Leading the Sumatra Orangutan Jungle Challenge – Part 1

My name is Jo and I am the Operations Manager at Charity Challenge for the Sumatra Orangutan Jungle Challenge. After 18 months of planning our newly launched Sumatran Challenge to everyone’s envy in the office I found myself sitting on the plane on the way to Medan, Sumatra. The three months I spent in the Borneon Jungle in 2007 seemed a distant memory but not so distant that I couldn’t remember what made me so excited about returning to this part of the world! I couldn’t wait to have the privilege of living and experiencing the prime rainforest in Sumatra if only for just 6 days. I also knew that the experience ahead of us would be one almost impossible to be put into words on our return. So I’ll try my best to convey the magical challenge of the ‘jungle’.

Six hours into my flight and I’m trying to get my head back into jungle life by reading the Guidebook to the Gunung Leuser National Park so kindly written and downloadable on the Sumatra Orangutan Society’s website (www.orangutans-sos.org). Feeling a little nauseous from eating a big coconut and a chocolate cookie followed by a small toblerone bar given to me on the plane! I’m starting to leave the insanely busy mad rush of London behind me and starting to imagine the crazily loud call of cicadas, the sound of running water and the sensation of sleeping under the thick canopy of trees sheltered only by a single tarp with my group of Challengers (I hope no one snores!!!) I try to imagine the noise of the calls of the Orangutans and the rush of wings of the Hornbills as they soar overhead but all I can think of is Leeches, spiders, centipedes and snakes….In fact anything that moves that is not soft, fluffy and cuddly!

I soon find myself arriving in the small airport of Medan, and to my delight I am greeted with the numerous and never ending smiles which welcome you to Indonesia. Yes this is Sumatra and this is the start of the Challenge to come!

It’s soon time for the group to arrive, and Friday morning I’m at arrivals after a 4.30am start to transfer the 3 hours from Bukit Lawang to the airport to pick up the group. Romi and I play the game of ‘spot the group’, which really in Medan airport was never going to be that difficult as not many westerners came through security. One by one as they grab their day bags off the scanner I smile at the Boots and Charity Challenge t-shirts and suddenly get extremely excited for the upcoming week.

One of the most exciting moments of the challenge is meeting the group at the airport. Getting to know new people, building lifelong friendships and knowing that the next 10 days will be one of ups and downs, physically, mentally and emotionally. Full of raw emotions, exhaustion, happiness and maybe even terror, but knowing you have others to go through the experience with you, supporting you, offering a hand, a shoulder and a friend makes it an experience you will never forget!

As an Operations Manager at Charity Challenge, I am usually busy organising the challenges in the office and spend most my time in envy of our freelance leaders who get to meet inspirational Challengers and experience the treks first hand.

After everyone hopped on to the minibus we start our 3 hour drive out of Medan city, Sumatra’s major metropolis and Indonesia’s third largest city, population of 2million. We travel through  Palm Oil Plantations and go deep in the depths of the Sumatran Jungle until we reach Bukit Lawang! Bukit Lawang is home to the Sumatran Orangutan, and the entrance to the Gunung Leuser National Park, the surrounding jungle of which our challengers will take place, this is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world and is home to eight species of primate plus tigers, rhinos, elephant, leopards and cobras.

We are greeted by a smiling group of young boys who were eager and ready to carry our heavy bags across the rope bridge to the ecolodge (www.ecolodge.com) where by this point everyone was keen for food and rest. The Ecolodge is designed to serve as a model for sustainable livelihoods, as a non profit organisation, revenue is put back into community development, social programmes and nature conservation. Bukit Lawang (http://wikitravel.org/en/Bukit_Lawang) situated on the Bahorok River is famous for the rehabilitation centre for the Orangutans founded in 1973. Devastatingly a flash flood hit Bukit Lawang in 2003. The disaster destroyed the local tourist resorts and many friends and families of our guides. 239 people (5 of them were tourists) were killed and around 1,400 locals lost their homes. As you walk around Bukit Lawang you can witness the reconstruction and hear the stories of the local people, still all with that amazing Indonesian smile on their faces.

We hear a sudden sound of thunder as we sit down to Lunch of Nasi Gorang, Omelette and fresh watermelon, and realise it’s not thunder but the Macaques racing over the corrugated Iron roof, running and jump from tree to tree, branch to branch to finally nose dive into the river. The macaques are a funny looking primate with their whiskers and moustache and beards for the females. Macaques love the water and are great swimmers. So you are pretty much guaranteed to see them type roping along the telephone wires around the ecolodge and bathing by the river.

Part 2 coming soon!

If Jo’s experience in Sumarta has inspired you, check out our Sumatran Orangutan Trek here, and subscribe to this blog to hear about what happened on my next. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, both volcanic and not, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

One comment

  1. Marissa Jane says:

    This looks really incredible! We went and saw the orangutans in Sabah and were satisfied with that experience, but I have to admit this looks waaaaay better.

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