A decade ago my first day in Indonesia, visiting the hanging coffins of Tana Taraja in Sulawesi, brought on my worst sickness ever on the road due to bad chicken.
From then through subsequent trips it has been the country for me where things don’t go right. Flight cancels, massive visa on arrival lines, tout hassle, pedicab hassle, etc, etc, where I feel like giving in and paying one just to keep the others away. I should have followed the wisdom of crowds in plunking myself in a nice resort and not leaving, however I have always visited backpacker-style.
I know this is my issue and my inability to look past these hassles to the great people, nature, and experiences to be had in Indonesia. I judged it by the standards of its Asian neighbors rather than on its own terms. We all have something that sets us off.
I wouldn’t have even gone back if it weren’t for my pursuit of the Travelers Century Club which separates Indonesia into 7 territories. I have visited Java, Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), Sulawesi, and Lesser Sundra Islands (Bali), with Sumatra, Moluccos and Papua to go. This trip I wanted to swing through my missing three. I cut it down to only Sumatra because of rare Qantas award availability to Lord Howe Island.
This time I did it better.
I only had a day to spare. I flew in from Singapore at 8 am. The new visa exemption works well. Straight to the immigration line. I was first of the day. Showed my departing flight confirmation and was stamped in.
I booked with BukitLawang.com, which proved to be trustworthy. One price, no upsell or hidden charges, door-to-door arrangements. An excellent driver whisked me away upon arrival, took me the 4 hours to the park, handed me off to a local guide at noon and by 12:30 I had the good fortune to see an adult orangutan, then later, a child. Best chance of seeing them is early morning so many guests come up the afternoon prior.
We hiked for a two hours, seeing a poisonous snake, ants the size of rats, and a monkey. We sampled local fruits. I longed for August when durians, mangosteens and rambutans would be in season.
At 14:00 we headed back to Medan, leaving an extra hour buffer in case of city traffic jam. We reached the airport without delay at 18:00 and I had a chilled teh tarik and bowl of noodles ahead of my flight.
I paid a modest premium to avoid all the negotiation and tout hassle that most dislike about Indonesia. I had a great day. I saw orangutans. Now I’ll be happy to give Moluccos and Papua a try!