Over the past 6 weeks, I’ve pretty much forgotten how to speak Thai, and I’m sure I’ve gained a kilo or two, but I have learned to live with just three t-shirts, I’ve fallen in love with the jungle, and discovered that there is no such thing as good palm oil. After the month travelling with Clancy, I spent two weeks in Indonesia. I would like to say that I just got back, or I haven’t posted about it because I’ve been too busy, but the truth is I’ve just been sleeping. I guess that’s normal after pushing your body for so long.
I landed on the 24th of April in crazy Medan. The population was explosive, the traffic was the worst I’ve seen in my entire life, and poverty was apparent. This was the most poorly planned international trip I’ve ever done. When I landed I had no idea what the currency was worth, how to get to my accommodation, or a single word in Indonesian. After pooling all the cash I was carrying at the exchange counter, I received 170,000 rupiah which was what the taxi driver was asking for. This meant I was bartering in a foreign country, unknown customs, and a currency I didn’t know within the first 5 minutes of walking through customs. Next on the agenda, food! After gesturing eating and then dancing like a chicken and STILL not being understood, my first meal in Indonesia, quelle horreur, was at McDonalds.
Things improved 1000% when I was picked up by my tour (Expedition Jungle) the following day. I met the three other girls who I’d be trekking with (all top people), our guide, and I ate some proper food. We spent 6 days walking in the Jungle and 1 day tubing back down the river. This was by far the most luxury hiking trip I’ve ever been on. While the terrain was still challenging, our packs were light and the pace was relaxed. The food was incredible; it was fresh every day, and when they ran out of fresh food, the guides started including ingredients from the jungle like banana stems and certain flowers. We didn’t have to cook, wash dishes or set up camp. One evening the guides decorated our eating area beautifully with leaves and mats, and on another day, they made jungle clothing and necklaces for us out of the forest materials.
BUT, it wouldn’t be a hiking trip if I didn’t discover myself in some way. I could talk about awkward toileting in the jungle, feeling rocks through a thin foam mattress, leaches or damp but on this trip it was something else. I had been fighting a cold before I came on the trip and was hoping to avoid it until after the trip. Alas! One morning, after a particularly challenging hike the day before, I woke up and EVERYTHING hurt. My muscles were stiff, my joints aching, my nose was blocked and my head was throbbing. I did not want to wake up, and my body didn’t want to move, but I made myself open my eyes and sit up. The view I saw took my breath away. The river was tumbling over rocks, breaking through the thick jungle tangle of tall trees and sweeping vines. The air was fresh and bird calls were competing with the rush of the river. I realized simply being in the jungle made all its challenges seem insignificant, at least to me.
The account of my Indonesian trip would not be complete without mentioning the wildlife we saw. Actually, one of the reasons I decided to go to Sumatra was because I had been researching about palm oil and deforestation. I believed that if I didn’t go now, many of the jungle species would become extinct within my lifetime and I wouldn’t have a chance to see them. After going there, I feel that the situation is graver than I was expecting, but there are also more people fighting to protect the jungle than I was expecting. I felt very privileged to see Orangutans, gibbons, long tailed macaques, and of course an array of frogs, lizards, snakes, insects and spiders in their natural habitat.
I spent the last two days of the trip with Ale, a friend I had met on the hike, on an Island in the middle of Lake Toba. Lake Toba is the largest lake in Indonesia and the largest volcanic lake in the world. To give you an idea of just how MASSIVE lake Toba is, go onto Google maps and look up Sumatra. You see that massive donut lake near the top? That’s Lake Toba! We rented a motorbike and rode the circumference of the island. It took us all day and I estimate we rode about 150km. There were hot springs, which, unfortunately was just a naturally heated swimming pool, but it was still fun. The views were spectacular and knowing about the earthquake further north, I really had a sense that the land I was walking on was alive.
I was expecting to fall in love with the jungle, but what I hadn’t really thought about before I left was if I would like Indonesia or not. It seemed to me that Indonesia exists to prove the statement ‘money can’t buy you happiness’. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much poverty or so much joy before. Although, I’m not for a second saying poverty is a good thing. In fact, one thing I can’t help but feeling when travelling in the developing world is just how unfair the world is and how lucky I am to be born white, into education, and with opportunity. I think rather it’s one of the beauties of the people there that they can be so happy, welcoming and friendly despite having so little. One thing I will NEVER forget is how beautiful an Indonesian smile is.
Whether you think it’s random or created by God, there is no denying that we are living on a planet filled with incomprehensible natural beauty and cultural diversity. We have a duty to ourselves, each other, and future generations to try and keep our planet beautiful and healthy.
On the first day we went to the Orangutan feeding platform.
Big Male Orangutan
The butterflies were friendly.
Butterflies enjoying damp smell shoes!
Bandie, swinging on the vines.
A ray of sun
Another furry friend.
The guides made us jungle clothing
Preparing our Jungle dinner
Flowers from the forest
Crossing the raging river.
The whole trekking group.
Another grouping rafting as we did.
The road around Lake Toba.
View from Lake Toba.