. We tried to negotiate, but no luck. The minivan was a beat up piece of shit, with a chain-smoking driver, but pleasantly not packed. Well it was between three and five hours, and we had no idea which, but at least we were on our way. We found out later we should have only paid two dollars for the trip, we paid ten, but we made it and that’s what counts. Welcome to Bukit Lawang, frontier town to the Sumatran Jungle.
In route guy from the front seat slowly peppers us with questions, all the normal shit. He’s pleasant enough, but you always wonder is he being helpful, or want something. Says his name is Tom, lives in the village we are going to. Fair enough, we share a tricycle ride, which is also over priced at two dollars. That’s when Tom makes his move, come take a look at my families place. Which was not very nice, though cheap. We look, tell him no thanks, and see you later. Ahh but no, of course not, he will take us elsewhere. Even when I tell him politely that we are great, he follows us. He follows us for a mile as we check out a million rooms. No getting away from Tom. Finally I leave Yvonne at a restaurant to search for more places. Tom is with me the whole time. I find a nice place, the honeymoon suite non the less, negotiate a nice price, and leave Tom finally with the owner, trying to get a commission or something. Go back to Yvonne and she’s looking through a guy’s jungle trek photos, as he tries to wooo her too. I am like we are making no decisions till tomorrow, that’s it. We shower in our awesome bathroom, cool down and clean up.
We go down to have dinner and both guides are down there biting at the bit to get our work. So damn annoying, we just wanted to relax, chill out, have few beers, and sleep early. But now we kept having our dinner interrupted, an jostling for our attention. I put them both off, saying we were not doing anything till tomorrow.
Well we had a pleasant evening in our jungle lodge, drank some lovely Bintangs, sat on our veranda and watched a big lightning storm, and enjoyed the hammock. Next day waking up fresh we decided to take a little walk down the river. The river is a brown torrent, more of a series of rapids shooting past at high-speed. Well we did not get far before there were a bunch of guys stripping down trying to get to the other side to get the boat. See we were at the entrance of the national park and we were at the cross over, but the boat had not gone for five days because of rain and high water.
Well one guy swam the rapids, missed the point where you get out, and was swept downstream. The other guide was smarter, went upstream, and was across in no time. The boat is hooked up to a wire going across the river. The wire keeps the boat from floating away, and depending which direction the boat is pointing, the current pushes it one way or the other, in theory. There was already a sunken wood boat that clearly did not make it. And because the current was so strong, it was hard for them to control. They sent over another rope to help stabilize the boat, but it looked a lot like the guide was surfing the water. Well they needed a volunteer to be first across, so I went along. Securing everything in water proof bags, I hopped into the small wooden boat. Holding myself dead center, the boat shot across the river before I knew it. No problem. Then they brought the rest across. Yvonne looked a bit whiter than her normal Irish color to say the least after that ride.
Well it wasn’t planned, but now we were here at the Orangutan Feeding and Rehabilitation Center. This center was created in the eighties to take orangutans that were old pets or zoo animals, and teach them to live in the wild again. It worked really well, so well in fact that they had to move the center deeper into the jungle because this part was saturated already with wild and semi wild orangutans. But they still would do twice a day feedings of boring food like bananas and such, so they would not be dependent on the help. The food in the jungle would be so much tastier than bananas, such delicacies like durian, yummy. So the orangutans that would show up were usually old or nursing mothers who needed the extra help.
Well we paid our fees, and started up the trail in our flip-flops. It was steep, wet, and sweaty work. We did not get far before we stopped on a cliff because in the trees above us was a milky white snake curled up in the tree branches. Yvonne asked if it was a dangerous snake and the guide in a very matter of fact voice stated oh yeah, it’s poisonous, it’s a moon snake. But don’t worry. Haha. The one thing Yvonne really does not like is snakes, and doubly so the ones in the trees. Probably from growing up in the relatively safe land of Ireland, where St. Patrick chased all the snakes out. (Of course, there was never any evidence in the fossil record to show there ever were snakes in Ireland)
So we marched up past the snake for fifteen minutes more, and ended midway up a ridge, on a really slippery patch of slimy brown mud. There was a rough platform that we could have built as kids nailed between three trees. We hunkered down, and watched the guide pound the stick intermittently on the platform for about twenty minutes. Nothing showed up except a version of a scary squirrel that looked very much like Skrat from Ice Age.
Yvonne was the first one to see it, the reddish-brown clump of hair amongst the leaves on far away branches, up in the canopy. Yep, it was a mother orangutan and her baby. When with a baby they are more dangerous and unpredictable. She slowly made her way to us via the tree tops, swinging with those enormous long arms. It’s truly an amazing feeling to see this in the wild. Zoo do not do the animals justice in their little pens, even though I feel they are necessary for education and the continuation of certain species. But up there, in the branches, was one of our closest living relatives, and an evolutionary cousin to us. It was millions of years ago that animals similar to this came down from the trees and evolved in to us. It’s magical. And here we were getting a chance to see them in the wild. In twenty years there may be no more orangutans in the wild, just like there are no more white rhinos, a tragedy for all.
So here we were, mere seconds from getting close to a wild orangutan and her child, when we hear the dreaded words, “Oh no, it’s Mina”
You see, these orangutans were not treated well in captivity, often way too much for a non trained person to handle, so they were abused. And rumor has it that Mina did not forget those abuses. She had bit over a 100 people on the course of her rehabilitation, quite often attacking the guides if they would not give her more bananas.
Move back if we tell you too was all the advice the guides gave.
She grabbed a clump and gave it to her little one, who quickly disappeared into the canopy. But then she jumped out of the tree and stomped quickly to us. We had no more than ten feet now separating us from this bitchy monkey out for vengeance, but then she slammed a few bunches of bananas down her throat, and the guides said it’s ok, you can get a picture now. So we all creeped up closer, me up front, and then she whirled on us and the guides screamed get back. She did a little charge and everyone went stumbling down the cliff as soon as they could, slipping, sliding, and falling. Eight people on an extreme slope falling over each other is pretty funny, when it’s not you. Yvonne’s flip-flop broke, a German guy named Linus lost his, and the guides were like sorry, well get it later. Ha, later when. Well we got our last picts and headed down. But the river was deemed too dangerous for us to cross, so it was a two-hour trek out over land. Hmm, so much for our little walk before breakfast, and Yvonne did not have flip-flops, so she had to walk through the jungle with bare feet. She flipped four leeches off her before they could suck. My flip-flops kept getting stuck in the mud, and with a popping noise, flinging mud all over me and poor guy behind us.
On the way down we bumped into another guide who pointed out a juvenile orangutan foraging in the canopy. How awesome is that, this was not a rehab orangutan, but a wild one doing what it does natural. Exhilarating.
When we got closer to the village we came across two troops of monkey, literally a hundred feet from each other. One was a group of twenty or so Macaques grooming each other on some rocks. The other were Thomas Leaf Monkeys. These guys were the punk rock bad boys of the monkey world. They are gray with white bellys, and a black Mohawk. They were jumping all over the ground and trees, enjoying their durian snack.
We finally got back to the river and crossed a very rickety old bridge. Could have been from the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Half the boards were broken or missing, and it swayed every which way, but we got across safe enough.
And what did we find in our hotel waiting for us, of course, guides wanting our business. Grrrrrr. No break at all for lunch, all business. And then another guy introduces himself, a girl in Medan recommended a guide she used, and apparently she called him so he searched us out. Too late, money was out for our true jungle trek, three days living in the jungle. We had decided on Adie because he had a really professional presentation. I hope we had not made a mistake.