Sumatra (2017)

Jungle trekking to orangutans, rafting, scooter riding

In Sumatra we want to visit orangutans in the jungle.

Indonesia is the largest country in Southeast Asia in terms of area and population, the world's largest island nation as well as the fourth most populous nation in the world with about 255 million people. The main islands are Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Sulawesi and New Guinea. Indonesia stretches west-east for 5114 km.

Sumatra is the second largest of Indonesia's 17,508 islands in terms of area. With 55 million people, it is home to a quarter of the country's population.

Passion for the land and its people, fair prices coupled with good service and the rejection of mass tourism approaches: That's what Sumatra EcoTravel stands for, agents for environmentally sustainable active and adventure travel in northern Sumatra. We design tailor-made vacations for our guests without losing sight of the well-being of people and animals in this region as well as the protection of Gunung Leuser National Park, home of the last Sumatran orangutans.

In cooperation with local partners and villagers, EcoTravel Bukit Lawang as an on-site operator offers selected outdoor activities for individual travelers and small groups: from jungle trekking and white water rafting to caving and volcano climbing to elephant riding in the ecotourism village of Tangkahan. Benefit tours to villages around Bukit Lawang and Berastagi support locals and offer deep insights into the traditional lives of Christian Batak and Muslims in Sumatra. On Samosir Island on the famous Lake Toba, the cultural center of Sumatra, and on Pulau Weh, a mecca for divers and snorkelers, recreation is the focus of the Sumatra trip.

Most of the tours stand out from the mass tourist standard and present the "real" Sumatra. Choose from EcoTravel's popular travel packages or create your own personal itinerary by combining our packages with other customized tours, accommodations and transportation! We love to create a tailor-made Sumatra vacation for our guests - from Lake Toba in the east to Pulau Weh in the west, for "flashpackers" or high-budget travelers, for guests 60+ or families, for active travelers or lazy people, pre-planned or with room for spontaneous decisions.

This Sumatra EcoTravel package shows you all the highlights of Northern Sumatra in just one week! It combines the adventures of jungle trekking in the Gunung Leuser National Park with a visit to the famous elephants in Tangkahan and the experience of the traditional Batak culture at Lake Toba, the world's greatest crater lake. En route you will stop at beautiful spots in the Karo Highlands - amongst them are the fruit market in Berastagi, a traditional Batak Karo village and the water falls of Sipiso-Piso. 

Package includes:

DAY 01: Pickup by air-con cab from your Medan hotel (3 hours) or from Kuala Namu Airport (5 hours) and transport to Bukit Lawang: including driver, petrol & porter. Check in to your hotel in Bukit Lawang: EcoTravel Cottages, Jungle View Room, bathroom with western toilet and hot water shower, fan, balcony with jungle/river view, breakfast
DAY 02/03: "Overnight Jungle Adventure" (2-day tour): 2-day trek in the Gunung Leuser National Park, 1 night on a campsite in the jungle , stop at the old orangutan feeding platform area & traditional tube rafting down the Bohorok River back to Bukit Lawang after trekking: includes English speaking guides, porter, rafting skipper, cook, all food and drinking water while trekking , all equipment (tent, mattress, sleeping bag, mosquito net, tubes, safety jackets). Starts at 8:30 am. After trekking stay another night in Bukit Lawang: EcoTravel Cottages, Jungle View Room, bathroom with western toilet and hot water shower, fan, balcony with jungle/river view, breakfast
DAY 04: "Tangkahan Adventure" (1-day tour): Memorable tour by air-con cab to the hidden jungle village of Tangkahan, famous for its Sumatran elephants: includes English speaking guide, driver, petrol, all permits, voucher for washing elephants up to 1 hour in the Buluh River operated by CRU/LPT Tangkahan, lunch and soft drink, Mahout (CRU/LPT). Starts at 09:00 am. Stay another night in Bukit Lawang: EcoTravel Cottages, Jungle View Room, bathroom with western toilet and hot water shower, fan, balcony with jungle/river view, breakfast
DAY 05: Overland transport by air-con cab from Bukit Lawang to Lake Toba (9 hours): On the way you stop at several places in the Karo Highlands: the famous fruit market in Berastagi, a traditional Batak Karo village and the Sipiso-Piso waterfall: includes driver, petrol, all entrance fees on the way, boat tickets (one way!) from Parapat harbour to Samosir Island. Starts at 07:00 am. Check in to your hotel on Samosir Island: Tabo Cottages, Batak Villa, bathroom with western toilet and hot water shower, fan, balcony with garden/lake view, breakfast
DAY 06: Spend your day winding down on Samosir Island swimming, relaxing and just enjoying the beautiful scenery or why not try and explore the island? Don't miss a traditional Batak dance at the cultural center in Simanindo and the historic Batak king's residence at Ambarita. Our partner Tabo Cottages will love to organize tours around Lake Toba, if required. You can also rent a motorcycle and travel around by yourself. Stay one more night on Samosir Island: Tabo Cottages, Batak Villa, bathroom 

Arrival in Medan

Punctually at 19:10 local time we land in Medan and are already expected by the driver. We misjudge the cash withdrawal at the ATM. There are only 50 000 bills (approx. 3,2€). Accordingly thick is the bundle of banknotes. Since there are no ATMs and no credit card payment in Bukit Lavang, we realize at the hotel that we don't have enough cash. After breakfast, Sabine goes out to look for an ATM.

Our hotel is beautifully located in the countryside, outside the city of 5 million. From the airport one hour driving time.

Unfortunately, we still caught the end of the rainy season. Punctually at 20:00 it starts to thunderstorm and rains all night. This morning at breakfast (lots of fresh fruit, sweet potato pie, toast, samozas, egg, steamed noodles filled with a nut mixture) (so nothing will happen with the weight loss.) it is dry but of course very humid. From noon today it is supposed to rain and thunderstorm again. We will get used to it.

The staff is very friendly and helpful. But you have to get used to the fact that there are communication difficulties. After all, English is not the native language here.

Pleasantly, although the kitchen was already closed, we still got dinner yesterday without any problems.

One of the photos shows a visitor (visitor?) from our terrace chair.

Jungle trekking, a "once in a life" experience.

The highlight of the first week, if not the whole Indonesia tour, is without a doubt the 2-day jungle trekking. From our super accommodation Sumatra EcoTravel (more of this in a later article) we set off with 8 people (an English family with a 12 year old child, a couple from Holland, Michaela from Sweden and us) and 3 guides into the jungle of Leuser National Park to find orangutans among other things. Everyone has to carry his own luggage for the 2 days. Of course, we limit ourselves to the absolute essentials. A concession to me as age president: one of the guides carries my sleeping bag.

After about 45 minutes through rubber tree plantations, where Anton, our chief guide, nicely explains to us the work processes of rubber extraction, we reach the jungle. The rainforests of Indonesia in the easily accessible areas have been completely cleared in the past centuries in order to establish plantations. Only the steep areas that are difficult to access were spared and at some point declared national parks.

It goes on narrowest paths constantly uphill and downhill. The sweat flows. On the advice of the guides we wear long pants and shirts and are well sprayed, so that the numerous mosquitoes go largely empty. We crawl and climb through the forest, always on the lookout for the big red monkeys. They are actually always discovered by the guides, exclusively females with young. The animals, reintroduced years ago, let us get very close. Feeding is strictly forbidden. One of the animals (Mina) has taken to capturing tourists from time to time and releasing them only in exchange for food. Nothing like that happens to us. The guides lead us around Mina on a large scale. Pigtail macaques and hordes of smaller macaques appear regularly. 2 wild peacocks and iridescent butterflies round out the spectrum. The last hour of the hike is borderline. Shoes get stuck in the mud, Sabine lays down twice, bruises and bleeding wounds from razor sharp thorns on the other participants require short treatments. It gets so steep that a rope is stretched to secure it. I remain unharmed, except for a small thorn wound, because Anton pays special attention to "Dad".

After 8 hours we arrive at the camp at the river, where unfortunately no cold beer is waiting. A tea from wild ginger has to do it. The freshly prepared dinner compensates us for much. With nightfall I am glad to crawl into the tent.

The photos are a bit messed up, sorry.

Hell ride in wild spray

6 o'clock, in front of the tent Hermann (cook, tubing boss, good soul) is standing and waving. Suma, the old oranguntan lady and her daughter are hanging or rather, sitting right in our camp. What a sight. While Sumi swings through the branches, her mother sits on the kitchen roof watching the action. Thanks to her perseverance, we can have breakfast, pack our things, have lunch and keep taking photos from different perspectives. A brilliant and unique morning: Around us the jungle with its sounds, countless macaques and the orangs.

Then it gets serious. The rain of the previous day has raised the water level enormously and the river thunders loudly and violently into the valley. We are excited. In the meantime, porters with tires and life jackets have arrived on the other side of the river. Individually, they shimmy along the rock wall to then reach the other bank with the current. The tires are to be pulled through the river with the help of a rope. Six men stand by our side to pull the tires against the current. The first rope throw works immediately, the guys pull and the rope breaks. I can see us crawling through the jungle with our last strength but an attentive porter was able to grab the end of the rope and hold the tires, whew.

While we eat, the guys dismantle the camp and pack our backpacks. A quick trip to the jungle toilet, then Anton hands out the life jackets and gives final instructions. So that we don't crash into the rocks right away, the tires are put in a little above the camp. From here the current can be better exploited.

Klaus, Felicia, Mischio and I sit in Hermann's inflatable, which is very good. A command, a jump on the front tire, then the hell ride starts.

Hermann gives commands like crazy, into the wave on the right, intercepted by the current on the left, water full broadside. Rocks, stones, everything is circumnavigated. The guys are really good. Even Klaus has surrendered to his fate and enjoys the wet change. Then a scream, our driver has lost his stick, we have to stop immediately. The sandbank is just right and in the driftwood our handlebar also finds a replacement.

The last meters are then relatively relaxing and we just enjoy the cold raging water. brilliant!

Later we learn that other groups had canceled the tubing. It seemed too dangerous for them. Ridiculous!

We couldn't take photos of the trip because the photo equipment was strapped to the raft in waterproof packaging. However, there is a GOPRO video, but we can't upload it at the moment.


Reunion with Thomas

My son Thomas, when we told him about our further plans when we returned from Australia, had briefly decided to join. Unfortunately, the flight and jungle tour were fully booked. He flew later, booked a one-day jungle tour while we were with the elephants and is now with us all the way to Java. The people from ECO-Travel made a super effort to find a solution so that he could go on tour alone with a guide. Because of all the back and forth, he already had a certain level of awareness in the neighborhood when he arrived. If we had to plan again, we would stay a few days longer with Ecotravel. We felt super comfortable there, were looked after great. Simply beautiful.


Visit to the elephants

Today we went with two cars (supposedly 4x4 ?) to the elephant sanctuary in Tangkahan. Both on Tripadvisor and in our group, the day's destination is heavily discussed in advance.
The drive to the village turns out to be quite adventurous. The road is in a catastrophic condition. Few pieces of asphalt, which actually consist of potholes. Pieces of gravel with boulders and stretches of mud. The driver has trouble avoiding all the potholes. The idea of writing a few lines for the blog on the way there evaporates very quickly. On the way we stop several times to marvel at the size of the palm oil plantations, which by the way all belong to a Malaysian company and are leased for 50 years.
After lunch we have a small refreshment in the river including a hot spring. Afterwards we go directly to the elephants. 

The whole group renounces the elephant riding and goes directly to the washing place at the river. In the meantime all elephants including three young animals have arrived there. The mahouts first show some tricks, then the brushes are handed out and everyone can scrub an elephant. Afterwards there are a few bananas to feed. That's it. The mahouts ride the elephants to the feeding station, where they are allowed to do some work.

The Indonesian government has bought the very badly treated working elephants from the palm oil plantations and donated them to the sanctuary. The financing of the project is now solely in the hands of the sanctuary...

In the meantime it is 16:45. If the way home takes as long as the way there (3 hours for maybe 50 km) it will be tight.
Fortunately the jeeps of "eldertours" drive ahead and we can follow. The road condition has not improved, but has become even worse due to the afternoon rain. 
Then it happened. A vehicle in front of us does not make the muddy climb. The wheels spin and another 5 attempts fail. Anton, our driver and two from our group rush to help. They get the car to the top. In the meantime we also get out. Klaus films, the women walk up the slope. Our driver only needs one try, he has switched on the four-wheel drive. Our second car fails. Fortunately a small Daihatsu comes, hangs the car on its tow rope and pulls it up. In the meantime, some trucks and motorcycles have gathered at the bottleneck. Finally something is happening!

 Relaxation at Lake Toba

According to the plan, 9 hours of driving await us today. First we go back to Medan, then into the mountains. We torture ourselves for 4 hours through the traffic chaos of the big city until we are finally on our way to the mountains. Our driver loves speedy driving and risky overtaking maneuvers, so we don't get bored. In Berastagi, the rice and vegetable chamber of North Sumatra (Sinabung volcano), we visit the fruit market and witness a Good Friday procession, which, unlike ours, is quite noisy. 

Until we reach the ferry, we stop at several waterfalls and Batak houses. In fact, we reach the ferry only after 9.5 hours.

Our accommodation in Tuk-Tuk is only a few minutes away from the ferry. We check in and end the day comfortably with "fish in sambal sauce" and a Bintang in the great garden at the lake.

 Childhood dream

With the motor scooter around the island; a highlight in the tourist offer.

This is the opportunity for Thomas and me. Of course, the guidebook warns against the 125cc machines and the advertising flyer of the rental company says boldly "without insurance". At least there is a helmet and Klaus gets scooters with automatic for all of us (Mikaela is also there), i.e. Erik the rental company has no scooters on site, but makes several phone calls. Within a few minutes four scooters arrive.

Erik explains briefly the operation, then we are to turn a small test round. Klaus drives first, after all he knows it from his youth. Then it's my turn.

I choose the helmet with the little bears, which looks quite nice from the outside. Then onto the scooter. Starting works, stand, brake, starter all okay. The hand throttle turns easily, the vehicle reacts promptly. Straight ahead is easy, but the turning maneuver on the road requires some concentration. "Slowly, slowly" and "Don't forget - driving on the left side" are the advice we are given.

Slowly we start our drive into the countryside. I drive the first kilometers with full concentration. I have to assess turn signals, horns and the driving behavior of other road users. Klaus is completely relaxed. You can literally see him enjoying the ride and the acceleration phases.

With every kilometer we become more confident. Thomas has a few problems with his rear brake, but otherwise everything works. We cruise through the landscape between rice fields, churches, temples, many scooters and cars.

After about 45 km, just before Pangururan we turn around. Since we drive the same way back, we know by now all the potholes and the interesting photo motifs. Unfortunately we had left the big camera in the room and the cell phone was powerless in the meantime. Luckily Mikaela is equipped with everything.

Shortly before Tuk-Tuk we make a small coffee break, then I drive unerringly to Erik in the yard. He is relieved to see all safe and sound (especially the scooters) again.

Maybe the chance arises again on Bali; would be super.

To celebrate the day we end the evening in Roy's Pub. There is live music and many good-humored people dancing exuberantly.

Lake Toba, it was worth it.