After leaving our lakeside paradise at Lake Toba, we were in for an uncomfortable 8 hour drive north to the jungles of Bukit Lawang, squished in the back of a shared 'taxi'. The car could seat 8, and 8 it did seat! Plus bags. And including my friend and I, both coughing and spluttering with various ailments in the backseat. But at approx. $15 to make a trip twice as long as the one I'd made a few days earlier (for 1/5th of the cost!), it was worth the pain.
Fortunately, I had charged my laptop and was armed with enough episodes of House of Cards to distract me, at least for a little while.
Our destination was Bukit Lawang, a village in the jungles of North Sumatra. The area is a great base for travellers wishing to trek in the Gunung Leuser National Park and have a chance to see the semi-wild/wild orangutans and gibbons who call it home. Other attractions in the area include tubing/rafting down the fast-flowing river that cuts through the town.
We wanted to get away from it all for a couple of days, and avoid the backpacking crowds and hordes of Indonesian tourists that Bukit Lawang tends to attract, so we decided to book into Back to Nature, a beautiful ecolodge located about 3km along the river from the centre of Bukit Lawang.
After such a long car journey it was nice to stretch our legs on the walk to our jungle home for the week. The walk to Back to Nature took about an hour, winding along the banks of the Bahorok River past waterfalls and sometimes edging along the rock wall with very little room for our feet. There were two river crossings with basic cable-cars to transport us across. We narrowly avoided having to wade across the river after one of the pulleys broke, but the fantastic staff of Back to Nature had it up and running again quickly. We would end up wading across the river later in the week!
Once we had finally transported the whole group of us across (5 people and 6 bags), we collapsed in a heap at the beautiful restaurant on the riverbanks, with a waterfall and traditional medicine garden located just behind us. The jungle tea we were served was a refreshing change from the sugar-laced orange cordial drinks that are usually provided in Indonesia and we had 2 cups each before we even went to see our rooms!
During the day, there is no electricity and your ears are filled with the sound of the river and nearby waterfalls. For me, looking to escape the hustle and bustle of life as an expat in Bali, this was heaven. I devoured books on my kindle, drank jungle tea all day and went for a swim in the river most afternoons.
Aca, the vibrant owner of Back to Nature was an interesting character and very knowledgable about environmental issues and the place he calls home. He had a very good heart, but occasionally his passion for the jungle was a little overbearing (mostly due to the high volume of his voice when on his soapbox) and in order to maintain our holiday serenity we retreated upstairs to avoid another lecture about the evils of toilet paper and the need for Indonesia to have a strong military leader (regardless of questionable human rights records). I don't think we were ever going to see eye to eye on certain subjects!
Food at the accommodation was among the best food I've had since I moved to Indonesia and we happily chowed down on tempe semur, yellow vegetable curry and eggplant sambal for the next few days. We ate so much food for every meal, that it was shocking to find we'd spent such little money! The restaurant is open to the public, though operating the river-crossing pulley system is a special art and it is worth calling ahead to let them know you are coming so they can help.
Back to Nature offer jungle treks and you can join the staff in the kitchen to learn how to make all of the delicious food you're eating. They are also happy to teach you about traditional jungle medicine and organise any transport or side-trips you wish to make in the area.
We had such a fantastic time staying there and would highly recommend it. As the only guests (again!), we had full run of the place and spent even more days relaxing on the balconies with incredible river and jungle views (and a cheeky Thomas Leaf Monkey) for company. Worth the walk!