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  1. #1

    A Jungle Trek In Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia

    What I thought a rainforest was “supposed” to be like has been shaped by years of watching nature documentaries and various Hollywood films on the subject (Indiana Jones, Medicine Man, Ferngully, etc.). I expected hoards of insects buzzing about and creepy-crawlies ready to pounce on you at a moments notice. I also expected dense underbrush necessitating a machete to move through.

    It turns out that those nature documentaries paint a slightly different picture of the rainforest than reality. While there are insects, birds, and animals all around you (judging by the noise) most of these creatures make a strong effort not to be seen. Another factor I didn’t realize was that a lot of the action in the forest happens at the canopy level. Being down on the forest floor you only see a fraction of what is really going on and don’t really see that many different insects or other animals. Furthermore, the understory and forest floor receives only 2% of the available light, making it hard for forest-floor plants to get enough sunlight to become large. It was actually quite easy to walk around, even when heading off trail.

    This past summer, my girlfriend and I spent some time traveling in Indonesia. This was my third consecutive summer spent in the country and I took the opportunity to visit some parts I had not yet been to. Indonesia has some of the most biodiverse and unique tropical forests on the planet, and I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to finally see one up close and in person.

    Gunung Leuser National Park covers just over a million hectares (4200 square miles), and is part of the greater Leuser ecosystem covering 2.3 million hectares of northern Sumatra. The ecosystem is incredibly diverse, with endangered populations of Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhino, orangutans, and Asian elephants.

    The park boasts an impressive number of endemic species, and is a priority area for conservation by many of the large conservation organizations such as WWF.

    Getting to Gunung Leuser National Park was not the easiest proposition. It involved a 7 hour taxi ride along narrow, winding roads from Berastagi, North Sumatra to Ketembe, South Aceh province. On the drive up, we saw evidence of some the the threats facing the forest such as converting the forest to agriculture and logging.

    We arrived at the Friendship Guesthouse in the darkness, greeted by the friendly Ahmad who showed us to our spartan bungalow next to the Gurah river. In the morning, we were greeted by our 16-year old porter, Asan, who was sitting in the main guesthouse toying with a large beetle. Shortly thereafter our guide Samsur arrived and handed us our leech socks. We decided on a 3 day, 2 night trek, as Ahmad had recommended this length to really get “a sense of the forest”.

    Bags-packed, leach socks-on, we set out into the Gurah recreation forest, a 9200 hectare subset of the greater park set aside for tourism.
    large beetle

    Following our guide, we made our way slowly up slippery muddy tracks keeping our ears and eyes open for wildlife. Within 10 minutes of hiking, Samsur got very excited and began pointing frantically into a tree. “Orangutan! With baby” he said.

    Sure enough, high up in the forest canopy was a mother orangutan making her way slowly through the trees with her baby in tow. It was an incredibly lucky sighting, especially as orangutans were apparently getting harder and harder to see in that area because it was the end of the fruit season.
    orangutan mother and baby

    That first afternoon, we arrived at our campsite next to a small river that was perfect for a nice swim. We were periodically interrupted by bands of Thomas Leaf monkeys and Long-tailed macaques making there way through the area. Insects were all over the place, but not many that caused discomfort. Strangely there were no mosquitoes (likely because it was a mountainous area with few places for standing water), but there were some beautiful butterflies, a massive pillbug, and more species of ants than I ever thought was possible.

    The next day, we made our way farther up the river to a different campsite next to some natural hot springs. They were conveniently located next to the river, which allowed one to find a pool where the scalding hot water mixed with the cold stream water to form a comfortable natural hot-tub.
    alas river in gunung leuser national park

    The second night, after a delicious trail dinner of fried noodles, vegetables, and eggs (cooked in the hot springs), it began to rain. Our Coleman tent had obviously seen better days, as drips of water started landing on my forehead. I stuffed our rain rackets in the space between the tent and the leaky rain-fly which kept us more dry, but in the morning we still woke up wet.

    The hot springs were a godsend that third morning, allowing us to warm up before embarking on the trek back to town. Before we left, a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills (one strangest and magnificent birds I’ve ever seen) flew right over the river valley.

    Overall the experience was incredible – seeing a mother orangutan and her baby were one of the highlights of my whole trip to Indonesia. I feel fortunate to have finally seen one of the most unique terrestrial landscapes on the planet. I only hope that the forest (and the creatures that call it home) will be there for future generations.

    Source: projectgroundswell.com


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    Last edited by Backpacker; 22-09-2011 at 17:01.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Last edited by Tourist; 17-07-2012 at 17:05.

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