Jungle trekking – a thing everyone must do when backpacking in South-East Asia. I mean why would you even go to a region so humid, hot, full of insects and dangerous animals, if you aren’t planning to do jungle trekking? I went because I love wildlife. Being from Europe, the wildlife is completely different to what I was used to and I was eager to experience the real jungle. And to do that, I decided to go to Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
The singing village of Bukit Lawang
I arrived at Bukit Lawang in the evening after a long drive from Danau Toba. As some other travellers and I left the vehicle, immediately we were surrounded by people offering different guest houses and hostels. Bukit Lawang offers a lot of places to stay but I had some recommendations from some other backpackers I’ve met in Indonesia. They told me what they experienced in Rainforest Guest House and it all just sounded like a place with a great vibe.
One of the guys showed me where my guest house was. It appeared that this guy is an actual jungle trekking guide. And in there, jungle trekking with a professional guide is a must as it can get dangerous in the real jungle!
As soon as I saw the Rainforest Guest House, I immediately fell in love with it. It was a chilled looking building next to a river, further down from the village itself. You could hear and see monkeys running around the rooftops and the trees. There was a badminton court, a lot of open areas, a very nice looking restaurant area on the ground floor and all the rooms with balconies upstairs.
The most amazing part of this place was that every night all the lovely staff members, the guides and some of the guests were playing live music and singing songs. This place had something magical surrounding it. To be honest, the whole village appeared to be singing at nights from all the hostels and guest houses. It was a lively place with a big local market, cosy cafes and smiling people.
First-time jungle trekking!
As much as I loved spending time in the guest house, it was time to do what I came there for – jungle trekking. The price for it was higher than I thought it would be but to be fair, I just always assume that the prices should be lower. These days tourism and travelling are very common in every region. The prices have risen, but it’s definitely worth paying it, at least in Bukit Lawang. I paid around 60 Eur for my 2-days 1-night trek. But the prices vary depending on the guide and the length of your adventure.
It was my first real jungle trekking, so I did not know what to expect and how to prepare. To be honest I ended up hiking the mountains in sandals. So I would advise you to prepare a bit more as there could be some situations you might need to run in…
It began slowly, with an easy increase in altitude. I thought we will need to be deep into the jungle to spot the first big ape, but we spotted a wild family of orangutans within the first hour. To this day I remember the mind-blowing experience – a big and powerful bearded male orangutan sitting on a tree, watching over his female and their baby orangutan…
Our group and I took our time with them; we were taking pictures, the guides were explaining how orangutans live in small family-based groups, it was amazing. They are called “the forest people” and you can actually understand by watching them that they really behave a lot like people… This was the moment where a person who does not believe in evolution would be slapped in the face… with a stick.
A dangerous situation
Suddenly I realised that some other groups of trekkers joined us to watch them and the male orangutan started behaving more and more aggressively. The guides exchanged a few sentences between themselves and right after that everyone was told to quickly leave the area. Every guide was taking their own group and we all tried to split up. The orangutan jumped down from the tree and was on the ground within 1 second. Some of the trekkers started running, others stayed. Everyone tried to follow what their guide was doing. I noticed two of my group’s trekkers were stuck right behind the big ape, cut from the rest of the group. This was a moment where the guides stepped up. They created a living chain between the primate and the tourists and started throwing some fruits in random directions trying to get the ape’s attention from us all. It worked, right after our group joined up again, we had to run from the area. This was one hell of an experience for me in my sandals…
After that, the hike became more difficult and the altitude was rising rapidly. We stopped a few times for some snacks and one time for a real lunch in the middle of the jungle. We were having the best rice I ate in Indonesia, along with fruits, vegetables, and some chicken. The guides prepared everything next to a small river where we were resting our tired feet. It was sensational – great food, great people, great adventure…
On the trek we also saw lizards, Thomas Leaf monkeys, someone spotted some gibbons, a lot of different plants and trees and our guides knew a lot of information about everything. We were told that you can spot different things on a different day as the variety of the species in there is very vast: from snakes to the Sumatran tigers, which are only a few left these days. The deeper you go into the jungle, the more you are able to see.
…and some more running
Later while we were resting after a longer hike, a female orangutan carrying a baby ape appeared. It was amazing how close it came to us. This time, we were told that it’s a semi-wild one. It recognises people and knows that it may get some fruits from the tourists. Right as soon as we let our guards down again, the guides spotted that the tree tops were bending, and it was happening closer and closer to us. It was another male orangutan, heading our way, all angry and making a lot of noises. The guides told us to run immediately as fast as we can. If before we could still spot a smile on the face of the guides, this time, they seemed to be more serious. I mean, when the guides outrun the group that is chased by a big animal, you realise it is not a joke anymore.
Luckily after a few hundred meters the big guy stopped chasing us. We were all laughing again. It was natural, the male protects its curious female, and it does not like a lot of attention. You are okay to watch them but you can’t overstay your welcome.
As we continued to our camp we saw a few more orangutans from really close. At one point when a lot of trekking groups met at the same spot, one of the female orangutans jumped on the ground and started chasing one group of tourists. It managed to catch one guy by his hand and refused to let him go for a while. The poor guy had to sit with her and her baby (like a new family member) for quite some time until the guides finally managed to bribe it with fruits. I’ve learned that some semi-wild orangutans learn to catch tourists and know that the guides will have to give them something for releasing them.
Third time’s the charm, they say, but for us, the third time of spotting an aggressive orangutan was in a way the end of our jungle trekking that day. It was a female and it was a lot more aggressive than the ones before. They said something about a very famous orangutan female who was mistreated by people when in captivity. After they let her into the wild she became very aggressive towards humans. I did not understand if that was the one or its relative, and there was no time to find out. All the members of the group were told to follow one of the guides down from a very steep cliff, and the rest of the guides made sure the angry lady would not follow. This was an exciting climb, I would say as we had to be really careful not to fall down the mountain. We had to hold on to vines and ropes, but we all managed to go down safe. Soon we found the camp waiting for us, it was getting dark already.
Later that night we had an amazing dinner, which was made by the guides and the helping staff. They played guitars, they shared their experience: the stories about animal attacks, their life, what they were doing before they became guides. It was an eye-opening experience. I feel I have learned so much about their life and the choices they made that evening. It made me like Bukit Lawang and the people there even more.
Next morning I had a chance to see the camp in the light and it was breathtaking. We were next to a clean river, surrounded by hills and the jungle, there were cliffs people were jumping into the water from, there were waterfalls you could just go and have a massage bath under. It was a great day full of laughs, chilling and fun.
When we thought the fun of jungle trekking was over, they told us that we are all getting back to the village by the river. They joined together tubes and made boats of them. There were guys steering them and we all sat in the tubes. The river was fast, there were a few places the “boats” jumped from some rocks. It was a lot of fun and also, it was a great way to watch the jungle from the side; all the monkeys and orangutans in the trees. We did not have to run anymore…
After that day, I had no more plans in Bukit Lawang, but I stayed for a couple of more days. It was the vibe of the jungle, the atmosphere of the guest house that made it really hard for me to leave. And it is the magic surrounding this place that made me promise to come back. And I keep my promises.