The big question when our kids have an extended school break is always, “what are we going to do?” Often times the first response is to think of where to go outside Indonesia. This time I was determined that we try an Indonesian adventure. For most expats here, the easy go-to place is Bali but we have never fallen in love with Bali so that was not going to be an option for the picky Rodriques bunch.
Hubby has been speaking about a trip to Banka Belitung. The place is said to have nice beaches and rock formations but without the overrun of tourists. I am also curious about Banka Belitung but felt we needed something different. My mind churned for days until it hit me: how about a vacation outside of our usual norm?
I felt devious. I started to scheme a plan for a vacation. I love planning surprises and so the family (except the youngest) was kept in the dark about my plans for our jungle trekking trip.
My friend Charlie had already visited the Gunung Leuser National Park in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra and raved about the awesomeness of the experience. I mirrored Charlie’s experience and we had a fantastic time.
Really hating early morning flights we leisurely got up and caught a 10:20 am flight to Medan. Up until then my beloved husband, our first born and her friend who was tagging along had no clue where we were heading. The flight from Jakarta is a quick two-hour hop over to the 3rd largest city in Indonesia. Surprise surprise when we got to Medan: the airport is actually quite nice having only been opened two and a half months prior to our visit.
On arrival to Medan we began a 4-hour drive to the Gunung Leuser National Park in Bukit Lawang. The National Park is home to orangutans which are a critically endangered species in Indonesia. It also has a rehabilitation center for orangutans that were rescued from captivity or which were being hunted.
When we got to Bukit Lawang I glanced around but could not figure what was happening. Firstly, this did not look like a rain-forest and secondly I did not see a place for us to stay. While I did not expect luxury I certainly expected something decent. I didn’t see any sign of a decent hotel in sight!
Seeing the initial puzzled look on our faces we were told that we had not yet arrived at our lodgings. Cars could not drive into the area and as such we had to walk to the Jungle Inn at which we were booked to stay. How quaint, I thought, still apprehensive about what to expect after the walk.
Typical Indonesian style we were asked if we wanted to pay someone to carry our bags. We said no but after walking for 10 minutes on sloped and less than perfect surfaces we regretted the choice of not paying less than Rp 20 000 (US$2) per bag for the much needed help. Seeing our struggle, our guide Yosep gave us a hand and took my suitcase. Once again Yosep proved himself to be very helpful. Since starting to plan the vacation I had been in touch with Yosep who arranged our transport from Medan, all our activities and our lodgings. A more receptive guide we could not have asked for. Given my OCD tendencies while planning trips it was awesome having Yosep respond to my million texts shortly after receiving them.
It wasn’t a short walk. After a 20 minute walk my confusion and apprehension gave way to a smile. Along the walk to the Inn we saw monkeys traipsing along as though they owned the place; we also caught glimpses of other foreigners relaxing with iced cold beers in their hands.
In a couple of local shops we saw t-shirts with picture of Bob Marley and even the Jamaican flag. This was beginning to get interesting. Especially exciting for some in the family was the sight of folks tubing down the river and seeming to enjoy a ride which would not have complied with US safety standards. But it wasn’t too scary. I made a note: yours truly, the biggest coward on land or sea, would go tubing as well. And I would drag the rest of the Rodriqueses with me!
By the end of our time in the Sumatran jungle I had tubed, seen monkeys, orangutans and other critters, eaten awesome food and yelled like never before when a leech decided he wanted some of my blood. To top it off, I slept like a baby at nights to the sounds of the jungle and the waterfall right outside our bedroom.
Money-wise this was one of our cheapest vacations ever but the memories created will last a lifetime.
For more photos visit hubby’s website at srodriquesphotography.wordpress.com
* For Rp 20 000 per bag someone will carry your luggage for the 20 minute walk to the Jungle Inn or any other hotels along the way. This is well worth the price as the path is not evenly paved, has puddles of water and has bits that are uphill.
* We used a guide call Yosep for our trip to Bukit Lwang. He works with the Jungle Inn and made all the arrangements for our transport, accommodation, jungle trek, tubing, viewing of the feeding of the orangutans.
Yosep may be reached at +62 821 6596 4000