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Heart of Darkness? Not Exactly – Bukit Lawang (Part IV) | We're Not There Yet

Our hike in Bukit Lawang was absolutely fantastic. Not only did we have adrenaline-filled chase scenes with three separate orangutans and see plenty of gibbons, monkeys, and birds, but we ended our first day’s hike with a sighting of a wild female orangutan and her adolescent son as they were preparing their nests for the night. Orangutans make a fresh nest in the trees each night out of collected leaves and twisted branches. Mothers will share a nest with their babies for the first few years, but by 4 or 5 years old, the child is left to fend for itself. We watched as the mama expertly snapped small branches and tucked twigs into her nest to make it solid, meanwhile her child was climbing around with decidedly less focus, ultimately throwing together something much less stable-looking before abandoning that and crawling into the nest with his mother. It was an amazing thing to see.

Wild orangutan peaking through the trees

We watched the orangutans until it started to get dark, when Amin, our guide, shepherded us to the riverside and told us that he’d be ferrying us across. One of the camp assistants appeared from the opposite side of he river in his underwear with an oversized inner-tube. He stepped into the rapid-moving water and half-swam-half-drifted over in our direction. By now, Amin was also in his underwear and was ushering us on the tube, shoving a plastic bag full of our belongings on our laps. He launched himself into the water, pushing the tube ahead of him. In a flurry of splashing and wrenching and kind-of swimming, he got us to the other side. One has to wonder how many tourists get lost downstream.

River view from the campsite

Safely on the other side, we discovered a perfect little campsite set up along a bend in the river. An advance-team of camp assistants and cooks was already there, also in their underwear, but nevermind that, and had set up some mats for us to sit on and brought out tea and biscuits. We put on our bathing suits and splashed around in the river, careful to stick to the one shallow point where our guides indicated was the sole spot where we could swim and not be swept away in the current. We were served a ridiculous amount of very good food family-style along with another couple and their guide, who had joined us at the camp for the night. The other hikers were a very nice French couple and their guide, Dharma, was simply incredible.

Not only could Dharma speak near-perfect English, but he had a lot of opinions about world politics, religion, and the environment. He asked us tons of questions about the US and debated us on sticky points and we asked him about Sumatra, the government, and the management of national parks and wildlife there. It was incredibly informative and clearly not the standard-issue responses we get to these kinds of questions from other guides. I really enjoyed having Amin as our guide, but meeting Dharma was a highlight of the trip for his enthusiasm and information that we hadn’t gotten anywhere else.

Butterflies were everywhere

We slept under a large lean-to made of bamboo poles and plastic sheeting. It was open to the elements, but the night was mild. The next morning, we had an epic breakfast and then set off for a little loop hike to a nearby waterfall. The distance wasn’t far, but it as some of the most challenging hiking we had done because it was constant up and down over a ridge that didn’t feature much of a trail. I was often clinging to vines or small trees or rocks as the trail narrowed to just an impression with a steep, long drop down one side. I’m not a wimp when it comes to this kind of thing, but it wasn’t easy. Adding to the thrill as the constant assault from leeches. They clung onto leaves and shrubs along the trail, stretching their bodies out in hopes of being picked up by a walking buffet. Perhaps I should be flattered at all the attention- I definitely collected more leeches on my arms, torso and back despite the fact that I was covered in long sleeves and long pants.

It was a treat to end the trip on a make-shift raft back to town along the rapids. Our camp crew lashed together about 6 inner-tubes, bagged up all of the gear, then pushed the two of us into a single central inner-tube while they manned the front and rear with bamboo poles. Amin only fell out once. We got back to our peaceful hotel just as it started to pour down rain and got cleaned up and settled into our hammocks to rest.

Amin (l) and one of our camp assistants

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