Q & A with Luke Mackin, Founder, Wild Sumatra Adventures, Sungaipenuh, Jambi, Indonesia.
“Responsible travel makes a difference.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR TYPICAL GUESTS?
They would definitely be the adventurous ones! We're in a remote location – eight hours from the nearest airport. That weeds out the more casual tourists right there. We are known for our tours which involve low-impact trekking and camping in the wilderness, so we attract people who really want to be in the thick of nature. They tend to be deeply concerned about conservation issues as well.
HOW DO THESE TRAVELERS FIND YOU?
I think mostly from online searches as well as from the Lonely Planet books. Plus now this interview!
Yes, many Aussies, Asians, and even people from as far away as Brazil. But most of our clients are from Europe. As for Americans, we mostly get expats who already live in Asia. In truth a great many visitors coming to Indonesia, especially for the first time, head straight for Bali and never get to Sumatra.
DO YOU HAVE RESTRICTIONS ON LUGGAGE SIZE AND WEIGHT?
That hasn’t been an issue so far. Most people know to pack lightly. We also make sure to assign enough porters per group so that no one person is carrying a harmful load.
WHERE CAN GUESTS KEEP VALUABLES?
We are happy to provide safe storage for any valuables brought here.
SHOULD WOMEN DRESS A CERTAIN WAY?
It varies depending on the region in Indonesia you are going to visit. Bali is extremely touristy and very westernized, so pretty much anything goes there. In our part of Sumatra, things are very traditional and off-the-beaten-path. If you want to blend in with the locals, women and men wear long pants, and women always wear sleeves. When hiking in the forest, it is most comfortable to wear long pants and long sleeves that can be rolled up. This way you are protected from the underbrush and the cooler mountain temperatures.
People are initially blown away by the beauty of the region. Once you get here, you are met with stunning views of Mt. Kerinci surrounded by bright green tea fields. They are surprised by the cool, spring-like weather, due to our high elevation, in contrast to the hot and humid lowland areas. Also they notice the friendliness and welcoming attitude of the wonderful Kerinci people.
SHOULD A VISITOR HAVE CONCERNS ABOUT SICKNESS OR PERSONAL SAFETY?
Well you should never go hiking in the forests by yourself. We always provide a knowledgeable local guide plus one or more local porters for our treks. With a minimum or three or more people per group, it is highly unlikely that you will be attacked by wild animals. Also in the event that a person falls or becomes sick the others can help out. The usual travel guidelines for southeast Asia apply, meaning do not drink the tap water, peel all fruit first, eat only cooked vegetables, and so forth.
Oh boy, I could go on forever about this! So it's the largest National Park on the island of Sumatra, and it is one of the largest protected ares in all of southeast Asia. Imagine a geographic region larger than 2.5 times the size of Bali! More protected forest than in all of Costa Rica! The park is full of mountains and volcanoes, hot springs, wetlands, lakes, rivers, and rain forests.
There are more tigers here than in all of Nepal, and all of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and China combined. In fact, I believe it has the highest tiger population of any national park outside of India.
BUT THESE ANIMALS DON’T JUST APPEAR “ON CUE.”
No, and in fact the chances of seeing them are extremely remote. We do not have the open savannah habitats like they do in India. Here the forests are thick and the terrain is difficult, plus tigers and most of the other wildlife can smell you and hear you and move away long before you can spot them. So if you are very very lucky you might catch a glimpse, but no one should come here expecting that. We do have to explain this sometimes. I think that for most of our visitors it is enough to know that you are walking in the tigers' habitat – often along the same jungle trails they use.
On rare occasions a tiger might attack and kill some livestock. Attacks on humans are rarer still. The bigger concern by far is illegal poaching. As tiger populations are being wiped out in the mainland Asian countries, the international black market turns its attention to Sumatra, and, sadly, this is causing a huge uptick in local poaching.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The National Park, in partnership with Fauna and Flora International, 21st Century Tiger, and other conservation organizations, supports teams of rangers who patrol the forests, do undercover work, and provide community education. They have been successful in slowing down the rates of poaching, and they have put a lot of bad actors behind bars. But it is a constant struggle. We do our small part by committing 5% of our trek costs as donations directly to these tiger protection units.
On a larger scale, we need to reduce international demand for wild animal parts and support stronger laws and enforcement throughout Asia. Too many people are getting off lightly with little more than a slap on the wrist. And that's if they get caught and prosecuted in the first place. Until harsh penalties are uniformly applied, certain people will view poaching as a low-risk and profitable endeavor.
Plugs here are standard two-pin types as found in most European countries (Type C and Type F). The voltage is around 220V. The host accommodations do have electricity, but guests should be aware that we sometimes do experience power outages throughout the valley. There is no WiFi outside of the main town of Sungaipenuh. In some of the villages you can sometimes catch a wireless signal, perhaps as high as 4G, but it really depends on where you are.
Toilets are usually squatty-potties, and bathing is usually done with cold water, a bucket, and a basin. If you pay a bit more for your room (around 250,000 IDR, about €15), and are in one of the larger towns of Sungai Penuh or Kersik Tuo, you can get a hot water shower and a western style toilet.
DO YOU HAVE ANY CLIENT STORIES?
I am delighted when guests take the initiative for cultural exchanges with their guides and host families. I remember one couple who joined an impromptu jam session one evening in our guide’s home, playing guitar, traditional drums, and singing late into the night with all the neighbors. Another pair was invited to a Kenduri Sko festival in town, and got to experience some really unique food, songs, and dance (including a mystical midnight ceremony)!
Almost completely! I’ve gone from living in a North American city, to a small, isolated community surrounded by rain forests and mountains, literally on the other side of the world. New Language, different foods, new friends, so much more! We absolutely love living here and just feel immensely grateful for the kindness of the Kerinci people and the beauty that we wake up to every day.
Let me also mention that I am thankful for travelers and readers, like yours, who are being really thoughtful about where their tourism dollars go. We are on a mission with our tour business to address current crises that our planet faces with deforestation and habitat loss, poaching, and climate change. We hope that by giving rural communities economic support through sustainable ecotourism that we can save the habitat and its wildlife in small but positive measures.
And you too!
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