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The rest of the drive brought us through more mountains and more small villages. Benny Mac was glued to the windows and asking question after question. This was his first time in a 3rd world country and had never seen poverty like we did here. Ramadan said that if they wanted to make a change, they could, but they don’t. I don’t know what to think about that comment. Is it true, Indonesians that are following me? Do you agree?

A lot of the area was also farmland. We saw coffee (But didn’t stop to explore. We had too far to go.) cauliflower, sugar cane, bananas, mangoes…everything. We also passed by enormous piles of palm fruit. If you haven’t heard of the issues palm oil production brings to an ecosystem, and the particular issue it plays in Indonesia, I suggest you educate yourself and take the initiative to eliminate products made with the stuff from your grocery list. I’m not going to preach about it here, because it will make this entry far too long. I am going to say, however, in your research on the subject, they’re going to talk a lot about orangutans and their plight. This isn’t the only animal affected by this issue. Think about it in terms of an ecosystem removal, and the diminution of the species diversity. Its a bigger problem than just one species. (That said, if the coo-worthy photos of orangutans are what its going to take for you to save a rainforest and stop using palm oil, then SAVE THE ORANGUTANS!)

The mass amount of palm oil in a grocery store in Medan

I have to say though, without a doubt, there is a stronger sense of community and family in Indonesia when compared to home. For example, Ramadan told us there were heavy rains the past few nights, and one particular road was going to be an issue. Sure enough, when we got there, it was. There was a bridge crossing a smallish river that was flowing level with the barricades on the side. Around 50 people were using a huge log to smash through the barricade to allow the river to cross the road. We asked Ramadan the purpose of this, as it seemed counter-intuitive. He explained that one man in the village’s home was on the bank of the river, and because the river had to flow around the barricades at the moment, it was at risk of being washed away. As we watched, the water level kept rising and the villagers kept plowing into the barricade. Finally, it crumbled and the river flow crossed the road at almost a leisurely pace now that it had plenty of room to spread out. Cheers all around! The point though, is how amazing it was that the whole village came out to help. We couldn’t believe it. As we drove by, Ramadan rolled down the windows and high-fived the men as we drove past. It was incredible.

We stopped in Ketambe for lunch. If you haven’t read the previous post about how we decided on Kedah for our trek, Ketambe was another option with the Rainforest Lodges. Both places are within Gunung Leuser National Park, a large rainforest ecosystem located in the norther province of Aceh. The locations are run by the same group and Ketembe is the easier of the two. Johan is the main guide in Ketambe, and he does mostly day hikes into the jungle that take you back to the lodges at the end of the day. We wanted to get more camping into our treks, and as such, we decided with Kedah. I can tell you now-I’m glad we went with our choice. Ketambe was beautiful, but the lodges themselves were in a village. Kedah, on the other hand, had the lodges as well and were our home base for our treks (I’ll explain how in a later blog), but Kedah’s lodges were an hour’s hike out of the village.

Ketambe

A few hours later we arrived in Kedah and met our guide, Mr. Jally, and his wife Patima at their house in the village. Patima immediately brought us coffee with sugar and cookies. If I had to pick  my favorite person on this entire trip, three people spring to mind instantly. Patima is the first. She had no reservations about being interested in us, and I am not clouded to the fact that Mr. Jally has tourists come through on a regular basis, but her interest was genuine. She also had no reservations on criticizing me, but that comes later, and actually adds to her appeal.

Mr. Jally, on the other hand, didn’t really seem to be all that interested in us on this first night. As a matter of fact, for the first hour we concluded that he didn’t speak English because he had yet to say one word to us. It came time for the formalities, like passport copies and consent forms, and even then, Mr. Jally sat back with his coffee and cigarette and let Ramadan do all the talking in the same way a translator would. It was not until the next day that we realized his English was quite good, and he did take an interest to us, but it was just when he felt he had something to say. In the jungle, his silence was imperative as he needed to hear animal movement and calls.

The first of a million coffees, with Mr. Jally in the background

In the middle of this meeting, we started hearing odd noises outside and flashing lights coming into the house. Benny Mac looked perplexed, but the Indonesians in the room were indifferent. Suddenly a short little man came in with a head lamp he was flashing and singing “ooooh!!! oooooh!!” And such is the likes of Mr. Happy happy, guide number 2 and number 2 on my list of favorite people. He laughed at our silly faces, lit a cigarette and heaped sugar into his coffee all the while singing his tune.

After the formalities, we were told Mr. Happy Happy would bring us to the lodges in the morning and then Mr. Jally would meet us there to start the hike. Patima showed us our room, a small square with a million blankets on the floor, and despite the unusual surrounds we crash landed into sleep.

Benny Mac in our room for the night


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