Sumatra, I’ll be back. Inshallah.

I’ve committed blogger sin and in the heart of my first teaching gig I went off the grid. I want to apologize for the lack of updates. I spent the second month of my volunteer contract in Sumatra just experiencing it. Sometimes it’s best to be that way. I didn’t put too much thought into writing. The contract is finished and due to strict immigration laws I was forced to make my way out of Indonesia. If I had it my way I would still be in Sumatra spending my money there but instead I am in Thailand now and will vacation for a couple of weeks in here before heading back to Indonesia.

Everything finished up smoothly in Bukit Lawang. I eventually got the hang of lesson planning and execution. I started to get really comfortable with myself and with the students. It started to become fun. Life in the village was good and the last week I spent by the river at a guest house with some great friends that I’m sure I’ll keep in touch with.

Bukit Lawang

Hands in the air for Mr. Joe!!

Next Step
I’m faced with a tough decision right now. For the last three months everything has been set up for me. I was doing my TEFL certification in April and immediately jumped into the volunteering in Sumatra. I haven’t had to make any decisions on what I’m doing as it’s been laid out in front of me. Now, what though?

For years my final teaching destination was always going to be Thailand. Specifically, Chiang Mai. Indonesia was also in the mix but I never really thought it would appeal to me as much as Thailand. The tables have turned dramatically now after having experienced the warmth of Northern Sumatra. I find myself missing the language and the people the most. I came back to Thailand with multiple motives. One was obviously to just have some fun for a couple of weeks and hang out by the water. The other was to see how I would feel after 2 months in Indonesia and whether or not Thailand would still appeal to me. I’ve confirmed Thailand as a holiday destination and not a place for me to live. The language is too difficult and I don’t want to live somewhere that I can’t pick up the language. One of my goals in living abroad was to acquire fluency in another language and Bahasa Indonesia is easy enough for that to happen. In 2 months I’ve become quite comfortable with holding pretty solid conversations with people. The population is far more eager to teach and there is less English overall so the necessity is there.

Now that I’ve narrowed it down to Indonesia with out any doubt, there comes the question of where? I’ve had a connection in Jakarta for some years now that has offered me a position if I’m willing to come take it. However, I’ve kind of fallen in love with Sumatra. I love a lot of things about it and I can see myself living in Medan, taking a job teaching English for a 12 month contract and really becoming fluent in Bahasa Indonesia by the end of it. I have friends that I have made already and places within the island I haven’t yet visited so plenty of new opportunities to explore.

Medan is a short flight away from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok which could all make for long weekend getaways. I plan to purchase a motorcycle if I live in Medan so that I can travel myself outside of the city back to Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba on the weekends. Public buses take way too long and the tourist buses are really expensive. I sent out my resume and cover letter to a school in Medan that posted a job 2 days ago. I feel good about my chances if they take a look at my email, however I can’t tell how many people are trying to get jobs in Medan. I did include that I am currently in Thailand and my availability to start is immediately. This means that the school wouldn’t have to prepare a flight from the west and could save money by hiring me. That being said, there could be candidates showing up at the school in Medan in person who would be a better choice. I really have no idea what to expect but I’m hoping one way or another I hear something back shortly so that I can decide on what I’m going to do.

Flights from Bangkok to Jakarta at the end of next week are around $200 where as a flight to Medan is only about $80 and another $100 to Jakarta. So my thinking is that I will go back to Medan next week, purchase a tie and some slacks and go door-to-door with my resume and see what happens. If I don’t have any luck finding something then I will know I did my best and can head to Jakarta and take the position at EF that is available.

I kind of feel like I belong in Sumatra. Jakarta would be really fun and I’m certain there is a lot more to do as an ex-pat, but Sumatra is just where I need to be.

Spiders, Wasps and Other Stingy Creatures

In addition to weather, mother nature also brings an onslaught of annoyances from the animal kingdom here in Sumatra. I’ve become more comfortable with spiders but have grown to fear bees and wasps much more. I’ve come to terms with spiders being a part of life here and I know that they do keep the other bugs at bay. I prefer the spiders that make webs so I know where they are at all times but these little jumping spiders around the clinic seem pretty harmless. If I freak out every time I see one I wouldn’t get much done so I’ve decided to co-exist with them. I tend to talk to spiders and wasps and try to make agreements with them where we don’t bother each other. A wasp in my bungalow last weekend broke our agreement and kept flying a little too close to me for no reason. I got rid of him and his friend who made home inside my room. Hopefully it taught the other bugs a lesson. I sleep with a pretty nasty looking spider that has a web a few feet from where I lay my head at night but since he is in a web and should have no reason to come down, we co-exist nicely. If he breaks that trust I think he knows what will happen.

Pretty, but what the hell is it?

The monkeys around town are pretty cool. They are short tailed maquaques that march around the guesthouses in packs in search of the lazy tourist who leaves food open in their room or out on the porch. I know I made the mistake of leaving a half eaten bag of crackers in my room and when I returned the bag was gone. Luckily, monkeys aren’t interested in money or passports. While sitting at a restaurant by the river this week, a large pack of monkeys came to stalk the area waiting for a slip up. One of the bigger ones was brave enough to come into the common area, snatch a bag of biscuits and take off with it. I tried to shoo him off before he grabbed it but I ended up only managing to scare him enough to spill my coffee on to my iPod and cell phone. Aside from a distinct mocha odor my phone is fine.
Bats are pretty common here as well. The Indonesian word for bat is kalilawar. I thought that was interesting enough to share. There is one bat that flies around the front of the clinic every evening at pretty low altitude right over your head if you stand in the right place. Apparently he’s swooping in to eat some bugs so he’s OK with me.

Ants are quickly becoming a non-issue for me. I often find ants in my bed even though I never have food in my room. I ignore them or flick them off the side. They are real tiny and not the ones that bite so I try not to think about them.

An old friend from home, the gecko, is also another welcome guest in my room at night. Aside from the occasional screech they mostly just run around the walls and ceiling and chomp on unsuspecting mosquitoes.

I’d love to report that I’ve seen a Sumatran tiger but I’ve talked to people who have lived here their whole lives and have never spotted one. Tourists generally have to take a 1-2 week jungle trek to get even a chance to catch a glimpse of one. They are obviously really quick and evasive.

Holiday in Cambodia

It’s now 3 weeks into my two month contract. I’m in Indonesia on a 30 day tourist visa which meant from the beginning that I would have to handle my visa issue at the end of May. Luckily, there is a contact in Medan that works who will sponsor me to get a 30 day extension till the end of June. This is good because my only other option would be to fly out of the country to Penang, Malaysia and back in. Not only the money is a problem but if you’ve read my blog over the last several months you’d know that Penang is not one of my favorite places.

I sent a message to my contact and got a reply this morning saying that if I needed his help I would have to come this week and not wait till the halfway point next week. There is a certain visa processing time that I have to allow for. He said I have to bring my passport, disembarkation note from when I arrived in Indonesia and proof of onward travel before my visa runs out. This means, at the end of my stay here in Sumatra I won’t be traveling around the area like I had hoped. Instead, I have to choose a destination to fly out to so that I don’t overstay my time in Indonesia. Visa restrictions have gotten tighter recently here and I’m not really sure why. Instead of an extra 30 days spending my money as a tourist, Indonesia has forced me to other places.

(Update: I’ve arrived in Medan and I am going to do the visa extension at my guesthouse. It’s about $20 cheaper than the other guy)

Angkor

I'm probably not going back to Angkor this time

This brings me to my next order of business. Where do I go after my extension runs out? I had absolutely no time to really go over it in my head since I have to be in Medan tomorrow with the confirmation for a flight in my hand. Internet is really spotty here so I can’t depend on being able to go in the evening due to the nightly storms and power outages so I made my decision early this morning. I’m going to fly back to Bangkok. (Obviously?) The flight isn’t too expensive and I plan to visit a good friend that I didn’t get to see my last time through. I’ll head south east again and pass back through Ban Phe and say hello to the TEFL International crew as well as some of the locals I had made friends with. This will be a quick trip through Thailand as the ultimate goal is to take a couple of weeks to relax in Cambodia before I start work. The border isn’t too far from Ban Phe and it will be nice to meet up with a good friend from the TEFL course who is working in Phnom Penh now.

I plan to return to Indonesia and start working in Jakarta as early as August 1st. I know, I know, why do I need a vacation after working only 2 months? Well, if you had the ability to travel for a month in between jobs, wouldn’t you? I’ll be locked into a 12 month contract with little vacation time so I’ll take it when I can. The job isn’t guaranteed yet but I have the feeling it’s just pending some copies of my degrees and certifications. There is an opening at English First and a friend of mine is a contact there so I should be OK, if I want it.

So, How is the Teaching Going?
I’m having my good days and my bad days. The bad days are pretty rough as I tend to lose all confidence in myself. The good days pick me back up nicely as soon as I realize where I am and that what I’m doing is something really special. Murphy’s Law applies strongly here in Sumatra. If anything can go wrong, it will. There are already very limited resources at my disposal and the ones I do have are dependant on mother-nature. Internet is a luxury and since I don’t have my own arsenal of lessons plans to fall back on, it’s imperative that I get online. The power goes out daily and there are storms in the evening that prevent me from being able to plan anything as internet places close down at the first lightning strike. Hujan deras! Raining profusely! The rain is bittersweet here as it hinders movement, is usually accompanied by lightning and causes the students to understandably not show up for class. On the other hand, without the rain it would be unbearably hot. The first week I arrived here it hadn’t rained for 10 days and if my readers can recall, I was pretty miserable. Since then the temperature has been mild due to the heavy rainfall every day.

I’m really enjoying the village where I’m staying. Everyone is extremely friendly and all the children in the neighborhood scream HELLO, HELLO!!! HELLO!!!!!!!! as I walk by. It really puts a smile on your face to get to leave the house to the sight and sound of children with absolute elation on their face. When the neighbor’s kids have friends over there are about 6 adorable Indonesian kids yelling “HELLO TAFUUUURO!! HELLO TAFUUUUURO!!!” It’s pretty amazing.

Bukit Lawang

Home!

It’s turning out that my evening class with the 7-8 teenage girls is becoming the easier class to plan for and teach. This is opposite of my feelings earlier in the month where I was struggling with them. They’re all really eager to learn and at times bordering flirtatious. When they’re not calling me “sir” they’re usually smiling and saying “ganteng,” or “handsome.” I don’t care what they call me to be honest. Mister, Joe, teacher, pak, guru, sir… just not Justin Bieber.

I took on an extra two classes that weren’t a part of the contract. There is a guy who lives in the village who has students come to house two times a week. These are the most difficult classes for me to plan for because the age difference and skill levels makes it complicated. On Tuesday there is a 6 yr old girl who just stares back at me with a blank look on her face. The problem is, if I take it back too basic, I’ll lose the interest of the students who have basic English already. The last thing a 15 yr old boy wants to do is count his ABC’s and call out ” C is for CAT!” at some lame flash cards.

I think my confidence is growing as the weeks go on. As with every jobs, it seems my low points are Mondays when I have a fresh set of classes to teach. If I plan properly there is zero stress in teaching. My problem is wanting to unwind on the weekend instead of planning out the following week. I moved around some class times to free up Friday night so I have Friday and Saturday entirely to myself. The Friday night class I switched to Sunday night, since I’m already back at the clinic at that point. This will give me more proper me time after teaching so that Sunday afternoon I can start figuring out the plan for the week.

So, that’s what has been going on. There is hope here. When this first started out I questioned whether or not this is for me. If I’m being honest with myself, I know I’ve been lazy about lesson planning but as each week goes on I’m organizing myself and my time to better accomplish what I need to. Teaching in Jakarta should be a breeze after this as there will be much more structure and most likely a specific curriculum to follow.

How Joey Got His Groove Back

I finished the first full week of teaching last week. I will admit, I was a broken man by Thursday. Starting out has been tough. I have no arsenal of lesson plans and even though the internet is a great resource nothing could get me ready for starting out my volunteer teaching here Sumatra other than being thrown in and being forced to sink or swim.

There was a point last week where my heart literally hurt. I haven’t felt stress like that since I left my collections job so it was pretty disappointing. My night class was a real struggle for me last week. The most difficult thing about this assignment so far is that there is no organization in the classes by skill level and they only separate by age. I have students that are real bright with English and others in the same class who are beginners. This makes lesson planning tricky. I imagine that this experience will only help me going forward as most teaching jobs won’t require as much creativity with dealing with different skill levels. My night class is a group of about 8 girls that come every night and are pretty eager to learn. The children in the afternoon are great and I just took on 2 more classes during the day that aren’t connected to my contract. I technically don’t have to do them but 30 children from the village want to be taught English and I’m here so I couldn’t possibly take that away from them. Even though I have little experience in teaching any exposure to natives speakers for these kids is useful for them. This is a moment where lazy Joey really wanted to take over and act as if he can’t handle when in reality I just need to suck it up and take on the extra classes.

So, after last week’s stress filled freak out after my Wednesday night class I decided that I’d finish out the week on Thursday with the kids and then head into town to spend a few nights relaxing by the river. My accommodation at the clinic is paid for by the organization I’m volunteering for so if I want to stay by the river it’s on my own dime, which is fine by me. I booked 4 nights at a really cheap bungalow right on the Bohorok River and hung out with Frida and Liz, two girls I met on the jungle trek when I was here in February. Frida is a frequent reader of Joey Goes Global and has become a good friend with some really great conversation. She is Indonesian and has experience teaching English already as well as NGO work in Aceh after the 2004 Tsunami. She’s also a great Bahasa Indonesian teacher! Liz has been traveling around South East Asia for awhile and passed through here to keep me company for a few days. It’s been great because after about 10 days at the clinic I was getting bored.

Tubing

This actually was as dangerous as it looks

The river was just what I needed. The nights have been cooled off from the heavy rains and it set my mind straight. That coupled with getting pep talks from a lot of friends, including Brooke Carleton of Brooke Reviews who is currently in her last 2 semesters of he education degree at the University of South Florida. Frida shared some of her lesson plans with me which will be useful because they include some Indonesian words.

I’m picking up Bahasa Indonesia fairly quickly here which I’m happy about. I’ve been sort of forced into it. I’ve used the language to help get through lessons. I taught mostly in Indonesian today and had the students translate certain vocabulary into English. I have a few students that are really good with English so since they may be bored with the slow pace since I have beginners, I may actually give them assignments on the side that are a little more challenging.

I feel like I’m all over the place with this post as it’s been a few days since an update so I’m trying to cram a lot into a small space. It’s just that I’ve gone through a huge swing over the last 4 days going from a real low point in feeling like I can’t do this to where I am now where the confidence is building. Tomorrow is a public holiday in Indonesia so schools are closed. My night class is not mandatory so I asked the girls if they wanted me to hold class tomorrow. They all said yes and when I told them I’d cancel it if they want they all gave me dirty looks and said “Nooo!” It’s weird being in a position of authority where if I want to I can cancel a class. In the end though, I went with what they wanted and will hold class. Can’t keep students from learning if they are eager.

I’m back in the game! I see hope now where as last week things were looking pretty grim. I just have to keep a few days ahead on the lesson planning so I’m not panicking and stressing myself out. There is a beautiful river with rapids to tube down and plenty of people here that will join me. I have tons of opportunities to improve my Bahasa Indonesia as well. So things are looking up!

I got my first teaching gig!

I’m 3/4 of the way through my TEFL certification course and I’ve secured my first teaching position. It started back in February when I was in Sumatra in the tourist town of Bukit Lawang, Indonesia. I did the 2 day jungle trek and really enjoyed the time spent along the river and near the jungle. It was peaceful, quiet and I could fall asleep to the low roar of the Bohorok River. Mosquitos are not a big issue and the slightly elevated and hilly location means there is always a cool breeze in the evenings to make sleep comfortable. The people were friendly and welcoming and I left some people behind with the promise that I would return someday. A few days later while in Lake Toba, about 8 hours away, I started looking for teaching jobs online. The first hit I got was an English school that is looking for British teachers to come in on 2 month contracts. I emailed them and got a response within a few days. I filled out my application, told them I have no teaching experience, answered their questions about my ability to adapt to different cultures and waited for a response.

I got a very positive response from their offices in the UK saying they’d like to do a Skype interview. I set that up a few days ago and during the interview was offered the position. My prior travels to Sumatra and other conservative Muslim parts of the world was what set me apart. It was a nice feeling because it was one of the justifications I’ve always had for doing heavy travel to parts of the world that are off the beaten path. They sent me a teachers packet and gave me a couple of days to confirm.

Teaching in Rayong, Thailand

Teaching in Rayong, Thailand

The packet was a bit daunting. It went through their expectations of the teachers, some welcoming information and a bit of the schedule. The village I’ll be teaching in is about 10 minutes away from Bukit Lawang itself. My first duty is to introduce myself to the head of the village and register my arrival within the first 2 days. Accommodation will be very basic. I’m still working out the details of my schedule. I know for a fact I’ll be working Mon-Thurs but I’m confused on what times my classes will be. I know I’ll be teaching 9-11 yr olds in one session and then adults at university level in the evenings. I’ll have Friday, Saturday and Sunday to myself. For the young ones, their English is very basic so I’ll have my work cut out for me. Going to have to figure out some fun activities to keep their interest going. They said they want me to incorporate ecology and the geography of their part of the world in it so I’m going to have to do some research on Sumatra and orangutan preservation. With the adults it’ll basically be about finding ways to come up with conversation topics. Their English is intermediate to advanced and just need someone to speak native English with.

The contract begins May 1st but there is no way I can get there by then. My course ends next Friday and the earliest I can fly out is Tuesday the 3rd. I’ll arrive in Medan in the evening and then the following morning take the 4 hour bus ride to the village.

It’s on! What happens after the 2 months is over is still up in there air.

Jungle Trek, Jungle Trek in Bukit Lawang

Welcome to Sumatra
As I sit here on my balcony overlooking Lake Toba in central Sumatra I finally have a chance to reflect back on the last nine days and share my experience in what has been a week and a half that I’ll never forget. From jungle leeches and near falls off the mountain while trekking to making friends for life with locals and sharing stories with other travelers over Bintang, one of South East Asia’s finest brews, Sumatra has provided me with a travel experience that I’ve been looking for a long time. The people of the island have been nothing short of an absolute pleasure to be around every moment.

It began more than a week ago in hot and dusty Medan, Indonesia’s fourth largest city and an important port of entry for the Island of Sumatra. Other travelers will tell you that there is nothing to do here and one should pass through as quickly as possible. I’m hesitant to judge Medan solely on a two night stay so I won’t be turning anyone away from it.

I met three travelers the first day in Medan who had similar plans as me. First there is Liz from the UK of Chinese descent who has done some travel but nothing too adventurous prior to Sumatra. Nick, also from the UK had just arrived. The three of us spent Valentine’s Day evening eating Indonesia’s national dish, Nasi Goreng (fried noodles.) The next morning Emiel from the Netherlands arrived on a two week holiday from work and was ready to get going into the jungle the following day. Nick had issues with his ATM card that he had to get sorted so he stayed behind while Liz, Emiel and I headed to Bukit Lawang about four hours into the interior of Sumatra.

Jungle Inn

Jungle Inn

Bukit Lawang
When the three of us boarded our minibus to Bukit Lawang there was one seat available in the back that was soon occupied by a friendly Indonesian guy named Rozy who instantly began talking to Emiel about the jungle. He spent the entire trip getting to know Emiel and finally revealed himself as a guide for the jungle. We had the plan to work out our guides once we arrived in Bukit Lawang but Rozy gave all of us a pretty good vibe. It turns out Rozy planned this scheme the entire time and trekking guides often hop on buses from Medan to Bukit Lawang to befriend travelers before even arriving. It is a very innovative business move and smart seeing as though there are about 140 guides in Bukit Lawang and in the low season, only a small handful of tourists.

The three of us shared a really nice room at the Jungle Inn, Bukit Lawang’s nicest hotel along the river. We met with Rozy after we settled in and worked out the specifics for our trek into the jungle. For a reasonable price we agreed on a two day trek that would include food, camping and a raft back to town down the Bohorok River.

The Trek
In the morning we met with Rozy and two other girls who he had managed to get into our group. There was Reike, also Dutch and Frida who is Indonesian. The five of us, Rozy and his assistant guide, Marwan headed into the jungle at around 9am. For the first hour it was mostly a pretty easy walk through the town its outlying forest. We made it to the border of the jungle where a sign greeted us to explain some of the rules when viewing an orangutan. Much like my gorilla trek in Rwanda, there was no guarantee that we’d get to see any animals so it is up to having a good guide and good fortune.

Man of the Forest
The jungles of Bukit Lawang are home to the Orangutan, the only great ape living outside of Africa. Our red-headed cousins are the main draw for tourism to this part of Sumatra but I’d argue the people are what makes you want to stay.

Orangutan translates from Malay and Indonesian into English to mean man of the forest. We spotted two high in the trees very early on in the trek. They quietly sat there looking down at us while we quietly sat there looking up at them. Orangutans are arboreal creatures, meaning they live almost the entirety of their life in the trees. They build nests where they protect their young and often move about the forest canopy in search of new spots to nest. We spent just a few moments with these orangutans and then moved on.

Man of the Forest

Man of the Forest

Several hours into the trek we made a rest stop to eat watermelon and hydrate ourselves for the long stretch before lunch time. Emiel had issues with his pants so he was attempting to sow up a hole. Another group had moved on past us and we waited a few moments before packing up to move on. Just as I was putting my belongings back in my pack one of the girls from the group ahead of us came walking back rather briskly. She said something about an orangutan and Rozy our guide said, “The aggressive one?” Everyone started moving very quickly. Emiel and I were still preoccupied with our tasks and figured everyone was just hurrying so they could go take a look. As I was still zipping my bag up I heard Rozy say, “Don’t panic, Don’t panic! Come, Come” Then I heard one of the girls say, “Joey, watch out.” I turned around and there she was, Sumai, the largest and most aggressive orangutan in the jungle walking directly behind me within a couple of yards. I had misunderstood everyone moving quickly. My heart jumped as I didn’t expect a giant beast behind me when I turned around. Rozy urged everone to not panic and just to walk away quickly. The orangutan passed everyone else but Rozy, Emiel and I were still in its path. Rozy told me to grab the watermelon and eat it as fast as I could. I shoved several pieces in my mouth and Rozy grabbed the rind from me and tossed it towards the orangutan to appease it. Orangutans are normally very peaceful and non-aggressive but this one has become used to humans feeding it and has been known to attack guides and travelers. After she had the rind in her mouth she walked up into a tree with her baby and sat there watching us. We got a lot of good photographs here as our guide successfully calmed her down.

Continuing On
I have very little experience in the jungle but luckily I have been on the road for more than a month and a half and I’m physically in much better shape than I am normally. Aside from a little complaining occasionally, our group was pretty good. We went up and down the mountain and covered a range of about 7km in about 8 hours. Rozy’s assistant, Marwan, would run ahead to look for more animals. He spotted a small group of black gibbon very high in the tree tops. It was nearly impossible for us to see them if it were not for the zoom on my camera lens. How Marwan was able to spot them so high up in a sea of green tree tops is beyond me. We nicknamed him jungle boy for his uncanny ability to see wildlife from so far away. Rozy said that black gibbons were very rare to see and that we were lucky. I later confirmed that this was true and that spotting a black gibbon, even for the locals only happens once every few months. The one we saw was pregnant.

Massage Train

Massage train at the campsite in Bukit Lawang

Camp
After a few slips and falls along the way we finally made it to our camp for the night. We had to ford the river first in order to get to our spot on the riverbank. It was a long day of trekking and we were told the river was OK to swim in. I was the first one in and was given a very stern warning about how to handle the currents. This wasn’t a lazy river and the water moved quickly. Rozy told us the following morning that an American had died 26 years ago because he lost his balance and was swept into the rapids where he hit his head. I consider myself a strong swimmer so I wasn’t too worried. The five of us including the guides all jumped in and enjoyed ourselves. We all shared a bar of soup to clean ourselves off and sat up at camp talking, eating and playing card games. Our camp was very simple. We opted to sleep outside away from the cover and directly under the stars. The river in Bukit Lawang provides the entire jungle and town with the perfect white noise needed to fall asleep soundly.

Day Two
I got very little sleep that night since the rocks on the ground were sticking into my side and the temperature dropped significantly in the early morning hours. We got up and had breakfast, took photos as a group and the three girls headed off down the river on the raft while Emiel and I trekked on for our second day. We headed up a path directly behind camp and were confronted with the cruel reality that we would be walking again. It only took about 3 minutes before the two of us and Rozy stopped to catch our breaths. The initial hike was nearly straight up into the mountain. Our ears were popping and the ground seemed wetter than the day before. It was exhausting and we were starting to doubt going for a second day. Neither of us wanted to disappoint the other and we both knew that complaining didn’t accomplish anything so we moved on.

Mom, Stop Reading Here
After going high up in the mountain we walked along a plateau for awhile. This kept us from spending a lot of energy traveling upwards but it presented a new danger. We walked along a slippery and narrow side of the hill where the only thing between us and a 30 meter drop were a few stumps and the occasional thin tree to grab on to. I watched my steps very carefully but Emiel and Rozy were up ahead a bit so I wasn’t able to watch where they stepped. Emiel is about 6’6” so watching him step is useless to me anyway as he can take much bigger strides. We got ourselves into a pretty good rhythm when the path got narrower. I felt myself losing confidence in my footing and it finally happened. Early in the walk I would make sure to keep my eye on branches that look stable enough to grab in case of a slip. Most of the trek falling meant a little slip on the butt but on this specific path the stakes were higher. It wasn’t a sheer drop off the cliff but at any moment a slip could mean an uncontrolled tumble into trees and rocks below that could easily end my trip. I put my foot forward on what looked like a safe enough spot but just before my foot landed I could sense that it wasn’t going to end right. My left foot slid down and my entire body turned facing the mountain. I was spread out with my hands and let out a loud “Woah!” to alert Rozy and Emiel that something was wrong. It’s hard to explain the exact motion of my body but in a split second I turned completely around and was falling off the side. In mid air I was able to grasp a tree with my left hand and I slammed down into the ground. It was about a 2 meter drop from the path above. Emiel ran back but I was fine. My butt was bruised and my wrist a bit sore from the grab but it could have been a lot worse. Emiel asked me if I was OK as he helped me up back onto the path. I replied, “F*** Yea!” He asked me if my adrenaline was pumping and I said, YES, let’s move on! It really was pumping. I don’t know how to explain it but I felt really alive in that moment and rode the high for the rest of the trek.

Raft

Rafting on the Bohorok River

Rafting Home
The second day proved to be harder of the two. It wasn’t nearly as long as day one but it was more technical and the wetness of the mountain meant leeches were a problem. Both Emiel and I were fighting them the entire walk. One would land on my arm and I would quickly flick It off before it had a chance to dig itself into my skin. We eventually made it to a private waterfall where we rested for a few minutes before heading to the river to raft back into town. The trek was over and it was time to relax. This was my first time rafting through any kind of rapids.
There is a lot more to write about and please forgive my lack of updates but I’ve really been so engulfed in my travels that it has been a nice break from reality and especially the internet. I will make sure I catch everyone up as soon as possible!

On my way to the jungle

I wanted to update quickly of my upcoming plans since I don’t know how well connecting I’m going to be going to be while in Sumatra. I arrived to the island last night via the city of Medan. Medan is the 4th largest city in Indonesia and doesn’t really have a lot to do upon first arrival. Tomorrow morning I’ll head west into the interior to Bukit Lawang where I’ll arrange jungle trekking from local guides and hopefully do some wildlife viewing. Sumatra is home to the orangutan so I hope to get to see some in the wild. I don’t know how long I’ll be away from the city for and so I don’t know when I will be posting again but when I return I’ll make sure to share the photos and tell the story!