The wooden signs bearing a carved elephant and the word ‘Tangkahan’ started appearing at 37.5km and, as we bumped over the rutted road, we counted down the distance.
We arrived at the visitors centre and were met by two slim, young girls from the Jungle Lodge who promptly hoisted our suitcases onto their heads: we followed feeling very guilty. We walked along a track until a 30m bamboo bridge came into view. The girls went across first, with us trailing nervously behind. It was another 10 minutes to the Lodge, but at least the walking was good and it was dry.
We were warmly greeted by an assortment of seemingly very young people who asked us to take off our shoes before entering the main building which is reception, bar and restaurant. Cups of warm juice and tofu spring rolls welcomed us. We were handed a menu to choose dinner: tomato spaghetty (sic) for me and fried noodles for Roy priced at 35,000 rupiah (£2) and 15,000 (90p) respectively. We booked to eat at 7pm.
As it started to rain, we were fortunate that our room (8) was the one nearest to reception. Our large balcony with rustic wooden table, two chairs and hammock overlooked the river.
The accommodation is basic one star, but we didn’t mind we were here to wash and ride elephants. The room was relatively large and the bed had a mosquito net. The bathroom had open shower and loo with the handbasin being in the bathroom. Only cold water is available.
We arrived for dinner as planned at 7pm and found our guide, Hans, already there. We ordered Bintang beers and waited and waited for our food. Eventually someone came up to take our order so Hans explained we’d done this earlier. Eventually our food arrived but there was still no sign of Hans’ rice. In fact it didn’t arrive until we’d finished. The plate of noodles was huge and so I helped Roy out as my spaghetty (sic) was like the water, on the cold side.
There was a pile of books and games so after dinner I pulled out a rather old and battered chess set. The black queen was smaller than the larger of the two size of pawns and the black and white squares were faded. In the limited light it made playing rather difficult. This was my excuse for losing anyway. Before we went to bed we ordered breakfast omelettes for 7.00am.
After getting ensconced in the mosquito net, we hoped to hear the sounds of rushing water and nature but found ourselves sandwiched between two unnatural noises. An irritating small German child in the room next door was playing CDs on his laptop and all we could here was the sound. We shouted through the bamboo screen, but to no avail. Eventually it started to rain and the noise of the rain on the corrugated roof drowned it out. Then the music that had started gently in the bar, got louder as presumably the singers drank more beer. The loud laughter and whooping eventually stopped around midnight. The next morning we discovered that the storm had blown the windows open which had added to the noise levels.
We had a quick cold wash before going for our pre-arranged breakfast at 7am. Instead of two omelettes, we found two young girls trying to force the lock on the kitchen door with a broom handle. Eventually they tried getting in from behind by removing a wooden panel. By now it was 7.20am and as we were leaving at 7.30am, we told them not to bother.
We returned to our room to finish packing and just as we were about to leave, we heard a knock on the door: the two girls were carrying a tray with two beautifully cooked crepe-style omelettes with toast. We thanked them and quickly gobbled it down on the balcony.
This was not our best night in Sumatra. Having stayed in African safari style lodges where the accommodation is just as basic, but the service and food is much better, we felt there were one or two lessons they could learn.