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February 3, 2010

A Sumatran Adventure Part 1

Tom McLaughlin

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia – The river that divides this tropical village can be jumped with a flying leap by a high school track star. Water rushes through the small valley frothing clear and pure. A swinging bridge connects the two sides with a warning that only a few people can cross at the same time.


I hated that bridge. The first couple of times I crab walked sideways holding on to the rails with both hands, suffering from vertigo and balance loss. Finally, Suriani, my new bride, let me hold on to her shoulder as I made it – eyes closed. After the third day, I did it all by myself. Lots to be said for small victories.


On the east bank, hugging the hillside, several lodges rent out rooms and cottages for tourists. A steep climb to the sparse rooms, consisting of a mosquito net covered bed, a private toilet and bucket-tub bathing system, provide all the comforts required of jungle visits.


A Hilton they are not, and it took a lot to create the amount of courage needed each bath time to dip the scoop in and dump cold mountain water over my body. After the third day, I quite screaming as the first shot cascaded over me as people began to complain. I said it was a howler monkey.


A cement walkway, about a kilometer long, runs parallel to the lodge entrances with assorted kiosks selling the usual t-shirts and junk associated with the tourist trade. An occasional Internet café appears. To my utter astonishment, the computers connected to the net at a frantic speed, better than in Kuching or in the states.


The United Nations must have sent in financial advisors from boardwalks and tourist shops throughout the United States. “Sell junk, and the tourists will buy it” must have been the financial plan foisted on these wonderful people.


The west bank rises steeply upwards and is home to the “Eco Lodge Bukit Lawang Cottages,” owned by the lady who established the Orangutan rehabilitation center in the early 70’s. Rooms cost anywhere from $15-$30 including breakfast. My $15 room had a mosquito net with holes, a bathroom from a flop house in downtown Baltimore and ancient furniture. But, it was very, very clean and the double bed comfortable. I am sure the other rooms are much nicer.


My idea of camping is the first floor of a Holiday Inn. That is as natural as I want to go. It took a great amount of courage to stay in this sparse, intermittent electricity, no television or sweet bathrooms soaps. Congratulate me! I did it with minimal complaint. Okay, a lot of complaint! But my new bride made things soooooo much better.


The town, if you want to call it that, had seen better days. It was once the “in” place to visit as posh lodgings lined the river and accommodated the wealthy tourists. They were attracted to the rehab center and later the feeding station to observe the orangutans. Jungle trekking also provided added adventure.


I have never been one to be part of the “in” crowd and I hope I never am. If a place is currently “the place to be” it’s because I mistakenly wandered in. I attract the apes, children, mentally challenged and I am glad I do. They have so much to add to all our lives. The rich, famous and “in” people are vapid, devoid of sensitivity and I just don’t like them. is good


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