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

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hello big nose!

Hi it's Jenni! We just got back from Bako National park, which is in the North West corner of Malaysian Borneo. It was just brilliant, a lot better than we'd hoped it would be. We got up at 6am both mornings we stayed there (very early for us), and managed to be the first ones on the trails, which meant we got to see lots of wildlife, and that's what it's all about there. We saw the usual macaque monkeys, they're the ones you see all over the place in Malaysia going through the bins and stuff, but in Bako they were actually in the trees where they belong, eating fruit and leaves and other yummy things, and the little monkeylings were busy playing around in the trees, almost falling off every other second. Very cute! Also, a lot of the little ones didn't seem like they should be allowed to jump from tree to tree yet, as they seemed to misjudge their weight and break off the smallest branches regularly.

At the park head quarters there was this odd family of bearded wild pigs (looked like wild boars, with huge long furry faces). The adults were huge, and their 3 babies were heffas as well. They were just walking around quite happily near all the people, eating the roots they dug through the lawns and taking some naps. Very odd when we first saw them.

And then to the more rare animals... There is a large population of the very rare proboscis monkeys, which are these very funny looking orange/ginger coloured big-nosed things (with their noses drooping down over their mouths) with huge pot bellies and skinny arms and legs. The locals originally called them "Dutch men", but political correctness changed that somewhere along the line! On one of our walks we suddenly heard this small crashing in the trees above us. We've learnt to know that this means that there's a monkey nearby, so we stayed absolutely still, and soon had a whole group of them was all around us jumping and crashing about and eating the fruit and leaves. It was a really special sight, as we had been really quiet and still, so they hadn't really taken notice of us, and they stuck around for quite a while, about 1/2 an hour.

It was great to be able to have a proper good look at them and see the adults jumping from one tree to the next, because they can jump such long distances despite looking so ungainly in flight, although we did see a lot of them accidentally break a branch or two... They're pretty hefty animals! The alpha males have these absolutely massive noses which they hoot through. He gave us a couple of half interested little hoots as well when he saw us peering at him. All very exciting for us. There was a mom and little baby monkey near us as well, and of course the baby was amazingly cute.

We tried to get a few photos, but it was more fun just enjoying watching them. We'll pick a few to put on flickr though, so you might want to check the photo link on the right hand side in a bit.

We also saw some silver leaf monkeys in the trees, which were really cool as well. They look more like the conventional monkey, with a lot more slim and streamlined figure. Also there were the usual snakes (Dan got heart palpitations because there was a pit viper there - very deadly), massive monitor lizards and some huge butterflies.

Apart from all the cool animals, the walks themselves were really incredible. They went through all sorts of different types forest, e.g. mangrove and proper tropical rainforest jungle, as well as sandy areas in the middle of them with pitcher plants, which are carnivorous, and eat little insects. The only thing was that it was just insanely hot. The walks went up and down rainforest-covered mountains, and the trails were covered in tree roots and huge rocks, and some bits were so steep that you had to use ropes to get up them. But it was all worth it, and we were so proud of ourselves that we'd got up so early and were so disciplined and got to see so much! A few times I thought I'd go insane from the heat and the 100% humidity added to how hard the tracks were, but with the help of all the sweets and peanuts Dan kept feeding me I managed to pull through in the end.

We're off to Sumatra in Indonesia on Wednesday, and have heard that Internet isn't as reliable as we've got used to, so you might not hear from us for a bit. Also, in the town we're flying to the locals believe the loud noises ward off evil spirits, so they decided to build their airport next to the centre of the city... I think we're in for a bit of a culture shock!

We're planning to go to another orangutan rehabilitation centre in Sumatra, so you'll get even more enthusiastic monkey tales when we log on next!

Thank you for the new comments you've been making, keep up the good work!

Lots of love,
Jenni & Dan

Monday, August 06, 2007

It's Singapore and the living is easy

We're sitting on a designer sofa, writing this on our complimentary Apple Mac laptop at our super trendy hotel we're staying at for our first wedding anniversary.

Well that's how we'd planned to start our blog from there, but obviously we didn't actually quite get round to it! We did use the laptop and the sofas though, but not for anything productive. If anyone is planning a bit of pampering, the hotel is called New Majestic Hotel, and the website is: We really recommend it, the room was amazing, staff lovely, and decor very inspiring. It was such a cool, funky, and trendy hotel we really loved our stay there. This came as such a change for us, as we'd grown quite used to the rundown places we've mainly been staying in lately... The outside bath on our own private terrace was something we'd never seen before, how cool was that.

Singapore was a real break from the rest of the South East Asia that we've seen so far - sculptures all over the place, very clean, lots of pavements on the sides of the roads (you really miss them when they're not there, i.e. most of Malaysia!), futuristic architecture, not smelly, fantastic food, automatic toilets, and air-conditioned outside spaces. Need we say more, we absolutely loved it, it felt like a mini holiday from our year's holiday!
One of the things that really set Singapore apart from anything we've seen before were it's mega malls, that went high above ground, as well as on and on underground for miles. It was weird being able to walk around the city and cover so much ground without ever needing to go outside! We had to use our compass a lot (thank you Juha, it's been a life saver!), as it was really disorienting going from mall to mall, and popping out onto a street god knows where.

Singapore zoo is also ace, they don't have cages for the animals, but instead they have moats, which felt really nature-like and cool. Usually it's quite expensive to get in, but trust us to have good luck, and as we were waiting to buy our tickets, this couple came up to us and offered to take us in for free with their gold pass! How unlikely was that! Anyway, we ended up spending 8 hours there and absolutely loved the tigers, the orangutans and the other monkeys, and took far too many photos.

On Saturday we went to the Baybeats music festival at Singapore harbour front. It was a free indie rock festival with local as well as international bands, and a great chance to see the funky young Singaporeans out strutting their stuff. They were a great crowd, they had energy until the end of the evening, and were jumping, dancing, clapping, cheering, and crowd surfing to anything and everything. With no obvious alcohol or drugs, how they had the energy, we will never know. We were knackered just having to walk between the different stages! All of the foreign bands were really impressed that they just kept going on with such enthusiasm.

A few photos for you to break up all my writing:

Dan's wanting me to write more about the food in Singapore. Barbecue pork and rice was one of his highlights, but everything was really amazing, so it's not a surprise that he really enjoyed himself there!

I wanted to give you a quick update on my horrid rash, and the good news is that with the antihistamine tablets and huge amounts of aloe vera the blisters finally went down. Although afterwards I've been shedding my skin, in fact I've been a proper snake, but at least now I've got lovely new skin on my legs :)

We're catching our flight to Kuching in Malaysian Borneo early tomorrow, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it, as Borneo has always sounded such a mystical and far away place to me, and now I'll get to see it for myself! Tonight we're staying in Johor Bahru, and in our hotel room we were greeted by this sign. Our sentiments exactly!

That's it for now, love to you all, and keep the comments coming, we love them and really look forward to getting them from you!
Jenni & Dan