Thursday, January 9, 2014
In recent years, the idea of going to Indonesia has become slightly less popular for a lot of people with us Americans heading the list. Terrorism has seemed to flourish there if you pay attention to the news that you see on cable. The question that I always ask myself is whether or not everyone there is a terrorist. The answer of course is no. That's why I look past the terrorists and see the people in a place like Bukit Lawang, Sumatra.
Bukit Lawang is in North Sumatra. Where is that? Well, North Sumatra is easy enough. Sumatra is the fifth largest island in the world, and it sits in the middle of Indonesia, northwest of Borneo and New Guinea. It's really not far from Singapore either. It is famous for it's volcanoes, tsunamis, and rain forests which are being cut down as we share this time together. Padang is the capital of North Sumatra, and that is where you would fly in and out of. To go to Bukit Lawang from there you have to take a tour. Don't bother with that independent spirit that I'm always talking about on this one. Just look into it and take a tour. There are some places that even I don't go alone.
I won't lie to you. Bukit Lawang is nothing much to look at. It's a shabby little village with the laundry hanging out and a rickety bridge over the rushing river. It floods in the wet season, and there are no McDonalds around. There are no paved streets, trains or taxis.
Bukit Lawang is becoming famous for their eco lodges. That's what you'll find here. This is a place where you go to commune with nature and not destroy it. There are several eco lodges in the area that are comfortable, quiet and fabulous. This is where you will most likely stay if you take a trip to this area.
If you love nature, this is your trip. If you've ever wanted to visit the jungle, this is a great place to do so. Most people come here to come to Gunung Leuser National Park, and see nature at it's finest. Gunung Leuser National Park covers 950,000 hectares of North Sumatra. That's a pretty good chunk of the land of that area. There are elephants, tigers, hundreds of bird species, hundreds of animal species, thousands of plant species, and who knows what else that can be seen in that park. But, this is a guide to unique destinations. What is it that is so special that this place is being listed as an Adventure for Anyone?
I could have picked this spot for any number of reasons. I could have picked it for the local culture, the eco tourism or the fact the Lake Toba is the deepest lake in the world. I could have picked it for the volcanoes, the waterfalls, the caves, or the temples. But that's not what got me.
I picked this wonderful tropical exotic location because of the Orangutans. The Sumatra Orangutan is an extremely endangered species with approximately 6,600 of them left in the world. It is illegal to harm them in any way at this point, as organizations try to repopulate them in the wild. Orangutans are the largest of the tree dwellers, and most of us have seen them on television or in movies over the years.
What most people don't know is that these poor animals are trapped in the wild and forced into a life of captivity and performance. They are abused by the people who pay to have them kidnapped from their home, and they are then rescued and returned to Sumatra where they need to be rehabilitated and returned to the wild to live free. That's what they do at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Bukit Lawang in Gunung Leuser National Park. This is where this very worthwhile work goes on. What does this mean to the tourist?
Well, I say go and learn something and have a great time doing it. This park is the place where you can see these magnificent creatures in the wild. There are areas of serious rehab work going on where the tourists are not allowed, but there are parts where the tourists are welcome. And twice a day, if you go to the feeding area, you can see the people who care for these rehabbing Orangutans feed them. It's a great experience. You do not get to jump in or help. I will tell you that. Orangutans are large primates and they are wild. They trust their human helpers, but they don't necessarily want to meet every person that happens by. But the experience here is something that you just can't get anywhere else. This is a little window into what these great animals think of their surroundings and the humans that try to help them. It's the closest look that you'll get of these great monkeys. It's well worth the trip. It is a one of a kind experience.
North Sumatra is amazing and gorgeous. It's not the easiest place to travel. The roads are dirt, the villages are small, the conveniences are few and far between. But if you want to go somewhere and commune with nature, I can't think of a better spot. If you want to see good people doing good work with orphaned and abused Orangutans, this is the best place to see it. It's one of a kind, and it's well worth the journey. So, don't worry about terrorists night and day. Take some time, travel around the world, and see some majestic primates living the life that they deserve.