Sunday, 1 May 2011

Trekking with the Elephants - TANGKAHAN

Our last destination on our brief trip to Sumatra was Tangkahan. Apparently there are 3 options for getting here from Bukit Lawang. One is by motorbike, the other is by 4wd and the other is 2wd back basically to Medan, then out to Tangkahan. Having our own driver, our option was the 2wd which was going to take about 7 hours so we were told. I think it was only 5 max.
Today is the first day that I have travelled wearing only a singlet top rather than a shirt with sleeves. Once you turn away from Medan, you are on the main road heading towards Aceh province. The change is quite noticeable, for example, the women are dressed more modestly. Bob is hungry, so we stop for him to grab some take away fried snacks (very tasty by the way!). He parked right outside a mosque and I was feeling quite immodest in my singlet top! Not that I think anyone would have been at all hostile, just that I felt a little guilty for not putting more thought into my attire :-0. So, if you are heading out this way, you may feel more comfortable/respectful to at least wear a shirt with some kind of sleeve. I know it's not much but I think it makes a difference and shows a respect for another's culture/beliefs which one needs to be mindful of when you are not in a 'tourist' area. Just my thoughts and lucky we didn't have to get out of the car anyway.
Yes, the road to Tangkahan is bad!!! It's ok for the passengers, just bounce along and you'll be fine but hard work for the driver, avoiding potholes etc! Apparently one reason for the bad road conditions is due to the palm oil plantations. The trucks degrade the roads and the plantation owners are reluctant to do anything as the bad condition deters people from coming in and stealing......hmm. We were told that it's not a great place to travel at night either. Once you get off the main roads, there's very little, if any traffic at night and you can be a target for criminals.
Once you arrive at Tangkahan, you have to cross the river to the accommodation. This is done using a ferry contraption. Bit hard to explain. Quite roomy, has a rudder but also attached to a rope that goes from one side to the other. Don't know what would happen if the rope broke, lol. The river is quite fast flowing (well it was when we were there)!!!
Crossing the river at Tangkahan

Looking up river

One of the happy and ever helpful staff of Mega Inn

Rod and Bob on the 'ferry'

Another of the Mega Inn staff looking down river from the 'ferry'

When you reach the other side, you then have to climb up a muddy embankment until you reach the concrete steps. There is a rope to hang on to - unfortunately, Bob slipped which caused my hubby to pull on the rope and combine his weight and the bag he insisted on lugging by himself, the rope broke!!! All I see is him and the bag heading towards me with the mud and the river behind!!! Fortunately he didn't land on me and neither of us ended up in the river!!!! Lucky a bit of mud never hurt anyone!!
We stayed at Mega Inn. Once again our accommodation, was of a very rustic, backpacker standard. It was clean, had a mosquito net and an outdoor bathroom, with shower which worked fine unless someone in the room next door was filling their bucket!! Nice little verandah with chairs and a hammock.

Outdoor bathroom

5* accommodation - rustic but clean

Looks good in black and white

Grounds of Mega Inn

Verandah of our room

Our room from the outside

There are a couple of nicer cottages at Mega Inn but once again, these weren't available. They are individual cottages, a bit more private with balcony looking over the main river.

Not my fave pic but it's taken right next to on of the Mega Inn bungalows overlooking the river

 There is also another place, Jungle Lodge. It is further from the main river but right next to the smaller river where you can swim. Can't comment on the rooms but the restaurant looking directly down to the river looks more upmarket than Mega Inn. Having said that, the staff at Mega Inn are so lovely. They cannot do enough for you. The tables in the restaurant are decorated with gorgeous fresh flowers of an evening and they do their best to keep you happy.

Mega Inn restaurant - flowers all around

Our table decorated with flowers

Light decorated with hibiscus and koalas!!

Be aware that there is only electricity for a certain time in the evening only, so if you are looking for icy cold drinks etc, you won't get them here. Part of the charm. This and the fact that supplies have to be brought in and then transported across the river, the menu is limited and some things have to be ordered hours or even the day before if you want it. Would you believe, they ran out of bananas?! I just loved the way they'd say 'sorry, bananas pinished' when they ran out of this or some other thing! No problem, just have something else, it's no real hardship for a couple of days.

More beautiful floral decorations

Proudly displayed in an empty bintang bottle!!

Our first afternoon we went to the river for a swim and to find the hot springs. Although the river isn't all that wide, it was running very fast. I'm not a swimmer, so chose to just cool off. Bob swam over to the hot springs on the other side - the hot water is just coming out through the rocks on the bank. It's a really nice spot to spend some time.

Tranquil swimming spot
While we were at the swimming spot we met some people who we had actually seen back in Lake Toba, so be warned, you will probably keep bumping into the same travellers!! Back at Mega Inn a girl we had met in Bukit Lawang had also arrived.

Another view of the swimming area at the river

The hot springs across the river

Looks tranquil but the current is actually quite swift
Bob takes the chance for a bath!

Ollie, like me is not a swimmer - Ekky tries to encourage him to the hot springs :-)
Leigh makes use of her lifesaving skills!

Made it over to  the hot springs
Keeping the Aussie spirit alive

Apart from being fun people and great company, Leigh, Ekky and Ollie are  crusaders for those less fortunate. Leigh organised a trek last year to raise money for the orphanage at Bukit Lawang. Ollie joined her for the full 4 week trek. Ekky joined them also and in his role as a journalist, was able to report on the trek and hopefully as well as raising much needed funds, they were also able to raise awareness. I felt privileged to share time with them.
Rod reflecting by the river

Long walk for a bath

The next day, it was time to meet the elephants, so it was back to the other side of the river. They are about 1 km away. Before the trek, they are taken down to the river for their 'ablutions'. When they enter the river for their wash, you can go in and 'help'. No one else seemed to want to do this?? I was the only one - if you get the chance,do it!! The trek was brilliant. You first cross the river, which as I said, was flowing very fast (also very muddy, which they said may have been due to some kind of a landslide up river). The elephants do this with ease. Once on the other side, they follow a mostly narrow, very muddy track where they are often knee deep in mud. It's amazing how sure-footed they are!! Sure beats a roller coaster! You really need to hang on as they are up and down some quite steep and bumpy slopes!! Having said that, there was a family with a couple of children and they were fine. Definitely worth doing :-).

One of the gentle giants


Mum's calf

Three's company

In we go.....

Mother and calf

Littlest one

Watch and learn

Time for a swim

A privilege to help was this beautiful creature

Time for a scrub

Plenty to wash

A mother's natural instinct

The eye of the elephant

Crossing the fast flowing river

Looks comfy......

Love the socks!!

Spent the rest of our time at Tangkahan just chilling out, making new friendships and cooling of at the river. Apparently there is another 'beach' area up further which butterflies are attracted to. If I was staying longer I would have liked to check it out. You can take sugar syrup with you and on a sunny day I'm told the butterflies are abundant.
Am I glad I went to Tangkahan? Absolutely. Could I have stayed longer? Yes, another day or two would have been perfect. So, if you are thinking of going there I would suggest a minimum of 2 nights.

I would definitely recommend adding Tangkahan to you itinerary :-)

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