Travel days can be a bit of a bummer, but when your travel day involves going deep into a 130 million year old rain forest, things get a lot more interesting!
We began in Kuala Lampur. The bus company we booked, Han Tours, was located right next to a Travel Lodge, so we booked a night there and were waiting outside for our bus at 8:00am.
Unfortunately, our bus wasn’t a bus. It was a mini van, which is much less comfortable and much more crowded. When you travel through Asia, you learn that ‘bus’ can mean a lot of different things. I’ve been in nice buses, small buses, mini van buses, buses with standing room, buses with live chickens in them, buses driven by maniacs. This wasn’t the worst bus we’ve seen.
It ended up being another passenger who made this trip unbearable, and not the lack of leg room. He caughed and sneezed without covering his mouth the whole 3 hour trip. Coronovirus has me acutely aware of coughers and sneezers at the moment and, unfortunately, we couldn’t find masks in KL, so I felt extremely exposes in that enclosed space. I used a lot of hand sanitizer, and gave a lot of dirty looks on our journey to the jungle.
3 hours later, I was thrilled to get off that bus and away from “Sir Sneezes A Lot”. Kuala Tembeling was nice. We had lots of time to kill while we waited for the boat to pick us up. It’s faster to take a bus from KT to the little jungle town where we were staying, but who can resist a boat ride through the jungle!!
If you’re planning to take this route to the jungle, be warned: the the boats are pretty small and there isn’t much room for luggage. It’s pretty handy that you can pay your National park fee in that little town though, and you can also have some lunch while you’re there. Sadly, the cater to “Western tastes”, meaning the food is lacking in flavour and mostly just deep fried and salty.
Once the boat arrived, it wasn’t long before we were on our way. It was quite a long ride; 3 hours. We were pretty uncomfortable by the end of it, shifting our weight around to get feeling back in our numb bums, but I’d recommend the trip anyway. It was gorgeous.
One other thing worth mentioning to anyone who’s considering taking this trip: bring sun screen! The boat is covered overhead, but as the sun starts moving down in the sky, you’ll get a sun burn if you’re on the left side of the boat. My arms are now 2 different shades of tan as a result.
It was a beautiful trip to a beautiful town. We’ve loved our stay here so far and I have plenty to write about it! Check back soon!
I consider myself a strong supporter of ecotourism. When planning a trip anywhere the first thing I do is look for the best ecotourism destinations within the country we’ve decided to visit. Then I look for companies that provide eco-friendly and eco-conscious options. In Indonesia, we discovered Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking. In Thailand we discovered Elephant Nature Park.
As a strong supporter of Ecotourism, I am very opposed to the following activities:
Elephant riding (torture)
Tiger Parks (over-breeding & drugging animals as well as farming Tiger parts for TCM and other gross activities)
Any tour where wild animals are fed, touched or interacted with unnecessarily
Any experience that involves using animals as entertainment (unless you’re just watching them be animals…I find that quite entertaining, actually!)
Any tour that involves unnecessary damage to the environment
Any activity that promotes the destruction of natural habitats
Any activity that takes advantage of the poor, disabled or young
I typically do a lot of research before booking an eco tour with any company. I was in touch with the folks at Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking for weeks before I booked. I wanted to make sure that my presense in the jungle wasn’t going to be harmful to the animals and I wanted to make sure that I was working with an ethical company that pays its employees fair wages and gives back to the community.
Our trip to Vietnam this time around didn’t have much on the itinerary, to be honest. We just wanted a low key holiday to relax and enjoy some sunshine. Of course, a lot of our time here has been cloudy (and therefore a bit cold), so we’ve been finding non-beach related things to do as we go.
Our last morning in Hoi’an was spent doing something that was labeled an “eco tour”. Now, given the price of this tour I wasn’t expecting much. I figured we’d go out in a little coconut boat for a bit, paddle around, admire some coconut trees and that would be all. I was wrong (and I HATE being wrong!)
We’ve run into this before. Many companies like to use the word “eco” to attract people, but never give a thought as to what “eco” is supposed to mean. For example, on a good eco tour, your guide will speak softly, so that they don’t disturb the local wildlife. This is what we experienced during our Hong Tour in Phucket. It was lovely and we ended up seeing several wild animals because no one was shouting and scaring them away.
In Indonesia, our guides picked up any garbage they saw in the jungle. Sardi, my favourite of our guides, even kept his cigarette butts and didn’t leave them behind, even though he easily could have.
In Bukit Lawang, Phuket and Chiang Mai, culture was celebrated. Staff were treated well and we were taught about traditions and customs. In Bukit Lawang we got to hear our guides tell stories about how they grew up in the jungle village. We learned about their families and we compared Indonesian culture with Canada’s and China’s. In Thailand we learned about the ancient custom of releasing lanterns into the water. Our guide taught us how to make them so that they are 100% biodegradable so that there is no pollution left behind.
The easiest way to tell if you are in a “mass tourism” situation or if you’re on a legit eco tour is this: Ecotours typically feel relaxing. You feel like you’re part of something good. You remember your guide’s names. You remember little details that made you smile. You have time to really experience things.
Mass tourism, on the other hand, feel rushed. You’re on an assembly line. No one tells you their names, or if they do, it’s a formality and they never call you by yours. You’re rushed from one point to the next, they ask you for money many different times for many different reasons, and then you’re on your way.
If you’re reading this and wondering about those Coconut Tours… Please don’t waste your time or your money. Spend a bit of time online and look for something that is more dignified, because I promise you’ll enjoy yourself more.
Pro Tip: if you’re online and confused about which companies are doing real eco tours and which are just using the words to lure people in, here are some good things to look for:
The definition of Ecotourism somewhere in there website
Mentions of conservation or wildlife protection
mentions of building up their community or community projects that the company is currently working on
Slightly higher costs (because they’re looking at quality of experience… Not quantity of guests)
If I want to look at the bright side, at least I can say that this was a good reminder of why we don’t do stuff like this anymore!
In the past month, Indonesia has been hit with several devastating earthquakes. Many of the people I met in Lombok and on the Gili Islands were surely affected by these deadly events. I’ve found myself thinking about our time there a lot.
Below is a post I began writing in Spring, but never got around to finishing until now. Through this post, I hope to inspire people to visit this beautiful island country and to better understand it as well. Whether you are an avid traveler, or simply dream of one day being able to travel, this post is full of all the reasons why I would recommend Indonesia as a travel destination for pretty much anyone.
In the last 4 years, I’ve done a lot of travelling. I’ve had a lot of experiences, eaten a lot of different food and met a lot of different people. From the Hongs of Thailand, to the Thar Desert in India, I’ve never visited anywhere that didn’t offer some sort of spectacular adventure.
Sea Canoes in Thailand
Ziplining in Laos
Motorbike tours in Vietnam
Camel riding in India
Sometimes though, you find a country that offers more than just destinations and good food. Those countries captivate you and take a piece of your heart. They change the way you see the world. Cambodia did that for me, and it became the country I compared all other countries too. Now, Indonesia has also been added to that list, and today I’d like to tell you why.
Diversity & Tolerance
Before going to Indonesia, I’d read a lot of things. I knew, of course, that Indonesia is the country with the most Muslims in the world. I also knew that for the most part, Indonesia’s a pretty peaceful place. We’d heard of some problems in Jakarta, so we avoided the city, but even there, you’re never in any real danger.
Similarly, Aceh province has a bit of a bad reputation, as its provincial government tries to enforce shariah law. There is a large group of fundamentalist Muslims in the area, and as a result, Indonesia makes news headlines with some of the things that happen there. The important thing to remember, however, is that Aceh does not represent all of Indonesia. Everyone we went in the rest of the country, we saw tolerance and friendliness.
I was honestly very surprised by the diversity in Indonesia. Right from the moment we arrived in Sumatra, we saw it. On Samosir Island, you find Christianity and Batik culture. When you move to Bukit Lawang, you see more Islam. Jogjakarta is also primarily Muslim, but the world’s biggest Buddhist temple is nearby along with a very famous Hindu temple. Flores was Christian while Lombok and the Gili Islands had several mosques. There are all sorts of people in Indonesia, and contrary to some of the things I’ve read in the news, everyone seems to get along pretty well. They were polite and friendly not only with tourists…but also with each other.
Ecotourism & Positive Tourism Experiences
Of course, ecotourism was a huge pull for me in Indonesia. All over the country, responsible tour operators are running businesses that encourage care for the environment and all the living things within those environments. With Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking, we were able to experience Orangutans in their natural environment. In addition to learning about these beautiful primates, we also learned about the other flora and fauna in the area, and about what it’s like to grow up in Bukit Lawang. Getting to know Sardi and Jimmy was one of the absolute best parts of my time in Indonesia, and I feel good about having chosen Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking for my tour, because I can see the difference they are trying to make their community better through a variety of initiatives.
Similarly, when we decided to go Komodo National Park, we looked at many tour operators before choosing Flores XP Adventure. While we did have some problems with the boat they rented, overall, Komodo XP was an excellent Eco Tour operator. Archer was very knowledgeable about the marine life, as were the rest of the XP crew.
Most importantly, Flores XP takes ecological conservation seriously. No garbage was left on Padar Island when we left. Archer stopped the boating crew from fishing more than once (they were not part of the XP team, but had been hired out because the XP boats were in for maintenance.). I like that Archer and his team followed the laws that were set to help protect this incredibly bio diverse area.
Even Jogjakarta was a good destination for good tourism practices. Our hotel was run by two of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. Similarly, the staff at ViaVia, a fair trade store Dave and I discovered, went above and beyond to make our experience a good one. The money spent for our time at the two temples on Java was also put to very good use. The restoration and protection of both Borobudur and Prambanan was evident and we felt good about spending a bit more to be a part of preserving the culture on Java island.
Which leads me to the #1 reason why I loved Indonesia so much.
If you ask most people who travel extensively, they’ll tell you that it always takes a day or two to get a handle on what things are suppose to cost. Currencies are different from country to country, after all, something that costs $2 in Canada, might cost 5000vnd in Vietnam.
Foreigners are also charged extra in many places, to the point where the practice has been dubbed ‘the foreigner tax’. When you combine that tax with a new currency, it’s a recipe for scams and rip offs. So, when we arrived in Sumatra, and everyone kept charging us 3500rp for water, we just assumed the real price was 2000.
It took us a few days, but soon we realized that the prices we were being given, were legitimate. People in Indonesia simply charged us the cost of the water, without additional fees. It wasn’t long before we realized that even when vendors did bring up their prices a little bit for us in the market, it was never outrageous. We simply weren’t ripped off in Indonesia.
But the honesty we saw in Indonesia wasn’t even the thing that made our interactions with locals so good. What I loved most about the people in Indonesia was how incredibly welcoming and warm they were. Everywhere we went we were greeted and welcomed by locals. Every now and then someone would want a picture of us, but usually, they were happy just to say hello.
Of course, no country is perfect. There were some things about Indonesia that I wasn’t crazy about. Their coffee, for example, was a bit disappointing. Although some of my favourite beans come from Sumatra, coffee culture within the country is not what I expected.
More importantly, while Sumatra, Jogjakarta and Lombok were full of honest and friendly people, The Gili Islands and Labuan Bajo were actually a bit disappointing. In Labuan Bajo (the capital of Flores island), the service industry is very lacking. We honestly felt that we weren’t wanted at our hotel. The employees were often absent, or sitting around, talking with friends, and any time we tried to order food or drinks, we were told they were out. Worst of all, the Wifi at the hotel wasn’t working (and Dave had a deadline to meet), although it was working everywhere else on the island. When I asked about it, I was told that I ‘should have gone to Bali’.
Gili T is well set up for tourists, but there, you encounter the ‘foreign tax’ that didn’t exist elsewhere in the country. The people were nice, but we were paying 3-4x more to do basically anything on Gili Trawangon.
A perfect example of this was when I sent my post cards in Lombok. I had people dropping what they were doing to help me put stamps on all the post cards. We chatted and laughed together and raced to see who could finish first. When I tried to buy stamps on Gili T, the guy at the post office tried to tell me that the stamps were 4x the price I knew they should cost.
One last thing that is worth mentioning, is that this was MY perfect trip. I love wildlife. I love ecotourism. I love culture and I love adventure. I also don’t mind getting dirty or being cut off of the internet now and then. Bukit Lawang was what some people might consider ‘rugged’ and a lot of work. That was very much part of the appeal for me. If you like staying in a 5 star resort with a saltwater pool and a swim up bar, Sumatra might not be the best place for you, and perhaps Bali is a better option.
The way you travel will also affect your experiences in the country. I’ve heard from many people that taking long distance buses in Indonesia is a nightmare. Dave and I opted to pay a bit more and fly for time’s sake. We also rent motorbikes whenever possible so paying taxis and taking public transit was never really necessary. These are all things that can impact your holiday.
So, should you go to Indonesia?
Yes….Because from Bali to Bajo, there’s something for everyone!
One of my favourite aspects of travelling is all the new foods I get to try. Going to the Philippines, Dave and I were especially excited because we’ve always enjoyed Filipino cooking in Winnipeg (where the Filipino population is huge!). Unfortunately, the food on Cebu Island was a bit of a let down.
This wasn’t what I was expected when I ordered my first corned beef sandwhich in The Philippines
Canned food is something Dave and I hardly ever touch
Even when it wasn’t canned food, it was still processed
At the end, that isn’t ground beef. It’s corned beef.
Even the coffee is processed
There was one exception to this rule, however, and luckily, we discovered it early in our trip!
The Bee Farm is so much more than just a place with a lot of bees. We stayed at the Bee Farm hotel on Panglao island, but we also visited the restaurant in Cebu City as well as The Buzz Cafe in Tagbilaran. All 3 of these locations had honey products for sale, and so much more!
Everything is made by locals
They also make textiles and art using plant based organic materials
We stayed at the Panglao Bee Farm Hotel, which was quite an experience! We shared the family room with Deb and Dedrick, with us taking upstairs, and them taking the main floor. The whole cabin had such a rustic feel to it. The bathrooms even included soap made right at the Bee Farm!
With 3 pools to choose from, it was a beautiful hotel to stay at!!
The weather was a bit gloomy our first day there, but it didn’t damper our moods!
The view from the dock
We didn’t take the Bee Farm tour, because Dedrick and Deb had actually visited a few weeks earlier (they were leaving the Philippines just as we got there), but we still walked around and admired the very well-kept grounds.
An adorable bench.
Some farm grown herbs and plants
What I loved most about The Bee Farm was the quality of fresh and organic food. With so many of our options being processed food, it was so nice to eat good whole grain bread, and proper coffee with honey instead of sugar!
Honey Glazed Chicken
Cassava chips and pesto sauce. Cassava is similar to potato but a healthier option
Very tasty veggie wraps drizzled with a honey dressing
My Salted Honey Frappe at The Buzz. Delicious!!!
The only problem I had with the Bee Farm was that their products were mostly in containers that were too big for carry-on luggage (we had traveled to the Philippines without any checked bags). Still, I couldn’t resist making a stop in Cebu city, on our way out of the country, to pick up my 2 favourite Bee Farm Products: Honey Spread and Chili Honey. I knew there was a chance that they would be taken from me at the airport, but it was worth the risk.
The Buzzz Restaurant in Cebu City
Lots of products for sale here, including honey, coffee, tea, cassava chips and so much more!
They did make it home..and I’ve been putting spicy honey on all my farmer sausage all month!
That’s it for the Philippines! I still have posts about Malaysia and Indonesia planned, plus several posts about Southern Manitoba. Stay tuned!
My sunburn has subsided, and the bruises I collected on our Cebu holiday have now all but disappeared, but my memories of our time in the Philippines have not.
Now, before I get into writing about our time in Cebu, I want to write about one activity we decided NOT to do. Most people who travel to Cebu Island stay in the little town of Oslob. We opted to stay in a town nearby this popular tourist destination, but we skipped the activity most people do while in the area: swimming with whale sharks.
For those of you who know me, this probably seems like the kind of thing I would love! Swimming in the ocean…seeing incredible wildlife…learning about a fascinating animal… but after spending the last 4 years learning how to be a responsible tourist, I took the time to learn about the Oslob Whale Sharks, and I learned how human contact affects the fish.
First, I should say that unlike riding an elephant, swimming with whale sharks is not as obviously harmful to the animals. They are not captive or trained in any way, so on the surface, it doesn’t seem like swimming with them should be too much of a problem. After all, they are just being given some free food. What’s the harm?
Unfortunately, whale sharks in the area are becoming too comfortable around boats, and are frequently hurt when they approach fishermen, expecting food. Some fish are also dealing with malnutrition, because the krill they are fed by the fishermen is only 1 of the various types of fish they need in their diets. Unfortunately, if their bellies are full of this free krill, they don’t search for food, and don’t get all the nutrients they need.
But there’s actually a bigger problem with feeding the Whale Sharks of Cebu Island. The free food they receive is actually changing their migration patterns and many scientists believe that this will ultimately result in fewer whale shark babies being born.
Ultimately, we decided that seeing the whale sharks was not as important as protecting them, so we chose not to go on that adventure. We did, however, see Tumalog Falls, a church made of coral stone and of course, and the highest point on all of Cebu Island!
Over the next few weeks, I have several posts planned about our week in paradise. They will all be short, and full pictures, so stay tuned!
After leaving Jogjakarta, we flew to the city of Labuan Bajo. We already knew we wanted to see Manta Rays in Indonesia, if possible, but when we learned that they can be found in Komodo National Park, there was no doubt we were going to visit this area of the country.
About Komodo National Park
Komodo National Park is more than 1,700km square and consists of 3 major islands as well as many smaller ones. It was founded in 1980 to help protect the very rare Komodo Dragon, but since then has become a protected zone for many other animals as well. Roughly 4,000 people live in the park, and many of them work in the tourism industry.
The park itself is pretty undeveloped and Dave and I were both pretty disappointed that more of the very high entrance fees weren’t used to keep the parks looking a bit nicer, but I wouldn’t say our visit was a waste of money…and it definitely was worth the trip to this area of Indonesia.
The dragons are what bring most people to Komodo, and they’re quite the sight to see! I can’t say I have a lot of love for them, but definitely respected them enough to keep a safe distance.
They’re clearly fed by locals because as soon as you arrive on Komodo Island, you see them all huddled around the restaurant where locals eat.
We saw plenty of other dragons along the way, and we learned about some of their rather nasty habits. Did you know Komodo Dragons spend their first few years living up in trees? They need to hide from other Dragons because these giant lizards are cannibalistic. They’re also terrible mothers, and do nothing to care for their young after they hatch.
As I’ve been researching for this blog, I’ve been learning more about these animals and sadly, I’m seeing that at least some of the information provided at the park was false. We were told multiple times that what kills animals from Komodo bites is the various types of bacteria in their mouths. Scientists recently discovered though, that a dragon’s mouth is no dirtier than any other animal’s. What kills their prey is a venom that they release when they bite.
This is actually why I enjoy when there is posted information available at parks and animal reserves. We had the same thing happen in India, and I’ve learned to fact check things before posting them in my blog. Apparently, you can’t trust everything local guides tell you about the animals native to their countries!
Rinca and Komodo were virtually identical in most ways. Both islands had dragons…and both islands were incredibly hot. We were marched around by guides who told us about the flora and fauna in the area (sorta…). We saw 1 massive buffalo, but the guide chased it away before most of our group even knew it was there. We also saw deer, birds and even some monkeys. I was already suffering from some heat exhaustion, so I only took 2 or 3 photos on Rinca, which is pretty regrettable. It was definitely the nicer of the two islands.
There wasn’t a whole lot of shade on Komodo Island either…and given that it was well over 40 degrees celcius, that was a problem for me….
Heat exhaustion began early…
Some of our group, walking ahead
Padar Island was actually our second stop (Komodo Island was #1 and Rinca was #3). We arrived on the island shortly before sunset. Now, I should add that nothing was really explained beforehand on this tour…we would just arrive and do things. Any time I asked what was next, our guide would tease me for ‘worrying too much’. So, when we arrived on the beach of this little island, I figured we’d be spending some time watching the sun set from the pink sand. As it turns out, we were climbing a small mountain…
The island from far away
The trail….beautiful, I know
Dave giving me an opportunity to rest
Now, I should also explain why this small hill was a big deal for me. I mean…I did a much harder climb than this in Kuala Lumpur and our Jungle Trek was WAY more intense. The problem was, at this point, I was suffering from pretty bad heat exhaustion. I was having a hard time catching my breath and I was completely and totally exhausted. If our guide had told us we’d be climbing, I probably would have stayed in the boat. So, I guess it’s lucky I didn’t know what to expect because….
It was absolutely stunning
Each part of the sunset offered new beautu
When we arrived at the peak, we sat around, sipping beer and cold water, and chatting about life in Indonesia. Before we knew it, the sun had set and we had to climb down the ‘mountain’ in the dark. We all used our cell phones to light the way and it was probably pretty dangerous, as the path wasn’t really much of a path. But…at least it wasn’t all done in the sun!
Padar Island in Indonesia
Dave chatting with Archer, our French tour guide
Our Indonesian guides, along with a fellow tourist.
Time In The Water
Dave and I were both really excited about snorkeling in Komodo National Park because we’d heard that it’s home to so many sea animals and beautiful coral reefs. The rumours were true, and it was a beautiful place to both dive and snorkel, but what I didn’t know was that about 30% of the sea life in Komodo National Park seem to be jelly fish!! If I didn’t get stung 50 times, I didn’t get stung at all!!!
A boat similar to the one we were on
Full speed ahead!
I was so hopeful at the beginning of this trip…
The snorkeling was good, but as my heat exhaustion worsened, my tolerance for jellyfish lessened. Soon, I made the decision to stay out of the water until there was something REALLY interesting to see.
I didn’t want to be a total party pooper, so I did go out into a tiny boat to check out some mangroves and look for some salt water crocodiles. We did find mangroves…but no crocs were to be found
After spending most of the day on the boat, I was happy to get out a little bit though!
Of course, the real reason we were in the area wasn’t for the dragons, or even for Padar Island (we had no idea it was going to be that beautiful!). The real pull for us was the chance to see Manta Rays.
And of course, our trips aren’t complete unless Dave has had a chance to do some diving!
Vibrant and healthy reefs
Manta Rays are intelligent and curious and we heard from many people that swimming with them is quite the experience! They’re huge, gentle and majestic and I was very much looking forward to seeing the giants in person. This was actually at the top of Dave’s bucket list too, so it was important to me because it was important to him.
Of course, things didn’t turn out the way I’d wanted. I woke up the day of our trip to Manta Point and ended up fainting in the shower….twice. I was so sick from the heat that if the sun touched my skin for even a moment, I became too dizzy to stand. So, while Dave and everyone else went swimming with the mantas…I sipped Sprite under the comfort of my over-sized hat, and tried not to throw up….
The mantas in Komodo National Park were beyond beautiful
I was lucky enough to see 1 Manta right near the front of the boat. It came up to the surface and I was able to watch it from the safety of shade. Mostly, I’m just happy Dave got to see them, because it is truly an incredible experience.
So, I didn’t quite have the experience I’d hoped for in Komodo National Park. I hope to go back some day, to see the sea life and maybe do that discovery dive. Until then, I’ll just have to hang onto the memory of that 1 kind Manta who swam along the surface so that I could admire it’s graceful beauty.
Check back soon! This won’t be my last post of the week!
After 2 nights in the Batu Kapal Guesthouse, it was time to set off on our over-night jungle Trek. Sardi arrived as we finished our breakfast, and before long, we were on our way. Jungle Trek – Day 1
On this 2 day trek, we were joined by a second guide, named Jimmy. Sardi explained that Jimmy’s English was better than his, and that Jimmy knew more about the surrounding area and could better explain all the flora and fauna we’d be seeing on our hike.
It wasn’t long before we started seeing wild life. Before we’d even entered the park, Jimmy spotted a Silver Leaf Monkey, far up in a tree. They’re quite shy, so I was happy to have a proper camera (with zoom) along with me.
As we entered the park, Jimmy stopped to tell us how to stay safe in the Jungle, and to warn us about 2 particularly feisty orangutans who were known to behave badly around humans. Many of the great apes found in this area of the park have been rehabilitated and set free after being in captivity, so it’s natural that not all the orangutans were going to be perfectly comfortable around people. (Personally speaking, I’m BARELY comfortable around people!)
Our next animal encounter was with a pair of Hornbills, who were high up in the trees, but very difficult to miss, as they were quite clumsy moving around and squacking at each other. They were super noisy, though I didn’t actually catch that on video.
I did, however, get a video of one of them eating a berry!!
While we were busy admiring these beautiful birds, Sardi went off on his own to ‘find me a baby orangutan’ (something he’d promised he’d try to do). When he called us over, I don’t think I could have possibly moved more quickly than I did!
There she was. A 3 year old juvenile, eating leaves and playfully hanging from the tree. I stood there and stared for a while, before Dave reminded me that I might want some pictures of her!
Soon, her mother came swinging by on the trees. She was much bigger than I’d thought she’d be, and she didn’t seem the least bit worried about the humans who were watching her child. In fact, she swung across a couple of trees about 6 feet from where I was standing. Sardi had to tell me to back up, because I was too close!
I would have stayed there forever if they’d let me, but after a while we had to move on. Jimmy guided us to an area where we could have some lunch, and we unpacked, pulled up some tree trunks and enjoyed some jungle food.
That’s when we started hearing rustling in the bushes….
There was never a shortage of fresh fruit on our tour, and as Sardi took out the passion fruit…and papaya….and bananas…the rustling got a little closer.
It wasn’t long before we spotted the family of Thomas Leaf Monkeys circling in on us. Now, I’ve mentioned these cute little primates several times, but I’ve waited until this moment to show you what they look like.
Because…they’re flipping adorable!!
These little ‘punk-goth’ monkeys spent the next half hour eyeing our fruit. We were on an eco-tour though, and part of being an ecotourist is knowing that you cannot feed the wild life. It’s bad for them and it can be dangerous for you. So, as much as I wanted to pass off some bananas to these funny little dudes, I refrained, for the sake and well-being of the jungle. I did take lots of pictures though!
I didn’t get much footage of them when we were eating (I actually wasn’t feeling very well at that point. More on that later…), but I did get an awesome video of them when we were at the guesthouse!
We continued on our Jungle walk, stopping now and then to admire a lizard or a tree that had been destroyed by termites.
This little dude was exceptionally cute
A tree hollowed out by termites
Unfortunately, I was really struggling at this point, because, as tends to happen when I go on holidays, my stomach hadn’t really been agreeing with the local food. My fussy stomach has forced me to miss out on adventures in Cuba, India and worst of all, in Laos…but not this time! I dragged my butt through that jungle (and thankfully, Sardi picked up on the fact that I was sick, and he and Dave kept close watch over me the whole way to the camp)
Reaching that camp was such a relief, I nearly cried. It wasn’t that the trail was particularly hard. It was a good level of difficulty and well worth the hike. But, when your body isn’t digesting food properly, the jungle might not be the best place to go. I wouldn’t change it for anything though…not a single moment. The Camp
As soon as we reached the camp, I got into my bathing suit and went and sat in the river to cool down. It was a lovely spot, quite sheltered and the river was very clean.
As I began to relax, Jimmy pointed out that I had a rather large friend heading my way, and I turned to see a meter long monitor lizard swimming lazily nearby. I would have bolted, but I was too tired, so I slowly wiggled my way away from the lizard. I don’t really think he cared much either way.
Some meter long monitor lizards were hanging out nearby. I didn’t get any pictures because I was busy recovering, but Dave managed to get a shot or two
A 3rd guide had been waiting for us when we arrived. His job was to bring our sleeping gear and food and to cook us dinner and breakfast. Even with my upset stomach, the food was great!
That night is one of my favourite memories of the whole trip to Indonesia. We sat out with our 3 guides and chatted about life in Indonesia, life in China and life in Canada. We told us about the frustrations we face living in the big city of Suzhou, and they told us about their 105 year old grandfather who demands that they fetch him mangoes whenever they see him (Sardi and Jimmy are cousins and their grandfather is toothless and more than happy to send his grandsons on quests for soft fruit!)
Our sleeping quarters
The jungle kitchen
I took this the following morning. Sardi was working on my orangutan stone necklaces
I don’t have any pictures of that night. It was dark, and I was tired, but if I I could have held onto that peaceful moment forever, I would have. The sound of the river was hypnotic and I found myself falling asleep long before I meant to. Jungle Trek: Day 2
Mawan prepared us a delicious breakfast of fruit and sandwiches the following morning. My stomach still wasn’t feeling too hot, but I had more energy and I wasn’t nearly as weak as I had been when I’d arrived at the camp the previous day.
We were getting ready to leave, when out of nowhere, a family of 15-20 macaques came parading through the river in front of the camp! They’d smelled the fruit and showed up, hoping for some left overs.
Most of them spooked easily and ran away when they saw us, but one particularly brave macaque hung around and nabbed some watermelon. I watched as he greedily shoved 1/4 of a melon in his mouth, all while looking over his shoulder, making sure none of his family members had returned to rob him of his trophy!
Soon, we were on our way back through the jungle. We took it a bit more slowly on our second day, with both guides now knowing that I wasn’t at 100%. Sardi found us wild cinnamon (it was disgusting) and we saw plenty more birds and even heard gibbons calling out in the distance.
Sardi disappeared again, and before long, he was calling us over because he’d found me another ‘orange friend’. This time, I got smart, and I filmed our walk to find her. I tried not to shake the camera too much, but I really wanted people back home to see how beautiful the forest was and how exciting it was to get your first glimpse of one of these jungle beauties.
Once I got a closer look, I asked Jimmy why she looked sad. I expected him to laugh at me and tell me I was projecting human emotions onto her, but he replied quite simply “Her baby got sick”.
Jimmy continue to tell me Juni’s story, while we watched her sit, lethargically in the tree. As I write this, I wonder if she’s been reunited with her young one.
As luck would have it, I caught a video of the only time she moved in the 20 minutes we watched her.
I’ll never forget her, I’ll tell you that much.
Eventually, we had to move on. We stopped for lunch, and our guides cut up some papaya for me (the only thing that was appetizing at that point), and before long, we were on our way to meet Mawan on the bank of another river.
Instead of doing more hiking, our trip ended with a rafting ride down the river back into Bukit Lawang! It was a tonne of fun, and it made me VERY happy that we still have our old water proof camera!
Jimmy keeping us on track (and away from rocks)
Me, Dave, Mawan and Sardi.
As soon as we reached Bukit Lawang, we were greeted once more by smiling locals. It’s such a gorgeous little town!
I even kept my wits about me and got a video!!
So, in short, if you are reading this because you are considering taking a tour with Bukit Lawang Jungle-trekking, contact Janine NOW! It was the experience of a lifetime, and I would honestly go back and do it all over again tomorrow if given the chance.
I’ll be back soon with a post about Jogjakarta and our stay on Java Island! A few more notes about Bukit Lawang-Jungle Trekking:
If you’d like to read more about Bukit Lawang-Jungle Trekking, you can go to their website here, or check out their Facebook page, here.
Ecotourism has become increasingly important to me over the last 4 years. When I know that my money is being put to good (both for the good of locals as well as for the environment), I enjoy myself more. So, when I began planning our holiday in Indonesia, one of the first things I checked for was “Eco-Tourism in Sumatra”. There were quite a few options to see Sumatran wildlife all over the large island, but one company in particular caught my attention.
I sent them a message and within a few hours I’d received a response from Janine, who proceeded to help me plan out our entire stay in Sumatra.
There were 2 parts to the tour I booked with Janine. Part 1 took us to Samosir Island, which we toured on our own. Part 2 of our trip was an eco-tour we booked in and around Gunung Leuser National Park. We were very happy to have hired a driver for the 7 hour drive to Bukit Lawang; the little jungle town just outside of the national park. Enok was professional, friendly and even made some interesting stops during the 7 hour drive from Lake Toba to Bukit Lawang.
We arrived in Bukit Lawang after dark and in the middle of a massive thunder storm. Our guide, Sardi, arrived with an umbrella for me and a flashlight for Dave and we got our first glimpses of this sweet jungle town.
It seemed like Sardi knew everyone. He greeted people by name as we walked past the restaurants and bars, and everywhere we passed, we heard a chorus of people welcoming us to Bukit Lawang.
A beautiful little town
I wish I’d gotten more photos of this sweet place
We walked over this bridge during the storm. I was terrified! It wasn’t so scary during the day
It was a fantastic way to start our 4-day Eco-Tour.
Day 1 – Getting To Know the Area
We spent our first day hiking through rubber plantations and visiting some of the area around the Gunung Leuser National Park. We saw some wild life while we were out and about and learned about the locals from Sardi.
Excited to get started on our first day
Our little trekking group for the day
A rubber tree. A liquid latex-type sap comes from the trunk. It reminded me of collecting Maple in Canada
The beautiful trail became familiar. We walked it many times.
There were 2 main activities planned for our first day. The first activity was to visit the Bat Cave. As you may have guessed, it is home to 2 different kinds of bats, who were equally cute and sleepy when we arrived. Sardi informed us that pangolins are sometimes spotted in the Bat Cave, which got me pretty excited!
The entrance of the Bat Cave
Pangolins are currently the most illegally trafficked animal in the world. They’re killed for their meat and their scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. They’ve been hunted to the verge of extinction, and up until we reached the bat cave, I didn’t even know there were any of these interesting animals left in Asia!
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any, but it was still exciting to know that there was a possibility (however small). We also got to chat with Sardi about the poaching of pangolins in Indonesia. He told us that several of his family members had been poachers in the past, but was able to get them to understand the importance of protecting these animals and now, those same family members are working to protect them.
My hope is that you leave this post loving Pangolins as much as I do!
Look at that face!!!
Our second big activity for the day happens to be one of my favourite memories of our whole trip. Sardi lead us to a beautiful little spot on the river, where he spent the next hour preparing us an incredible Indonesian-style barbecue. Dave and I spent the time cooling off in the beautiful river, which was much needed after our hike to the cave. We even spotted a family of Thomas Leaf Monkeys while we sat and enjoyed the cool, clean water! It was quite the sight!
This is where we spotted our first Thomas Leaf Monkeys. I’ll be writing more about them later!
Sardi prepared some incredible bbq fish and chicken along with a gorgeous fruit platter. We all sat together beside the river and enjoyed his beautiful meal. We chatted about Sardi’s family and about our lives back in China. It was a gorgeous way to spend a few hours!
After lunch, we made our way to the guesthouse where we were spending our first two nights of the tour. It was a beautiful spot, and with no electronics with us (we left them at our hotel in Bukit Lawang), we were forced to just sit back and enjoy the peacefulness of the area. We walked around a little bit and enjoyed the stream that ran through the property. We spotted some more Thomas Leaf monkeys and laughed at their antics, as they played in the trees. It was the most relaxed I’d felt in months.
Sumatran Jungle, Indonesia
There were lovely little cabanas like this all over the guesthouse property
Some beautiful flowers outside our bugalow
The beautiful river flowing through the property
A gorgeously relaxing place to spend the evening
Day 2 – Sumtran Culture
Day 2 of our time in Bukit Lawang was spent quite differently from Day 1. The focus was more towards the local culture than the local wild life. It was a nice shift and it provided us with opportunities to try out some things we’d never done before.
We spent a lot more time with Sardi, walking through the jungle and even taking motorbikes through the trails. At one point, we reached a rather muddy area, and I noticed there was a woman (also on a motorbike), waiting patiently for us to make it through before she went herself. I laughed and told Sardi that if the same situation were to arise in China, everyone would try to go at the same time, and we would have scared any animals away with all the honking that would surely have ensued.
My favourite part of day 2 was our cooking class back at the guesthouse. We learned how to make traditional Indonesian dishes, such as Sambal, Tempe and, my personal favourite, Pepes (a way of cooking fish in banana leaf, over a fire).
We used many fresh vegetables and lots of spices
We even hand ground the Sambal by hand. They assured us it tastes better that way.
The GORGEOUS fruit platter one of our hosts put together for us
As good as the meal was, the company is what made it so great. There was quite a mixture of people at the guesthouse that night and we got to know them all a bit. In addition to the Indonesian staff, there was a woman from Switzerland and a woman from Germany, as well as a Dutch man who was about to begin a 7 day jungle hike. We sat around for hours, chatting about our travel experiences. Both of the European women were in the area doing humanitarian work, which was very appealing to me (perhaps, one day…). When it was time to go to bed, I was both sad to see the night end, but excited because the following day…our jungle trek to see wild orangutans would begin!
Next time, I’ll be devoting an entire post about our Jungle experience with the Sumatran Orangutans, so stay tuned!
Fairtrade:trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries.
Ecotourism:tourism directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, especially to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.
These two terms have become an increasingly important part of my life the more I’ve traveled. I discovered Fairtrade when I visited British Columbia in 2008. When you learn about Fairtrade, you also learn about “regular trade” and how companies like Walmart and Nestle underpay their employees and overpay their CEO’s.
Certain industries, such as coffee and cocoa are very in need of fair trade practices because without them, farmers are being forced to work for unlivable wages. In turn, coffee and cocoa farmers around the world are moving to different industries, which means less coffee and chocolate for the rest of us.
I learned about Ecotourism later in life. Dave and I “accidently” booked an ecotour because it came discounted with our hotel stay in Phuket, Thailand. The experience was amazing and I was hooked.
Our entire last week in Sumatra was booked through a company that is passionate about Ecotourism. As a result, our guides were paid a fair wage, they taught us about preserving the Indonesian jungle and they took it upon themselves to keep the jungle clean. We left nothing behind; we did nothing to disturb the animals around us.
Our time in Sumatra really left an impression on us, so today I did some digging and I found a fairtrade-focused store in Jogyajarta called Viavia. If you are on our “nice” list, there’s a good chance you’ll be receiving gifts from there this summer.
Our time in Bukit Lawang has ended and I couldn’t be much more bummed about it! We had an amazing time and met some really great people. Last night we met up with Janine, Sardi and Jimmy at the restaurant to say goodbye and play some trivia. Our team won!!
Sardi also had a gift for me. He carved these orangutan necklaces out of stones while we were at the camp. I absolutely love them and think they’re a perfect representation of our stay in Bukit Lawang.
I can’t wait for the chance to go back to Northern Sumatra and see these wonderful people again!!!