While looking at a map of Malaysia and Singapore I realized just how narrow the Strait of Malacca looked, and figured that a trip to Sumatra, Indonesia would be easy. Why Sumatra? In addition to that delightful coffee at Starbucks, which is probably where I first encountered the name of this island (and maybe even its neighbor, Java), I know that Sumatra is one of only TWO places in the world where you can still see Orangutans in the wild in their natural habitat. The other being Borneo. (Thanks, Tina!)
The word orangutan come from Indonesian/Malay for “people of the forest,” and thus to the forest (jungle) I was heading! I flew into Medan and headed straight for Bukit Lawang, a delightful tourist village at the gates of the Gunung Leuser National Park. To get to my accommodation, I had to cross a swaying wooden suspension bridge. Other than that, we were on solid ground. It was humid, and the start of rainy season meant I was in for some impressive storms, but I really enjoyed my visit there.
In many ways, Indonesia is not entirely different from what I saw in Malaysia. A predominantly Muslim country with similar language, plant life, and food (SO much fried rice). But being able to see the orangutans in this way was something truly unique. It even made sweating and hiking through the jungle all day worth it.
It was also one of the most difficult places for me to travel. I’ve reflected in the past on the comforts of American life I can do without: AC, microwaves, clothes dryers, 24/7 electricity, etc. But I found my limit. I do not enjoy being without regular access to a real, WARM, shower – with running water and everything. Bucket showers are not for me. And access to a western toilet is clutch. Litter everywhere, crazy traffic, and everyone always smoking were not my favorites either – but that’s par for the course in much of the world.
I also went to Lake Toba, a giant crater lake, and stayed a night in Medan. The lake was beautiful, but Medan was nothing to get excited about. Driving around the countryside, seeing dramatic volcanoes and endless palm oil farms was a combo of amazing yet troubling. After a week there, I was ready to leave. But I am hoping I will be back for another visit. There is, of course, Eat-Pray-Love-famous Bali to see. Java is apparently chock full of fabulous temples. And maybe one day I’ll see the dragons of Komodo.