Bukit Lawang : Welcome to the Jungle!

Bukit Lawang Travel Blog

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Rubber tubes for the river.

'Akuuu masi di siniiiii!...'  I scribble illegibly in my pocket notebook whilst staring at the TV that's bolted to the roof of Bus 145, playing karaoke videos as the vehicle rumbas, and salsas past the palm trees and waltzes drunkenly around potholes along the road to Bukit Lawang'What does that mean?' I ask Martha, one of a bus load of pretty Medan college girls also aboard for the ride.  She leans over the back of my chair, wearing my cheap cap that I bought for 10,000IDR (75p) outside Jakarta's main train station which has three stars upon it (there had been four but the vendor had ripped one off, demoting me and declaring 'Now you are The General!') and looks far cuter on her than it ever will on me.

The little monkeys of Bukit Lawang :)
  'It mean "I'm still here"' she giggles.  Taking notes from Indonesian karaoke as an aid to language tuition.  Hmm?  All fine and well, as long as you're happy to wander through life sounding like a cheap love song.  'Oooh sayaaangku!' [ 'Oooh my darliiiing!' 'Akuuuu masi deganmuuuu!' [ 'I'm still with youuuu!' ] and 'Cinta monyet'.  Gales of laughter from Martha, Lia and friends as I look at them quizzically following this one.  I know what this one means you see.  But don't understand.  'Monkey love.
The serene little setting of Bukit Lawang tourist village on the banks of the Bahorokk river.
  Monkey love?  What on earth is 'monkey love'?!

Learning a language can be tricky enough but when sections of the 'Kamus Lengkap' [ 'Complete Dictionary' ] you've borrowed are bound together upside down and back to front the process is further complicated.  Opik who sits smoking and sipping the anagram of his name ( 'kopi' or coffee ) laughs loudly, 'Ha ha ha ha, welcome to the jungle!'  Welcome to the jungle.  A local catchphrase.  A catchall phrase delivered in response to anything slightly humorous, surreal, challenging, out of the ordinary (or often here just ordinary) or when anything just goes plain wrong in little and large ways here in the jungle river township of Bukit Lawang.
The main river suspension bridge.

I made my entrance some hours ago.  I'm getting a little lazy these days so when a local guy hooks me off the baicek (motorbike sidecar taxi) and propositions me for the guesthouse I was planning on heading to anyway I let him sweep me along like a tired, dry forest leaf in his slipstream.  As we sweat along through the bamboo, wood and reed tinderbox tourist village that adheres to the banks of the Bahorok river Amri points out a short stretch of low, ruined concrete buildings not far from its banks.  Nothing looks more forlorn in architecture and human history than decaying, abandoned concrete I muse.  This broken-toothed, hollow-eyed little edifice stands as a memento mori to a devastating flash flood that occurred here in 2003 claiming upwards of 240 lives and destroying countless homes and livelihoods along the river.
'Tree Print' [Bukit Lawang]
  Bukit Lawang had been effectively washed away.  The community bore its wounds, dug deep and recovered swiftly.  A charitable organisation, established by two Dutch women to help the orphans of the flood still operates near the village.  In a minor procession of Biblical style tragedy this flood had, Amri explains, itself followed a devastating fire not long beforehand.  'Welcome to the jungle.'

Bukit Lawang means 'Hill Doorway' or 'Hill Entrance' and acts as such for most human/ tourism ingress into the 8,000 square kilometre Gunung Leuser National Park.  The park was established in 1973 in an attempt to stem the breathtakingly rapid destruction of Sumatra's rainforests and the ecosystems and species it harbours.  Legal and more notably illegal logging have made devastating inroads into this, one of the world's last remaining great rainforest territories over recent decades and indeed it is this logging and its consequent reduction of forest/ rain cover (the environments capacity to retain rainfall) that was cited as the most significant contributory factor to the 2003 flood, a 'natural' dam of felled logs, stored in the river having given way to the excessive rain waters.
Amber & Red in the river ripples.

Of all the thousands of rare and beautiful animals housed in this great, but greatly retracting zone of biodiversity in central and northern Sumatra the most famous is pongo abelii, or the Sumatran orang-utan.  Sumatra and Borneo house the last remaining orang-utan populations in the world, a population estimated to be approximately 62,500 strong.  Though 'strong' is obviously a misnomer in these circumstances as the Sumatran orang-utan, with a remaining population of approximately 7,500 is marked as 'critically endangered' on the IUCN Red List (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and its Bornean cousin pongo pygmaeus as 'endangered'. **
The population of Sumatran orang-utans within Gunung Laseur National Park is estimated to be about 5,000 or 8% of the remaining population if we run with the World Wildlife Fund figures.
The Bahorok river.
  It is principally for the chance to see these rare - some would say - relatives of ours that tourists descend upon Bukit Lawang.  People from the towns and cities flocking to meet the 'people of the forest' which is what orang-utan or rather orang-hutan means.  Yes it's that old tension between travel, tourism and the natural world.  Friend or foe?  The potential for both exacerbating decline or encouraging sustainability.   

...but before we meet the relatives, let's say "Hi" to a couple of the locals shall we.

Meet Tony Blair.  'Hello, I am Tony.  TONY BLAIR! Ha Ha Ha!  Where are you from?'  'England actually.'  'OH ha ha ha, so I am your, what you call him, Pres.
Cigarette advertisement (abstract)
..? PRIME MINISTER, YES?! Ha ha ha'
  'Well kind of, though it's been a man called Gordon Brown for a coupla years now.'  'Oh, I see, ha ha!'
  (In fact Mr Brown himself only has about a week left in Number 10 Downing Street at the time of this conversation).  'Actually I am not really Tony Blair ha ha!'  I smile back at the grinning, affable, pot-bellied man stood between me and his shop.  'You don't say.'  Tony and I rattle into the usual meet and greet conversational exchanges in Bahasa.  'Apa kabar?...Nama saya Steve... saya dari Ingris...' [ 'How are you?...my name is Steve...I'm from England' ] etc.  Impressed by  my earnest attempts to keep the conversation limping on in Bahasa Tony, laughing loudly all the way, takes me to heart and invites me to a tea in his studio-cum-shop.
Rain forest flora 1
  Tony amongst his various talents (formerly infamous for drunkenly playing guitar and singing around his home village of Tuk-Tuk upon Lake Toba) is an artist and produces canvases, postcards and painted t-shirts mostly around the theme of orang-utans.  I had first stopped at his shop to inspect some cute hand-drawn and painted cards of comedy orang-utans.  Apparently these are produced by his several children and when sold at 20,000 Rupiah (£1.40) each contribute toward their transport costs to and from school.

Tony soon becomes a firm friend who is kindly willing to apply some of his time and good humour during my stay in Bukit Lawang to assisting my attempts to learn Bahasa, his daughters and son giggling and running around and serving hot sugary tea all the while.
Rain forest flora 2
  When talking with other travellers about the relative ease with which basic functional Bahasa can be picked up, many factors can be cited.  Chief amongst them, the language's relative grammatical simplicity : no plurals, tenses, gender, articles etc ( "YES!!!").  However time and again I explain to people it is the willingness of the Indonesian people to encourage and contribute to your learning process that make it such an accessible language.  They are always super-chuffed at your efforts and, even if they know some English, will stick to Bahasa if it's clear that's what you wish them to do, to help you to learn.  Though this is quite a common truism of attempts to pick up many languages, it is not always the case.  For example, the Indians are so keen to demonstrate their own proficiency in English that trying to stick to Hindi (or any other Indian language) is almost impossible and the Chinese, aside from having to try to comprehend my monotonal trashing of their language, are usually too terrified or uncomfortable to even attempt to do so.
Rain forest flora 3
  So it's not always so easy and I am eternally grateful to Tony (and the people of Sumatra) for spurring my efforts at this early stage and thus promoting himself from my Prime Minister to the more important role of 'guru saya' - my teacher.

Next up is Sarah (not real name) who runs one of the many struggling restaurant-cafes constructed of wood and bamboo that garland the main riverside 'street' of Jalan Orang Utan.  Here I let myself in for a classic 'sympathy vote' scenario.  Ya know the situation.  You pass an establishment by and the enthusiastic proprietor dashes out to try to acquire your kindness and custom for lunch, all smiles and greetings and sunshine.  But, put on the spot, you're 'sorry' but you've 'already eaten' (possibly true, possibly not).  Still you halt in your tracks and finger the dog-eared menu out of politeness and feigned interest knowing already that that smile, tweaking your guilt and teasing out flustered assurances of future business will have you sat back there come nightfall fingering the same dog-eared, laminate menu wondering which treasures are actually available.
'Kamus Lengkap' (my temporary complete dictionary whilst staying in Eden Garden, Bukit Lawang)

So later I sit there and stare at the dark river to my right, it now being night and with a grumble in my belly.  A faint dusty bulb glimmers over my head, but nobody else's, the place being deserted as seems to be the norm.  It's hard to scrape a living in Bukit Lawang if you're not in the guesthouse game.  Sarah pops up and asks 'would you like to try some "family food"?'.  Reading the silent runes (no customers, no cash, bare cupboards in the kitchen) I guess this is all that's actually on offer and smile and say 'that'd be lovely'.  Sarah speaks very good English but we're struggling along in Bahasa and she enquires : 'Kamu mau pedas?' [ 'Would you like it hot/spicy?'].
'Hoops of Joy'
  'Hanya sedikit pedas.' [ 'Only a little hot/spicy.' ] I request.

Unfortunately when the rice and series of fish and veg dishes arrive something appears to have been lost in translation and plenty gained in heat for every single one is swimming...ney, drowning in chopped, ground and pureed chillies!  I smile with a twitch and nervously eyeball what I know I must now out of politeness consume, but what I also know to be the equivalent of sending a series of timer-delayed nail bombs into my bowels.  Spice is nice, but I know I'll be payin' the price come morning.  Oh well, there's nothing for it.  This is where sympathy can get ya! 

So I sit and start shovelling the gastronomic napalm down my gullet whilst Sarah, a 28 year old mother of two from the town of Berastagi pulls up a chair to tell me her tale of woe.
'A bend in the river'
  One that encompasses disappointments in love, life and labours - apparently the fault of a feckless, useless husband who carouses with foreign girls in his capacity as a jungle trek guide and only pops home these days to drop off or pick up his washing.  In the meantime Sarah struggles to raise their two kids, running her rundown cafe, offering washing, massage and other services - anything to get some Rupiah to rub together.  A solitary bungalow stands behind her cafe, half-constructed, representing a struggling dream of hers to move up into the guesthouse game.  Having started out economic life as a volcano trek guide in her home town of Berastagi she would like to assist in the more lucrative jungle guide program here but landed herself in hot water with the local gender mafia recently for doing just that and taking two lads on a two day trek.
Trinkets for sale in Tony's orang-utan treasury.
  At 500,000 Rupiah (£35) per head this was real money for Sarah but she was afterwards subject to intimidation and accusations of 'stealing business' from the male guides.  It's an unfortunate truth that there are no female trek guides in Bukit Lawang, despite the fact that in discussion with girls on the tourist circuit here there is definitely a demand for such an option - not every female traveller stoked at the idea of heading off into the jungle with a bunch of apish blokes.  But it is an unspoken local law of patriarchy in this predominantly Muslim community that this is not permitted. 

As I ladle another spoonful of hot liquid magma into my mouth a light bulb, driven to despair by Sarah's sorrows throws itself from its socket in a suicidal leap to the restaurant floor and we are plunged into semi-darkness as Sarah turns her eyes to the skies and expresses a hope that God will 'make good luck' for her 'next time around' and openly requesting 'please next time may I never come to Bukit Lawang!'  Oh dear.
The Rock Inn where I was the sole member of the live band's audience (detail)

The next morning I'm scheduled to head out into the Gunung Leuser National Park for my two day jungle trek but a guilty sounding knock on the door from Amri leads to an apology through the wooden boards that the rest of my group have cancelled and so 'no trek possible today'.  This suits me just fine as, as expected, my innards melted from over-chillification during the night and I spend the entire morning trekking only back and forth between my bed and the bathroom.  When I limp into 'town' later with a red-raw behind, Guru Tony is only too amused at my condition of having a 'sakit perut' [ 'sick stomach/ stomach ache'] which I explain is more like a 'sakit pantat' [ 'sick bottom/arse'].
The funky 'punky', 'David Beckham' or Thomas Leaf monkeys.
  His laugh rings in my ears all the way back to my guesthouse.

But finally the day dawns to shake of the yawns and to strap my hole-ridden trek shoes on and head into the jungle with guide 'Jungle Eddie' and Sinnead (UK) and Gabrielle (Argentina) the couple who are to be my co-trekkers.  Two day/ one night treks are the standard fare for tourists passing through hoping to snap a few ginger apes swingin' in the trees.  Three day treks are not uncommon either offering greater potential for photographic monkey business.  The costs for trekking are set at a standard rate by the National Park authority whom the guides (in theory) are accountable to - that rate being 300,000 IDR ( £21) per person per day.  This includes your guide, all food, drink (though you should start with 1.
A posse of Thomas's Langur monkeys.
5 litres or so of your own water), sheltered camp sleeping for the night and a tube-rafting return trip down the river.  Apparently if you approach a guide with enough people you may have latitude for negotiating per-head costs down a bit, but not much.  Longer treks are available and subject to negotiation as they require greater amounts of planning, equipment and man power.  People sometimes undertake these trips to get deeper into the jungle and in hope of sighting wild orang-utans or one of the extremely rare Sumatran Tigers.   But don't hold your breath.  In eight years of organised trekking Eddie, one of the more experienced guides, has only ever seen tiger paw prints one time and never the beast itself.

We are lucky to have close encounters with many of the Park's main inhabitants very early on in our trek into the jungle.
'Jungle Eddie' takes a break besides a tree a couple of hundred years old.
  This of course doesn't have everything to do with chance, our simian friends being well aware of where the tourism 'banana trail' starts.  First up are the fabulous looking and named Thomas Leaf monkeys (or Thomas's Langur) who go by the colloquial names of 'Punky' or 'David Beckham monkeys' owing to their rather outlandishly distinct hairstyles.  Jungle Eddie entices some of the kiddies down from the upper tree boughs with the promise of banana.  Technically against Park regulations but I figure I'm at the guy's mercy for two days so decide not to make a point of this.  Next up we have the dexterous vine grabbing little grey legions of macaques, the jungle's and probably Indonesia's most populous monkey species, who accompany us as we start to ascend the jungle path.  Sinnead and Gabrielle are huffing and wheezing already as there is a lot of steep ups and downs but I do have to teasingly remind them that after all 'Bukit' does mean 'hill' so what exactly did they expect? 

Our early efforts are very soon rewarded though as the sight of another, larger trek group stalled up ahead and craning their necks and cameras to the jungle roof can mean only one thing.
One of the numerous macaques of the Gunung Leuser National Park.
.. orang-utans have been spotted... or have spotted us.  And sure enough, way up high, their coppery sunlit aura of fur a-glow, there they are, our pals pongo abelii.  The homo sapiens stare up through their lenses and squinted eyes at the apes staring back down at them from on high.  Each party quietly fulfilling whatever stock of curiosity they hold for the other.  Tired already of the attentions attendant on being a celebrity endangered species most of the group of five or six orang-utans soon slowly clamber their way away from even the most tenacious of zoom lenses leaving only one chap suspended up above doing what appears to be extremely slow motion Olympic ring-gymnastic manouveres using all four limbs to pivot and turn, raise and lower his heavy orange torso (up to 90kgs or 200lbs for adult males) up and down amidst the branches and vines to get a better view.
'Ginger Brother' :))

Looking up into those glassy black, soulful eyes one is quietly challenged to deny that most distant of ancestral links that - at moments such as this - would seem so clearly to exist between we two species.  Statistics on the DNA are liable to send you doolally if you're in search of hard facts and truths.  We supposedly share 98% of our DNA with our 'closest cousins' the chimpanzees (99% with all other human beings and 99.5% with our parents) and 96.5% with orang-utans.  But then we are said to share 60% with fruit flies, 50-60% with bananas (oh yes, it's a precise science alright!), 40-50% with cabbages and probably at least 0.001% with former Pres. of the United States George W.Bush.  So where do you go with all that?  Nowhere I guess.  So let us move on :)
Again, though it's not guaranteed, orang-utan sightings within the fringes of the Park are not rare.
Sitting pretty on high : pongo abelii, the critically endangered Sumatran orang-utan.
  The main reason for this being that the population that you will encounter as a guest in the Park will likely be members of the semi-wild population that have grown up around regular human contact and become at least a little dependent upon it.  Several orang-utan rehabilitation centres operate within the Park with feeding platforms that operate on scheduled timetables and can be visited by tourists easily.  Many members of the orang-utan community here have been reclaimed either from illegal animal trading markets, zoos or lives of domestic captivity.  This means their common special behaviour is somewhat altered.  Aside from a certain level of comfort around humans, the orang-utans cluster in small communities here whereas normally they would lead far more solitary lives.  They will also, on occasion descend to the forest floor here to forage for food, whereas wild orang-utans would almost never be seen to do this living exclusively in tree-top 'nests' that they makeup and nomadically move on from almost every single day.
'Look into my eyes, and you will see...'

One infamous inhabitant who you will hear about, if not meet in person, is Mina.  A fearsome, territorial matriarch who breaks all the rules of convention and will pursue trek groups on foot for potentially long distances to both scare them off and get them to shed any food they might be carrying in the process.  Our now collective super-group of about 15 people is unfortunate enough to run into her and when we do she has a baby clinging to her chest meaning extreme caution is to be exercised.  Various local myths exist, ranging from the sad to the absurd as to what happened in Mina's past to turn her into this mean tourist-terrorising machine (she has bitten guides and guests alike which requires hospitalisation for rabies security jabs) but whatever the cause she's one mad momma these days so be wary!  The guides get horribly panicky and over-excited by her presence and have to hold her back with offerings of propitiatory bananas whilst we are all hurried along out of her domain.
Making like apes in the Jungle - one of our lethargic trek guides :)
  But you can't help but feel that they (the guides), are glad she showed up and like the sense of drama it imparts to the trek.  Being chased by a deranged ape.  It's all part of the Bukit Lawang show.  And a little sad for this perhaps.  'Welcome to the jungle.'

The trekking itself varies in intensity but only happens in short bursts so, provided you're prepared to make like an orang-utan and utilise all four limbs to grab, pull, balance and ease your way through the sometimes challenging terrain, you shouldn't struggle.  Actually the greater shame, because of all the up and down careful foothold requiring topography is that you may spend most of the trek time with your eyes to the ground rather than casting them around to take in the true magnificence of your natural surroundings.
'The Red Cup'
The vibrant rich flora and fauna that only the world's rainforest territories can nurture and display.  Colourful flowers, over-size plants, ancient trees, fascinating fungal blooms and micro-life scurrying, digging, and singing in the shadows.  But it's never long, once they all congregate together before the guide lads will call a halt for yet another slouch and cigarette break.  An opportunity at least to take in ones surroundings.  Smoking is prohibited in the Park but try telling that to an Indonesian male!  More chance telling a monkey to give up a banana.  In fact, sat watching the guides as they lounge around in the branches and vines once again with their sweaty bellies exposed to the forest canopy, speaking a language I cannot (much) comprehend, arms dragging and feet not touching the floor etc the species similarities are noteworthy :) 

The first days trekking is over before you can say 'unzip a banana', as we all carefully descend with the assistance of handy vines to a creek bottom through which a shallow stream curls and where our camp for the afternoon and night is to be found.
Dinner is served, Hutan-style :)
  A contingent of young camp hands are on site already to rustle up tea, coffee, biscuits and later a tasty meal of rice, vegetable and chicken dishes.  The remains of the day are whittled away by resting aching limbs in the cool stream waters, hanging sweat-drenched clothes up to dry and sitting, chatting and observing the play of Nature in Her glorious green domain.  The camp is encircled by butterflies and a wise-up colony of macaques who leap across the stream or from overhanging branch to branch to skittishly forage for scraps from the 'kitchen'.  We also play excited witnesses on several occasions to a sizeable spotted monitor lizard we christen Godzilla who strides with slow, prehistoric muscular grace flicking his tongue like oiled lightning to make sense through his sense of taste of the world around him.
The rarely sighted red-chested bra-monkey ;D
  Come night down our international collective of ten or so tourists and six trek guides are sat with our backs to an impromptu fire playing card tricks and other games that form the Bukit Lawang repertoire of jungle entertainments.  We soon head to bed but only to be woken by two blood-curdling screams in our shelter issued from a middle-aged Dutch lady waking from a nightmare but swearing to the presence of 'two beasts' in our tent!  (We think she may have misconstrued the attentions of mosquitoes).  Nerves set a'jangle in the jungle, but soon calmed a little and it's back to bed.  'Welcome to the jungle'.
After breakfast the next morning it's time to strike camp, chuck a few rice balls and chicken scraps to Godzilla and bid our jungle base farewell.  Though nominal attempts to locate further ape action are made by our guides who 'whooooop!' loudly into the great green beyond in imitation of the orang-utans (though I hold a theory that actually they're only calling to one another to rendezvous for their next cigarette break), we sadly never meet any of my ginger brothers and sisters again.

A heavy-going ascent of the main hill in the region is rewarded only by a piercing of the clouds above which commence reminding us precisely why such territory is referred to as 'rain forest' and throwing their soggy loads down upon our heads!  The waters bucket down and refuse to let up for a second, our guides getting increasingly nervous about the proposed means of our return to Bukit Lawang - a rubber-tube rafting ride back down a river that is now rapidly swelling with the deluge.  But the river's a long way back down yet and a challenging, muddy, slippery descent has to be negotiated before we reach the now turbulent banks of the Bahorok.  At one point, slightly crazed by the rain, my lack of vision owing to bespattered spectacles and the fun of the chaos of it all (extreme weather conditions having played such a rare part of my great journey) I throw myself into a wild abseiling arc down one particular slope using a jungle-vine as my grip and inevitably end up horizontal in the mud but laughing anyway.
Jungle Patterns
  My clothes and long-suffering shoes trashed in totality, but my Three Star General's cap still clinging to my head. 

At the river bank all possessions are packed into water-tight sacks and strapped into the rubber-tube caterpillar craft (two of them) that are to take us home.  Makeshift rubber straps are knocked up to hold the glasses of I and another four-eyed friend in place on our faces.  The river is rising and the rain unrelenting as our guides shout and hustle to get us arranged onboard.  No room for a small one such as I in one of the tubes, so I have to somewhat precariously perch over the divide between two of them and cling on to ropes for dear life... and then, with several of the group mouthing nervous exclamations about the condition of the river...we're being pushed off by Eddie with his long bamboo steering pole, one at the back for his co-pilot too.
'The Heart of the Jungle'
.. and then promptly as the first raft races off ahead of us... ours start to sink!

As 'Captain' Eddie's tire bursts leading us to start to nose-dive into the tumultuous waters we are frenzidly, but expertly manouvered over to the far bank by him and his pal.  The raft is strapped to the bank, the five of us descanted into the shallows, to scramble along the riverside soaked to the bone as the rains re-intensify.  The plan is for a spare tube to be acquired and the co-pilot dashes off to a nearby village to facilitate this whilst Eddie, waist deep in river water as a monitor lizard slips into the torrents, proceeds to disentangle the rubber and rope wreckage.  Some of the gang are getting increasingly nervous about the rising river and the fact we're expected to get back into the maelstrom shortly but I'm still completely enervated by the whole experience and happy to kamikaze back out into the rapids when the call finally comes from the river through the wall of water now built from the ground to the misty cloud ceiling above.
Jungle Jim (note in pocket, my soggy reconstituted cigarette packet that became my makeshift Bahasa vocabulary book :)

Take two.  Lots of shouting, screaming and swearing as we careen along the river.  Bobbling, bouncing and twisting our way downstream.  At one point we become grounded in the middle of the river's concourse on unsighted rocks that normally would have been above the waterline.  This requires that we all get out of our tubes again, this time to stand - if possible - right in the middle of the river whilst Eddie & Co work our craft free.  A nervous moment.  To be washed downstream right now would be like throwing a cat into a washing machine.  As we thunder down river Eddie and his partner scream out to one another 'KIRI KIRI KIRI!!!'  [ 'LEFT LEFT LEFT!!!'], 'KANAN KANAN!' [ 'RIGHT RIGHT!' ] and 'SIIIALL!!' [ 'SHIIIIT!'] as requirements demand.
Real rain forest jungle mists descend.
  All the rest of us can do is scream and shout in an appropriately over-the-top terrified-tourist manner all the way home with me pitching in a 'SELAMAT DETANG KE HUTAN!' from time to time.  [ 'WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE!' ]

Eventually, as we drift around the final bend, past the line of guesthouses and besides Jalan Orang Utan into Bukit Lawang village the waters calm a little and we're able to steer into the shallows and so end our little jungle odyssey.  Soggy, exhausted, relieved survivors.  We sit and sip hot, sweet teas kindly provided by a riverside hotel and chow down on plates of fried rice.

The following day is all about relaxing and recovering.  Shoes and clothes draped under the sun to dry.  I have an Indonesian cooking lesson with another of the village legends, Nora.
One of Tony's um?.... more 'interesting' canvas compositions.
  A great big gorilla of a woman who has a heart proportionately sized to her considerable frame, who not even the infamous flood could quite wash away (though it nearly did), is nuttier than a sack of squirrels and without a doubt and by reputation the finest cook in Bukit Lawang.  You must try her food even if you don't stay at her guesthouse! - Nora's.

Unexpectedly reunited with two good friends from my time diving in Pulau Weh, Charlie and Adam, the next morning we get our kit together and decide to head out of town en masse to our mutual next destination, the volcano fringed town of Berastagi.  Heading out in a sweat along the riverbank I stop to offer farewells to struggling Sarah and to Tony my teacher and his wife whom I hope to stay in touch with for their kindness.
Jungle/ River survivors. Those that don't collapse immediately upon return pose for a drowned-rats group shot :)

It is only some days later, upon arrival at Lake Toba that news finally catches up with me and I learn that the night following the morning of our departure a devastating fire erupted in Bukit Lawang village, commencing in one of the riverside restaurants and ripping through a long strip of neighbouring businesses and family homes.  Fifteen or more properties razed to the ground.  Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt though of course uninsured homes and livelihoods;  businesses with all their stock were completely destroyed.  Another disaster for poor ole Bukit Lawang.   One I hope they recover from swiftly and full of spirit as they always admirably have done so in the past.

'Welcome to the jungle'.

[ Afterword : Though he's not on the internet or a phoneline I was able to confirm through relatives of Tony I hunted out in Tuk-Tuk, Lake Toba that though it was a close call, his business and home (my school!) narrowly escaped destruction though a sister-in-law did lose her property.
Bukit Lawang burns the night my friends and I depart [NOT MY PHOTO BUT RATHER SOURCED FROM THE INTERNET]
  I have written to him and had it not been for the fact I had six days left on my visa, 1,870kms lots of coaches and a flight booked in the opposite direction between me and destination Jakarta I would have returned to help in anyway I could - but sadly it wasn't possible on this occasion.  Tony and all the gang in Bukit Lawang I wish you all the best for the future! ]

* 'Cinta monyet' : Monkey Love - I have since had this dubious sounding practice explained to me and far from unnatural unions with animals it is actually the Indonesian vernacular equivalent to what we in The West commonly term (in an equally inexplicable manner) 'puppy love'.  The act of youthful, cute, possibly misguided romantic feelings.
View of the devestating fire that destroyed homes and businesses in Bukit Lawang following my departure [NOT MY PHOTO BUT RATHER SOURCED FROM THE INTERNET]

** For more information see www.IUCN.org and www.wwf.org.uk  

Stevie_Wes says:
Hiya Hadi, yeah it was time to get back on the case with the writing. The story may be over in Real Life, but not in TB land :) Guess what I'm about to write up now?... Singapore of course ;D
Posted on: Oct 19, 2010
Hadi25 says:
A Comeback Boi ... Gd ... I Miss Ur Blog ...
Posted on: Oct 19, 2010
dothoin says:
do you realise how talented you are buddy?
Posted on: Aug 30, 2010
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Rubber tubes for the river.
Rubber tubes for the river.
The little monkeys of Bukit Lawang…
The little monkeys of Bukit Lawan…
The serene little setting of Bukit…
The serene little setting of Buki…
The main river suspension bridge.
The main river suspension bridge.
Tree Print [Bukit Lawang]
'Tree Print' [Bukit Lawang]
Amber & Red in the river ripples.
Amber & Red in the river ripples.
The Bahorok river.
The Bahorok river.
Cigarette advertisement (abstract)
Cigarette advertisement (abstract)
Rain forest flora 1
Rain forest flora 1
Rain forest flora 2
Rain forest flora 2
Rain forest flora 3
Rain forest flora 3
Kamus Lengkap (my temporary comp…
'Kamus Lengkap' (my temporary com…
Hoops of Joy
'Hoops of Joy'
A bend in the river
'A bend in the river'
Trinkets for sale in Tonys orang-…
Trinkets for sale in Tony's orang…
The Rock Inn where I was the sole …
The Rock Inn where I was the sole…
The funky punky, David Beckham…
The funky 'punky', 'David Beckham…
A posse of Thomass Langur monkeys.
A posse of Thomas's Langur monkeys.
Jungle Eddie takes a break besid…
'Jungle Eddie' takes a break besi…
One of the numerous macaques of th…
One of the numerous macaques of t…
Ginger Brother :))
'Ginger Brother' :))
Sitting pretty on high : pongo abe…
Sitting pretty on high : pongo ab…
Look into my eyes, and you will s…
'Look into my eyes, and you will …
Making like apes in the Jungle - o…
Making like apes in the Jungle - …
The Red Cup
'The Red Cup'
Dinner is served, Hutan-style :)
Dinner is served, Hutan-style :)
The rarely sighted red-chested bra…
The rarely sighted red-chested br…
Jungle Patterns
Jungle Patterns
The Heart of the Jungle
'The Heart of the Jungle'
Jungle Jim (note in pocket, my sog…
Jungle Jim (note in pocket, my so…
Real rain forest jungle mists desc…
Real rain forest jungle mists des…
One of Tonys um?.... more intere…
One of Tony's um?.... more 'inter…
Jungle/ River survivors.  Those th…
Jungle/ River survivors. Those t…
Bukit Lawang burns the night my fr…
Bukit Lawang burns the night my f…
View of the devestating fire that …
View of the devestating fire that…
Bukit Lawang
photo by: vidalibre