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    Tropical Storm Tour: Sumatra Part 10

    Thursday, August 13, 2015
    Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia

    The Mawar Bakery and Cake Shop in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The Mawar Bakery and Cake Shop in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Just after 12:00 pm, when I asked the receptionist at the Gandhi Inn to arrange some transport to the Pinang Baris bus station for me, she said it was too far away for a becak, and that I’d have to take a taxi cab for 150,000 rupiah instead. I told her that was too expensive, so she tried to arrange a share taxi straight ro Bukit Lawang, which is three hours away. Then she said there were no share taxis running. So, I was forced to have her call a taxi cab to Pinang Baris. Fortunately, when the driver showed up, he said it would only cost around 70,000 to 80,000 rupiah. Hallelujah!

    An orange mini-bus from Medan to Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    An orange mini-bus from Medan to Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Leaving around 1:15 pm, we made it through the thick maelstrom of stop-and-go Medan traffic in 30 or 40 minutes, pulling up across the street from the Mawar Bakery and Cake Shop near Pinang Baris right at the 70,000 rupiah mark on the meter. As I pulled on my backpack, a couple of touts were already on me, but I shook them off and weaved my way through the crazy traffic across the street to where the mini-buses to Bukit Lawang and other locations sat waiting for passengers. More touts were all over me there, trying to get me to board their buddies’ mini-buses at inflated prices so they could earn a commission. I just ignored them and kept looking.

    The first one I saw with a Bukit Lawang sign on the front was really small, yellow, cigarette smoke-filled and completely chock-full, so I passed on that one. Amidst all of the mayhem, a foreign girl yelled out at me, “Don’t pay more than 20,000!” Then I saw a larger orange bus with quite a few seats open. Somehow, that same girl ended up on the orange bus with her guy friend. After our backpacks were tied to the top, they stepped off to buy some snacks, as the ride to Bukit Lawang takes three hours. While they were briefly away, the driver started up the mini-van and began to pull away. Several passengers and I yelled at him to stop, but he only slowed down a little bit. Luckily, the foreigners climbed back on just in the nick of time.

    Decker and Joana walking toward Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    Decker and Joana walking toward Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Right then, the driver gunned it and sent them tumbling over the seats back toward me before they could even sit down. Hailing from England, the guy’s name was Decker, and the girl, Joana, was an exchange student from Switzerland living in Fontana, California. They were both super friendly, and Decker even shared some of his peanuts and cake with me. Joana mentioned that these mini-buses were notorious for breaking down, but I knew this one most likely wouldn’t because it accelerated very quickly and seemed to be running really well.

    The Bohorok river in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The Bohorok river in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    During the whole trip, numerous passengers got on and off. After passing through several small towns filled with food stalls, mosques and garish-looking brightly painted buildings, we finally entered some natural areas that alternated between shining green rice fields and jungle. A few times, we hit some stretches of dirt road that were so bumpy that I had to grip for dear life with both hands a railing that ran across the side windows as we repeatedly became airborne and got flailed around like rag dolls. At one point, it got so bad, I partially stood up in an attempt to hover to ride out the extreme turbulence. The fact that I was in the back row didn’t help at all, as it pretty much acted like a huge diving board.

    Finally, a while later, we got dumped out in a big dirt lot and our backpacks were tossed down to us. As usual, the touts descended while I strapped on my backpack, making sure no one tried to grab my messenger bag full of electronic gadgets from between my feet. Then I had to catch up with Decker and Joana, as I thought maybe they had some tips on places to stay. Not only did they have tips, but they were brandishing a smartphone with GPS and an app that told us where all of the trails and guesthouses were, which was pretty amazing. It wasn’t even on the web–it just used GPS. We proceeded over a footbridge across the Bohorok river, where all of the guesthouses were located on each side, running all the way up to the entrance of Gunung Leuser National Park, a 40-minute walk away.

    Decker and Joana relax at the Lucky Bamboo Guesthouse in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    Decker and Joana relax at the Lucky Bamboo Guesthouse in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Quite a few people were swimming and washing clothes in pools between clusters of rocks, which looked really peaceful and relaxing. After stopping by several guesthouses that were either full or too expensive, we ended up at a place called the Lucky Bamboo, where Decker and Joana got the last good room with an actual shower head. The two rooms left available for me had none, so when I told the staff I couldn’t stay there, they produced a shower head from somewhere and hooked it up in one of the rooms. When I looked at it, the plastic handle to turn on the water was fully wedged against the wall, which was covered with brown stains that looked like either mud or shit.

    Two bungalows at the Lucky Bamboo Guesthouse in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    Two bungalows at the Lucky Bamboo Guesthouse in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    I asked one of the staff guys to clean it off, but he ended up just scrubbing the handle itself, which was fine, but he left the crap on the walls. So, I had to point out the stains to him again and ask him to scrub them off, which he did for a few seconds. Next, I walked down the trail to grab a bite to eat at Junia Guesthouse, who served me a piping hot and delicious plate of spaghetti with cheese and a taco-like contraption filled with soy beans and rice. I told them it tasted amazing and that I would return.

    After dinner, I returned to the Lucky Bamboo, and ended up moving into the other available room, as it had a bathroom with a better handle on the water faucet and no stains on the wall. There was no shower head, so I had to use a provided pail to dump cold water all over myself–just like the ice bucket challenge! As soon as I heard some thunder and lightning off in the distance, I decided to head out before it started raining to look for a better room for the following two nights.

    Staff and guests sing songs and make merry at the Lucky Bamboo Guesthouse in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    Staff and guests sing songs and make merry at the Lucky Bamboo Guesthouse in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Walking down the uneven, rough and rocky pathway, I crossed a footbridge over the river and checked out most of the guesthouses, including the Bugis Inn, the Garden Inn, the Rainforest Guesthouse, etc. but they were all filled up. Fortunately, I ended up booking a proper deluxe room at Zido Fido Guesthouse–complete with a fan, a sink, a western toilet and a big ol’ shower head–for 225,000 rupiah ($16.00) per night. Considering I only paid 80,000 rupiah ($6.00) for my room at the Lucky Bamboo, that averaged out to $13.64 per night over my three nights in Buckit Lawang, which was a really good deal.

    The inside of my bungalow at the Lucky Bamboo Guesthouse in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The inside of my bungalow at the Lucky Bamboo Guesthouse in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Walking back to my room at the Lucky Bamboo, I was amazed at the locals who rode their motorcycles up and down six-inch wide rough gullies in the middle of steep concrete staircases on the pathway along the river. On my way back, I encountered a tout who had been trying to book a jungle trek with me. When we sat down at a table, I looked at his booklet of order forms, which just read “Jungle Trek” in the most ridiculously generic manner. I told him I wanted to go on a half day trek, but the shortest one on his form was a full day. He tried to tell me there are no half day treks, but I told him I had read about them on several different web sites. Then he said one of his buddies could take me on a half day trek.

    I had a bad feeling about the guy, like he and his friends were probably unofficial guides. So, I got up and told him I was going to eat, which I did again at the Junia Guesthouse. I saw Decker and Joana there, and they suggested I cross the river tomorrow and book a trek at one of the agencies, which sounded like a good plan. Back at the Lucky Bamboo, I joined a crowd of guests and staff who were hanging out, drinking, playing an acoustic guitar and merrily singing songs. After a little while, I felt tired and headed off to my room, which was right on the footpath out front on the banks of the Bohorok river. I dumped a few pails of cold water over myself, which was quite invigorating to say the least, for some semblance of a shower. Then I hit the sack, finally falling asleep around 2:00 am to the gentle roar of the river rushing over the rocks.

    Words and photos ©2015 Arcane Candy.

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