After breakfast we got a taxi to the train station. Our driver looked a little pissed off as I think he thought we were going to the airport. The airport is a long drive and the train station is only a few blocks away. Still too far to walk though. As soon as we got in he switched off the meter and invented a fare. It was still only two quid so not bad.
We found our platform and waited. We had booked an Eksecutif seat. This is the top level and guarantees you a seat. Like most things here it was silly cheap for a 7 hour trip. The train was on time and we were soon sat in our Eksecutif seat. Very nice too. Lots of leg room and waitress service. Give me a choice of transport and I will pick a train every time. We could have flown but this was a fraction of the cost and relaxing. It was also a great way to see the countryside. The track cut through the rice paddies and farm land.
A little while before we left England we watched a programme called 'World's toughest jobs'. In the one we saw, a bin man from a London borough went and tried his hand as a bin man in Jakarta. It didn't make good viewing. It was a long tough day and his home was basically a wooden lean to with a corrugated iron roof. It almost put me off going to Jakarta. Of course when you are in the city proper you don't see the underlying poverty. Jakarta though is no different to England when it comes to building a rail track. They put them through poor areas where people don't have a voice to complain.
As we left the countryside and entered the suburbs of Jakarta the programme came back to me. People were living in squalor. Rubbish was strewn everywhere. In the programme the bin man collected rubbish from the posh areas and took it to his own neighbourhood to dump it. It is a shame on us all that human beings are expected to live in such filth.
It was only a one night stay so we decided to be boring and eat in a Pizza Hut near the hotel. We ordered a Pepperoni medium size for 3 people. When it arrived we said to the waiter 'Is this the right size? We ordered one for 3 people. This is very small' He smiled and said 'It's for 3 Indonesian people'. No wonder they are so tiny I thought. 'Better bring us another one then cocker' I said.
We stayed the one night and then headed for the airport to fly to Medan on Sumatra the 6th largest island in the world. We were flying with Batavia air. As I said before it was the only airline we could find which wasn't on the EU banned list. All went well but I wouldn't want to make a habit of using Indonesian airlines.
Lonely Planet describes Medan as the number one place travellers answer with when asked 'What's the worst place you've ever visited? We only saw it out of a taxi window but to be honest it didn't look any worse than other places we have visited. We took a bit of advice and decided not to take a public bus to our next destination Bukit Lawang. We had a text/e mail conversation with our hostel and they sorted a private transport. Our driver was on time and we had a mini bus to ourselves. It was a four hour drive and worth every penny. The drive was great.
There are three villages in the area. Bukit Lawang is the tourist one. It is basically one long dirt track lined with boarding houses and shops and a river running alongside. It is ugly and pretty at the same time. The primary reason people come here is the jungle and the Orang Utans. We booked rooms in a guest house run by Andrea an English former conservation worker. She had come here to work on the Orang Utan projects and married a local guy. We discussed the various trekking options that were available. You can see the Orangs at the conservation feeding platform. Twice a day they are given a subsistence feeding and if they want more they have to forage in the jungle. This forms part of the rehabilitation. It is also possible to hike into the jungle and see Orangs. Andrea said we would be guaranteed to see Orangs but they are habituated and too used to humans. We opted for two nights in a different area of jungle. We were told we may not see any Orangs but if we did they would be completely wild. We picked this trek because it only uses local guides and a part of the price goes to help build wells in the villages.
In our room we heard scurrying and banging on the roof. We went into the shower which is outside and could see monkeys on our roof. Naughty little w***s. Apparently they will nick anything if you leave it outside.
The next morning we were met after breakfast by Darwin (I know) our guide. He is an accredited guide and spoke English. He was joined by Chillick a local villager who would lead us through the jungle. We jumped on the back of their mopeds and rode for about half an hour to Chillicks village where we collected some provisions. We were soon off trekking into the jungle.
We had stayed in the jungle in the Amazon but this was completely different. Chillick led the way, bare chested and bare footed cutting vegetation with a machete as we headed out. I have absolutely no idea how he knew where to go. At times you could see a trail but mostly there was nothing. After a couple of hours we stopped at the base of a small waterfall for lunch. We had Nasi Goreng wrapped in a banana leaf. Dessert was fresh pineapple sliced by Darwin. As we moved deeper into the jungle the trail went up and down. Jungles don't come with a health and safety risk assessment. If they did it would just read 'Very Dangerous'. The trails were muddy and slippery. Vines lay across the floor waiting to trip you. You have to be wary of grabbing something for support as it may have sharp spikes. Mean time leeches stick to you. They are honorary little w***s. First you know is a sharp sting then when you look blood is trickling down you. They are hard to pull off too.
We took our shoes and socks off to cross a river. It was very treacherous. On the other side Chillick showed us a local trick to keep off the leeches. He made a juice out of water and tobacco leaves and soaked or shoes and socks in it. It seemed to do the trick.
We kept trekking through fabulous jungle. The whole place is alive with noise. Monkeys scream out warnings as humans approach. The trees shake and rustle but you can't see them. We eventually arrive at our camp for the night. It is by a river and consists of a bamboo frame with tarpaulin thrown over it. Already at the camp is Dushon our cook. He greets us with a hot drink.
The plan had been to set up here then go out trekking for a few more hours until nightfall. This is the jungle and plans don't count for much. We had heard thunder as we arrived at camp. Darwin had said we might get rain. Master of the understatement.
That wasn't our only problem though. The Indonesians say Hati Hati a lot. It means be careful. It had been a precarious route to the camp but all looked ok. I went off to go to the toilet. As I came back into the camp I went to climb over a large rock. It looked dry and ok. How wrong I was. As I pushed up on to it it was like ice. My foot slipped off. As I fell forward I put out my hands which also slipped when they touched it. I fell straight forward and smashed my head hard on the rock. As soon as I saw blood I knew it was not good. I had split my head right across my eyebrow and blood was gushing everywhere.
I got back to camp and between us all we started the clean up. I couldn't see the wound but knew what needed to be done. Darwin went for his first aid kit which contained a blunt pair of scissors and a 5000 Rupiah note. Fortunately I had brought tissues and antiseptic etc with us. We washed it, put antiseptic cream on and then put a pad over it secured with my bandana. I could already feel my eye starting to swell. It was very painful. It was proving very difficult to stop the bleeding. Eventually it started to stem but my eye was closing fast. I managed to eat dinner but knew that if it didn't stop bleeding overnight we would have to turn back.
As we sat at the camp Darwin called us from down by the river's edge. 'Orang Orang' he said excitedly.
Jill and I moved over to him and he pointed high into the canopy overlooking the camp. What a fabulous sight. A full grown wild Orang Utan hanging by one arm in the tree. As we watched, it became aware of us and swung into cover. We could see the trees moving but it didn't show again. That was it; I had seen what I came here for. Wild Orang Utans are very solitary and shy so it was amazing to see one. We went back to camp with big smiles despite me looking like I'd been 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.
Then the rain came. Four hours of torrential downpour accompanied by thunder and lightning. We had seen a small rock hanging from a vine over the river. It turned out this was a water level gauge. The river rose about three feet in half an hour. Darwin assured us we would be ok in the camp and that the level would drop just as quickly when the rain stopped.
After dinner which was fab the guys put some powder made from local plants onto my cut to try and stop the bleeding. With that and the bandage it slowed down.
I've had better night's sleep but it was quite exciting. All five of us lay in the tent sleeping on thin bed rolls on a leaf floor. The rain was relentless outside. After a very uncomfortable night, morning came and the rain had stopped. As I looked outside the river had subsided and all was back to normal.
My headache had gone but my eye was pretty much shut with the swelling. Initially it looked as though the bleeding had stopped. I sat and had breakfast but once I started moving about I felt blood oozing down my face. We removed the dressing and saw it was still bleeding. Decision made, we had to head out. We re-dressed it and started the trek out to a village. It was slow going and we had to cross a fast flowing river. The leeches were enjoying us.
Once out of the jungle we were met by two motorcycles and driven to a local house. The lady in the house was a local nurse. She was dressed in her pyjamas and I don't expect she was RCN trained but she did a good job of cleaning the wound, sterilising it with iodine and dressing it. It had now stopped bleeding. Darwin went off to speak with a doctor to ask if it needed a stitch. He said if it had stopped bleeding then don't bother. This seemed to disappoint our nurse who I think was looking forward to stitching me. She took my blood pressure and said it was a little high. I thought you try smashing your head on a rock, walking through leeched infested jungle to a witch doctors house. I bet your pressure would be up too.
It was a shame for the trek to end that way but it had been a great day and night. Back at the guest house our host said if I felt better tomorrow she would arrange a one day trip to make up for it.
Today has been a lazy day. By rights we should have been returning from the jungle so we had nothing planned. Jill re-dressed my wound. It has stopped bleeding but still looks a bit yucky. The swelling around my eye has gone down a little so that's a positive. There are a couple of internet stalls in the village so we walked to one to try and sort out a room at our next stop. While we were there we chatted with a couple of English guys. They had been trekking and also said they felt it was more dangerous than they had expected.
My eye is a topic of conversation everywhere I go. I mostly get told I should go to the hospital, although one lady said don't eat eggs until it's better. No idea why. I think they mostly go to the hospital because they have no first aid skill, no medical kits etc. At this time I'm confident we've done a good job on the eye although I anticipate a big scar when it heals.
3pm is feeding time at the Orang Utan centre. We had planned to walk up to it but at 2.45 the heavens opened so it will have to wait until the morning. Last night just as we were about to go out for food the same thing happened. Early night with a rumbling tummy. After our jungle trip we are now in a different room at the guest house. We are sat out on the balcony about 50ft in the air. We have a view across the river into the jungle. The rain just keeps coming. No hosepipe ban here.
Next day and we have arranged a short trek into the conservation area on the other side of the river. Our jungle clothes have been washed in the river so I still have blood stains on them. We did some bits around the village then at noon Darwin arrived to take us out. The plan had been to trek for a few hours then end up at the feeding platform. We got the impression that Darwin didn't like the platform.
He explained that the rehabilitation programme started in 1972 with 200 Orangs being brought to the area. They were mostly pets and injured or abandoned animals. The plan was to give them a little food and help them re-learn wild skills. Now only about 20 come to the platform so it must be working. Orangs can live to around 45 years of age. They start to mate when they are 8 and young stay with mum for several years so they are very vulnerable.
We crossed the river and headed back into the jungle above the village. Not quite as wild as before but still amazing. After an hour or so Darwin spotted an Orang in the trees. Then there were two more. It was a mother with a young one and a male following them. Males are polygamous so it may not have been a family. More likely a bloke sniffing around a single mum.
They moved towards us but high in the canopy. They have a slow but effortless swing through the trees. We stopped and watched. One of the adults came down to about 30 feet above us and sat and watched. I said to Jill 'Exactly who is watching who?' We sat and stared at each other. I defy anyone to look into the eyes of an ape and not see a cousin looking back. Darwin explained that these had been part of the re-habilitation programme and were now semi wild. They would no longer go to the platform or approach humans. However they had not yet gone away to remote jungle.
We were spellbound and watched them for about half an hour. As they moved away they climbed to the top of trees then made the tree sway to let them reach the next one.
It had been a great sight. As we moved off another of the local primates turned up. A troop of Gibbons. The Orangs are silent, slow moving and graceful. The Gibbons are noisy show offs. They move like lightning through the trees. I watched one leap from the top of a tree into fresh air. It dropped about 40 feet before grabbing a branch and swinging back up again. These guys would make Olympic gymnasts look pedestrian. We had had a brilliant time. As we headed back we got another reminder of the dangers as Darwin stopped and said Hati Hati. On the side of the path was a huge black scorpion. We gave it a wide berth.
Back at our room and the Macaque monkeys gave their evening display of agility in the trees off our balcony. We've enjoyed Bukit Lawang but it's time to move on. Next stop Lake Toba the largest and deepest volcanic lake in the world.