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  • Writer's pictureDeb Smithers

Sumatra Jungle Trek - Part 2

What awaits in the jungle?

After my first terrifying wake-up call just two hours into the jungle trek, an impetuous moment of fear faced with an enraged, swift approaching Orangutan (see link below), within minutes you realize that they are in fact experiences that make memories that will last a lifetime. Remarkable stories to be shared with the grandchildren, as was this story, of the moment I was in the most hidden depths of the Sumatran jungle, articulating how I had to swing from the vines through the jungle canopy before hiding within the safety of a hole in a giant 400-year-old tree until rescued, to escape a wild orangutan pounding through the jungle chasing me and all told to those little ones, with a hint of exaggeration of course. Would you agree, what a legendary Grandmother story this would be to recount!

A big orangutang chillin out in the trees, inquisitive of all the movement below.
Chillin in the trees.

The amazing 2 guides from Eco Travel who protected while trekking  the jungle

After walking on for another hour, the guides finally found a small clearing that was safe for us to sit, eat and take a 20 min rest break, after all, we were all still reeling from our recent jungle scare. Guide Hendra pulls banana leaves and fruit from his backpack, laying out the leaves on the ground, impressively shaping, cutting, and decorating the fruit to be assembled as a fruit platter for us. I would never have imagined being served something so enticing right there on the jungle floor and we all sat staring in anticipation at this simple masterpiece with our mouths watering ready to eat as we were hot, thirsty, and hungry.

Fruit salad upon a banana leaf, served on the Jungle floor.

We see an army of ants marching toward us and coming to take ownership of our awaiting feast, or even us, as they were big enough to almost carry us away. They are giant forest ants and we are told that their bite can really pack a punch causing significant pain that can often last hours. With his trusty bamboo stick, Antony draws a line in the dirt directing away from the food, at the end he places a handful of berry seeds, and sure enough, the forest ants change their direction making their way to the seeds and away from the fruit.

The giant forest ant close up .
Giant forest ant

As he completes the food preparation Antony speaks about just some of the elements of the jungle on the next track, we will be taking that we needed to be aware of in order to remain safe, from snakes and where they are most likely to appear to the danger of the imminent lightning storm should it arrive. Giving us the rundown of what the next few hours trek would entail, he informs us that this next section would be arduous, testing our strength and agility as we head to the top of this vertical climb. It will become extremely hot, and painful on the legs, and breathing will become more of an effort. With the temperature already hitting 33 degrees and still expected to rise It is immensely important that we keep up our hydration in order for it to be possible to make the distance.

One guide will walk at the front of the line and the other at the back.

They assure us that we must speak up if we are struggling with the climb and we will all stop together to regain ourselves, and under no circumstances are we as a group to separate. I could not help but ask if people had in the past become lost in the jungle and he simply replied with a very convincing, yes.

A shot from above the forest canopy. A long way down if you slipped.
A long drop down

You can hear so much activity in the jungle if you sit and really listen, we all remain quiet and our guide begins to tell us of the different sounds we can hear, from the Gibbons, the Thomas leaf monkeys, and the enormous array of birds and insects deep within the jungle. I closed my eyes to heighten my senses and fully enjoy this peaceful moment, I could feel and hear the wind gently moving around the trees.

Suddenly there is an earsplitting scream from one of the girls and as I turn my head I see right next to me a large male baboon passing within an inch, still trying to recover from the previous scare, at that moment I felt as though I had stopped breathing and with his strength and domineering attitude he directs himself straight to the prepared fruit on the ground, it quickly becomes quite clear that we have just lost our lunch as he throws himself onto the banana leaf pushing as much fruit as he can fit in his mouth. One guide slowly and carefully tries to gather the packs and the other attempts to move the baboon away as he is aggressively snarling and charging at them. They try to apply more force and with that, he charges again and as the guide shows more dominance by raising the bamboo stick over his head, he begins to become angrier showing his long sharp teeth. If the stick had not been successful in scaring him away, I would have imagined my screaming would have been.

With such calmness, Antony tells us not to scream or show fear, not to worry, no problem, I admire his words of wisdom, but it's not quite how I was feeling with an aggressive baboon a few metres away and running straight in my direction.

So, there I was, again, running for safety. He keeps returning with his aggression, he is adamant to take the remainder of the food and within a matter of seconds, he is settled on a branch nearby finishing off our lunch.

He has managed to take all the fruit laid out for us in a matter of seconds, watermelon, bananas, and pineapple, gorging himself by trying to store all the fruit on offer in his mouth, quite a sight and still, I wonder how he could have possibly stashed all this food in his mouth, not only does he have to contend with us wanting to take our fruit back but he also has to contend with the other animals that would be quick to arrive with the sweet scent of the fruit. I learned that the north Sumatran baboon has several cheek pouches that he can fill fast storing the food for when he is in a suitable position to eat more safely and freely. And there again was another memorable moment of fear right there.

These baboons in Sumatra, waiting in the trees to jump and steal our fruit and lunch

Before too long we became aware that there were already another two baboons in the distance that have obviously picked up on the scent, or possibly the screaming and ruckus we have made, it has stirred them with suspicion and hunger and they begin to come in closer. The decision was made that we would move on quickly and attempt a stop to eat further on in what would hopefully be a safer position.

Already we are high enough to see the steep decline, the tree tops from above, and the importance of watching the narrow track and concentrating carefully on our footing as the fall is already a long and dangerous way down. They tell us that once you lose your footing and begin to plummet down it is difficult to stop your decline unless you are swift and strong enough to grab onto a hanging vine or branches on the way down.

We are aware that the storm is predicted and this can create some serious hazards.

Due to the height of the jungle, we will reach one of the greatest dangers of an imminent storm and that is lightning, it will generally hit at the highest point, the tops of the tallest trees, and when the trees are hit it is not uncommon for them to break and come crashing down the steep, vertical decent. Such massive trees come down like a bulldozer taking out everything and anything in their path.

We hear of a tragic tale of two trekkers years ago who unfortunately lost their lives this way, when a severe storm hit suddenly while they were on this exact trek, both being killed by the force of a falling tree plummeting down the forest descent with immense force.

Fortunately, there has been no rain for a few days so even though the jungle floor is damp it is not too wet and slippery. But we are aware of the storm approaching and it makes us keep up the pace and manage the arduous next 8kms up. I am hot and exhausted but managing the trek well, surprised to be keeping up with guides so well, there is a certain fear of being at the back of the line and that keeps me motivated and strong.

Along the way, we were lucky enough to have heard the intriguing sounds of two Hornbills flying over above us and it was something astonishing to witness as seeing the Hornbills can be quite rare.

They are monogamous birds and choose a mate to remain with for their entire existence. They can grow up to 90 cm in length and have a life span of up to 35 years. In Sumatra, they are a very sacred creature of the Jungle and it is believed that it brings extremely bad luck to anyone who kills or brings harm to them.

The Hornbill is near threatened, not only due to global deforestation but unfortunately, they are hunted for their ivory-like carvable material obtained from the casque which is at the base of the large upper bill. Hornbill Ivory is grainless and softer than elephant ivory and is quite sought after in the illegal trade markets.

Another rare treat to see is the Gibbon monkey, they are known as the singing acrobats of the Sumatran jungle and you can hear the angelic sound of them calling to each other from afar, but sighting them is not necessarily so easy. They are almost comical-like with their unique white hands, white rings around their faces and tailless bodies. I managed to hear the beautiful sound of them singing but the only sighting I had was that from far in the distance.

The cheeky, tailless monkeys that can be Found in Sumatra. With their white hands and white ringed face.
The Gibbons

The wonderful Gibbon monkey. Hanging from the trees with one hand. Their cheeky faces.

As we continued our way up the vertical trek for hours, we were all hot and feeling the pain throughout our bodies, we were almost out of the water, and after eventually reaching the top track and after 6 hours we had only done 9 km, but it felt like 30. By now we were only 3 km out from our camp spot for the night and having a steep descent through the densest part of the jungle on this track it was extremely easy to slip as the forest floor is damper here and we are all by now extremely sore and fatigued. To put into perspective how hot it was, and how much we have sweated on the journey so far, we have all finished our 4 litres of water and no one has needed to stop to go to the toilet since we left in the early hours of the morning. I felt relieved to be finally arriving at the camp soon and stop walking for the day, we begin to pick up the pace as we are wanting to reach the camp before nightfall and most importantly before the possibility of a storm coming over.

And so continues this great adventure.

See Sumatra Jungle Trek 3 & 4

"There is no certainty, only adventure..."

And here is the baboon, caught in action, stealing our fruit and lunch.

Beautiful trees and plant life while trekking the Sumatran Jungle.


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