Challenges, Inspiration

Last days in the Rainforest – Leading the Sumatran Jungle Trek, by Operations Manager Jo, part 5

June 7, 2012

The day started with a well-earned lazy morning, giving us the chance to sit back and really soak in our surroundings. We bathed in the river, giving ourselves a good scrubbing with dirty brown t-shirts which slowly turned back into the crisp white Charity Challenge t-shirt given to us at the airport.

For breakfast, the guides serve us pancakes with hundreds and thousands on. Yum! The next part of our journey is all about trekking down the river in search of Jungle fern and learning the tricks of the jungle – how to build fish traps, how to make delicious curry out of  banana plant, how to bind up scratches and deal with bites and travel sickness with medicines picked from right under our noses. Essentially the day was all about realising just what it takes to survive in this prime rainforest. This day was one of mine, and one of the groups, favourites times in the jungle, as not only did we learn lots about living in this amazing ecosystem, we got to have a much appreciated break before our longest and toughest day began.

Trekking in the deeps of the Jungle to Alur Perak….

We woke up early, ready for the long day ahead, excited to be back on the trail but also a little apprehensive. As we set off into the jungle, we were faced with steep narrow climbs, and trails that were barely visible. We made our way downstream to meet the Bohorok River, where we were reunited with the other groups, who had been doubtlessly spending their days thinking and wandering how their experiences have been compared with ours.

Excited to be together again, we sat sharing stories and sipping at our morning coffee, watching as Eddy’s Group came marching upstream, bright eyed and rearing to go! We set off again, as one, and more determined than ever before! With Iwans group leading the charge we trekked upstream, heading deeper still into the heart of the Sumatra Rainforest!

At first, the coolness of the river was rejuvenating, and we trekked and chatted, but after 30 minutes or so we came to a halt. Our guides set us up on the river bank, and advised “river shoes off, boots on!!” One of the guides started to chop away at some foliage, uncovering for us a hidden trail that would lead us back into the world of the underbrush! Our joyous laughter and energised spirit soon turned into balls of sweat as we pulled ourselves up and onwards with jungle vines and roots, and navigated through the steepest sections of the jungle we had ever climbed through. Luckily, we had eaten our way through the weeks worth of food and our guides were carrying a lighter load and had the energy and spirit to keep us going, offering a hand here or a pull up there!

When we finally reached a clearing, bags were off and we crashed out for a five minute break. Things got very exciting as we caught a glimpse ‘wild Orangutans’ swinging through the trees, a rarity here in the depths of the rainforest. We were exhilarated to be able to sit and watch with amazement and wonder as they swung nimbly through the canopy. It occurs to me that if you ask any of the guides in Gunung Leuser National park what are the two most popular words used here in the jungle, it would be “wow!” and “amazing!” You don’t realise it at the time but you just can’t help yourselves as there are so little words, or maybe too many, that can possibly be used to describe the sensations of what we experienced in the prime, ‘remote’ Sumatran Rainforest.

We somewhere tore ourselves away from the wondrous site of the wild Orangutans and trekked on. We stopped at what must be the biggest tree I have ever seen, that acted as gatekeeper to a scarily deep descent on its other side. When Benny threw a safety rope down and asked us to turn around and use the tree roots and safety rope to guide us down. For a second we thought he must be joking, but when we caught sight of Hilary and Christine cruising down the slope unaided, we were inspired and knew we could do it too!

It felt like the descent was never ending, holding onto tree roots while looking down between our feet to see where to manoeuvre each foot. Each step was accompanied by a rush of exhilaration, it was exciting but mentally and physically very draining

The afternoon continued with steep climbs and a gruelling descent to a magnificent waterfall, where we proceeded to shuffle our way down on large slippery rocks. The final hour’s trek through the waterfall and down a long muddy river proved the most testing of all, which is saying something! The rain had fallen hard last night for many hours, so the water was deep and had been churned up so that the visibility underfoot was barely there, and we had to be on our guard against the multitude of hidden slippery boulders. When we finally made it to the last campground of the trek we were beyond jubilant! The bamboo canopy’s were up and a team of guides who had trekked upstream with the 27 Rubber tyres that we were  to tube down the river the following day were waiting for us, there were hugs and tears all round from us!

We feasted the evening away with traditional Indonesian barbequed chicken, and rice that had been slow cooked in bamboo over the fire. We all ate happily and chattered away, telling stories and playing games. In the background our newly acquired team of guides were busy pumping the 27 tyres in preparation for our bumpy 2 hour ride done the rapids of the Bohorok River.

A bumpy ride out of the depths of the Jungle to Bukit Lawang

The following morning was a very social breakfast with all 16 of us in Camp plus our now 27 guides. We packed our bags in waterproof covers, cleared up camp, slapped on the suncream, fitted our helmets and lifejackets and watched and waited while our team tided up the last few tyres and bundled our kit on to the rafts of tubes before we jumped in and allowed ourselves to be washed downstream.

The river was looking high. We had arrived in camp the night before just in time for yet again another a heavy down pour that lasted a good 6 hours! So we knew a bumpy ride was to be expected. The tubes were tied together in sets of 4 with a guide at the front and a guide behind to steer them downstream. Hurtling down the river was an exhilarating experience! It was a bit like one of those rapid rides at theme parks… But for real! Quite the experience.

We were tubing down the river for a good 2 hours, working up an appetite until we are back at the Orangutan Feeding centre and the opening of Bukit Lawang where, as it was a Sunday, families were out in full force bathing in the river, kids were playing in tubes waving at us as we passed by. We also spotted a mother Orangutan and her baby sitting by the river. It wasn’t long before we arrived home at the EcoLodge in Bukit Lawang, and with that, our epic Sumatra Orangutan Jungle Challenge came to an end.

We were wet, exhausted and hungry with a million thoughts and emotions running through our heads, no one knowing what to say or do now apart from to head straight to the bar order a large bottle of Beer and get started with the cheers, hugs, tears and stories, the adrenaline still flowing and the bumps and bruises of the tube ride and the last 6 days still hidden beneath the surface. After a freshen up and some chill-out time in our rooms, we come back  for lunch, where the realisation of what we had achieve, accomplished and put ourselves through in the last week in the wild and remote Sumatran Jungle hit home!

If Jo’s experiences in Sumatra has inspired you, check out our Sumatran Jungle Trek here, and subscribe to this blog to hear about more of our challenges adventurers! To keep up to date on all our challenge news, both jungle and not, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

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