There is a Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia.
It’s a home of Sumatran tigers and Sumatran elephants (who are both extremely endangered , there are only a few hundreds left), orangutans (who live only in Sumatra and Borneo), flying squirrels, pangolins, wild pigs, geckos and many other animals.
But their home is in danger because of palm-oil and caoutchouc plantations that are spreading across the Sumatra island in a rapid speed. Along with the destruction of their natural habitat, the animals are being haunted for meat, fur, ‘medicine’ or for turning them into tourist attractions. Elephants die while serving people – I’ve met a man who saw a little elephant die in front of him – and tigers, pigs, pangolins and others are murdered by poachers who are desperate for money because they need to feed their families (which, however, doesn’t justify the act – it only makes it more understandable).
I had the chance to participate in a Czech project Prales dětem (something like The rainforest for children) which operates on borders of the Gunung Leuser. I saw the rainforest. I experienced the jungle. And it was something incredible.
Photos nor words can describe what it really feels like to be there. I can only say that when you sit down, listen and let it all come to you, it’s almost as if you heard the jungle pumping with Life. With freedom.
After experiencing two weeks in the rainforest, it makes me even sadder than before seeing photos like this:
It’s not my photo but I’ve been there, I’ve seen it and I can tell you that this is exactly what palm-oil plantations truly look like. You can read more about the palm oil issue in my POST. I have learnt how it works and how Sumatra’s economics could work without destroying the rainforest.
Prales dětem is the founder of the Czech and Slovakian reservation GREEN LIFE which focuses on the borders of the Gunung Leuser Park. They keep buying hectars of land with the help of common people (they don’t get any help from the government) and their main goal is to create something like a defensive wall – not a real wall, just a piece of their own land – around the National Park so that palm-oil plantations cannot spread any further in the future, since they would have to cross a private property and that is not going to happen.
Also, they have created a Tiger Watch which protects the jungle from poachers and which puts hidden cameras on various places in the forest so that people can watch animals in their natural habitat. These cameras have already filmed a few awesome videos with tigers!
We still have a long way to go, but I’m sure one day Green Life will achieve their goal!
Now, I have decided to go to Sumatra and help Green Life with my own hands. And I would love to share my experience with you.
THE TIGER HOUSE
After a five hour ride from Medan, the capital of Sumatra, we spent about three days in the Tiger House. It’s the Sumatran centre of Green Life and it’s also something like an education centre for children from a near by village.
We helped with the garden,
played with our little cat friend,
went for a walk with two Indonesian women who told us about various plants in the forest,
this is Thomas’s langur
visited the village Batu Katak…
and had the chance to teach children English!
And then it was time to say goodbye to the Tiger house and set off to the jungle!
Well. As you can see, the first day was hard. As we kept going further and further to the jungle, step by step I felt like a bigger and bigger loser. My body was too weak, my heart was racing and I lacked A LOT of strength. But I think it got better during the Green Life project and it also finally made me to start exercising after years and years of carefully avoiding it. Yep, the jungle can do that. I’ve been exercising ever since.
After the last photo was taken (mind you I was so exhausted that I justed wanted to die right on the wet ground and let the tigers eat my dead body), we had to climb about ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY STAIRS in order to get to our camp.
I think I almost died the first time I climbed those stairs. BUT. I made it. And I made it so many times afterwards (because it’s also the only way to the river/bathroom).
We were finally there!
That evening, I experienced one of the most wonderful sunsets in my entire life. It’s not very clear in the picture but the whole world was orange, as if a huge lamp was shining at us.
THE LIST OF THINGS I’VE LEARNT ABOUT THE JUNGLE:
- It’s never quiet. Funnily enough, those who make the biggest noise are the smallest ones – cicadas mostly.
2. It’s hard. Physically AND mentally. You have to get used to the fact that you never ever feel comfortable. Your body is dirty, covered with mosquito bites and cuts, your clothes are moist all the time, you take a bath in a river which sometimes feels a bit too cold (at least for me as I get easily cold) and while you sleep, there is a chance you’ll have some ants scuttering on your skin. And some rats running around you.
BUT. All these things are totally worth it. It has made me stronger, tougher and more experienced. And in spite of everything, in spite of the days when I felt down and when I just wanted to be in my bed with a cup of tea and a Harry Potter book, I still loved the jungle. Because it’s so fascinating. So life changing. And living in the jungle is what helped me to understand our Mother Nature more than before.
3. I learnt many interesting facts about various plants in the rainforest thanks to Ali, who is a chief of YHUA, which is an Indonesian non profit-making organization, just like Prales Dětem. All of the land is bought on his name (as strangers cannot buy land in Indonesia) and he then rents it to Green Life. Ali is amazing. He used to be a poacher and then he realised that ‘it was not what his heart wanted’ and he turned his life around. He used to be a guide after that and then he joined Green Life. Now he protects the rainforest and tries to help this world.
4. You don’t get to see as many animals as you would think. The main reason is that there were too many of us – I saw a monkey from a short distance only when I was alone. Also, we were only on the borders of the jungle and the animals live more deeply into the forest. And the National Park is immense, too, so it’s understandable that there weren’t dozens of monkeys in our camp.
Frankly? I think it’s probably better this way. After all, those animals are not there for us to see and get in touch with – they live their own wild lives and they shouldn’t be tamed or in a close contact with humans. This way, they would only learn to take food from us, they’d get lazy and then they wouldn’t be able to get the food on their own. That is what happens for example to monkeys in Gibraltar and other tourist attractions. They start to like people because we give them food. But then they loose their independence and along with that, their freedom.
But I think it’s nothing bad to see those animals if you have the chance and if you’re careful and reasonable, so you don’t touch them or feed them.
So I’ve taken some photos of the animals I’ve seen!
THE LIST OF ANIMALS I’VE SEEN:
- BUTTERFLIES! Many and many of them!
2. SPIDERS. But I had expected to see more of them, to be honest. The truth is, they don’t really bother people as much as other insects.
3. LEECHES. It’s quite common to have leeches on your legs (or, in my case, even a belly and a head – they fall from trees sometimes) and after you take them down (none of this hurts), you bleed like SO MUCH, although the wound is almost non-existent.
4. BEES. There are big ones who you better not kill as if you kill one of them, there will be the whole hive chasing you. There are territorial bees, normal bees and then these small bees who don’t hurt you in any way – they just suck your sweat and sometimes it’s too ticklish. You can have even like 20 of them just on your legs.
5. ANTS. And mind you there are ants five times the size of the European ones. But once again, the smallest ones bite the most. The big ones are quite cute, actually. Look at this cutie.
6.OTHER KINDS OF VARIOUS INSECT. You can find anything in the jungle, really.
7. LIZARDS. I’ve seen many lizards but unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of neither of them. Too bad.
8. MONKEYS! The first three photos were taken from a big distance so they’re not very clear.
The second monkey is a Gibbon
9. And the last one iiis… A FLYING SQUIRREL! S/he used to come to our camp and lick the handrail. Nobody knew why. But s/he was hilarious! S/he wasn’t even afraid, it really looked like s/he didn’t mind us at all.
My friends also saw some wild pigs and even orangutans!
THE LIST OF OTHER THINGS I LOVED IN THE JUNGLE:
- OUR BATHROOM
2. AN AWESOME VEGAN FOOD EVERY DAY
3. THE VIEW FROM OUR TOILET
4. HUGE TREES, ESPECIALLY OUR FAVOURITE ONE – WE CALL IT DUŠKŮV STROM
5. SNAKE FRUIT – I totally fell in love with the taste
6. THE NATURAL WATER – it was clear and clean and I swear my hair has never been this good in my entire life
7. RAFTING BACK TO THE TIGER HOUSE, IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!
8. and last but not least, AWESOME PEOPLE
(one person, Káťa, is missing – you can picture her in the right corner)
I’d like to thank to all of those amazing people for making this experience unforgettable and awesome. I also thank to Prales dětem for trying to make this world a better place and for letting us help them.
After the jungle, we spent another day in Batu Katak
and then it was time to set off to Pulau Banyak islands as this was not the end of our journey! Now we moved on to the second part of the project – Blue Life. You can read about that in my next POST.
During our stay in the jungle, we were told that ‘this project changes lives’.
And it does. It changed mine, that’s for sure. I saw the jungle with my own eyes, I experienced it and I learnt how to live in symbiosis with the nature. I think I took another step forward towards understanding this world and myself and, however cheesy it might sound, towards enlightenment.
Once again, I thank Green Life for making this experience possible, for protecting our Mother Earth and for making me believe in humanity. There’s still hope.
btw. If you would like to see a documentary film about deforestation in Indonesia, I highly recommend GREEN. It’s a 48 minute film with no words, yet it says so much.
btw 2. some of the photos featuring me are taken by other people and I thank them for letting me borrow them