Phenomenal! I think that best describes my initial reaction to Sumatra, an enormous islands that make up Indonesia. Having wanted to come here for years and see this mountainous island that is covered in forests, volcanoes and wild animals, my first day in Sumatra has shown me that it is everything I expected and more. I flew into Medan, the largest city on the island but had no intention of staying there. My destination was the town of Bukit Lawang which sits on the boundary of Gunung Lesuser National Park, home to tigers, rhinoceroses, elephants, and orangutans as well as many many more other types of strange animals and exotic birds. The guide book told me that it was about a four hour bus ride from Medan and after meeting a German couple at the airport we elected to save some time and take a taxi instead.
Now I had read that the roads here were bad but until experiencing it first hand, I could never have imagined what it would have been like. The journey from Medan to Bukit Lawang was only seventy five kilometers but it took about three hours in the taxi to get there. Some stretches of the road were quite smooth and we battled our way amongst the armada of motor scooters and other vehicles plowing down the narrow streets. The rough bits however were another story. Slowing down to the speed of a brisk walk, we traversed large stretches of road that had virtually disintegrated. More four wheel drive trails than actual asphalt, the roads were in the worst condition of anywhere I have seen in the world. Many other backpackers had told me stories of how bad the roads here were but until making the journey myself, I could never have imagined.
As we left the bustle and crowds from the city the road became enveloped by the jungle and the occasional small town along the way. We criss crossed our way over the river on small decrepit old bridges and every now and then were gifted with a stuffing view of the mountains we were heading towards. The last twenty or so kilometers of the journey were by far the slowest. Sometimes villagers on bicycles were traveling much faster than our little taxi as we crept over what was left of the what had previously been a road.
When we arrived to a small parking lot at the edge of town, I asked if the taxi driver knew where the jungle inn was so that we could be dropped off there. By now, the car was surrounded by people trying to show us to the different guest houses in town. They all said that there were no roads and we had to walk from here. We reluctantly agreed and found that everyone was correct. The town was a series of paths and rope bridges that crossed the river and followed it upstream with the surrounding forest almost overtaking all of the buildings that were gently tucked away into the edges. After a brief tour of several guest houses, I made it to my the Jungle Inn, my original destination. With a large outdoor patio overlooking the river as well as the entrance to the National Park, the surrounding rooms and buildings seemed to spill forth from the jungle and down to the river's edge. I asked to see a room and they led me to a spacious room with a king sized bed, my own bathroom and clear roof panels allowing the sunlight filtered by the surrounding jungle to fill the room. Through the screened in windows that were open I could see a small waterfall pouring out of the jungle just a matter of feet from my window which poured into a rushing stream running alongside the adjacent wall of my room. No other sounds could penetrate the rushing water going past and I knew this was the perfect place. I asked how much and the man told me it was 80,000 Rupiah per night. I didn't bother negotiating as I knew the German couple I had ridden up from Mean with was looking for a room and after having such a bad experience at my hostel in Kuala Lumpur, I was glad to dish out nine U.S. Dollars for such a wonderful place!
After setting my things down in what was like a palace for me, I took a shower and ventured back outside to the porch where meals and beer were served. Sitting down to enjoy a banana milkshake, I looked out at the forest on the other side of the river and noticed a couple of red blotches on the trees. After staring at them for a bit, the red blotches began to move around and I realized that as I suspected, they were wild Orangutans. I couldn't believe that I was already seeing wild orangutans here in Sumatra and I hadn't even left the guest house. What an amazing place this is going to be to travel! I can't wait to venture into the park and have the opportunity to spend several days immersed in the surrounding jungle along with all of it's wild inhabitants!