A Sumatran Adventure – Part 2
Bukit Lawang, Sumatra Island, Indonesia – Disaster struck Bukit Lawang in 2003. The logging of the rain forest further up stream coupled with days of torrential downpours sent log laden flood waters into the area. Massive cut trees rammed into the lodges causing death and wiping the slate clean except for the Eco Lodge, which was sensibly built on higher ground. The area has never fully recovered.
Nothing like “we told you so!” Clear cut a rainforest and bad things happen. The villagers I talked to have a hatred of the logging companies; now but it is too late for them.
A direct result was the establishment of an orphanage for the children of the disaster. A Dutch lady and her Indonesian husband worked tirelessly near Amsterdam to earn funds to purchase the land and build the center. Walking through the rubber trees, one comes suddenly on a small Dutch village complete with bright red painted doors, immaculate lawns and the cleanest, most inviting place one could ever see. No workhouse this.
The students attend the local school during the day; but education is supplemented in English, arithmetic, computers, sewing and cooking. All of the students are from the disaster-ravage village. Hopefully, they will have enough saleable skills to get a job.
I realized I had become cynical. I kept looking for the angle of what was in it for these two people. Why the hell would anyone leave Holland, move to the jungle and spend their life savings helping children. Then it dawned on me, there are people in this world who dedicate themselves to the service of mankind and I felt a bit ashamed. My idealism has been restored and I have shifted my mode of thinking back to my Peace Corps days when I was one of them.
The guides are required to take one through the forest. One should not dare to attempt the journey without one because the forest path twists and turns back on itself to confuse even the most experienced hiker. Our escort was a graduate of the Orangutan Information Center guide program. He informed us of the biology and ecology of the forest and the apes and did an excellent job of allowing us see an ape in her nest.
We also met the Thomas Leaf Monkey, a.k.a. Thomas Langur, a native of only north Sumatra and endangered because the greedy s.o.b.’s keep chain sawing the rain forest down.
The name in my passport is Thomas even though I go by Tom and this quickly spread through the staff at the lodge. I am the type of person who talks to everyone and will walk into the kitchen and chat with the dishwasher or cook. We had great deal of good natured fun as I don’t think they had ever met a real Thomas before, a white guy who spoke Indonesian and a person who was interested in even the perceived lowest members of the job ladder.
Unfortunately, some guides are not so ethical. They will feed the orangutans and get them to come down and allow the trekkers to hold and cuddle them. This results in the transmission of diseases from humans to apes, stresses the animals because this is not a normal behavior, and creates a higher infant mortality rate.
A British couple next door to me bragged on how they performed such deeds and I immediately told them what I thought of them. There is no excuse as all tourists are warned of correct behavior regarding the forest animals.
I mean, the Orangutan Information Center has signs in English not to touch these apes, brochures are all over the lodge, yet they decided to disobey all of this. I hoped I shamed them good but probably not. Look up jerk in the dictionary and there will be a picture of this, rich, arrogant couple who believe they are above the law. They are right there with bankers who are receiving vast amounts of bonuses on the backs of you and me.
The small village of Bukit Lawang coupled with the efforts of the Orangutan Information Center will remain a jewel in the rough of north Sumatra. Hopefully, people will visit, purchase souvenirs to support the local economy and demand guides trained only by the center.
When you go there, and I hope you do, plan on not seeing an orangutan because that means everyone’s efforts to return them to the wild has succeeded. Enjoy the people, the butterflies, the jungle, the cool air and above all, enjoy yourself.
...Life is good