Wednesday, 25 November 2015

South-East Asian Adventures: Elephants, waterfalls and hot springs in Tangkahan, Indonesia

The contrast between Singapore and our next destination could not have been greater. 

After landing in Medan, the capital of northern Sumatra (an island in Indonesia), we were venturing into the jungle, specifically to a tiny place called Tangkahan. 

Oh my days, the roads in Indonesia are mad. In the cities, lanes and indicators seem to be redundant, there are cars and mopeds (often with a family of four on each!) coming from everywhere, and drivers whizz round transporting precariously-balanced crates of chickens and all sorts. 

In the countryside, the word "road" can be applied loosely. The tracks are absurdly uneven, there are cows and other farm animals all over the place and vehicles tend not to have seat belts. I've only been marginally fearing for my life. 

But it wasn't just "roads" we had to contend with on the journey to our "hotel", and I also use that term very loosely. 

Behold: a rope bridge over a river. 
For reals. 

It was both cool and terrifying - it was only strong enough to take six people at any one time, the "walls" were very low and très flimsy, and it wobbled and shook as we walked. 

Once safely across it was just a short walk to our accommodation, past pineapple, banana and cocoa plants.  If you, like me, have never seen how a pineapple grows, allow me to reveal all:
You're welcome. 

The kids in Tangkahan were extremely sweet, always saying "Hello, how are you?" and high-fiving us as we walked past. 

Just look at these two cuties (I mean the two in the foreground...):
And then we arrived at our "hotel".

Well, it was very jungly, and it was cute, but it was a lot more basic than I'd been expecting. Maybe that was stupid on my part, but I somehow hadn't been ready for it.

Needless to say there was no wifi.

We were staying in little huts made of bamboo. Each bed had a mosquito net over the top, although mine had a huge hole in the corner which sort of defeated the point.

We had a bathroom... Of sorts. There was a toilet, although there was no flush. Instead, you had to pour buckets of water down the loo. And instead of a shower, there was a hose-pipe. So yeah.

Howeeeever, all that was worth it for what we experienced in Tangkahan.

On our first afternoon there, we went to see elephants!

They were so impressive.

And blimmin HUGE!

We bathed and fed them, had elephant showers and were even given elephant kisses, which was a little hilarious (try not to let an elephant breath in your mouth though.)

And loooooook at the baby ones!
So so adorable.

Also, elephants are hairier than I'd been expecting.

And we made sure they were treated well - they weren't in captivity or anything.

That evening I read in a hammock, ate chicken satay and mountains of fresh fruit (the pineapple there, oh my DAYS!), and we played cards while a tropical storm pounded the roof.

Unsurprisingly, we went to bed pretty early, and as you may have guessed, none of us was particularly looking forward to trying to sleep that night.

I tucked my mosquito net into my bed as tightly as possible, covered myself in insect repellant, popped in my ear plugs to try to drown out the storm and the cicadas, and hoped for the best.

As I lay there, eyes wide open, I saw a creature the size of a rat run round the top of the room. "Just close your eyes," Sarah said. So I took a deep breath and I did.

Pleasingly, I slept much better than I'd feared. I had to go to the loo twice in the night which was marginally terrifying but luckily the worst I faced was geckos.

We all survived, hoorah! (No one try and tell me I'm a drama queen.)

I was glad I'd done it, although I'm not desperate to stay there again.

The day commenced with the most divine banana chocolate pancakes, with banana from right there in the jungle. They weren't like fluffy American breakfast pancakes, but rather more like a thick crêpe with banana slices in the batter, smothered in chocolate. It may have been the thought of that that saw me through the night.

This was also where I had my first tea experience that was set to become a regular occurrence: if you order tea with milk in Indonesia (or Sumatra at least), in 90% of cases you will get tea with condensed milk. Yes, the stuff out of a tin that is basically liquid sugar.

Upon first tasting it I was like "Eww what is this?" A few days on and many condensed milk teas down and I'm addicted. I love it so much that I'm almost disappointed when I get fresh milk now. I'm going to have to wean myself off it when I get home!

Anyway, I was fuelled up for the day's activities!

We walked down to the river - it was very rocky and the current was super strong, but we all swam to an amazing little natural hot spring in a cave across the water. I couldn't believe how warm the water was naturally!

We swam and walked further downstream and made our way to a little waterfall. It was so powerful and very pretty.

Then, it was tubing time! Oh my days, this was so fun. We literally just sat in rings and floated down the river, occasionally over little rapids, soaking up the sun and admiring the incredible scenery. I just couldn't believe it was real! I was so happy.

We eventually climbed out of our rings at a big waterfall. We swam underneath it and had a general frolic in the water before climbing out to eat lunch right beside it. Fried rice, noodles and oodles of fresh pineapple and watermelon. I think I ate a whole pineapple to myself. No joke and no shame.

I was more than happy to have a digestive float down the river as we jumped back into the rings for a little longer. We were singing, holding on to rope from one another's rings and generally having a great time.

After we were cajoled out of the rings (I was more than happy to stay there for weeks and hopefully turn up in Bali), we had to walk for a bit before being picked up and taken back to the "hotel".

"By car or minivan," we thought. Car or minivan it was not.

Up the bumpy track came a cattle truck. The guides gestured us to get in but we figured they were pulling our leg. "This is for the rings," we presumed.

The guides were not having us on.

Up we clambered and off we went, ducking branches every ten seconds and using all our muscles to stay upright. It was hilarious!

We made it back to the "hotel", had "showers", packed up and it was time to hit the road again.

Spoiler alert: the next place we stayed in had actual walls!

How do you think you'd have fared in the jungle!?

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