Monday, August 27, 2007

Running like the wind

Hello it's Dan, I thought about trying to start this bit with a nice story full of suspense and excitement building up to the crucial exciting twist, but I couldn't quite contain myself long enough to think of anything, so I am going to just blurt it right out. We got properly, full on, runningly, chased through the Sumatran jungle yesterday by a big hungry pregnant orangutan! Now I've blurted it out I can concentrate on telling you the whole story.

We went on a brilliant full day trek through the jungle in Bukit Lawang, Northern Sumatra. You have to have a guide as the trails aren't marked out and the terrain is much more rugged than the other places that we have trecked in. At some points we were going down almost vertical slippery cliffs having to use the big Tarzan vines to work our way down. We saw a wild orangutan which was brilliant, as the only ones you normally see on the trecks are from the nearby rehabilitation centre and are a bit too used to humans, but I'll get back to that bit later! We also saw a hornbill, a toucan (which looked like a peacock), Thomas leaf monkeys (which are our new favorite monkeys, they have really cool hair cuts like the singer from the Prodigy!), and a land turtle that was covered in massive leeches, which we looked at for a while until I then discovered my own little leech on my leg! I was saved by my wife and our guide's cigarette!

The walk took us up and down lots of hills and rocks, and as we were scrambling up a rocky section our guide pointed out a nearby orangutan called Suma that he used to work with at the rehabilitation centre. She was up in a tree and recognised him, and started to make her way over to us. Because our guide doesn't want to encourage her to approach tourists, we carried on walking slowly away from her. As we got to the top of the hill we came across another guide and two tourists having their lunch, which didn't go unnoticed by our stalker either. She really wanted their lunch and started to swing quickly through the trees towards them. The other group came over to the track we were using to get away from the orangutan, so now she was basically after us too! Our guide made us move off at a brisk walk, with the rather large orangutan only a few meters behind us on the floor, now looking angry. It is not a good sign when your brave trusty guide starts to look really worried, and starts running! Our brisk walk turned into a full speed running through the jungle away from the ape, it is amazing how your balance and agility improves when you are being chased by an orangutan. It is like some caveman instinct taking over, you really should try it! We had to run at full speed over fallen trees, rocks, mud, vines, swing round small trees and steep sections, basically all the normal stuff but at ten times the pace! The section would have taken us quite a while to walk normally, but we covered it in just a few minutes! The guides stopped running after a few minutes to stand up to her because we were getting to the edge of the hill, and apparently orangutans always win on a downhill section! The guides had to do lots of shouting at her and threatening her with sticks until she stopped chasing us and went back up into the trees. The guides then caught up with us (we were reflecting with the other tourists how surreal it was that we had just been chased through the jungle by a great ape) and the two groups went different ways. We carried on at pace and as quietly as we could, to make her follow the chatty Irish couple and their guide instead! Our guide was very impressed with our sudden increase in ability down the hill!

Our guide showed us the scars on his knees from bites from another aggressive orangutan, she goes for the knees as she knows that it is the best way to stop a human, very clever. It is all because some guides feed the orangutan in order to get them closer to the tourists, so then they start to expect it from everyone. And if you don't give them food, or you have a backpack that looks like it might have some in it they might go for you. So don't feed the orangutans next time you're in the jungle! So yeah, lovely friendly docile orangutan can be a bit scary really! But it made a good story though, our day trek was a lot more eventful than most peoples!

We are in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia at the moment and have been spending a lot of time on crazy cramped crowded buses and equally crazy roads and drivers! We have discovered a new level of chaos here, it is a real experience doing just about anything! Our first trip was to a small volcanic hill town home to a mere 500,000 people! It is only 70km from the main city Medan, but getting there was fun! First we had to get in a sort of truck with sideways bench seats which took us about 10km in just over an hour, good going eh! We then were hustled into the next bus which was a very brightly coloured crazy thing with six seats across about the width we would normally have 3! The discomfort of the blaring music, tiny legroom and chain smoking was only slightly outweighed but the huge woman asleep next to us sitting on top of Jenni and taking up two of the tiny seats! We had half of one each and about ten people standing/leaning/sitting next to us for three hours. The bus had seats for 20 people ours had 31 sat inside 5 hanging out the door and about 6 on the roof! This felt like our first bit of "proper" travelling! Since then we have been on loads of buses of all different shapes and sizes with leg room ranginging from none to minimal, capacity ranging from full to ridiculous, and drivers mentalities ranging from crazy to suicidal! But we are still here and all is well!

The countryside around here is stunning. We spent a few days at Lake Toba which is a giant collapsed volcano crater full of water, with a big island in the middle. It looked really like New Zealand or Lake Garda, it was really beautiful and a very relaxed place. The people here are really friendly and enthusiastic to talk to anyone who crosses their path, obviously some of them are trying to sell you something or get you in their transport, but a lot of people just want a chat. I have now had to become a strong Arsenal supported to give me a good topic of conversation with the men, they all love football and follow the premiership avidly.

It was Indonesian independence day here last week, which meant there was lots of celebrations and things going on in all the towns. I had to convince our new local friend of my weak back and knees to avoid being the "strong, tall" baseman in a 6 person greasy pole climbing team, as he had planned! I am about a foot taller than most people, so it would have given his team a good advantage, but I didn't fancy my chances at holding 5 grown men on my shoulders!He was convinced I would be much stronger than the half naked local Adonis' we saw in front of us, I wasn't! It was very impressive to watch them try and build a tower of men up the pole about 9-10m high covered in grease to try and get the prizes at the top of the pole.

It is a very poor country and many of the people are living in third world conditions, it has been a real eye opener travelling through the small towns and villages in the area with no plumbing and very little electricity. Everyone washes their clothes, dishes, themselves, their kids, everything, in the nearest river or stream and the women carry huge containers full of water or washing up or clothes to and fro on their heads. The place we did the jungle trek in, Bukit Lewang, was totally destroyed by the river that runs through it in a 15 minute 10 meter surge that destroyed the whole town flattening everything and killing 500 people. It is awful to see the wrecks from that day and to hear the peoples tales, as they don't have anything like insurance, savings etc, so if your cafe is destroyed and your land washed away then your livelihood is destroyed too, and you have nothing to start again with. It makes you realise how much you take for granted at home.

So on that cheery note I will leave you and say that we are flying to Jakarta tomorrow on Air Asia, which is not on the EU black list (all the other airlines in Indonesia have had so many crashes that they are not allowed in the EU, and it is strongly advised to avoid them) and will be making our way across Java to Yogakarata hopefully on a posh train. We have got a few new photos on flickr that some random person accidentally uploaded to our space, but they are good photos of the same places that we have been to, so we thought we would keep a few!

Lots of love,
Dan and Jenni


sister muggs said...

hi guys
you are both now expert story writers and I am attempting to take a leaf from your book for my trip to canada, so you can see what i get up to.but how do you do the flicker thing?
the address is
I may have been a little influenced by your colour choices, I will be adding more but just thought i could give you the heads up on how I will stay in touch.
I am just getting ready for my next performance a climb, continuing from where we left off laura and I are still climbing stairs to see each other over the horizon, but this time we are inviting the public to come with us, I am quite excited having got permission to go into the local football ground and climb all the stands and then into the tallest block of flats too
glad you both ran well sounds a bit hairy to me I am hoping i don't have any bear encounters in banff not sure i could depend on my running skills???!!!infact I think i have to back off slowly talking in a calm voice ooohh nervous aaagh
lots of love to you both
xx sorrel

Sam said...


Mum Muggs said...

What a story! How very scary! Glad I wasn't there to hamper you with sprained ankle!! I feel a bit sorry for the orang-utang, all that running and no sandwiches to reward her. You are having such adventures; such an exciting trip. Guess you don't any longer want a baby monkey to hang around your neck!! love Mum x

Nick & Ce said...

I loved this orangutan story ... sounds very like one of my famous adventure dreams ... except I'm sure I'd have fallen over during the chase!