As the light faded and the rain began we saw a truck bottomed out in a pothole. Our driver, who had once been in the military, shook his head as we passed. "Palm oil trucks too heavy, break the road." Over the next few days we were to see many of the too-heavy trucks, piled high with spiky bunches of fruit ready for pressing.
When we arrived in Bukit Lawang the first thing we noticed was the sound of the Bohorok river. For the next few days it would follow us everywhere. Louder than rain on a tin roof, louder than a freeway – part heavy surf and part grinding stones. Even in the jungle, high on a ridge that pushed upwards like the spine of some giant, ancient reptile we could still hear it. The colour of over-cooked pea soup and thick with foam, it is not a peaceful river. It rushes down its bed towards the sea, the tips of the waves on the surface breaking backwards, as though unable to keep up. On our final morning in Bukit Lawang we drank tea and watched the river for the last time. A floating strip of rubber made its way to the bank and, pulled itself in muscular coils out of the water. Ari looked over the garden wall and nodded, "Cobra'" he said and smiled. As we watched it eased itself back into the river and was swept away, its head above the waves like a periscope.
It's a pessimistic view point but Bukit Lawang feels like a city under siege. Surrounded by palm oil plantations and controlled by a government as short sighted as it is corrupt, this incredibly bio diverse area still faces pressure from illegal logging, climate change and the ever growing palm oil industry. As you enter the national park a sign states that the Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered. In some ways it feels like an elegy.