Day 140 – Jingle Bells in Bukit Lawang

The recommendation from our guides was to get up early to increase or chances to see Orangutans. When we got downstairs, a macaque jumped away, having stolen something from the kitchen. Despite being watchful, we didn’t see any more apes or monkeys.

Giving it pieces of banana

Giving it pieces of banana

Until we had banana pancakes for breakfast. Then, a “funky monkey” (I don’t actually know what kind of monkey it was) appeared to join in the breakfast. We fed it a bit and took pictures but I refrained from touching it.

After breakfast, we went on a walk through the garden. It is quite steep and full of fruit trees just for the apes and monkeys. Suria pointed to many a tree and said “never had fruit from this one, the monkeys get there first”. Well, it’s the whole point of the garden to give the apes a variety of things to pick from. We sat down on a giant “jungle umbrella” leaf and waited for over an hour but no Orangutans appeared. It was a long shot to begin with.

It was very peaceful, though, to look at the wall of green on the other side of the river and hear some of the birds call.

It kept hanging around to wait on more banana

It kept hanging around to wait on more banana

Back at the lodge, we packed our things. Rafting back to Bukit Lawang was scheduled for 11am and the inner tubes were already being tied together. Down in the main area, we now had the company of four “funky monkeys” who were waiting on an opportunity to get into the kitchen. Most likely to steal more food.

Our full backpacks were put into double plastic bags which then were tied down very tightly so the whole thing looked very secure. Our shoes were in the pack as well this time so we would just have one set of wet clothes in the end and a whole bag full of dry clothes still with the motorcycle. And off we went!

Our rafting trip was accompanied by Suria who sat in front to steer and look out for dangers. Then us two on the middle tube, feet and legs hanging over the rim and Merah in the back, also with a staff for steering. Ikbal hopped on the left side of our tube and double-functioned as a human shield: Whenever we got close to rocks, he would use his feet to push us away from them, so the tubes never actually hit a rock.

The guys transported some of the empty equipment back so we had an empty gas bottle hanging from the back tube as well. You could hear the “clonk” sometimes when it hit something.

...hell yeah! Our awesome make-shift raft!

…hell yeah! Our awesome make-shift raft!

Rafting was fun. The three guys had so much fun that it felt a bit like they were doing it for themselves which was great. They were laughing and singing a song that had the melody of Jingle bells but lyrics saying something about watching monkeys in Bukit Lawang while they were getting soaked, smashed and bruised. Their good mood never left them. The river has some decent rapids where Flo and I got pretty thoroughly soaked but it also has parts where the bed is wide and the water level thus shallow. The “jungle taxi” faced quite some “traffic jams” when the guys had to jump off and drag us back into deeper water.

Seeing the hiking path from the river, it definitely made more sense to take this route back. Soon we were close to the village again. Suria had told us about a flood just over a week ago but the damage was only really comprehensible if you see it from the river. Whole concrete flood walls had been torn down, bridges and bits of buildings were still lying in the river and had to be navigated while parts of buildings were still standing on the verge of collapsing or falling into the river. Guest houses with half a room open to the river because the other half had been torn away; guest houses with doors leading straight into the river because the veranda had been taken. Seeing this massive destruction, we could understand how the only boat ferrying visitors across to the Orangutan feeding station might have been lost in the flood and why this is a fact the guides are reluctant to share. Now, maybe more than ever, the money tourists bring in is needed. With 75% of tourists coming exclusively to see Orangutans, it is a hard hit that the boat is gone and hasn’t been replaced yet.

We stopped at a pile of rubble over which we could climb out of the river. All our things had made it in one piece and dry while we had made it in one piece and soaking wet. Out of the water, Flo commented very silently that this rafting could have gone bad quite easily with concrete and steel cables in the water but we both chose not to think about it for long. We did have three human shields as bad as it sounds…

Ikbal and his custom-made trike

Ikbal and his custom-made trike

For the next hour, we were occupied with getting back on the road. Changed into a set of dry clothes, packed all our luggage again so it could be strapped onto the bike, had a snack of deep fried tofu, tempe, potato and bananas as dessert and left towards Tanjungbalai, the harbour from which we want to ship out of Indonesia.

The first kilometres were a much easier ride than on Sunday as all the day trippers were missing but coming close to Medan, everything ground to a hold. I guess this might be what a rush hour looks like in a city that doesn’t have the infrastructure of Jakarta. The going was very slow and time (aka daylight) was starting to run out on us. So we pulled up on the side, decided on a backpacker in Medan and clawed our way there.

The room was more expensive than we wanted and right at a very busy street but Flo was knackered and we needed to stop. At least wifi was available. We then realized that Flo had lost his credit card two days ago. When we were in Medan last, he must have left it in the ATM when he withdrew money for the Orangutan watching. Being only 4km away from the bank where we must have lost the credit card, we put it on the agenda for tomorrow to go there and ask if anyone had found it.