Orangutans and Magic

I have been so busy traveling and planning future trips that I haven’t been called to sit down and write for a while….until now.

I just read an article posted by my now dear friend Marie who owns the Riverside Guesthouse in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra. It prompted me to share some of the experiences I had during my memorable time there.

It is truly a magical place…that is the word that best describes it…so much so that I am returning there this June and bringing as many of my children that I can gather!

  
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The article stated how critically endangered the Sumatran Orangutan is and how dire their situation is due to the deforestation and loss of the jungle they live in. This is happening at an alarming rate primarily because of the clear cutting of their natural habitat for palm oil plantations.

This is also happening in Malaysian, Borneo which in addition to Sumatra are the only two places on the planet that you can find these incredible creatures.

Reading the article left me feeling such a sense of helplessness. What can I possibly do to help…to contribute to their survival? I often feel overwhelmed by all the sad things I read about that are happening across the globe to my beloved animals.

Since I was young girl animals have been a huge part of my world. When I was all of six years old I hid my five assorted turtles in my room to stop my parents from giving them away before a cross country move from New York to California. My mother didn’t have the heart to see me so despondent so off we moved with those turtles in tow (which escaped on the plane and marched down the aisle but that’s another story!) That was just the beginning of countless stories of my life long crusade to save creatures. To date I have owned and rescued dozens of furry and feathered friends!

So…what I can do is write about the beautiful orangutans I was so fortunate to see and hope to maybe spark someone to go and visit…to support the dedicated community that have created their lives around saving them. The more local people know that tourism can be a sustainable livelihood the more chances there will be to stop destructive projects that many see as their only means of survival. 

  

Now for the reason I wanted to come!

Many years ago I saw a nature show about an orangutan sanctuary and was smitten. If I hadn’t ended up having children there’s a good chance I would have become a surrogate mommy for  orphaned orangutans 🙂

They are highly intelligent animals and they share 97% of our human DNA!

The name orangutan translates to ‘man of the forest’ in the Malay language. They spend nearly their entire lives in trees—swinging in tree tops and building nests for sleep.

They are very social animals with mothers staying with their young for up to eight years—longer than any other great ape.

 

 

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Oh yeah…seeing them requires trekking. I had read that the hike was challenging. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape but it was tough…as in walking up/down some trails clinging to jungle vines with a machete wielding jungle guide paving the way.

 

 
The scenery is stunning and of course the moment I saw my first orangutan I was captivated. I was fortunate to see a few that were alone but the best part was having the utter privilege of watching a mother and her young baby boy for about an hour. It was incredible to see how they interacted in such a ‘human’ way. The baby was just like a toddler..being busy, playing with sticks and bugging his mama.

As I sat on the ground just a few feet away the baby came up and touched me and tears of gratitude streamed down my face. 

 

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In addition to the orangutans there is a host of other critters as well…baboons and all sorts of monkeys and birds.

 

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After seeing the wildlife and having a wonderful picnic lunch we made our way back to the guesthouse by inner tubing down the river and stopping to get cooled off in a watefall….SO MUCH FUN!!!!

 

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Trees and plants are lush and giant here in paradise!

 

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The village of Bukit Lawang is completely charming…a tiny town right up against the river with a cobblestone path lined with many restaurants and the friendliest, smiliest people I found in all of Indonesia.

 

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And of course the children…they always capture my heart.

 

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The surrounding area is so incredibly scenic with many outdoor activities to do.  I spent a couple of days meandering the local countryside  which is a great way to really get a feel for the local life.

 

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Often times the thought of travel to far away places is overwhelming and that keeps people from living out a dream they have. I don’t usually write about the logistical and financial aspects of my travels, as there are so many blogs dedicated to this, but I am a serious budget traveler and this trip definitely falls into that category. I am always happy to advise on trip planning and will do anything I can to help support Bukit Lawang and the people who are trying to save these magnificent creatures.

Blessings, Lisa

 

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Temples and Rice Blessings

People have asked me what draws me to a certain place or why I have chosen a destination to visit. Often times it is something as simple as a photograph that I see or a place someone tells me about that spikes my interest.

Southeast Asia was not one of those places. I was not even remotely interested in visiting the area until my daughter moved to Vietnam to teach English three years ago. I had visions of chaos, noise, dirt (I’m more than a little OCD) and crowds of people. All of those things are true and yet I am now madly, wildly and totally in love with the region.

The very first place I landed was a quick five day stop over in Siem Reap, Cambodia in April 2014.  I decided to go there after hearing about the stunning ancient temples from a friend who had visited.  I really had absolutely no idea of what to expect other than I knew I’d be viewing the place where Indiana Jones was filmed!

 

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As soon as I touched down in Cambodia I was completely awed.  I felt like I had landed on a different planet…the people, the colors, the history…oh and the Tuk Tuks…an open air contraption hauled by a moto that costs about one dollar…I was hooked!  I was filled with a crazy sense of excitement!  I had spent the past two decades living in a nice little suburban bubble.  I was ready to explore!

 

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My first excursion in the city was of course the most famous temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

The modern name ‘Angkor’ means ‘temple city’ or ”city of temples.’

The Lost City of Angkor is, historically speaking, still a relatively new discovery. It was only stumbled upon in 1860 by missionaries who came across the massive complex hidden in the jungle.

The great city was built in the early 12th century and was the last capital of the Khmer Kingdom. The ruins are scattered over an area twice the size of Manhattan and  is considered to be the 7th Wonder of the World as well as a Unesco World Heritage sight.

 

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One of the things I especially loved is the intricate and well preserved detail in the carvings which show historical events and stories from mythology. They were originally constructed to honor the Hindu God Lord Vishnu.

 

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The temples were incredibly beautiful and of course educational but there was so much more life to be seen behind the scenes! In keeping with my intrepid nature I told my guide I’d be back in an hour or so and left him behind to eat his lunch…. I heard the faint sound of far away chanting down a dirt road and needed to follow it!

Much to my delight I came upon the humble homes and personal temple of the people who live and work at the site and a celebration for an elder monk. They greeted me with open arms and invited me to have a meal with them and participate in the just beginning rice ceremony which represents blessings on the honoree.

 

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Many of the people I met were survivors of one of the most horrific mass genocides in history. Between 1975 and 1979 around 2 million people were  slaughtered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime. My guide shared the very intimate and personal story of how he lost most of his family members and how he was raised by his one remaining older sibling.

Despite living through such a tragedy I found the people of Cambodia to be some of the friendliest and warmest I have ever been fortunate enough to meet. The resiliency of their spirit was inspiring.

 

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I arrived to Angkor Wat with little knowledge of what I’d experience and left that day with a heart that was incredibly full with gratitude.

 

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Blessings, Lisa

 

Northern Vietnam Loop

I have been fortunate to visit many fascinating places in the world…34 countries and counting!

As I sat down to write my first ‘official’ destination post there was no question as to what region I would highlight. The Northern Vietnam loop…a place that touched my heart and soul on such a deep level that I just booked a return journey for next September! This is the season when the rice is at it’s peak golden color just before harvest.

In June 2015 I spent two incredible weeks with my three daughters, my daughter’s boyfriend Seth (this is a man who has the patience of a saint!) and my BFF Joyce traveling a loop that left from Hanoi, Vietnam to the Ha Giang region on the border of China and then back down through the French mountain station town of Sapa. We all piled into a van and off we went!

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As is becoming more common for me I was drawn to this itinerary after reading about the ‘off the beaten track’ part of Vietnam…the ‘untouched/real deal’ that this area is touted to be. Not only was I excited to see the stunning terraced rice fields that this area of the world is known for but I especially wanted to experience the culture of the local hill tribe people and the colorful ethnic markets.

I must preface all of this by saying that this journey is not for the faint of heart. This trip means many long days along snaking mountain and sometimes unpaved roads. There is just no way to really ‘escape’ modern society without the aches and pains of long days and some discomfort….as in two daughters throwing up, eating countless packs of rice crackers and peeing behind barely there bushes. The fantastic reward for our perseverance was an 8 day period where we saw no other white people…this was truly an ‘out of the box’ travel experience.

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Luckily the scenery was absolutely unsurpassed and we were able to stop frequently  to interact with the  precious local children and to pet a goat or two which is just a small obsession of mine.

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Most of the residents of this region are descendants from tribes that immigrated to the area from China as refugees due to political unrest. They retain much of their ancestral customs and traditions. I was told that they have been ‘invited’ to be relocated to modern society in/around the cities but do not want to move. They live very simply but peacefully in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

These are a  people of indomitable physical strength and spirit. We were offered a chance to try and lift a bale of rice that an elderly woman was carrying up and down steep terraces and we could barely lift it off the ground!

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The children play a very important role in this society and we were amazed to see even the very young ones caring for their siblings for much of the day while their parents were working in the rice fields. 

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The adults we met at first were a little shy but quickly warmed up to us and were as curious about us as we were about them.

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The children were especially excited to see us and as soon as we handed out a piece of candy, pencil or other treat we had brought for them one child magically turned into us being surrounded by their many siblings and playmates. They were just as cute and delightful as can be.

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The  local weekly  markets we went to are not only a place for people to sell their wares but more importantly act as a social center and place for the young people who are wearing their finest clothing to come for courtship. They often wake long before dawn to make the long trek to the market carrying goods on their back and urging assorted livestock up the steep roads.

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There are a number of different tribes that visit the market but my favorite were the Flower Hmong…the sheer beauty of their painstakingly embroidered clothing was something to behold.

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Having to choose just a handful of photos to show off this area was really, really hard. This region is a photographer’s dream…every where you look is an explosion of color.

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I feel completely blessed to have been able to experience a small slice of the world that was truly like stepping back in time and I can’t wait to see it again on my upcoming trip!

All of this would not have been possible without our amazing guide and now dear friend ‘Lam’ at ‘Amo Travel’ who shared this beautiful corner of the world with us. I will forever be grateful.

http://amovietnam.com/

Thanks for joining me on my journey!
Lisa 🙂

Where It All Began

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Where it all began….a dream as a young girl of around 10. I remember the stack of National Geographic Magazines in my mother’s storage room. I was intrigued by the photos..amazing images of such colorful people in far away lands. I knew that someday I would begin a journey to other places…it was more than a desire…it was a need…a true calling of my spirit.

At 16 and long before the internet I visited a well renowned astrologist who read my chart (hey…it was the 70’s in Hollywood!) She was surprisingly accurate in her musings but the thing I took away was when she told me that I was the world’s best armchair traveler…oh…and that I should marry a Libra which I did and that just about all my moons and planets were in Scorpio which explained my feistiness and complex nature. In hindsite she was pretty spot on!

All through high school and college I worked as a waitress and saved my pennies with a single vision…so excited for my dream to begin. I pretty much slept with my ‘Let’s Go Europe’ book under my pillow and dreamt of the places I would visit. The summer after I graduated college I had planned to backpack through Europe with a girlfriend who bailed a month before the departure date. She asked me if I would wait a year for her and of course that was just not an option….I had waited long enough! And so began my first solo trip with a one way ticket and only my first night’s hotel reservation in hand.

As I was getting ready to depart and friends and family saw that I was serious about going alone they said to me what people still often say to me today:

‘Aren’t you afraid?’

‘You are so brave’

‘I could never go alone’

My answers are ALWAYS the same:

‘No…I am not afraid’ I use common sense and follow my intuition!’

‘I am really not brave. I am adventurous and excited!’

‘I meet fabulous people wherever I go. I have been alone but never lonely!’ Okay…maybe for a little bit but never for long enough to dampen my spirits 🙂

My first journey lasted 5 months. I slowly savored almost all the countries in Europe, saw incredible historical places and met amazing people.

Of course this first trip did not ‘cure’ my ‘wanderlust.’ To this day I keep waiting for that to happen but I’ve come to realize experiencing other cultures is as much a part of me as my breath…as long as I am alive I will be traveling and when I am not on the road I am able to be entrenched in the writings of the traveling digital nomads of today’s day and age like my favorite travel inspiration ‘Alex in Wanderland.’ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/

I guess that psychic was right…I am truly an armchair traveler extraordinaire!

 

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Practicing my yodeling in the Swiss Apls

 

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Cycling the Scottish Highlands

 

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Connecting with wildlife in Venice, Italy

 

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Ancient ruins in Athens, Greece

 

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Perpetual Overpacker

 

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Classic Venice

 

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A Greek man and his pet pelican

 

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Portuguese Sunset

 

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I’ve always carried this women’s face in my heart

 

To this day this first and unforgettable journey is one of my life’s best memories. It made me realize that my armchair travels could and would indeed become a reality in the years to come!