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.
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.
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.
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.