We’re not jungle people, but we hadn’t done much naturing lately so we decided to immerse ourselves in it by going to the jungles of Sumatra in search of orangutans and other wild animals. As mentally prepared for malarial mosquitoes and lunging leeches as we could be, N and I decided to visit Gunung Leuser National Park in northern Sumatra.
We arrived in Medan and spent a few days hanging out in a mall there, recovering from stomach issues we got on our way out of Penang. Medan proved to be a pretty crappy city (to put it nicely), with nothing interesting to see or do. The traffic and pollution are horrible there, making it nearly impossible to go anywhere anyway. So we spent too much time at Centre Point, a new mall near our hotel, and ate at the mediocre restaurants and wandered around it. To say the least, it wasn’t a good first impression of Indonesia.
Because we heard horror stories about minibuses in Indonesia (and driving in general), we took a private car to Bukit Lawang for $45 instead of the minibus fare of about $6 per person. A bit of a splurge, but we’re fancy like that, and we had promised ourselves to spend a little bit more on safer modes of transportations while in Indonesia.
We passed Malaysian palm oil plantations and arrived three and a half hours later in a small town split in half by a river. This would be our home for the next five days, complete with a cold shower and no AC.
The following day was sunny and beautiful so we went for a hike since we can’t be in Bavaria without hiking the Alps. That would be a sin and we aren’t sinners. We started late like typical amateur hikers and then took a wrong turn like typical amateur hikers. So, after 5 hours of hiking, we had eaten lunch twice, lost and found KS’s hat, and then came back to the bottom of the mountain to enjoy the rushing glacial waters. The water was clear and beautiful so I took off my shoes to dip my feet in and quickly lost my toes to frostbite. Oh well, such is life.
Desperately needing to break away from the city-hopping that we’ve been doing for the past month and a half, I did a Google search which yielded interesting results: The Tatra Mountains along the Polish and Slovakian border. Never heard of it, right? That’s exactly what we were looking for. Something completely off the beaten path and isolated.
The Tatras are part of the Carpathian Mountains, the longest mountain range in Eastern Europe, and the second longest in Europe. Because the Polish side is swamped with tourists, we opted to cross the border into Slovakia and go the extra two hours by bus to Zdiar, a tiny village at the base of the High Tatras, the highest peaks in the Carpathians.
It seems like Australians are always the first to discover something cool, and that’s probably partly due to the fact that they are constantly traveling. The colorfully-named Ginger Monkey Hostel’s clientele was mostly Australians, with the exceptions being us, and a couple of French and Portuguese guys. This was totally fine with us, because we’ve found that the Australians are very considerate regardless of age and always down to have a good time. We had dinner at a nearby restaurant and of course had the Slovakian specialty of dumplings with sheep’s milk sauce, bacon and sautéed onions.
The next day rained and rained and rained. We hung out in our private room, looked out the window at the mountains, did some travel research and got some good ol’ R&R. The following day was sunny, and we dusted off our hiking poles, pulled on our hiking boots, slathered ourselves with sunscreen and took off towards the mountains.
Today we hiked Mt. Takao in Hachiōji, Tokyo, Japan. It’s only an hour by train from Tokyo city center and offers many hiking trails for all levels of hikers. Takao-san is about 599 meters high and on a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji from the summit. We weren’t so lucky today, but it was still a nice hike. It was ¥360 each way from Shinjuku to the base of Mt. Takao and you can save some money by bringing your own lunch. They also sell soft ice cream cones at the summit and you know I had to have one. Hiking and ice cream. Life is good.
Check out our Flickr set for more photos: Mount Takao Photos
I’m a big fan of national parks. I think it’s wonderful that our hard earned tax dollars are spent on preserving and maintaining the beautiful natural resources that we’ve been blessed with in this country. According to the National Park Service website, there are currently 58 National Parks in America. In 2012, there were over 270 million visitors to the national parks. We were two of those two hundred and seventy odd million visitors.