After a bottom-numbing, two-hour jeep ride on rough tracks through the jungle of Northern Sumatra, we arrived at the village of Bukit Lawang on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were staying overnight at the Bukit Lawang Eco Lodge, where our mission was to see some of the 5,000 orangutans now in the wild.
Our jeep was met by two youths who, having hoisted our cases over their shoulders, quickly set off, with us following in their wake until we reached an impressive 30 meter suspension bridge which we crossed cautiously. It was then a further 10 minutes to the Eco Lodge where we quickly and efficiently checked in after giving the chaps a well-deserved tip.
The central reception/bar/dining room is situated high up, overlooking the Bohorok River. Unfortunately, the river was being widened by extracting huge boulders, so it was both noisy and unattractive. Free wi-fi is available in this area from 7.30am to 9.30pm.
The bar and restaurant, open from 6am to 10pm, has a varied menu of mainly Indonesian dishes. The food was simple but very cheap: rice and noodle dishes with meat or fish were around £2.50. Portions were large and we shared chicken and noodles which came with a hard boiled egg and salad garnish. Special dishes, which had to be ordered three hours in advance, seemed extravagant at £8. Bintang Beers and the usual range of soft drinks and fresh juices were on offer.
Our breakfast of watermelon juice, fresh pineapple, scrambled eggs with three slices of buttered toast, a Kraft cheese slice and jam, was substantial and set us up for our 3 hour trek into the jungle. Rooms are spread out throughout beautiful grounds and although the paths are clearly marked, a torch is useful when venturing out for dinner. The place has an air of peace and tranquility. In the late afternoon, we sat enjoying the sun go down on our balcony, whilst watching Thomas Leaf monkeys scamper across the roof tops.
Our orangutan room was lovely and spacious with simple bamboo furniture. As the bed was on a raised platform, it made paying a midnight visit to the bathroom particularly hazardous. Unfortunately the noise of the rain beating down on the corrugated iron roof during the night woke us up, although because the bed was large and comfortable, we quickly went back to sleep. Tea and coffee facilities were available as was bottled water.
The bathroom, half open to the elements, had lots of plants. Although there was a good shower, there’s no hot water, so it’s not a place to linger.
Despite wearing mosquito repellant at all times and sleeping under a net, we still got bitten. Trousers and long-sleeved shirts are essential.
As well as trying to spot the orangutan, which I’m pleased to say we did, there was a range of other activities on offer and it would be easy to fill two or three days, that is if you can stand cold showers.