The Bee Farm

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.

There was one exception to this rule, however, and luckily, we discovered it early in our trip!

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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!

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!

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.

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!

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.

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!

Oslob’s Whale Sharks

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.

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Some things….like this public urinal, for example…are unforgetable

 

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.

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Whale Sharks are the world’s largest fish. But don’t worry…they aren’t the type of sharks that eat people. They just eat tiny krill, so swimming with them is pretty safe.

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.

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I learned that although the government has set up all sorts of rules that tourists and tour operators are suppose to follow, it doesn’t stop people from touching the fish.  Sharks have very sensitive skin, so a watch or a ring can easily hurt one of these beautiful animals. 

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?

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The whale sharks are swarmed by people and boats as soon as they arrive.  Tourists are also only given a few moments in the water with them, before they are told to get out, to make way for more tourists…

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.

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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.

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I’d be happier if these animals didn’t join the very long list of critically endangered animals in our oceans.

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!

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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!

Komodo National Park

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.

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For those of you who have been following along, we started in the north of Sumatra, then down to Java.  Our 3rd stop was Komodo National Park

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.

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We visited both Komodo and Rinca Island, but Padar Island took the cake

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.

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This display was effective enough to show what the Komodo Dragons eat, but I feel like some write ups about the Dragons in a learning center would have been nice. All of the information we learned about the park came directly from the employees, which was a problem if you couldn’t hear them because you fell behind getting photos etc.

The Dragons

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.

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Yeah….that’s blood on his face…

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.

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Perhaps their poor manners have to do with their non-existent upbringing!

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.

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It’s a very slow acting venom that can take a week to fully kick in. It’s not good to be a deer or buffalo on this island…

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!

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The guides did point out this Komodo egg den for us.  That information seems legit 🙂

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.

Padar Island

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…

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….

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!

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!!!

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.

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.

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….

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.

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Dave loves diving as much as I love the jungle!

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!

Sumatra – Bukit Lawang – Part 2

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.

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In fact, I wish Jimmy had arrived a tad earlier, so we could have asked him about this gorgeous little bird we saw while we were eating breakfast at the guesthouse!

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!)

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This was taken by a visitor back when the feeding platform was still open to the public. From what I understand, they are no longer feeding the Orangutans this way, but it’s still a popular hang out for them nonetheless.

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.

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Beautiful birds!

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!

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Quite the sight!

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.

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Nasi Goreng (Fried Ride) a la Jungle

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!!

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Who? Me????

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.

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)

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Seen here: Marie, barely holding it together. Sardi: Really hoping he wasn’t going to have to chase me down the river…like he had his flip flops…twice…as they slipped off my feet

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.

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!

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Mawan also prepared clean water for us for the hike the following day

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!)

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.

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I’m not particularly fond of macaques. There are hundreds of them living in Guiyang, and I’ve had them steal right from my hand! These guys weren’t as aggressive, but I wasn’t entirely trustful of them nonetheless

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”.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.

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That night, after we’d had a chance to shower and rest, we head back to the clubhouse for Jungle Trivia! We were ‘Team Lao Wei’ (team foreigner), and we even won!

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.

You can also check out all sorts of cool initiatives they have going on in Bukit Lawang for eco-tourism, environmentally friendly alternatives and the school where they hook up volunteers to teach adorable Indonesian kids!

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Dave and I with our guides and Dodi, the co owner of the business (and Janine’s husband)

Sumatra – Bukit Lawang – Part 1

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.

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Click Here to learn more about this wonderful company! You can also click here to go to their Facebook page!

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.

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Visiting with the lovely Janine after our 2-day jungle trek

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.

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Including this volcano, which blew up in a pretty major way a few weeks later! (don’t worry, no one was hurt!)

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.

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.

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!

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!

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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.

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!

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.


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.

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I tried my hand at coconut carving. I didn’t do very well, but you can learn more about that here.

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.

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I took this picture on our way back from coconut carving. I really feel like it’s one of my most representative photos of the whole trip. People in Indonesia were so warm and friendly both to us, and to one another.

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).

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!

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Sitting down for dinner at the Guest House. For the most part, the guesthouse goes without electricity (it’s about 5km from town), but at night they have a generator for necessities. It’s a shame I couldn’t get a clearer picture, but I ‘m glad I thought to get one at all! It was such a perfect way to end Day 2.

Next time, I’ll be devoting an entire post about our Jungle experience with the Sumatran Orangutans, so stay tuned!

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Let’s just say… I made good use of my camera!