Sumatra is a beautiful untouched paradise nestled in western Indonesia, making up part of the Sunda Islands. Gifted with endless beauty, nature lovers will be captivated by Sumatra’s extraordinary landscapes. From majestic inland mountains and volcanoes to deep valleys, lush rainforest and stunning rice fields.
Inspired Adventures’ Marketing Manager Laura Charbonneau recently joined the Edgar’s Mission team on an inspiring trek through Gunung Leuser National Park, one of the world’s last remaining tropical rainforests and home to some of the planet’s most endangered and exotic species.
We spoke with Laura on what it’s like to leave the existence of the modern world behind and consume the richness of the natural world for 4 days, as she trekked through the lush Sumatran jungle, bearing witness to the extraordinary plethora of life it supports.
Can you describe the terrain of Gunung Leuser National Park?
The National Park is absolutely amazing. With dense jungle surrounding you, there are so many unique types of plants and animals to see each day. A typical day on the trek started with a steep ascent up the hill, followed by moderate ups and downs along the ridge of the hill, and a steep descent at the end of the day down to our campsite by the river. There are many tree roots and vines weaving their way across the jungle floor, so it’s important to be mindful with your steps. At times we would encounter muddy sections due to recent rains, which again meant we needed to take care in our foot placement. Luckily, the local guides are amazing and were always there to lend a hand and provide support in the areas that are trickier to navigate.
What did you find most challenging about the trek?
There were two things that made the trek quite challenging, one being the heat/humidity, and the other being the steep ascents/descents. The weather was typically around 27-30 degrees every day, but with 95% humidity, it made for a very hot trekking environment. This was probably the hardest aspect for most people, so we made sure we were drinking plenty of fluids and hydrolyte to ensure we did not get dehydrated and help keep our energy levels up.
Other than that, the steep ascents and descents at the start and end of the day were the most difficult sections on the trek, especially in the muddy areas. They really get your heart pumping and require a good amount of leg strength as you’re taking big steps up and down.
How did you prepare physically for the trek?
I recently got back into running, so in the months leading up to the trek I focussed on running as my main source of training. I ran 4-5 days a week, anywhere between 3.5 – 15km at a time. In addition to this, I incorporated strength-training exercises to ensure my muscles were up to the task, mainly focussing on leg, hip and core strength. I also went for treks on the weekends, ranging from 12-18km to work on my trekking endurance and ensure my boots were broken in as well.
Anything you packed (or didn’t pack) that others may find useful?
I brought Teva sandals that were really handy for the entire trip and would recommend them to everyone. They were great because they have an ankle strap, so I would wear them around camp and in and out of the rivers when I didn’t want to deal with the small rocks underfoot. They are also made from materials, which dry very easily, so wearing them in the river or during the rain was no issue.
I would also recommend trekking pants for this challenge. I brought both trekking shorts and pants, as I was unsure about the terrain and weather, but ended up wearing pants every day (despite the heat), as it meant I didn’t have to think about the trees, vines, or mosquitoes brushing up against my legs.
Lastly, I’d recommend bringing a dry bag to keep your dry clothes in while trekking. It sounds simple, but trust me, it makes a difference! With the humidity in the jungle, many of the sweaty or wet clothes do not completely dry, so it feels like a nice luxury to put on dry clothes at the end of the day!
What was the overall weather like?
What are the toilets like? Any hygiene tips?
Toilets in the hotels and lodges are western, but when you’re out and about at restaurants or taking a pit stop on a drive, you may come across a squat toilet.
When camping, the toilets are very basic. There is a designated toilet area, which is closed off for privacy, but it is really just a few holes in the ground, so be prepared to rough it a bit! I would recommend bringing toilet paper and hand sanitiser with you to stay hygienic.
Can you use your phone while trekking in the Gunung Leuser National Park?
My advice would be to take the time to sign off and disconnect for a few days. I had a local sim card, and had very limited, patchy service whilst trekking in the National Park. Most of the hotels have Wifi available, but again, in some of the more rural areas the signal was not as strong, and it is sometimes only available in the reception area.
Any surprises from what you expected?
The campsites were awesome and the food was amazing! We were really impressed by the quality of food the local team provided each day, especially while we were out camping and they were cooking using basic equipment. We felt spoilt by how well we were fed!
Did you spot any wildlife?
What are some of your favourite highlights from the adventure?
The main highlight was definitely when we encountered an orangutan in the jungle on our third day of trekking. Though we had caught a glimpse of an orangutan early on in our trek, it wasn’t quite the experience we’d all been hoping for, so it was really magical on our last day of trekking to come across one again. We were midway through our day and most had accepted that we might not have another sighting, when one of our guides quietly alerted us that he’d spotted one up in the trees. We all made our way to a clearing to get a good view of her sitting up in the trees in the distance. As we watched in silence, she swung from branch to branch to get a better view of us humans. She perched on the branches for a few moments, looking down at us, with a curious look on her face taking us all in. This moment was absolutely incredible and brought many of the group to tears.
Another highlight was swimming in the river in the afternoons after trekking all day. With the incredible heat, it was so refreshing to hop in for a swim to cool off. One day in particular, some of us made our way up the river a bit to explore a nearby waterfall, which had a perfect swimming pool right at the base. It was such a magical moment to be swimming in this breathtaking location, so secluded and so peaceful in the middle of the jungle.
What advice can you provide for other people interested in taking on a trek like this?
I would recommend training on dirt trails and working on leg strength as well. With the steep ascents and descents, it really helped to have the strength in my legs to lessen the difficulty. Other than that, be prepared to take in the beauty of nature for a few tech-free days in the jungle! There really is nothing like taking in the incredible flora while listening to the sounds of the jungle creatures as you trek throughout the day and camp alongside the rivers at night.
Check out the upcoming adventures on our calendar!