So we arrived in Bukit Lawang on our bargain journey, the last hour provided us with roads that had to be seen to be believed! Potholes all over the roads for miles and so deep you wouldn’t even chance a 4x4 going over them. The guide book had mentioned the atrocious roads but it still surprised us at how bad they were.
We were hoping to stay in the eco lodge and to get there had to cross a rickety swing bridge in the dark and then they were full! Eventually we ended up in a hotel which was clean and within budget.
On our first morning we decided to explore the Bat Caves – after our 2 waterfall experiences you would think we would always be prepared for anything but once again we were taken by surprise….we started to climb into the cave up little wooden ladders that had been placed there (me wearing a little denim skirt!) expecting to see a big dark cave full of bats at the top. Instead it was a little clearing of rocks and plants leading to a caved area as we approached the dark entrance a young boy appeared and gestured for us to follow – well thank goodness he was there! The cave system was huge and it was incredibly dark at times, as well as getting very low in places and slippery underfoot. The guide led us through parts I would never have dared to go through but it was worth it. We saw loads of bats all hanging from the cave roof and when the torch shone on them they would just let go, free fall and then fly off. Most of the bats were tiny but when we got towards the end there were huge ones flying in and out of a hole at the top. We arrived back at the hotel very hot and sweaty a couple of hours after we had set off! There was a great electrical storm in the evening with the sky lighting up constantly, it was pretty cool to watch from our veranda.
The next morning we set off for our 2 day adventure in the National Park in search of orang utans. The land area covered is huge (1,000,000 hectares) and is supposed to house around 5000 orang utans, 100 Sumatran tigers, as well as Sumatran rhinos and elephants amongst other creatures. Within an hour of walking we came across our first orang utan, high up in a tree all alone, we watched until he swung away across the tree tops. It was another 2 hours of trekking in the humidity (neither of us have ever sweated like we did on this trek – it literally ran off our noses!) up and down narrow trails before we came across an amazing sight. A mother orang utan with her baby and another juvenile male not far away. We stood and watched them for ages and they came down to have a closer look (many of the orangs in the park will have been raised initially in the rehabilitation centre in Bukit that closed down some years ago, therefore they don’t have the same fear levels of humans.) They put on a great ‘show’ doing all their acrobatics in the trees, hanging from their feet, climbing and swinging through the trees so effortlessly. There was a heart-stopping moment when the baby and young male were playing together and the baby reached out to a branch which promptly snapped off and we watched him tumbling down the steep incline out of our view. Within seconds he was climbing up and swinging to reach the other two. It was such a cool experience.
As well as orang utans we also saw snakes, lizards, 2 types of monkey (we heard but never saw the gibbons), a huge peacock, many types of beautiful butterflies and other weird minibeasts and a HUGE hornbill flying overhead. Lunch was prepared in a spot by a stream, food has never tasted so good – we were ravenous!
We arrived at camp around 4pm, obviously we couldn’t camp in the park so we had to be transported to the other side of the river by inflatable tube! Camp was literally a shelter made from bamboo and black polythene – no door, totally open to any wildlife that happened our way! Dinner was prepared for us and by the end I was struggling to keep my eyes open despite the fact it was only 7.30pm! I climbed into my sleeping bag liner and let the boys play poker while I went to sleep listening to the rain patter on the roof. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep either of us had ever had but it was part of the experience. As we ate breakfast the next morning a large troupe of monkeys arrived to see what they could get their hands on, they stayed around for ages, playing in the trees and biding their time and on the other side of the river we watched an enormous monitor lizard (around a meter long) basking in the sun.
Once camp was packed up everything including ourselves was put into the raft made of inflatable tubes and we rafted down the river back to Bukit Lawang which took about an hour as the river was flowing quite quickly due to the rain. Most of the journey was gentle but there were a few parts where it got a little rougher and even the guide held on at one point! We arrived back safely and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Next stop Malaysia!