Kerinci – Deep into the forest

We arrived in Sungai Penuh after a beautiful and stunning drive over the mountains. To our sides, autumn coloured cinnamon trees raised proudly, among native forest and clear water ways. We did not have much information on accommodation upon arrival, so we set to explore the street and ask locals for help. We eventually found a pretty cheap and nasty hotel that served its purpose for the first night. The town was quite lovely. We explored its streets, and opted as usual for some of the smaller passages that led us to a gorgeous little neighborhood where the locals welcomed us with big smiles and requests for selfies. A big memorial drum stood in the middle of a small sqaure. The sun was coming down, shining on these modest houses and enhancing the general beauty.

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We changed hotels the next morning, moving to one that was bit less shabby, where the toilets were at least, inside the room and not as scary :P. Photo below shows shared toilets at hotel number 1, but you cant see the bugs well, so just use your imagination.

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In the lobby of the new hotel, the only place with Wi Fi, we met Stephen, a US gentleman that lived in Wellington for long years and was planning to go in the same general direction to us the next day. He already had his trip booked, so we asked him if we could kindly share the ride down south with him, which he agreed to. Later on, we set out to the National Park office to get the appropriate permit, and were confused to find a Karaoke party going on at their office. It was hard to find someone that was actually working and spoke English, but soon they found a lovely girl that did, and she told us a guide was required before these permits could be acquired. They put us in touch with Zacky, who by coincidence was the guide Stephen had contracted for the following day. We were looking to spend a few days in the jungle, so we struck a deal with him and happily strolled the streets of the town full of expectation on our upcoming trip. We went about purchasing food for the trek, realizing that we had limited options but making the best of the available goods.

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We were up early the next morning, with our packs ready to spend a few days interspersed in nature. We arrived at Lempur promptly, and met some of the guys that work there. We discussed our plans with Zacky, and he convinced us that going to Renah Kemumu, a small village deep in the forest that we wanted to visit, was not the best option for us, and presented us the five lakes trek option instead. His argument appealed to us and we accepted. To make it easier for both, we decided to do the loop the opposite way around to what people normally do, due to the fact that Stephen was going to lake Kaco that same day, and it made sense for all involved to spend this day together.

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Half way to lake Kaco we had a bit of a misunderstanding with an American man that thinks he owns the rights to trekking in Kerinci, but I am not going to go much into all that… Bottom line was, our guide continued his trek with Stephen and we were left to make our way to the lake alone. This made little difference to us, as the path was clear and it was the weekend, which meant that plenty of people were going in that general direction. We then decided to go very slow, stop to take pictures often, and enjoy the forest as much as possible. At one point, in the midst of a bamboo patch, we stopped to film and a bunch of locals caught up with us and spent about 20 minutes taking photos… When we finally made it to Kaco, it was pretty crowded. The lake itself is a beautiful transparent blue, and we enjoyed the stunning view. Our friends had cleaned a spot close to a stream and had just finished their lunch, so we joined them for a talk.

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Once it quieted down a bit we went for a swim in the pristine waters and found a spot to pitch our tent. In preparation to spending the night alone in the jungle, we hung our stuff so that bears could not get to our food, and hoped for the best. We tried to make a fire, but everything around us was wet (rain forest issues) and we had no fuel, so our efforts did not pay off, no matter how many Bear Grills advices we tried to follow. Zacky had left some food his wife had made for us, so we had a lovely dinner looking at the stars and turned in, excited about the day that had passed and those to come.

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The next morning, Zacky was meant to meet us at 7AM to continue onto the next lake. We woke up early and ate some of our rations. 7AM came, then 8, then 9. Lots of people started showing up, talking loudly, swimming and enjoying themselves. We talked to a woman from Lempur, who we asked after our guide, and she said he was at home. We had no way of contacting him, so we set a deadline for waiting (10.30) and roamed around. We met some people, played with the gorgeous butterflies, got our picture taking countless times, and finally gave up hope and got back to our packs to leave (it was 11am by this time).

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When I was about to pick up my backpack I see two big bags appear through the ‘entrance’. I recognize one of them as one of the porters that had accompanied Stephen yesterday – Sanggo. The other one introduces himself as Arwan, but neither of them could formulate a whole sentence in English, so we were a bit confused as to what had happened. All we could gather was that Zacky had a problem and had sent them instead. Later we found that he had been asked to help rescue some Javanese that had gone for a trek in one of the nearby mountains 10 days before and had never returned… So his efforts ended up helping these people to safety, so no complaints from us.

We started our journey straight away. After following a track for about 3 minutes, Arwan got his machete out and started ‘randomly’ cutting a path through the jungle. No compass, no map, just his knowledge and instinct to guide him. I must confess I got a little bit worried, as the jungle was getting more dense and we spent hours without any signs of human life. He seemed confident at his work, and kept hacking away at a decent pace. On the way, he showed us signs of sun bears, pigs and other animals. The bird songs accompanied us the whole way, while we tried to imitate them and laughed heartily. Along the way I met my worse enemy on the road so far: leeches. This small fuckers are everywhere in this rain forest, and try to suck your blood at any given chance. I was quite vigilant and flicked them away from my boots and gaiters wherever possible; Tim, not so much.

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About three hours later we emerged upon a small river, and realized the camp site was about 20 mts downstream! Our surprise was latent, and our awe to our guide increased hence fold. What a champion! He almost made a perfect bee line to our destination, with nothing but his nose to guide him… Unfortunately my new nemesis were present everywhere in this campsite. I even went ‘toilet’ and when I pulled my pants up, one had attached itself to my ass cheek! I might have screamed a bit, and caused general laughter. Sanggo woke up with one on his lip, which laid ground to all sorts of jokes for the remaining of our journey.

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The camp site was lovely, and the sound of the rolling water made it somewhat magical. We used some big leaves to make the ground even softer and raised our tents. The afternoon turned wet and went by quietly, with a few incursions to the nearby flora. When night came, our Indonesian friends started making dinner. To save money, we had agreed we would provide food for ourselves, but it seemed like no one had told these two. We argued a bit, but after confirming it was included in the price, we humbly accepted the treat. Turns out they are wonderful cooks, and all the meals were fabulous. They don’t carry stuff we would consider tramping food at all: They had potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, kasava chips, eggs, lots of rice, canned sardines and a few bags full of sambal (spicy chili mix). The rain kept falling over us without mercy, so we went to sleep an hour after dark, this time without worrying about bear attacks…

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The next day was going to be a lot harder in terms of walking time and distance. There was, however, an existing path for us to follow, so it was not as demanding as it could have been. Our spirits were up, and we set out after a great breakfast towards the jungle. Around noon we arrived at lake number two. While the guys set out to make lunch, Tim and me grabbed a bamboo raft and paddled around the lake. Once we returned, Tim took his boots and gaiters off, to find 4 or 5 fat leeches that had drained his blood until they reached that horrendous size. I decided to use salt against them, not knowing that this will make them explode and stain everything in their reach with blood. It was a pretty gruesome moment. Luckily for me, my thick merino socks prevented them from reaching my skin, and I was safe from their teeth. Tim bled for quite a while, but we managed to control it and used our first aid kit to sanitize his legs.

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Lunch consisted on noodle soup, with an added bonus. While we hiked, they had picked up some wild mushrooms and young ferns that they added to the mix, and it tasted very nice indeed. The lake shore was dry enough to be leech safe, so it was nice to  go about without boots and worries and dry our feet. We still had quite a walk ahead to the next lake (and overnight camp) so we eventually packed up and left. The next lake was quite big, and set on a rocky shore. My first priority upon arriving was to go for a swim, cool down and wash myself. When I came out, Arwan was nowhere to be seen. I could hear some noise from the opposite shore, like someone hacking at a tree or similar. About twenty minutes later, I devise a shape moving through the water. After over six hours of walking, our guide had arrived at camp, walked to the opposite shore and… Built a bamboo raft! And he was now making his way back to camp with a triumphant smile on his face. How amazing is he?

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That night we built a huge fire and sat by it for a long time. We used the English – Indonesian dictionary to make simple conversation and get to know each other better. The next morning we revived the fire and set to collect some of the rubbish people had left around the camp and burn it

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The last day of our trek was the craziest. We woke up early as usual, but had quite a bit of time in the campsite while we waited for our tents and clothes to dry. Once everything was packed, we started on a road wide enough for a truck to get through towards civilization. The gibbons songs followed us the whole way, taunting us but not coming anywhere near for us to actually spot them. We sang with them and had a great time. After a few hours we exited the National Park and came to a Cinammon plantation. Later on, we visited Arwan’s family friends on their farm, where they grew all sorts of fruits and veggies.

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As we were getting ready for an easy day of walking, we turned away from the main road and into a swamp. Each step was treacherous, with your feet sinking up to your knees, making the advance very hard and tiring. A few water buffalo stared at us, while bored birds sat on their backs. We moved towards some farm houses at the edge of the swamp, through some high itchy grass, and finally emerged to lake number four. The leeches here were enormous, black and scary, so we did not bother spending too long in this marsh like lake.

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My theory is Arwan does not like back tracking, so again he got his best friend the machete out and started hacking through some plants to make a path. Soon enough we emerged onto another road that we started following. Next to an old plantation we climbed up a hill, and the hacking through jungle resumed. This was possibly the hardest part of our whole trip. The terrain was highly dangerous, as the  ground that looked solid was full of wholes and tricky ground. More than once, my foot went right in between some rocks, and I was lucky to be able to grab onto some trees. It was highly adventurous and fun, and the adrenaline was pumping hard into our bodies. After about two hours of this, we started to see the final lake close by, but we still had to get to the opposite shore to get out. It was one of the most challenging jungle treks I have ever experienced, and it was marvelous. We finally made it out and into a rest area, where we set our packs down for five minutes before setting upon the last part of our journey, a gentle stroll back into Lempur village. We were all tired but in great spirits, joking around as best we could due to the language barrier, but having created a strong bond due to our shared experience. Needless is to say, the shower and mattress that night were a blessed sight, and we passed out quite early.

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We stayed one more day in Lempur, enjoying Zacky’s wife delicious home made food, cleaning our disgustingly dirty clothes and boots, and exploring the town. We were taken on a bike tour through it all, where we met lovely locals with big grins and happy faces. The village is small but picturesque, with its old mosque and clean waterways. We will always treasure the memory of this little town and its people…

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