Sumatra: Medan & Bukit Lawang
Next stop, Medan, Indonesia. I flew Firefly out of a small airport outside of the city. I was a bit nervous, but it was a real airport. I didn't even have to remove my shoes :) I was headed to meet a friend from Baltimore, who was working in Indonesia for a few weeks. It was tough leaving Malaysia so soon, but I was excited to see a familiar face. Malaysia, I will be back. It was an easy flight, and there is a train that runs from the airport to the city center. Medan is a busy, dirty city and the third largest in Indonesia. My friend was staying at the Grand Aston, which I found via becak. It was a nice hotel, and the room had bath robes, slippers, a spa, and lovely clean sheets. Not too shabby. I found my friend in the lobby, and it was a beautiful reunion. There wasn't much to to in Medan, so most dinners were spent at Merdeka Walk across the street where we were often photographed, stared at, and barraged by questions from teens. Not many tourists stick around Medan, using it mainly as a jumping off point for the rest of Sumatra. But the friendliness and curiosity of the people made me smile nonetheless. I spent my days working in the room and exploring Medan on foot, which turns out to be a rarity in this city. The holes in the sidewalk and the barbed wire along the street gave that away, on top of the constant buzz of traffic. We had a few nights out with my friend's Australian coworker, who was happy to have some visitors with whom to enjoy a few San Miguels, Bintang, and of course a little gado gado.
One such night was before our long minibus ride to Bukit Lawang, but we had to get out of Medan so we sucked it up and endured. We were the first ones on, and we only left the city once it was as full as possible. It stopped, and went, and stopped again. Let's just say it was a long day, and I was happy to have my friend by my side. Luckily there were no live (or dead) animals on board. Small favors. Five hours and 70 km later we were in the beautiful town of Bukit Lawang. Our plan was to do a jungle trek and go see the orangutans in the Gunung Leuser National Park. We were staying at the Riverside Guest House, and they sent someone to meet us at the bus stop. I enjoyed a motorcycle ride while the becak carried our bags. We stayed along the river on a quaint street full of guest houses, restaurants, shops, and homes, only accessed by pedestrians and motorbikes. It was a nice place, and we had a double room overlooking the river.
That night we explored the town and found a place with live music and people singing along. We joined in after our meal, and luckily I had brought along my egg shaker :) We sang familiar songs, learned some Indonesian favorites, and heard songs with lines about banana pancake, orangutans, hotel bukit lawang, nasi goreng, and gado gado. It was lovely, welcoming and free. We fell asleep to the sound of the river and awoke to the shrieks of the macaque monkeys. It was time for our jungle trek! We had a short time in Bukit Lawang so we decided to pay for guides to have a higher chance of finding the orangutans. Off we went! Our first encounter after hiking straight up a tiny path was with a beautiful Thomas Leaf monkey that was a bit curious, so we got a good look. We hiked a bit further and then we came upon the first orangutans... a mother and baby. I was blown away – it was incredible and they were gorgeous. I could have sat there for hours and watched them interact and play in the trees. We kept moving, and that day we saw 9 orangutans (5 babies! ), gibbon, more Thomas Leaf monkeys, and gorgeous forest. Our guides (Pepan & John) provided a fruit break by the river and nasi goreng lunch on the top of the hill. We trekked our buns off, but it was well worth it. At the end we crossed the river to catch the “jungle taxi” back to town... this was a series of connected inner tubes that would periodically get stuck on the rocks. Funny ride down the river, and I ended up overboard more than a few times. It was a wonderful day, worth the effort, and I'd love to explore more of the Park. Having guides allowed us to really enjoy our surroundings, but I would recommend they lower the price a bit. Stay welcoming Bukit Lawang... we'll be back! Bali here we come...
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Combining a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference & a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born.
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