Like the untamed nature of the wild rainforest, a visit to Sumatra can be unpredictable. The regions where we work are especially far off the beaten path, where few other travelers dare to venture. Let us help you overcome the challenges inherent in visiting the region, in a way that only people on the ground can. We want you to have the adventure of a lifetime, and with some proper planning and an open mind to whatever surprises nature has in store, you will.
What to Expect
Traveling in rural Sumatra can be a challenge and will stretch you outside of your comfort zone.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re on the road.
• Expect the unexpected. Things will likely not go exactly as planned. Transportation could be late, people could get sick, or attractions could be closed for one reason or another (landslides, volcanic eruptions, flooding, etc.) Roll with it and redeem the time! As I like to say, it’s not really an adventure unless something goes off course! Guaranteed something else exciting will turn up instead.
• People will be thrilled to see you. Many of the destinations in the region are very rarely visited by travelers. For some, especially children, seeing a foreigner walking through their village is a HUGE event, and they will likely want to talk to you or just follow you around.
Be prepared to have your picture taken with people’s mobile phones a lot. You will definitely have more pictures taken of you than you will have taken of others, particularly if you spend time exploring populated areas and eating in local food stalls. Also, don’t be offended by people yelling “Hello, Mister!” or “bule!” They’re just being friendly. The question “Where are you going?” is not a rude invasion of privacy, but just a simple Indonesian greeting (“Mau ke mana?”) that doesn’t translate well to English or western culture, and doesn’t really require an answer more detailed than “just walking.” If you’re not prepared to be friendly and give up a little of your time to smile and play along, perhaps traveling in the region is not right for you.
On Sumatra, there really isn’t a defined, predictable wet and dry season. This is a tropical rain forest after all, so always be prepared for rain. Thankfully, things usually clear up quickly, and very rarely are there days where the rains never cease. As a rule of thumb, it tends to get more rain in the months of October-February.
• Thanks to the high elevation, forests in the Curup area are generally cool at night, so you’ll want to bring a rain jacket (which will also be handy to have when it rains), and even a beanie.
• Waterproof hiking shoes are definitely needed. Even if it doesn’t rain, there are often muddy parts and most treks require the crossing of shallow streams. You can buy green, knee high rubber boots in town, but only if your foot size is less than a European size 43 (about size 10 US). However, these are not the most comfortable of footwear.
• We also recommend merino wool socks, or their artificial equivalent. These, possibly more than anything, go a long way to keep your feet dry and comfortable, and help prevent blisters and sores.
• Cotton gets really heavy when wet and takes forever to dry, so in the rainforest, it’s better to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants made from lightweight, quick dry materials (like nylon) that keep you cool when they dry.
• Maybe a little too much info, but boxer briefs help to keep down chaffing when taking long multi-day treks!
• For multi-day hikes, it’s usually best to wear the clothes during the day that get all dirty and mucked up, but then when you make camp, switch into your dry clothes. In the morning, switch back into your dirty day clothes. It can be uncomfortable putting them on at first (hopefully they’ve dried a bit), but it definitely helps to conserve the amount of clothing you pack (and thereby weight you have to carry).
• Remember that insects/animals can’t see red spectrum, so a headlamp with a red light setting can be nice for keeping the bugs from being attracted around your eyes when you’re walking through the forest or sitting around the camp at night.
• Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment are included in the cost of the trip.
How to get here
Bengkulu city has an airport (airport code BKS) with multiple daily flights from Jakarta, 2 flights per day from Batam, and occasional flights from Lampung and Padang on small prop planes. Let us know if you need help booking airfare and we can help. Many of our adventures take place in the town of Curup, about 2.5 hours from Bengkulu city, with plenty of transportation between these two cities. There are also plenty of buses coming from every major city on Sumatra.
Where to exchange
If you need cash there are ATM’s available in Bengkulu and Curup. If you already have foreign currency, there are a few bank branches in town where you can exchange for rupiah. Remember, foreign currency should be in large denominations, and as new, crisp and clean as possible to get the best exchange rates. Bengkulu city has all the major Indonesian ATMs. Most accept foreign cards.
Availability of Medical Care
Although there are several hospitals in the area, most of them would not reach the same standard that Western visitors would expect. Minor lacerations and simple illnesses are easy to obtain care for, but make sure that you have a plan for responding to major illnesses. We strongly recommend that you bring extra doses of any medicines that you take on a regular basis as well as basic travel medication, such as an anti-diarrheal and cipro.
Mosquito-born illnesses: Bengkulu and the surrounding areas do have cases of malaria, dengue and other mosquito-born illnesses. You can buy bug repellent (Autan brand) in mini markets in Bengkulu. It only has about 15-25% DEET, so if you want better protection you’ll have to bring it with you from abroad.
Although local people are very understanding and forgiving of foreign visitors, here are a few things you should know so you don’t inadvertently offend them.
• The right hand is clean, the left, not so much. So it is customary to eat, give and receive, and greet with your right hand. It’s also okay to use both hands, but if you must use your left hand alone, you can say “Maaf, kiri” which means “Pardon my left” to excuse yourself.
• The dress code here is rather conservative. Most men and women here wear long pants, and the women usually wear tops with a high neckline and sleeves that cover their elbows. While not 100% necessary that you do likewise, you’ll probably feel more comfortable and local folks will feel more respected if you try to copy their style. When in Rome…
• When swimming, proper swimwear is important. Men can wear regular swim shorts without a problem but the rules are a little stricter for women. Tankinis or even bikinis will work, but ALL swimwear must be covered with board shorts and a shirt/rash guard.
• Being a fairly conservative, majority-Muslim society, drinking alcohol in public is taboo.
• Women are required to wear a head covering if planning on entering a mosque. So bring along a scarf or buy a cheap one from the market if this is on your agenda.
• Like in much of Asia, footwear is always removed before entering a home.
• Also similar to most of Asia, public displays of affection between opposite sexes, even holding hands, is considered pretty impolite.