I left Pematang Siantar early in the morning to go to Medan/Bintang, from where I would take a bus to Bukit Lawang. As usual, buses are packed with luggage stowed and secured on the roof. On the bus I met someone who works as a guide in Bukit Lawang. This is quite common actually. In any place that is even slightly aimed at tourists (and Bukit Lawang is certainly such a place) there will be guides waiting around bus stations or on the bus. This is NOT a bad thing. Some people may be wary of these practises and instantly decline the offer. But these guides can usually give you some bearings and useful information. And if you don’t like one guide you can just go to another as there often are a lot of them.
Either way, I arrived in Bukit Lawang. The bus stopped in a dusty, rundown place which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. I followed my guide through an old market-square which seemed deserted, along a few buildings which also seemed deserted. We crossed a field where some people where playing soccer and came across a small river, which we followed upwards. As the river grew in size, so did the population and the area started looking more and more inhabited and cultivated until we were right in the center of it. Guest houses and tourists everywhere, mesmerising sceneries of rope bridges hanging over the water which you needed to use to cross the river. Well… there were 2 such bridges. I could only use the large one, because these things are shaped like a conical net, and I could not fit in the first bridge. I was too tall…
Most of the rooms were taken, so I got one that was kind of dodgy and smelly, but I wouldn’t stay there long. I had just ordered some food in the restaurant nearby and started a conversation with some other tourists who were from the same country. They had been there for a day or two and were leaving on a two-day trek tomorrow morning. I asked if I might be able to join them, they called the guide and asked if there was more room. There was, and the next morning I went trekking.
As for the trek, it was fun, and the tubing along the river certainly was entertaining as well, but if you really want more out of it, do NOT take a 2 day trek because it is more a boy-scout round than an actual trek. You go a few circles where guides stay in contact with each other through walkie talkies to tell each other when they see an orang-utan. So whenever there was one spotted, the place would be crowded with tourists from the different groups. We also saw the legendary ‘Mina’. Do a google search for her 🙂 For a real trek, you should take at least 4 days. We sat by the river in the evening, and entertained ourselves with swimming and several camp-fire games. I earned my new nickname which would last me quite a long time: “Tarzan”.
On the same morning we left to begin the trek, I also booked a flight from Medan to Banda Atjeh. And as soon as I got back, I packed my things and grabbed a taxi to Medan. I stayed one night in a really run-down guesthouse. They tried to convince me to sell my ticket which was expensive, leave my big backpack in a locker, rent a motorbike from them and go cruising along Atjeh with it. It was a good plan, and I might do something similar later, but I did not want to sell my ticket or leave my backpack with them (not that I think anything would have happened with it while I was gone, plenty of others had done the same, judging from a book filled with “thank you” letters. I just didn’t feel like it).
The next morning I took a plane to Banda Atjeh. My plan was to stay there and chill a few days while stocking up some money to pay for a diving course on the island of Pulau Weh, as I had read on the internet that the ATMs in Sabang where a bit dodgy (which is true, but fortunately, it is not like you pin more money than you get. If you pin a 1.000.000 Rupiah and only get 500.000, then only 500.000 had been credited from your account. To get the ATM to give you a higher amount, go to “custom amount” and enter the max value of 1.500.000 rupiahs. I tried to go for 2.000.000, but that didn’t work).
So I spend a few days in Banda Atjeh and then I took a ferry to Pulau Weh. I ended up on Iboih beach. My plan was to stay about 4 days and do a small diving course.
My plan didn’t exactly work out, in the better sense… I ended up staying there almost 4 months :)….