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Jungle Trek - Day 1

Day one of a jungle trek I went on in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia. This small, beautiful village was devestated a few months after I’d stayed there, when the river that ran through it burst its banks and wiped out an entire community. That’s illegal logging for you.

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Jungle Trek - Day 1

Trudging endlessly with a methylated-vodka induced hangover, I am sweating cobs. It’s an hour since our group relinquished Bukit Lawang’s chilled pace for this; our jungle-trek, and it’s hard work. We wanna see orangutans and other fascinating creatures that hang out midst this exotic, enchanted rain-forest – that’s why we’re here, that‘s why we‘re travelling, and that’s why we’re cool! As our guides Wa-Wan and Do-do keep telling us, we wont see them if we stand around all day. But as I wring out my T-shirt, I wonder just how long I’ll have to keep this up for, before I get to see my first hairy orange monkey.

A little later Wa-wan and Do-do are making monkey sounds in order to attract any orangutans that may be around. Do-do makes a loud kissing sound, Wa-Wan a more recognisable monkey-like whoop. I can’t help thinking they’re taking the piss, rather like someone who says woooh in the dark in an attempt to make people think there might be ghosts around. Then, a couple of minutes later, Do-do flinches and freezes. We imitate him, as Wa-Wan beckons us to keep deadly quiet. Yeah, yeah, just another party-trick, I ponder doubtingly at the back of the group. Though I’m vaguely taken in by it all. Then I set eyes on it…

10 meters or so up in the canopy, a bright-orange shape is rustling leaves and bending branches. It’s a orangutan! Her name’s Suma and she begins making her way over to us. Much to our awe, her tiny baby’s clasped tightly round her asleep. I’m gob-smacked as she comes to within a few feet of us, nonchalantly picks some foliage and begins eating.

…Suma, obviously used to tourists, seemed well-relaxed with our being there. She’d been rescued from captivity then rehabilitated at the nearby Orang-utan Rehabilitation Sanctuary, and trusted humans as a result. When she’d got fit they’d set her free here in the jungle, and their work was now our and Suma’s pleasure. We could not hope to stroke her though, as she had her baby with her and would no doubt punched us had we tried!

Later I’m again trudging endlessly, but this time an aura of happiness and wonder pervade me. I like trudging! Even the occasional sliding on my arse, too! The jungle is gently biotic; the Save the Planet soundtrack real! Besides, I’ve just downed an M150 energy-drink that’s starting to kick in. M150’s are banned in Britain as they’re supposedly amphetamine-based – though you’d hardly know. What’s kicking in feels more like a simple, if high, dose of caffeine.

It seems we aren’t terribly deep into the jungle as I can hear techno banging away, deriving from a village tourist café just a 100m or so over the canopy, by my reckoning. “Techno travel many kilometres here in the jungle” replies Wa-Wan upon my questioning this insight!

Five hours later we arrive at camp! Quite a leap I know, but these five hours really are uneventful: There was a lizard on a tree, that’s about it. So now the group’s fed up. We have walked 500 miles, and 500 more like The Proclaimers and feel that we’ve been ripped-off. After all, we’ve seen one orangutan and we could’ve seen a lot, lot more orangutans at the Rehabilitation Centre for a lot, lot less. Things need to improve, and I think our guides know it. Do-do confirms, asking if we wanna go for a swim in a waterfall!

After precariously climbing over some rocks, we arrive at the spraying surge of hydro-activity that is the waterfall. The group catch their breath, but the pool at the waterfall’s base is too tantalising and I dive straight in. From the pool, I’m presented with a dramatic view of the jungle and in that moment I know this trek isn’t going to let me or any of the group down. As if in confirmation, James from our group spots a small yet dazzling orange/silver snake nearby on some rocks - writhing, it sticks out it’s forked-tongue. We are captivated. Like a toddler I leap around, slapping the water as I shout “snake, snake!” This alerts Do-do who’s chilling on the rocks, and suddenly he’s jumped up and shouting at us to “get out, get out!” The girls freak, clambering for the side. James and I giggle and follow them out. We stand around watching Do-do as he rummages for stones, then hurls them in the snakes direction. Indonesians don’t harm animals unless it’s deemed necessary, so watching Do-do attempt to harm the snake, I quickly understand it’s threatening us. Do-do confirms, explaining “Snake won’t kill, but poison very dangerous!” James’ and my face’s straighten. No longer are we big men who don’t care, and we huddle behind Do-do in his shining armour as he defends us. Stones glance the snake and it hurries towards the pool. With one writhe it slips to safety and is out of sight.

Back at camp we’re introduced to our ‘carriers’ who’ve turned up and who’ve been cheerfully playing out the role of our mules transporting food, water and camping equipment on our behalf. We hurriedly change as Wa-Wan is ready to dish up the meal the carriers and he have prepared for us during our absence. A curry nothing short of scrumptious is presented to us. We devour it like Dingos.

Afterwards, our guides get us stoned and wow us with their box of tricks – namely a matchbox that provides hours of entertainment as it’s versatile enough to make puzzles, jokes, stories and games out of! One of the carriers who strangely resembles Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall, booms out laughter during the frivolities that could easily deafen us – it’s impossible not to laugh too. The night’s amazing; sky so star-scattered the milky-way traverses it’s entire globe. The spirits of the forest are among us. We feel like Jungle-People - the literal translation of the Indonesian word for Orang-Utan.

It gets late and it’s time to hit the hay. Except that it’s not hay we hit but excruciatingly-uncomfortable rock instead that’s been deceptively covered with plastic bed-sheeting! It’s a typical, entirely bearable end to our day. A day so infuriating yet so magical - all rolled into one like a giant spliff. Too exhausted to really care, we break our backs, bruise our coccyx, and fracture our cheek-bones as we drift-off to sleep.


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