By Katrina Griffiths
Most people know that it is very important when travelling, to be considerate of others and to always respect local customs and traditions. We haven’t done too badly on that front. I have trained the girls well enough not to point their feet at anyone or to eat with their left hand. They are quite well behaved, and they know not to point at people or spit. However, I have failed miserably in my endeavours to get them to be quiet.
Over the years I have been going slowly mad, driven to the brink of insanity by the sheer volume of the shouts, shrieks, squeals and screams; a cacophony that builds and builds until I can take no more. I’m not talking about the delightful tinkle of children at play, this is more like a swarm of locusts in floral frocks, striking fear and loathing into the hearts and minds of shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and those poor unfortunates relaxing poolside. The peace and tranquility they paid good money to enjoy completely shattered by my brood.
Then, over the din comes the noise that beats all noise… my deafening roar. “SHUSH GIRLS! KEEP THE NOISE DOWN! STOP SHOUTING BEFORE i COMPLETELY LOSE THE PLOT!” You see if I don’t yell, they simply cannot hear me. It’s so embarrassing. If it’s ok to leash a runner, is it ok to gag a screamer? I’m sure nobody would mind…
(Editors note: Please get back to me with the answer to this one, Katrina. I have 4 of my own I’d like to gag!)
So that brings me to Bukit Lawang and the Gunung Leuser National Park, home to the Sumatran Orangutan. For the sake of these animals health, it is vitally important to possess good manners (no spitting, don’t litter, don’t be an idiot!) listen carefully, respect guidelines, and please, PLEASE be quiet.
I am proud to say that my children rose to the occasion and for the first time ever kept their mouths shut. As there, high in the forest canopy, a mother and her baby went about their day while we looked on, awestruck. Wow. We trekked twice, each time seeing not only more orangutans, but also other animals like Thomas Leaf monkeys, scorpions, giant ants and a terrific assortment of beautiful butterflies. We heard the gibbons sing and the Great Argus Pheasant call. We swam in a rock pool under a waterfall and rode on a raft made of tubes back down the river to our guesthouse. For a moment there, I even thought that I might have found peace. That was until one of our guides started belting out “Welcome to the Jungle” doing his best Axel Rose and then, just like a crazy rapid riding cowboy, WHOOPED and WOO HOOOOOED all the way back down the river. How’s that for irony? Since he was such a nice guy, I didn’t have the heart to turn around and tell him to SHUTTUP!
Bukit Lawang is very easy to get to, just 3 easy hrs north of Medan. We hired a private car, which cost us RP400000 ($50), but you can always take the bus. It is a beautiful place where the forest is protected to conserve the many species of native animals that dwell there, such as the critically endangered Orangutan, Tiger and Rhino. There were 2 places that I thought would be best for us to stay, being a family with kids in tow: Jungle Inn, and Green Hill both of which are nice.
I chose Green Hill simply because I hoped that the owner, the respected scientist and conservationist Andrea Molyneux might share some of her wisdom with us. I knew that to share her knowledge would make such a difference to our experience, and Andrea was a wonderful host. The kids are obsessed with animals and she answered all of their sometimes relevant but mostly silly animal questions with so much patience and humour, I was impressed. We had a family room, with an extra mattress on the floor and a spectacular view of the jungle and the river out the front. We were even raided by a band of 15 monkey thieves in a well co-coordinated attack on our room. All they managed to get away with was some wasabi peanuts and all I could think was, That’ll teach ya! The rooms are very clean and comfortable and good value at RP250000 ($30) per night. However, there is no hot water and the water is very cold! The staff at the Green Hill were exceptional; so helpful and fun, they really made our stay there just perfect.