21st June – 1st July
From Java, Sara and I headed out to Sumatra with a brief wait at the airport to snack on banana bread and catch up on love Island before heading to an Island of our own!
Our first stop is Sumatra’s Bukit Lawang national park and a omelet of eco lodges nested deep within its lush rainforests. Our journey is a bit of a mission as despite having organised a transfer, we stop at 2am to be told we cannot go further as roadworks as being completed on the Oly stretch of road we can pass. We quickly become convinced that we are in fact being mugged off as a crazy Indonesian lady claiming to be a German chef starts shouting at us that we must get out and buy tea and cigarettes and pay for a convoy to guide us through an off road route. Of course we refuse to get out of the car until our own driver returns 20 minutes later having wandered off. Then after plenty of useless negotiation and time wasting we manage to ascertain that we can in fact take another route that we wont be paying random strangers for so eventually trundle into the lodge at around 3.30am. A this point, Sara and I have developed two key strategies to deal with such situations. Step 1 play the what would you buy from M&S food/ what kind of sandwich/ what would your brunch order be game, followed by step 2 which is to plug in a podcast either Desert Island Discs, My Dad Wrote A Porno or The High Low (all worth checking out)!
After a wonderful lie in we wake up in our lovely bamboo fronted beds with mosquito netting canopies to check out the rest of the lodge which turns out to be rather luxurious – definitely worth the crap journey there! We are soon introduced to some of the wonderful staff at the lodge and are quickly persuaded to take a jeep out to nearby Tangkahan to hopefully meet some elephants who work for the local community. This actually ended up being I’d say one of the best days of my life! The jeep ride there was literally one of the most gorgeous drives I have had the pleasure of going on passing these incredible scenes of deep khaki rivers threading though masses of rainforest views under a spectacular sky. We bounced through tiny villages with the happiest of families laughing, playing and waving at us as and eventually arrived at Tangkahan.
After an out of date but still pretty yum pop mie from a local lady we were directed to head down to the river where locals were fishing in the calm waters amongst mangrove vines and monkey filled tree canopies. Then suddenly a family of nine elephants out of nowhere approached us with baby elephants stumbling on the rocky riverbed and the adults soaking in the waters. Sara and I began to muscle in helping the trainers scrub the elephants leathery skin with plastic brushes, tickling their prickly ears and dodging the spray from their trunks or the bigger ones as they rolled in the water. After the obligatory photo shoot as we fed them bags of fresh fruit we cuddled the majestic and playful animals goodbye before hopping back in our jeep. The drive back was illuminated by a pink and purple sky speckled with dragonflies. We arrived back just in time before a thunderstorm it and snuggled back in our beautiful private room revelling in such a brilliant day!
We woke nice and early the next day and wolfed down scrambled eggs and fresh fruit and this lovely sweet pineapple jam on toast as fuel for our jungle trek! Our guides Sandy and Aris introduced us to the other two Czech trekkers Radu and Oliver who were these lovely photographers back home and were hilarious if a little crude.
The trek was ridiculously sweaty under jungle humidity but our guides were brilliant and we spotted gentle grey Thomas leaf and elegant dusky monkeys as well as an unmoving jungle viper balanced in some branches above us. We soon met our first pair of orangutans, a mother and her playful baby boy who comfortably climbed down to meet us and hold our hands which was magical. Some later pairs took an interest to Sara’s hair and one wouldn’t let go of me until my guide distracted her with sunflower seeds! We even got to briefly meet and run away from Mina who has bitten over 150 tourists! Our second escape was from a pair of hungry gibbons as we sat down for some amazing fried chicken made by the guides and had to shelter a bit of a jog away where we finished lunch undisturbed and the guides presented us with this gorgeous fruit platter. As a storm rumbled overhead we made it across a river to our tarpaulin shelter which would be home for the night. I was dying for a dip so jumped in the river where I swiftly was joined by a huge monitor lizard so made an exit to high ground much to the hilarity of the guides and jack who turned out to be camp chef. We spent the afternoon baking in the sun and the evening eating constantly with beautifully presented dishes appearing at what seemed like every hour from fresh piece apple and melon to my favourite crispy tofu and soybean to barbecue chicken, veg curry and soft potato cakes. We all stayed up to play cards and learn magic tricks late into the night accompanied by jacks ridiculous helium pitched laugh. Eventually tents had been set up and sara and I squeezed in and onto the Ricky ground for a passable nights sleep!
Waking up to a roaring river and jungle views was however incomparable and we ate our beautiful breakfast toast stacks with a troupe of gibbons playing just across the river and the sounds of wild birds in the air. We late around the camp all day until our guides announce that it’s time for face paint. Never ones to avoid fancy dress, Sara and I agree to be trussed up as hilarious crowned, grass skirted, leaf bra wearing warriors and it is a brilliant end to the day before we hop onto tyre inner tubes for a nauseatingly bumpy river ride back to to the lodge!
We grab a bus the next day filled with live chickens and sleepy locals back to Medan the next day, a journey so dusty that my white thirst is visibly dark grey when we arrive back in Sumatra’s capital. As our designated tiding over hostel close to the airport in Medan we spend the next day at the Kuala Namu Guesthouse run by Jay who makes the best Mike goreng and iced tea in all of Indonesia – this is on good authority. In the evening the following day we commence on what will be a fairly traumatic journey to the other side of the island for four days in paradise.
The journey begins with a sleepless car journey that crashes into a ditch and means that stranded in the dark in the middle of nowhere at 3am, Sara and I are bustled into the back of a pickup truck with a random huge Indonesian family for the most uncomfortable 3 hour journey to another car where we drive the final 30 mins to the port. On arrival we have no choice but to fork out for a private boat as the public boat has already left but a bumpy two hours later make it to Pulau Tailana which is the most beautiful island I have ever seen.
We were greeted by Raphne who showed us to our tiny beach hut – no electricity or wifi, just a mosquito net shrouded mattress in a beautifully clean wooden hut with a veranda onto the beach. She rustled us up a lovely Mie goreng which we ate looking out to the sea, both agreeing that the hellish journey was worth it! Over the next few days we woke early to banana pancakes and read on the white sandy beaches with the occasional dip into the impossibly turquoise sea. Our lunch and dinner was always delicious veg with rice unless someone had caught molluscs or fish to accompany! The island took only 15 minutes to walk around and we must have been one of 10 inhabitants. The occasional boatload of tourists would arrive for an hour or to but largely it was ours to enjoy! On our last night there were rather unexpected fireworks let off right by our hut which was a little terrifying and we were regularly serenaded by the owner Herman and his guitar! Our final day was a little cloudy but still beautiful and we sipped fresh coconuts with our feet in the sand before our mission of a boat trip back. To summarise a long ramble tale we ended up guiding the captain of our speedboat through crocodile infested swamps with the light of an iPhone torch until we finally reached our taxi stop and a long old drive back to Medan!
From there we flew back to Bali to enjoy hot showers, sheets, flushing toilets, gorgeous jewellery markets, meals that weren’t rice and finally some wine before leaving Indonesia for the final time!