Last fall, I booked a one way ticket to the other side of the world. Even though I had done some (quite tame) traveling on my own, this time felt different. Going to a new continent with me, myself and I, even though it has been done by so many before, felt hard for some reason. New continent: new cultures, languages, food, ways of life. The reason I love travel so much. But it was also slightly scary – as travel can be when you are on your own – no matter how often you go to new places I’m not sure that aspect will ever change, really. Not for me at least.
After spending my first week in Singapore, I boarded a flight to Sumatra in Indonesia. I had seen another blogger go there before, and when I realized they had wild orangutans (1 of 2 places worldwide), I knew I had to go. You see I have this thing, this connection, with animals. At this point in my life and in all of my past history, animals touch my heart in ways people don’t, actually. If you know me you know babies aren’t my thing. At all. Never have been. But baby ANIMALS, that’s a different story people!!!
So back to the orangutans, Sumatra, Indonesia, that whole thing. I had booked my ticket to Medan. After talking with people who had done extensive travel in Asia, I felt…. nervous about this trip. You see, I’d read about it on a blogpost, but the research I found online in terms of going to Bukit Lawang from Medan was so sketchy! Forums from years and years ago (i.e. 2007ish) trying to figure out how to go about the transport situation. Not like googling how to get from Paris to Caen or Avignon. Go here, turn left, buy this ticket, heading for this direction, change here…. not at all! More like each forum had a different story, different price, different method. Several hours’ journey from Medan takes you to the jungle of Northern Sumatra, somewhere it seems has been overlooked from guidebooks and travelers, who instead go to the Gili islands, Lombok, or more obviously, Bali. In a way this exhilarated me, going somewhere not everyone has discovered yet (as is the traveler’s mantra all around the world). But guess what? It also scared me a little. I don’t know Indonesian, I’ve never been to Asia before, flying into a city tourists (generally) don’t go to. Everyone I talked to who had traveled Asia extensively before had the same reaction: “Sumatra? Why? Interesting, I’ve never heard of travelers choosing to go there… Jungle trekking? Are you sure this is legit? Bukit Lawang? Never heard of it.” Me: uhh…. yep that’s where I am going (WHAT AM I DOING?!).
Well, I hired a driver from my guest house to pick me up for some peace of mind (Maybe cost me $30-40 USD for a share taxi from the airport to the guest house and back a week later). But I was still not entirely sure he would show up. It was Indonesia after all, booked via email… thank goodness when I arrived in Medan, he was there for me!! I had some screenshots of obscure directions in case but thankfully didn’t have to refer to those. After driving into Medan from the airport, it really hit me. The roads were absolute madness. I don’t think there are road rules. I think it’s just a free for all there. I’ve never seen so many motorbikes on the road, people just turning whenever they feel like, even if there’s no gap in traffic (and a blinker? Ha!!! What’s that?). It felt like frogger!
After I switched cars, I found myself sandwiched between some Aussies and Dutch girls. Here we go! The adventure has begun!! and I have new friends to boot, and one was a solo traveler like me!!! I can do this. Pep talks are everything, people.
We drove 3-4 hours on roads in the worst conditions I’ve seen, with dangerous potholes and flooding. So many small towns had crazy traffic jams due to trucks getting stuck. However this was part of the adventure. I got to see rice paddies, something I’ve always wanted to see (don’t ask me why), and cows roaming and laying down in the middle of the road just because they can. I saw all the palm plantations I’ve read about, that have damaged the natural jungles and habitats. When you’re in a 3rd world country, it’s a hard thing to think about. On one hand you have the detriment to the ecosystem, contribution to global warming, etc…. and on the other you have extremely poor people trying to figure out how to make money and a living. I can’t pretend like I’m an expert on the topic – far from it – but they are in between a rock and a hard place, what’s the answer?
The long drive to Bukit Lawang was… eye opening. We were crammed in that car, and it wasn’t super comfortable, but I dare say I enjoyed the journey. I enjoyed seeing all the houses along the roads we traveled. In one word, they were vibrant. Many different colors. I love the feeling of arriving in a new place, soaking up everything like a sponge. You feel the full weight of this when you are traveling on your own. What’s going to happen on this trip? What will it be like? What am I doing? Who will I meet? What new things will I eat?!? What will I see? What will I learn?
Arriving in the tiny village of Bukit Lawang, I was wide-eyed. Slightly disheveled. But starting to feel like myself again, traveling, in my element, after a long season back in Indiana. With plans to meet my new Dutch friend for dinner, I felt so grateful and happy.
All photos credited to The Modern-Day Dreamer.