Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sumatra Day Four: Rollin' on the River

I expected to rise around sunrise like I usually do when sleeping in a tent, but all that hiking and delicious food must have really knocked me out, because I slumbered on after the sun was up and Amad was hard at work on breakfast.  When we finally got up, a huge breakfast was waiting for us and I was glad to see that the rains of the night before had passed over and the sun was shining brightly.  Unfortunately Bryan awoke with a tetchy tummy, so he just nibbled on his double-decker sandwich while I devoured mine.  A group of long-tailed macaques was hanging out next to our camp, but they were much more timid than the Bukit Timah monkeys, and hung back despite the lure of delicious food.  Bryan got his mind off his upset stomach by taking some shots of the monkeys and our campsite.  We were surprised to see a one-armed male monkey in with the group.  His injury looked old and almost completely healed, but it was pretty surprising that he'd survived something so serious out in the wild.  He moved with less certainty than the other monkeys, taking extra care to get good footing on the wet rocks, but we never saw him fall.
The campsite
Tent made of branches, string, and tarps.  Not beautiful, but kept us warm and dry!
Amad and Pi'in in the camp kitchen
Good spot for breakfast
Our monkey neighbors
One-armed macaque. He's missing his left arm, below the elbow.

After eating my monstrous breakfast sandwich I was digesting by the river while Amad was working on something top-secret in the kitchen and Bryan was poking around for photography opportunities.  The monkeys were getting progressively more curious about the yummy smells coming from the kitchen, but they still stayed a reasonable distance away, periodically standing on their hind legs to peer at the source of all the food aromas.  They weren't the only ones interested in our food - before long a fat water monitor lumbered over and stuck his snout right into the kitchen, grabbed up a scrap, swallowed it whole, then eased into the little stream next to our campsite.
Hey, you guys have anything to eat over here?
Going for a dip...isn't he supposed to wait 30 minutes?

Bryan managed to get a good shot of one of the miniature frogs that we kept seeing down by the river.  They were impossibly tiny and cute, and every time we'd walk on the stones, they'd hop away to take cover under the rocks.

After awhile, Amad emerged from the kitchen area with his masterpiece.  He'd created an AWESOME fruit salad. It looked like it could have been the centerpiece at a wedding and it was just for us to eat!  It had watermelon, pineapple, passion fruit, bananas, oranges, snake fruit (also known as salak), and a beautiful flower.
Isn't it lovely?!
Salak / snake fruit
We kind of had a fruit salad photo shoot.

After we'd admired Amad's culinary creation for awhile, we ate some of it but I felt bad taking it apart after he'd worked so hard.  Once we'd all had our share of fruit, Will led Bryan and I through the forest for a couple of minutes and we came out at a fast little waterfall feeding into a nice pool where we could swim.  There were a few people there from other campsites and I got a kick out of talking to a guy from Minnesota, which is where Bryan grew up and I spent two summers working.  The water was refreshing and I floated around awhile before climbing up to sit in the waterfall.  The water pummeled my back and it felt just like a massage!  It was great!  I climbed up behind the waterfall too and it was peaceful back there- you couldn't tell from the front, but when you got behind the waterfall, there was another, smaller one back there. Bryan relaxed on the side and dangled his feet in the water, still not feeling shipshape.
Waterfall massage
Will being a jungle acrobat

Fast water
When we'd had our fill of lounging around by the waterfall, we walked back to camp.  Will whipped up some ginger and lemon tea that helped Bryan's tummy feel a little better, as Amad and Pi'in poked around on the opposite bank of the river.  Eventually they started shouting and waving for us to join them.  Bryan stayed on the bank but I jumped in the river, swimming along the path that Amad had pointed out to me, presumably so I'd avoid the fast part of the rapids.  When I got to the other side, Pi'in grabbed my hand to pull me up onto the rock, but my hand was slippery and the water was moving really fast and I slipped out of his grasp. I had a moment of panic as I swept away from him, but Amad was right there, laughing and hauling me out of the water.  Nice save, Jungle Boy!

When I got to the other side, I got to see what the guys were so excited about.  They'd found a cute little baby snake!  I love snakes but I also like to keep a reasonable distance, so I stayed back while they watched up close.  Our little rock was also home to two plump frogs.
Oh no, I'm good...I can totally see it from here!
Any ideas on this snake's identification?  It was really small.

Swimming back across the water was easier.  The sun was out and the day was warm but comfortable so I crawled up on a big rock by the river and laid down to dry off.  Bryan joined me and we basked in the sunshine, watching the monkeys inch closer to the camp kitchen.  Nearby a group of butterflies flitted about in the warm breeze.  I think they might have been involved in a mating ritual of some sort, because one of the butterflies appeared to be secreting a sticky liquid.
A blue jay butterfly
Lots of butterflies and a bonus flying insect

While Bryan and I were relaxing, Amad was hard at work lashing inner tubes together for our trip down the river. I've been whitewater rafting before, and I've done lots of tubing down the Tuscarawas River in Ohio, but I can't say I've ever tackled any rapids in an inner tube.  I couldn't wait to try, but we weren't set to go yet.  We lounged around camp for a few hours, enjoying the river and the sun.  Amad used mud and leaves to turned me into an Indonesian princess.  He also showed us some more brain teasers (again, Bryan outwitted me), and Will pointed out some unfamiliar plants.
A real princess would've remembered to pack her hairbrush.

Before long, camp was all packed up and our stuff was stowed securely in plastic bags.  The monkeys had finally overcome their fear and invaded the kitchen to look for leftovers.  One walked right up to the fire, which was in the process of burning out, and stuck his hand right into it to retrieve a scrap!  He leaped backwards quickly, shaking his hand and staring at it in dismay.  Silly monkey.

Bryan and I took some photos in the tubes before everyone else piled in.  Originally we had planned for Amad and Pi'in to walk back, but in the end all five of us piled into the tubes with all of our stuff.  Tight squeeze!
He looks cozy in there all by himself...not for long!
Heading down the Bohorok River

Our cameras were stowed safely away in our bags for the trip down the river so we didn't get any photos of the actual tubing, but it was a ton of fun.  The water was moving swiftly after the rain the night before, and Bryan and I were squeezed into the center tube, holding onto each other and screaming and laughing all the way.  Amad was up front with a long stick, pushing us away from rocks, and Pi'in and Will were in the back, with Will expertly steering.  At one point, Will said, "Do you know cannon?" and I laughed, remembering the part of the New River that was referred to as the cannon.  Bryan said, "What's the cannon?" but by the time he got the words out, we were already shooting of a narrow part of the river at a breakneck speed, and his question was answered.  We hadn't seen many birds deep in the jungle, but along the water with the open sky above us, we started spotting more birdlife.  The guys also serenaded us with this song, to the tune of "Jingle Bells":

Jungle Trek
Jungle Trek
In Bukit Lawang!
See the monkeys,
See the birds,
See orangutan!

There was more, but I couldn't make it all out over the rushing water, shrieks, and laughter.  Anyway, it was all good fun and we were whizzing back into town before I was ready for it to be over.  We came to a stop outside of Will and Obiwan's place, and Obiwan was there to meet us.  He led us to the Jungle Tribe Inn, where we had a nice room overlooking the river.  I was excited about the hammock and our nice balcony, but mostly I was looking forward to the clean, dry clothes I'd left behind in our suitcase!  
The lovely view, marred by our gross clothes

After we showered and hung out our stinky wet stuff, we went back to have a beer with Obiwan.  We had planned to hang out awhile but despite the massive breakfast I'd eaten, I was getting hungry.  Bryan was finally feeling better and he was hungry too, so we headed out in search of a place called Tony's Pizza, recommended by both Obiwan and the yellow bible.

Tony's Pizza was located in a part of town that we hadn't yet visited.  The area appeared to be aimed mostly at tourists, with lots of little cafes and shops selling orangutan t-shirts.  Tony's was a small hut with about four tables.  It didn't appear to be attached to a kitchen, so we kind of stood there, confused for a minute, until a girl came in, smiled encouragingly at us, and handed us menus.  We got pizza and were impressed when it turned out to be much more tasty than what we can usually dig up in Singapore (I'll tell you now, Southeast Asia isn't exactly the place to be if you want a good pizza).  While we ate, we watched sheep run down the dirt road, chickens pecking around a yard nearby, sunburned tourists browsing the shops, and skinny stray cats scrounging for food.  We also discovered that the restaurant's kitchen was located somewhere across the street!

With our early dinner out of the way, we roamed town for a bit, stopping to pick up bottled water and beer.  As we lugged it back to our place, we spotted a group of long-tailed macaques and paused to watch them awhile.  We soon figured out that it was the same group that had visited our porch two nights before, because they were accompanied by that same pig-tailed macaque!  They all seemed very comfortable with the arrangement...well, most of the time, anyway.
Pig-tailed macaque on the left, long-tailed macaque on the right
Aggressive facial expression and posture

Bryan and I spent the rest of the evening on the balcony, drinking our beer and playing 500 Rummy.  We had two beers- the widespread Indonesian Bintang that we'd had in Bali, and another beer called Anker, which is confusing because there are two other Southeast Asian beers called Anchor and Angkor!  As the night grew darker, more and more geckos popped up around us.  They were eating the mosquitoes that had also become suddenly overabundant.  Before long, bats were swooping in to take advantage of the insect feast.  It was funny to see so much wildlife crowded onto our little balcony!  We kept trying to get a good look at the bats so we could identify them, but they were moving so quickly that we didn't get a chance!  It was a peaceful way to spend the evening, especially when someone nearby started strumming a guitar and singing.

Now, for those of you that have been agonizing over the solution to the matchstick puzzle from my last post, here's the solution:

You take the vertical matchstick from the second plus sign, and add it to the first plus sign, changing the plus sign into a "4".  Now, instead of  1 + 1 + 11 = 130, you have 141 - 11 = 130!  Neat, huh?


  1. Every new thing that you blog about seems more amazing then the last!! The waterfalls, tubing,monkeys, snakes. It all sounds so wonderful!!

  2. Sumatra was kind of a magical place! Every day of my life isn't quite this exciting :-)

  3. I am not sure anyone's whole life could possibly be that exciting!
    That fruit salad looks beautiful! I looked at the pictures before I read the text, and I thought it was some kind of beautiful Indonesian hat!

  4. By the way, I love your other blog! It is so funny.

  5. HAHAHA I would have worn it as a hat- it was pretty enough! And thank you : )

  6. Hi Crystal,
    Just wanted to thank you for your blog. I booked the exact same trip solely because I had so much information from you. It was of course an amazing experience...thanks again for the blog.

  7. Danielle- Glad I could be helpful! And so glad you booked the trip. What a fantastic place.

  8. Oh, wow... your blog is so good! great photos and amazing stories... I'm Indonesian, live in Jakarta :-) me and my 3 friends are going to BL this long weekend, I would love to do a day trek but I'm not sure if I'm fit enough to do it :-( we'll see... Btw, thanks a lot for sharing your experience...we are so looking forward to it... BL we are coming!!!

  9. Thank you! If you're going to BL, I highly recommend at least hiking up to the feeding platform. It only takes about 20 minutes and you can take it slower if you're feeling a little out of shape. But it's so worth it to get to see the orangutans! Thanks for the kind words about the blog, and have a wonderful time on your trip!!!