Over the weekend, I took my four-year-old son Luca to the jungles of Sumatra to visit Hotel Orangutan. It’s been a long overdue trip as some father-son time has been lacking in our household due to my crazy travel schedule. Luca is a crazy little character, and he’s fun to travel the world with. He’s full of enthusiasm and a natural explorer. He’s one of the bravest cute little kids I know.
It’s one of the challenging parts of doing a global job, is I’m constantly on airplanes. I’m constantly away. I’m constantly in a foreign lands, and my kids very rarely get time to spend quality time with me.
Over the coming months, I’ve booked in some time away with the kids, one on one. My wife actually got it for me as a Christmas present, a weekend away one-on-one with each of the boys. And after having the first one with Luca this weekend, it’s been extremely grounding, and I’m extremely grateful for the time that I got with him because it’s built a trust and rapport with him that I’d hoped to rebuild. And it’s boost my own confidence as a father.
As we push ourselves through hectic work and travel schedules, we often forget about the important things like quality time with family, quality time with the next generation. While in the jungles of Sumatra, Luca embraced everything from Orangutans, which he patted and fed, wild ones mind you. WILD Orangutans, he hand fed bananas. As well as the Thomas monkeys, up close scrubbing elephants in the river, and even endured four-hour car rides on extremely bumpy roads as we accessed the remote parts of the jungle. At the age of four, I was amazed. So brave, so curious.
The little guy taught me a lot over the weekend, mainly what it’s like to be enthusiastic about everything again. As I travel the world, I often glaze over the highlights around me where everything for him was an opportunity to play and to explore. It’s just astounding to see. It warms the heart of a father seeing his kids embrace the world around them with such enthusiasm.
The first day involved a short flight to the Indonesian city of Medan. Luca loves to fly, so he was right at home in the lounge getting his chocolate cereal, milo coffee and orange juice. Upon boarding the plane, we were surprised to be seated next to Hotel Orangutan owner, and the world’s most disruptive CIO, Neal Cross (aka, Uncle Neal).
The next leg was a 4 hour journey up to Bukit Lawang, a small tourist village at the bank of Bahorok River, known for its EcoTourism.Situated approximately 86 km north-west of Medan, Bukit Lawang is known for the largest animal sanctuary of Sumatran orangutan (around 5,000 orangutans occupy the area), and also the main access point to the Gunung Leuser National Park from the east side. Hotel Orangutan itself is a not-for-profit start-up, partnering with the local community to focus on improving the lives of the Bukit Lawang villagers, habitat , orangutans and other local wildlife through eco-tourism and conservation.
Keen to make the most of the weekend, Luca and I dumped our bags at the hotel and headed up river for a jungle walk. The winding path along the river made for an amazing adventure for Luca. Exploring new animals, waterfalls, seeing how far he can throw a rock into the water. Half the people we met along the way were just amazed to see a 4 year old out there.
Watching Luca embrace the jungle with a sense of adventure and curiosity was possibility one of the most rewarding moments as a father for me to date. Proud to see he push past fear and embrace the natural environment around around. As we watched people float by on inflatable tubes, white water rafting, Luca asked with enthusiasm “Can we go on the boats?”. Bless he little ambitions, I didn’t even now if it would be possible for him.
After our two hour trek in the jungle we settled in for an early dinner, and a beer before retiring to our room. But not before Luca’s adventurous spirit wanted to explore the jungle at night, with just a torch.
Day Two, Saturday, we had a Jungle Adventure booked in. A 9am start, with 4 hours in the jungle meeting the Orangutans. By now Luca was loving his jungle hikes, and super comfortable with our guides from the hotel. They made him a jungle crown and showed themselves eating ants. Luca loved it. The area around Bukit Lawang, is home to the Sumatran orangutan, and the Thomas’s langur (Thomas leaf monkey). Throughout the morning we got up close and personal with almost a dozen Orangutan’s both wild and re-released. Plus dozens of the super friendly Thomas monkeys. The guys from the hotel were awesome with Luca, they made it fun and safe for him. Creating an experience I trust Luca will never forget. Actually Luca already wants to go back for the overnight camping in the Jungle.
We spent the afternoon exploring the river, Luca jumped in to play with the mud and rocks. The river a central aspect to Bukit Lawang, everything revolves around it. The markets, restaurant, hotels, and activities are all at the waters edge. The sound of the flowing water is a constant reminder of the energy that flows through the place. It’s a welcome escape from the hustle of a major city. No sounds of cars, no building, concrete… just absolute peace amongst nature.
Sunday we were up early for a 6am departure. Both nights Luca and I shared a bed, making for the best cuddles ever. Our ‘Jungle House’ was right on top of the hill overlooking the entire valley. While the room wasn’t the most convenient, it was the most stunning. And worth everyone of those 160 steps up the step face of the hill.
Sunday’s adventure would take us to Tangkahan, well-known as the hidden paradise of Gunung Leuser National Park, another Eco Tourism area in the Langkat district of North Sumatra. The peaceful jungle retreat is located along the Kualsa Buluh River next to the dense rainforest. An ideal place for Elephants.
Luca’s eyes when he saw the elephants light up the skies, as his joy overwhelmed everyone around him. Even the baby elephant was bigger than Luca, but that didn’t worry him. The rangers had to curb his energy and desire to be closer to these majestic creatures.
The session with the elephants starts with the elephants walking in line down to the river side, where their keepers cleaned prior to entering the river, which is also the water supply to many of the towns and villages in the area. After a swim, the elephants lay down in shallows so the keen tourists to give them a scrub. Luca slipped off his shoes, and straight in the water to scrub one of the larger elephants. He loved touching them, but the water was too cold for him. Spending his entire life in the tropics has conditioned him to warmer waters. Wondering how he’d go in the beaches of Melbourne.
I’m grateful for the weekend with Luca. While he was on the adventure of a life time, he was helping me. Helping me reconnect with what’s important in life, helping me see the world through the eyes of a child. Granted at times he can be a royal shit, but you can’t help but love the little guy. Children are our future, their curiosity and energy should never be overlooked. They re-ask the the most questions, ones that we’ve long forgotten. I have so much to learn from my son’s. It has me looking forward to my trips with Jenson and Kai in the coming months.