Jungle Nightmare

Lake Toba Travel Blog

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Crashing back to reality, I opened my eyes to see the first glimse of daylight, and struggled from the jungle floor to my feet.  Within moments, I realized that my nighmare was reality.  The physical pain began to exert itself and the mental anguish again took center stage.  Today was going to be the best or worst day of my life...      


Samosir Island on Lake Toba is an absolute paradise for those looking to kick back for a few days (weeks in my case) and relax.  There are numerous resorts to choose from, as the island was overbuilt during the tourist boom on Sumatra in the 80s and 90s.  Because of the natural disasters, changes in visa availability and the rise in popularity in and around Thailand, Sumatra is largely ignored by the packpacker community.  This makes a trip to Sumatra all the more inviting, as nowhere is overcrowded and nothing overpriced.

We arrived to Lake Toba and immediately knew this was a place in which we could hang out for a long time.  The food was great, the surroundings were magnificent, the people were friendly and accommodation was dirt cheap.  After a week of relaxing and settling into paradise, my German friend Till and I decided to go on hike thru the jungle that leads up to a guest house.  It was a 3 hour walk that was supposed to be rather easy.  We were going to spend the night there in a guest house, then return the next day.  So we set out on our trek with a small backpack and a bottle of water.

As we started the trek, we noticed the trail was poorly marked.  We walked for 20 minutes before the trail became overgrown, at which time we began to question whether or not we were on the right path.  So we turned around and went back to a junction, where there was a second trail.  We figured this must be the right one, because a Dutch couple the night before had told us the trail was fairly well marked.  So we followed the trail for about an hour and slowly traversed our way up a mountain.  Along the way we met a local man, so we asked him if we were on the right trail.  He said that we had 2 choices.  We could either go back the way we came and take a marked trail, which we weren't able to find, or continue on our current path up the face of the mountain.  It was getting late in the afternoon and we figured backtracking at this point would be risky, due to darkness.  So we decided to continue on our path.  How hard could it be anyway?  As we climbed the hill, it became obvious that there was no trail at all.  We were going to have to make our own way thru the sticker bushes and heavy jungle.  At this point it was late in the afternoon and the sun was descending fast.  We thought we could reach the top within the hour if we hurried.  But the mountain became steeper and more treacherous the higher we ascended.  Before we knew it, it was practically dark and we were not going to make the peak. 

So we decided to make our way down as far as possible.  We wanted to return to town, but the climb up had been so steep and dangerous that going down, especially with no light, would prove to be a much greater risk.  However, we couldn't sleep on the sharp incline upon which we were pearched, so we had to make our way down a bit to get to some flatter land.  On the way down, as you might expect, I lost my footing and fell from down the side of the hill.  As I was tumbling, I covered my head, thinking that if I was going to stop falling, it would be because of a tree.  Indeed, I did hit the tree, but it was with my rib cage.  Although my head was OK, I had bruised my ribs, and when I went to stand up, I noticed I must have torn or strained ligaments in my knee.  I considered myself to be the lucky to be alive after such a steep fall off the side of a hill.....

Slowly I began to make my way back up the side of the hill.  Till had come back to find out what happened.  I got to my feet and knew immediately that there was no way we could make it back tonight.  However, we still needed to find flat ground to spend the night.  At this time it wasn't later than 8pm, and we would have to wait till about 6am before we could find daylight.  I remembered that I had a flashlight, so we used it for a few minutes as we slid down the hill on our asses to where we though was the way back.  After descending for 30 minutes or so, we came to a small cliff of 10 ft or so.  At the bottom was some dry, flat earth upon which we could spend the night.  Bad leg and all, I managed to make it down by jumping.  Knowing we couldn't escape the jungle this night, we prepared to sleep on the jungle floor.

As bad as the situation was, we were actually quite calm and happy to relax for a few hours.  Till and I talked about life and the experiences we had on our travels.  The noises for the jungle were pleasant.  We heard birds and monkey frolicking in the high trees.  For being in such an aweful situation, it was an ironically peaceful setting.  The REAL problem was that we had NO WATER!  We each had brought only 1 bottle and had finished all but a small sip earlier in the day as we were sweating on our difficult climb upwards.  So, huddled back to back on the jungle floor, Till and I (and the ants) drifted off to sleep....

Crashing back to reality, I opened my eyes to see the first glimse of daylight, and struggled from the jungle floor to my feet.  Within moments, I realized that my nighmare was reality.  The physical pain began to exert itself and the mental anguish again took center stage.  Today was going to be the best or worst day of my life...       We were either going to escape or have to wait to be rescued.  So we gathered our energy and began to head downward.  But we soon realized that we could go no further, as a sheer cliff awaited us.  We were going to have to climb back up the mountain just to try to find the trail we had made in order to return.  So we climbed and after about 2 hours found a spot that looked familiar because we found a band aid I had been wearing.  At this point, believing the top was much closer than trying to find the way back down, we began to resume our climb.  Climbing was much easier on my knee than descending.  Now it was ever steeper and the sticker bushes even thicker.  By this time our hands, arms and legs had hundreds of small cuts and punctures.  We thought that once at the top, we would surely find Jenny's Guest House...


After another hour of tough climbing, we managed to make our way to the top.  But to our surprise, there was absolutely nothing at the top besides more jungle.  We searched for another few hours at the top, climbing and ascending from various parts of the ridgeline, but there was no guest house, no signs of civilization, and at this point, no hope.  We had been out of water now for hours.  Our mouths were completely dry, like glue.  My body had no sweat left to give and we couldn't find water anywhere in the jungle.  How could a jungle have no water????  So, we decided to try to find our way back.  We saw a steep part of the mountain that looked like it would lead us to the bottom.  We slid down the steep hill carefully on our asses and finally reached yet another dead end.  It was a sheer cliff face of more than 200 - 300 feet.  We were stuck.  Exhausted, thirsty beyone belief and hopeless, we sat in a pile of leaves and stared out at the shimmering lake in the far distance.  We weren't supposed to return until later in the day, so our friends wouldn't have known we were lost until later that night.  By this time is was 2pm and the thought of not being rescued for another 24-48 hours was unbearable because we knew with no water we probably wouldn't make it.  We looked back at the steep cliff we had just slid down and our hearts sank to our feet.  Hopeless, we laid there in the leaves, ants running all over us and just rested our minds.  I told TIll to just sit and meditate for 15 minutes to regain some energy and clear his mind....

We decided that we were going to take a final chance, climb for an hour back up to the top, and try to find our way down again.  But with no water and the jungle heat baking us, we knew there was a risk of fainting and dying of dehydration.  By this point, my body had no water left to sweat and cool itself down.  As we began our climb back up, I noticed that I could make myself urinate.  So I took my empty water bottle and  filled it with the small amount of concentrated yellow/orange urine the was left in my body.  Till asked what in the world I was doing, and I said, "Surviving".  At this point, he did the same and before we made the climb, we were going to need some energy.  I took my tube of toothpaste and put a bit in my mouth, then washed it down with my own urine.  I was so incredibly thirsty that I couldn't wait to drink more, even though the taste would have normally been unbearable.  So, without further hesitation, we bagan our climb to the top.  We arrived to the top and had to decide to wait or try going down..... AGAIN.  We tried for another hour but nothing looked familiar.  We were going to have to just wait it out.  But the thirst was absolutely unbearable now.  Most of the urine was gone, as was all the water in our bodies.  The thought of waiting for 2 days to MAYBE be found was like torture.  We knew we were more likely to be rescued at the top, where there was some open space and we could make a fire to signal for help, but instead we opted to go down and find our way back. 

Around 3pm we noticed some bushes that looked familiar and followed them and agreed that we were on the way back.  But along the way we kept going too far off our path, so each time we had to backtrack and try another way.  It was getting late in the afternoon and surely if we didn't find our way back we were done for.  We remembered that there was only 1 way up the hill and we were going to have to find it.  But like the other attempts, we ran into another cliff face.  This time we were perched on a small mound and the only way back was an incredibly steep hill.  But we noticed 50 feet or so to our left a pine tree about which we remarked on our journey up the mountain the day before.  That was the way out, but the only way to get there from where we were, was to scale the sticker bushes protruding from the face of the cliff, with nothing to hold us below.  At this point, the risk/reward ratio was as high as it could ever be.  If we could make this short, but very dangerous and painful climb, we could live.  So, we began to hang on to the stickerbushes like vines, with each grab thrusting small spines into our hands.  At this point, I had somehow shut down all my pain receptors.  With my back to the open air off the side of the cliff, I began grabbing and releasing and making my way across the cliff, using the bushes to stand on and to hold.  After the longest 20 minutes of my life, we made it to the pine tree.  But there didn't seem to be a clear trail.  How could it be?  How could I have gotten my hopes up again, only to see them crushed???

I sat down for a minute to gather my thoughts when I noticed 2 sandals.  TIll had lost his sandals on the way up yesterday and here they were,  under a bush that I only noticed because I sat on the ground.  Talk about luck.  That was the last mark we needed as we knew we had the correct way back.  A few moments later, from the clearing, we could see the small path down the mountain and across to the other side.  We were almost there.  As we crossed to the other side of the mountain in the clear, ironically we ran into the same guy who had told us yesterday that we could make it to the guesthouse by taking that way.  We asked him for water, but he said we would have to follow him for a while.  NO FUCKING WAY!  Not wanting to waste any more time or energy, we hiked for the last hour and at about 5pm reached the first sign of civilization; 3 women working in a rice field.  When they saw us, they knew something was wrong so they offered us the little bit of water they had.  Although it was from the lake and was smokey from being boiled over an open fire, it was the best sip of water I had ever tasted.  30 minutes later, we reached the small village from which we had began our jungle nightmare.

Till took his first sip of water and immediately ran to the bathroom to throw up.  I took a sip and my throat began to hurt badly.  Our bodies had began to set themselves on survival mode over the past 2 days.  After a short while, and a bottle of water, we actually walked another 5km back to the small resort to meet our friends.  I was euphoric just to be alive!  The nightmare was over.  I learned so much from this experience.  We were stupid and naive to get into such a situation, but its experience like this that you must learn from and draw upon in the future.  You don't know what real thirst is until your body reaches such limits.  Although I hadn't eaten in those 2 days, food was the furthest thing from my mind.  Water was all that mattered, and when we got back to civilization and found it, nothing else mattered.

Although this experience only comprised 2 days of my one month in Sumatra, I decided to write about only this event.  I also spent a week in a place in the hills on the center of the island called Bukitinggi, rented a motorbike and drove 3 hours to the coast, spent a day with the monkeys at the beautiful Lake Maninjau, mototbiked to the equator, spent 2 more days in the jungle in Bukit Lawang seeing Orangutans in their native habitat, and had other wonderful experiences in Sumatra.  I enjoyed the island so much that I plan to go back later this year.  Check out the photos on the blog. 
rizky_wisnu says:
reading your journal, and trying to be on your shoes. it drags me in to the scenes of the 'blair witch project' dehydrated and lost. so fucking scary man! but i hope there are some pleasant experiences during the trip. i've never been there, would really love to go there!!

cheerz, Rizky
Posted on: Jul 19, 2008
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Lake Toba
photo by: Stevie_Wes