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Inner Tubing in Sumatra

On 07, Sep 2014 | No Comments | In Activities, Culture, Indonesia, Travel | By kanannie


Riding on the current.

On a day we had originally designated to being a lazy one, a solo Dutch traveler we met at our guest house convinced us to go inner tubing with her. We didn’t have anything better to do so we changed into our swimsuits and met up with Marijn in the restaurant lounge area, where the young local guys lazed about in the downtime when the tourists were all out hiking the jungles.

When Putra — one of the intrepid jungle guides — came into the lounge with a guitar cradled in his arms, Marijn asked him to come along. He shrugged and agreed, put down his guitar and led us across the river to a small restaurant/inner tube rental shop where we rented two large inner tubes. There were no helmets or life jackets offered or even for rent, nor were there waivers to sign. But that was expected. We carried the inner tubes to the river below, and after we clumsily clambered on and situated ourselves inside, we pushed off.


Carrying our tubes down to to the river.


Here we go!

We immediately got wedged on some rocks in the river while Marijn and Putra drifted ahead of us. Putra noticed, jumped out of his inner tube and came to our rescue to pull us off and back onto the current. This was the first of many times he had to save us from something; there would be spiders, brambles hanging in the water, heavy machinery and more rocks coming up. We didn’t have any string to tie the inner tubes together so we wouldn’t go drifting off again, so Putra held us together with his arms, all 90lbs of him. This was a guy who wrestled Mina — an aggressive female orangutan feared by all jungle guides for attacking humans — off of a tourist, and bears the scars from her bite marks on his arms.


Drifting down the edge of Bukit Lawang.


The tubes are large enough to fit two people snugly.


Putra hanging onto our tube so we wouldn’t get separated again.


The mountains in the distance, where the orangutan roam.


Someone’s getting tired from having to babysit.

It was a sunny afternoon, and the cool water felt amazing on our hot skin. We bounced along the shallow and light rapids and twirled around in the calmer waters, and got to a gravelly sandbar where we got out to take a rest. Well, more like to let poor Putra rest since he was doing all of the work. We sat on the tubes and talked with Marijn about her five-week travel plans in Indonesia while Putra smoked nearby, most likely regretting having agreed to come along with these useless tourists.


Contemplating life without annoying tourists.

Before we took off again, Putra cut two bamboo poles for us to use for steering. He made it look easy, deftly steering the inner tube around obstacles, but it’s much harder than it looks so N and I pretty much just got carried along by the water. We screamed our way through spider-ridden branches scraping over our heads and shoulders, screamed as we almost collided with a Komatsu (I don’t know what it was doing in the water) and screamed as we almost impaled ourselves on the bamboo pole which splintered in half from being used incorrectly (by me).




It’s like some kind of crazy obstacle course up in here!


I lost our only saving grace, the somewhat handy bamboo pole.


N trying her hand at steering.


Marijn in the captain’s seat.


Spiders waiting to drop on us.


A pretty little brook.


Some parts were shallow and rocky.


Putra tying our inner tubes together.


A man herding goats across a bridge.


Water buffalo cooling itself in the river.

But we eventually made it to the neighboring village, and basked in the cool water and the warm afternoon sun before carrying the inner tubes to the side of the road. Putra disappeared into a shop and came out with begedil, fried potato patties influenced by the Dutch. We ate them and waited for a bus to take us back. We stared open-mouthed as full minibuses hurtled by us with groups of smiling school kids sitting on the roof. I was starting to notice a trend with Indonesians sitting not in vehicles, but on top of them.


Kids riding on cars.


A begedil.

It wasn’t long before a minibus driver speeding along in the opposite direction saw us, came to a screeching stop, kicked out the only female passenger riding in the back and U-turned to pick us up. Poor girl. I hope she didn’t have a long walk home.


The minibus we took back to town.

Putra asked us if we wanted to ride on top of the minibus. We declined because we didn’t want to die that day, so the driver strapped our inner tubes to the top of his bus and we climbed onto the safety of the bench seating inside. Putra told us about how he used to get yelled at as a kid by the drivers of these minibuses because he and his friends would mess around, trying to impress each other with dangerous tricks. He then demonstrated a trick by grabbing onto a bar at the rear of the bus, jumping off of the speeding vehicle and riding the asphalt with his rubber flip-flops. We screamed again.

Our short little afternoon adventure had whet (or is it “wet”?) our appetites, and we convinced Marijn to come jungle durian-hunting with us in town. Having never tried durian before, she was totally game and that made her automatically cool in my book. We came across two fruit sellers completely passed out on the benches next to their displayed fruit, but there were no durians in sight and we felt bad waking them up. A random guy (we still don’t really know what his store was selling) asked us what we were looking for, and came out from the back of his shop with two durians. Score! We bought one from him for his asking price of 30,000 rupiah (less than $2.50) and he cracked it open for us.


Crossing the bridge to go find us some durians.


Cracking open a durian. I don’t know how his hands don’t hurt.


Doesn’t compare with Musang King, but it was good nonetheless.

Marijn’s reaction was calm and collected. She didn’t like it, but she didn’t hate it either. She finished her pod and watched as N and I inhaled the rest of the pods. There could’ve been a little bit more meat and the seeds could’ve been a little smaller, but it was creamy, sweet and delicious. It was too bad we were leaving the next day, because we were falling in love with the jungles of Sumatra.

For more photos of our adventures in Sumatra, check out our Flickr album.

In Search of Orangutans in Sumatra
Lake Toba: Lounging Around on Earth's Largest Volcanic Lake

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