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Medan to Bukit Lawang


I had managed to hook up with Viv and Laurie, an older couple from Cornwall, for a bit of moral support and then Geoff, another old hand from Sydney joined us at the last moment. For good measure it was no great surprise that local chancer Johnny began to call the shots, he "just happened to be going that way anyway" and so slipped way too easily into the role of self-appointed guide whether we liked it or not. A brace of maniac driven Opelets took us the hour long white knuckle ride out to Pinang Baris, where unconvinced by Johnny's roadside assurances we elected to hoof it to the nearby bus station, trying to keep a comfortable distance. It was a well known fact that touts would try to adopt you before your feet even touched the ground but we made a point of ignoring his advice in searching out the bus ourselves. Soon we ended up waiting at the original roadstop for the bus to fill up, but despite our hot 10 minute walk with bags, at least Johnny had got the message. Only 96Ks away, the run up to Bukit Lawang should have been a doddle and I had initially hoped I'd be able to rattle it off as a day trip. Sceptical prophecies from other travellers however had forewarned me of the diabolical state of the road synonymous with Sumatra. It took forever to shake off mighty Medan and then from whence the buildings petered out, the miles of palm oil and rubber plantations were complimented by the deterioration of the route into a heavily eroded surface of mammoth potholes and stony bonerattling sections. It wasnt helped by a detour onto an unsealed circuit due to a bridge being out, having to squeeze and reverse our way past oncoming palm nut trucks and also by infuriatingly frequent stops to pick up or dislodge half a high school of white blousoned kids crammed in like sardines. And so it was that combined with a necessary delicate assault course approach we didnt reach Bukit Lawang until 6. I had originally estimated half 1 and my vague hopes of a day trip were now a joke. I'd elected to stay with Viv and Laurie since their intended Jungle Inn sounded like the best deal around, but after that endurance test it was too much to hoof the heavily laden 3Ks in confusing circumstances and so Johnny got his way after all. Whilst Geoff opted for the nearby Eco-resort (unlikely), Johnny took us to a vaguely passable dive which was at least cheap despite its faded grandeur. We knew that Bukit Lawang had been hammered by a disasterous flash flood a few years previous which had claimed hundreds of lives and it showed. Neighbouring bungalows now sat wrecked and abandoned and later inspection revealed this to be a typical tale in what had once been a thriving resort. There was barely another tourist around and Johnny's desperation for business was a universal fact of life for the locals. He had sheltered us from the alternative gauntlet run upon arrival however, and though obviously ever keen for our money everyone was appreciably laid back and friendly. Where souvenir stalls had once lined the river, concrete barrages now detracted from the natural beauty but not much, it was still a fantastic setting of a fast white water river twisting through a corridoor between lush rainforest clad hillsides. Johnny's predictable attempts at trying to push a trekking tour on us only led to a unanimous consensus to negotiate the very rudimentary plank bridge, ill-conceived for backpacks or tall wide shouldered Westerners, whereupon we immediately chanced upon a trully idyllic elevated drinking den, all natural wood and lovely touches. A Canadian couple helped break the ice and so it was that we all sat down for a very pleasant evening watching the Last King of Scotland over a Bintang beer. Nature tapped us on the shoulder to remind us of her presence however, with a full on tropical thunderstorm at one point making us all instinctively duck with the loudest explosion I've ever heard in my life. It must have loosed off a lightning bolt just over our heads. We scampered squat back across the raging torrent in the downpour, from whence I tried to read in bed, giving up after the feeble lightbulb shorted out once too often.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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