Running from the notorious orang-utan Mina in Bukit Lawang

Jungle trek, jungle trek in Bukit Lawang see the monkeys, see the birds, see orang-utan. Jungle trek, jungle trek in Bukit Lawang see the monkeys seeing Mina, everybody run…

Even before I flew to Sumatra I was warned by my friend Marlies. ‘In Gunung Leuser National Park there’s one female orang-utan that everybody is so scared of that you’ll have to run when you encounter with her…’ And her words turned out to be very true. But I’ll get to that later on.

After a long trip from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and then to Medan (Sumatra) I was picked up by a driver who would bring me to Bukit Lawang. It turned out to be a long, 3 hours’ drive. The road was dusty, dark, in bad condition and it was raining cats and dogs. I started to wonder how fun the a 3-day jungle walk I booked was going to be.

Arriving in Bukit Lawang the village turned out to be more stretched out than I expected, but as basic as I estimated too. Everything in Bukit Lawang is centered around the river, where tourists float back from their jungle walks, women do their laundry and children play to cool off from the burning sun.

Moon snakes, orangutans around the former feeding platform and many other animals

After a day of acclimatizing in Bukit Lawang I started my jungle trek with 4 other Dutchies and two guides in the Gunung Leuser National Park.  Just after we left, the guides showed us two snakes. Our guides explained that one of them, the ‘moon snake’ only moves once a month, during a new moon.

Not long after we spotted the snakes we saw our first orang-utans. According to my Lonely Planet in the Gunung Leuser National Park orang-utans are fed twice a day from a feeding platform. However, the platform turned out to be closed already as of 2014. Since the orang-utans are able to survive without being fed, they decided to close to platform. Many orang-utans still hang around the former platform though. But seeing the orang-utans here, didn’t feel like a truly authentic experience, if you asked me. One of the orang-utans even looked as if he was posing for a photo!

We moved on and it turned out to be a very successful (and after all ‘authentic’) day: 7 orang-utans, a silver leaf monkey, a baboon, and countless long tail macaws. The only trouble I had was caused by my shoes. I asked the guide beforehand if I would need to bring hiking boots. His response was that sneakers would be good enough. Well…probably for locals sneakers work out. But I had a lot of trouble with the muddy, hilly roads and I regretted that I didn’t bring my hiking shoes.

We arrived at 14:30h at our very basic basecamp and we gratefully used the river to cool off. We relaxed a bit and got an amazing meal served later. After dinner it started to rain very badly. That caused an extra challenge, because there were no toilet facilities or whatsoever. So, using the ‘jungle toilet’ had to be timed very precisely and had to be done quickly.

Sleeping in the jungle is something I love. But sleeping on concrete turned out to be really painful and therefore I just couldn’t catch my sleep. ‘Waking up’ in the jungle was still a great experience though. The smells and sounds. All worth it.

Day two: climbing, falling and…running!

We were served a beautiful sandwich, refilled our bottles with cooked river water and started walking through the river. A slippery and exciting start of the day, especially because my muscle pain was pretty sincere. After leaving the river behind, we had to climb a big, slippery hill. The tree roots turned out to be the only support and I ended up on my butt at least four times.

Halfway the hill our guides asked us to be as silent as possible. This area was Mina’s habitat. And Mina had become pretty aggressive since the closure of the feeding platform. She demanded food and if denied… well…you just had to run and pray. Therefore, we definitely didn’t want to run into her on this steep, slippery and challenging part.

Fortunately, we made it all the way up and we enjoyed our lunch at the flat top. I left the group for a visit to the jungle toilet and just when I wanted to return to the group, everyone was running towards me. ‘Minaaaaa!!’. Okayyy… I just turned around and ran with them.

Since we had to pass the part where Mina, and 2 of her babies, were, we had to return and walk past her one by one. Mina was fully occupied with our dessert,  some fresh fruits, and therefore it was easy to get to the other side. But then, out of nowhere, a big male orang-utan was standing on the path. We had no other choice to run back towards Mina. Apparently, Mina was as scared of the male orang-utan as we were, and she started to climb a tree.


Finally, the male orangutan was also distracted with some food by our guides. Maybe not a very responsible solution, but I guess the guides didn’t have much of a choice. This way, we could pass the male orangutan and move on. Wow… I have to admit it was a bit scary, but it was also very exciting and incredible to be this close to orangutans!

And this wasn’t just it. On the way to the second base camp we saw abandoned orang-utan nests (they build a new one each day!), more orang-utans, silver leaf monkeys and… 4 black gibbons! Insane!

Priceless experiences in the Gunung Leuser National Park

Again, arriving at the second base camp, the first thing I did was cooling off in the river. How rewarding and surreal is it to bath in the beautiful jungle while hornbills are flying over. ‘Priceless’, American Express would say.

After another painful night, it turned out two orang-utans made their nest just next to our tent. Numbers 14 and 15 for me!! Good morning Gunung Leuser National Park!!

We visited a waterfall and then out of nowhere a lot of guys arrived with inflatable tubes. Our transportation back to Bukit Lawang. To be honest, it wasn’t thát exciting and way quicker than I thought it would take. But I was happy to give my legs some rest and I enjoyed cooling off in the river.

Back in Bukit Lawang, I had almost already forgotten the painful sleeping conditions, the lack of toilets and the muscle pain. But the thought of all the orang-utans, gibbons and amazing food is something that I’ll always remember!

At night I enjoyed a meal at my accommodation in Bukit Lawang while locals were playing the guitar and singing.

Jungle trek, jungle trek in Bukit Lawang see the monkeys, see the birds, see orang-utan. Jungle trek, jungle trek in Bukit Lawang see the monkeys seeing Mina, everybody run…’.