The words “jungle trekking” can conjure up all sorts of images to the newbie trekker. Before my first jungle trekking experience in Sumatra back in 2009, I had no idea what to expect.
I envisioned spiders the size of dinner plates, snakes hanging from every branch, hacking my way through choking vines with a machete, sweat pouring down my face as I gasped and scrambled my way through the forest covered in giant leeches.
While a trek with RAW Wildlife Encounters may contain some of the above, (at times our vigilant guides will clear spikey rambutan and trip hazards out of our way with a machete!) the reality is entirely different, and a thousand times better, than you could imagine. RAW Wildlife Encounter’s massively experienced local guides have spent their lives exploring their jungle and know it better than we know our own back yards.
Yes, there may be times when you are dirty, soaked in sweat and wondering if you will make it to your destination or should just lie down on the spot and let the jungle take you (maybe that is just me?) BUT those moments are few, and dwarfed by the other sensations of total immersion in a fairy-tale beautiful, rich, lush, jungle that is FULL of life. The rainforest is never boring and life is present in abundance. From the forest floor, where you can find fascinating fungi, incredible insects, seedlings, mosses, animal droppings and footprints, to the canopy with it’s primates, squirrels, fruit, vines, orangutan nests, and array of birdlife. The minute you stop to look around and take in the sounds, smells and sights of the rainforest, you will forget about anything else. And the challenging moments make that plunge into the clear, cool waters of the river, or that refreshing waterfall shower at the end of the trek even sweeter.
Whether you are a newbie trekker or an old hand, jungle trekking is for everyone and it is a bucket list experience that you will remember for the rest of your life (oh, and the leeches are TINY, I promise.) I’ve consulted with some of our experienced local guides and we’ve come up with these tips to help you get the most out of your jungle experience.
Drink before you go, drink on the go, drink when you arrive! Drink before you’re thirsty and drink 2-3 times as much as you think you need! Dehydration is your number one enemy while trekking. The rainforests of Sumatra are hot, and you will sweat out almost more water than you can drink in. Rehydration sachets or tablets are your best friend. These should be in your kit anyway in case of tummy upsets but the secret tip straight from the experts to you: use these the night before a trek, and fill up your water bottle with a solution of these and you’ll remain hydrated and find you can trek longer and more easily. Our guides will carry more than enough water to keep you going throughout the treks, but it’s a nice idea to spare the environment some plastic and bring your own eco-friendly water bottles for refilling at various locations throughout the tour.
2. Protect yourself from predators
While you will be trekking through jungle that is home to tigers, elephants, sun-bears, wild pigs and snakes… these aren’t the predators you need to worry about (if you’re lucky you will see signs of their presence in the rainforest but they will be keeping far away from their human visitors!) I’m talking about mosquitos and leeches. Talk to your doctor about oral medication for protection from malaria and dengue fever, but the best offense is a strong defence. Mosquitos are drawn to darker colours so avoid wearing black, and they also tend to go for wrists and ankles, so it is helpful to wear long pants and long sleeves to avoid these pesky critters, particularly in the evening when they are most active. Mosquito repellent is an absolute necessity – it works to repel both mosquitos and leeches. Beware of the strong Deet based sprays, as they can burn and irritate the skin and are rather toxic. I find a normal bottle of non-Deet spray or cream is sufficient to keep the insects at bay. As for leeches, it all depends on the weather – more rain means more leeches. These tiny critters are harmless and painless, and more often than not you won’t even know you’ve been leeched until later on when you find a small blot of blood in your socks! Best way to avoid leeches is to tuck your pants into your socks, your shirt into your pants (super stylish) and douse your skin with insect repellent.
3. Fuel yourself well!
Set yourself up for trekking success! My best treks have all come after a night of good sleep and a hearty breakfast. My worst trek came after a late night with too many Bintangs! Seems obvious, but trekking hung-over is not fun – you will be dehydrated from the get-go and not enjoy yourself! Get a solid nights sleep before your trek. Even if you are not a big breakfast eater, try and eat something substantial in the morning (at least an hour before you depart.) I’ve really noticed a huge difference when I eat a slice of fruit before a trek, compared to eating a solid breakfast of rice and eggs (Indonesian style). Pre-trek, during and post-trek jungle food is all provided by our local guides or accommodation, and is all delicious!
4. Dress for success
Unless you’re blessed with extremely rare and unique beauty genes, (in which case I’m super jealous) jungle trekking ain’t pretty. It isn’t about looking good, it’s about being comfortable and practical! In the tropical heat, lightweight clothing is best, and quick-dry material is essential in a rainforest. Long pants are best for protection from insects as well as the sticks and spikey vines that occasionally trip you up. Long sleeves are optional, but minimum of a t-shirt – both for cultural sensitivity and for protection from the flora and fauna. Most of the time you will be in the shade of the rainforest canopy, but a cap or scarf tied around your head helps soak up the excess moisture!
5. Put your best foot forward
While many of our guides trek barefoot or in flip flops, I wouldn’t recommend trying this yourself! The key things here again are comfort and suitability! A heavy pair of hiking boots aren’t really suitable for a hot, wet rainforest experience. Ideally, you need something that can go from walking through rocky rivers to taking you up steep slopes without slipping. Look for something non-slip, water proof or quick drying. Light-weight sneakers, or specific outdoor shoes are your best bet. Also chuck a pair of flip flops in your backpack for those hot, tired feet to air out at the end of a long trek! Be sure to wear your shoes in BEFORE coming to the jungle – there’s nothing leeches like more than a fresh blister to latch onto!
6. Pack light
Whether you are embarking on a day trek, overnight trek or longer, the golden rule is: less is more! While the guides will be carrying all the essential equipment for cooking, shelter, and entertainment, you will be required to carry your own backpacks – and trust me, you will be grateful for leaving that unnecessary gear behind! A head torch is handy for those night treks (or night trips to the loo) or potential caving. A light pair of binoculars is always useful in the jungle for wildlife spotting. Bring mosquito repellent, hydration sachets, small travel towel, a dry bag or two (it is a RAIN forest after all and even in dry season there’s a good chance you’ll get wet!). Chuck in a cheap emergency poncho in the event of a heavy afternoon rainstorm. Wet wipes and tissues are always useful (see point 7 below!) Bring the minimum amount of clothes you’ll need – if you bring quick-drying clothes, it is easier to just re-wear them on day two (nobody will be able to smell you over their own lovely scent!) If there’s one thing I’d advise NOT to skimp on when packing – it’s a quality camera. While camera phones can be great for routine shots, often the animals we spot on our treks will be far away and a great camera with a decent zoom is the difference between a photo of some leaves with an orange blob, or an amazing photo of a wild orangutan!
7. Embrace the jungle toilet
The great thing about jungle trekking is that you don’t have to go far to find a loo! The jungle provides myriad spots for popping a quick squat behind the privacy of a fern. Embrace the life of the jungle and leave some enrichment for the animals to investigate later! Anything particularly offensive should be gently covered with leaf litter. Bring wet wipes or tissue with you. I find sealable plastic bags are perfect for rubbish so you don’t leave trash in the jungle – can be disposed of at an appropriate location later!
8. Look and listen
Humans make a racket in the jungle! Even when we are doing our best to tread lightly on the leaf litter and not snap any branches, the animals can hear us miles away. You will appreciate this when you’re in the jungle, trying to tip toe, and end up sounding like an elephant charging through a field of bubble wrap! The animals of the rainforest are smart and know to avoid humans, so in order for us to catch a glimpse of the elusive orangutan, or watch a family of gibbons flying through the air, we need to utilise all our senses. As local RAW guide Jack told me, “give yourself to the nature.” Meaning: heighten those senses that have been dulled by television and noisy malls and the chaos of modern life; look up into the canopy every few steps – look for movement; use your ears, listen for the tell-tale crack of a faraway branch or the distinctive swooping wing beat of a hornbill. Slow down your pace, your breathing and your mind and let the jungle take over!
Remember that you are visiting the animal’s home, not the other way around. Have respect for the incredible eco-system you are in – dispose of your rubbish responsibly (even cigarette butts are taken back to the village to be thrown away). Respect all the plants and animals you come across: keep your voices low if in a bat cave, step over that line of termites working hard on the forest path, listen to your knowledgeable guides at all times. RAW tours endeavour to immerse you in the culture of the places you visit, so appreciate the opportunity to learn about different ways of life and respect the culture of the communities you are visiting. In most places in Sumatra it is respectful for women to wear shorts and t-shirt while swimming.
10. Keep smiling!
Probably the most important thing on this list! A positive attitude and an adventurous spirit will enable you to get the most out of your jungle adventure. Give everything a go. You may never get the chance to experience anything like it again so jump off that boulder into the river, go on that extra night trek even though your feet ache, taste that random plant that the guide hands you, drink water from a liana vine and keep smiling! RAW Wildlife tours are unique in that the wildlife leaders and local guides, along with other people on your tour, will become like family. The bonds you form while spending time in the jungle are amazing and when there is a strong, positive team spirit in the group it makes the adventure all the more enriching, fun and memorable. RAW Wildlife Encounter tours are about the journey just as much as the destination, and what a journey it is!
Carly Day is a Wildlife Guide for Raw Wildlife Encounters, and when not leading tours spends her time exploring the Sumatran Jungle to find new and wonderful places to take our guests. For further information on our tours, please visitwww.rawildlife.com.au