The idea of trekking in the Sumatran jungle and visiting Lake Toba had been on my ‘bucket list’ for years. I had found very little information on the internet, it seemed few people trekked there for any more than three days. In the end I opted for a commercial trek with Expedition Jungle who offered a seven day trek across the Gunung Leuser National Park from Semadam in Aceh to Bukit Lawang in North Sumatra. Eight ABW club members joined up.
We arrived in Medan during a torrential downpour after a 90 minute drive from the airport which was 40km from the city.
This wasn’t the last time we were going to experience the challenges of driving in Sumatra.
The next day we were collected by Edy our guide and we drove the 70km to Berastagi in two and a half hours. It is an agricultural centre in the Karo Highlands and being at 1300 metres above sea level it has a pleasant climate, less humid than the coastal areas. We spent the afternoon wandering the market area and getting views of the two volcanoes, Mt Sibayak and Mt Sinabung.
The aim of the stop over was to climb Mt Sibayak, a volcano that still releases clouds of sulphurous steam. We started out at 4am with a local guide in order to get the views of the sunrise over the surrounding area. Unfortunately it was raining steadily and quite cool so it was a cloudy dawn view.
Nevertheless, it stopped raining and we spent a couple of hours wandering around the top of the volcano and were rewarded with Mt Sinabung sending up a plume of smoke. It’s eruptions had already killed villagers on two separate occasions earlier in the year.
We set off for Semadam at 10am and arrived at 4pm having enjoyed the drive through the Alas River valley. We spent the night with a local family of farmers who served us dinner, half of us sleeping inside, the other half outside on mats. Our ‘crew’ arrived and we discovered that we were to have ten staff to support the eight of us! The local crops were mainly cacao, corn and mango.
It was a Muslim village and we were awoken by the first call to prayer at 4.20am. We began just before 8am and walked for an hour through the cacao orchards of the villages. From there on in we climbed steadily through forest on a narrow path. We gained a thousand metres in 7.5km and made camp by lunch time. Some of us found it a tough climb in the humidity at first but we were soon camping at 1230m altitude and noticed the cooler atmosphere.
The following day we continued up to the saddle of Mt Lumut at 1700 metres in a damp misty cloud with dense jungle, a completely different environment to what we had experienced yesterday. Then began a slippery three hour descent to the Birkhail River where we camped for the night even though it was only just lunch time. We were all glad to jump in the cool water. Our guides caught fresh fish for dinner that night. Half of our dinners consisted of the freshly caught fish that the guides lightly smoked over coals during the evening.
The next four days consisted of descending though the Birkhail River and gorge, spending about half the time in the river. It was great fun going down through the occasional waterfall and rapid with the guides and porters assisting when necessary. After a couple of days we got into leech territory which was the most frequent encounter with wildlife we experienced! Other than that we had a couple of snakes cross our path and the occasional monkey. In places we saw deer tracks, evidence of elephants feeding and on one occasion, fresh tiger tracks following those of the deer.
Our second to last day saw us do another steep up and down to the river that flows in to Bukit Lawang, the village at the end of the trek. The last day was another day mostly in the shallow water of the river, arriving in Bukit Lawang at lunch time. After lunch and a couple of well deserved Bintangs four of us went off for an afternoon walk with a guide determined to track down some wildlife. After forty minutes we got to see a mother and baby orangutan, Thomas Leaf Monkey, baboon and another kind of monkey!
The next day took us on a nine hour drive to Parapat on the shore of Lake Toba. From there we took the ferry to Samosir Island and stayed at the village of Tuk Tuk for some well deserved down time. Our last day was meant to be a leisurely tour to the airport. At around lunch time we were told that the road was blocked by an overturned truck and it took an anxious five hours to reach the airport for our flight out.
Lastly, I think we can all agree that we would recommend Expedition Jungle, the staff were great and everything went to plan.