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Being Tarzan: Jungle Trekking in Indonesia

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Vicky Philpott

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Written by: Rebecca Root

Bukit Lawang is the Perfect Spot to Escape the Comforts of Home

Intense heat, a few near-death experiences and a whole load of sweat: a trek in the Indonesian jungle is by no means a walk in the park, but it is an epic adventure.

In stark contrast to Bali’s white sands and rolling surf, the town of Bukit Lawang in northern Sumatra is all swinging vines and wild treetops. It calls to anyone seeking a bit of Tarzan-action but, be warned, you’ll need more than a loin cloth to make this trip.

Bukit Lawang itself is a forgotten corner of the globe that missed the memo on hot water and internet, but this just makes it all the more enchanting. It’s untouched by the curse of McDonalds and it’s dense jungle is yet to be destroyed by hotel developers. The area remains wild and beautiful, offering a secluded getaway full of great food and jungle sing songs.

Bukit Lawang in Indonesia

The locals have you hooked on the idea of a jungle escapade from the moment you plant your feet in the magical land of Bukit Lawang – all smiling faces and funny tales you can’t resist.

So that was it. Rucksacks on, water bottles at the ready and our group was ready to take those first steps into jungle wonderland. But, this was by no means a glamourous affair. Forget Katy Perry’s recent music video for Roar – with crazy temperatures and vertical hikes, jungle chic was not easy to achieve and a few minutes in I looked like a steamed lobster, all red and sweaty. So be warned and leave the vanity back at the riverside.

We climbed through the thick growth and trudged in the deep mud. We fell more than a few times and hiked it up the steep paths. There was literally blood, sweat and tears. However, do not misinterpret the sheer physical agony for disappointment.

Say hello to the orang-utans

Our first sighting of the Sumatran orang-utans made all the pants and pains disappear.

In packs of two or three, the orang-utans swung low between the trees and stared down at the human faces peeking up at them. Unafraid, they came so close and took any opportunity they could to steal a banana. Their button noses and rusty fur could trick you into thinking that they were as harmless as teddy bears, but their strong physique means they’re anything but.

Mina, orang-utan celeb of the treetops, decided to take a member of our trekking group hostage in exchange for copious amounts of fruit. She put up quite a fight to keep her newly acquired friend and twisted and pulled her poor victim’s arm until the tour guide surrendered all the fruit we had. There goes lunch. We were six hours in and far enough away from civilisation to be more than a little perturbed.

Orang-utans in Indonesia

After our traumatic hold up we continued to delve deeper into the foliage. By this point our tour guide had taken pity on me, the girl who clearly thought she was going to Zumba class with her crop top and matching bag, and had relieved me of my rucksack. With a nice mud stain coming up the rear no amount of deodorant was helping me out here.

Our guide navigated us through the trees as if each branch were clearly signposted. When asked how he found his way so easily he simply said: “I am a jungle boy”.

When exhaustion started to creep in and my Primarni pumps began to rub, we finally began what can only be described as a death descent, an almost vertical climb down a cliff face. All it would take was one wrong foot and we could be lost to the jungle forever.

When the river below finally came into sight I don’t think my body could have heaved a bigger sigh, but it wasn’t over. In order to reach our overnight camp we had to cross the rough river.

Once again, totally unequipped, we waded through and tried not to be washed away.

When we finally made it to camp – and by camp I mean a piece of plastic sheeting – we all collapsed with exhaustion. We’d experienced more near-death experiences in one day then some people experience in a lifetime but, day one was over, we were still alive and had cups of condensed milk to perk us up. Yum.

However physically demanding the day had been, there had been surreal moments that made it worth every second: bathing in the waterfalls (Myleene Klass-style of course), watching the baby monkeys and playing games by the campfire with the natives. These were all magical moments that I would later question if they were real or had just been a result of a jungle hallucination, lack of water and heat creating some mystic illusion.

That night we lay beneath the stars and couldn’t have been closer to nature. In fact, I feared we were a little too close. A hiss here and a roar there, I was convinced we wouldn’t last till the morning, but the overwhelming events of the day let us drift into the deepest of comas.

Needless to say we were not eaten by a bear or dragged off by a tiger. We had survived a night in the jungle and sunrise brought another day of wading through waterfalls and watching the wildlife, but this time it ended with a raft downstream between the jungle’s valleys.

The views were breathtaking, the animals astounding and the moments surreal. How the girl from Leeds survived a jungle trek with nothing but her Topshop joggers and Impulse body spray I’ll never know, but it was worth every moment.

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