Jette and a very old tree in the rainforest
From Medan, we took a minivan to Bukit Lawang, a small tourist village on the Bohorok River at the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park. Bukit Lawang has been a popular stop for tourists in Northern Sumatra for at least a couple of decades.
It’s a trekking base for those wanting to explore the rainforest of the park and see what’s left of the endangered Sumatran Orangutans at the nearby orangutan rehabilitation center. Bukit Lawang is set up 100% for tourists, but for a tourist trap, it’s a very laid back place. Locals say “hello” and “good morning” when they pass you on the trails and unlike most of Indonesia, there aren’t any aggressive touts. There are dozens of little guesthouses and restaurants, and each night as the sun goes down it is hard NOT to find a bunch of happy-go-lucky locals sharing a few beers and singing songs with the young backpackers who are the main visitors to the area. If you visit, I guarantee that you will hear the “Bukit Lawang Song” (aka the “Jungle Trek Song”) at least ten thousand times!
Bukit Lawang is inland, far from the coasts of Sumatra, so it was not affected by the 2004 earthquake and tsunami.
Ironically though, hundreds of people were killed and the village devastated by a flood in 2003. Here’s a photo and a snippet from a BBC news report at the time:
Another 100 people are missing after the disaster, which is thought to have been made worse by extensive logging removing cover that once retained rain.
The minister, Nabiel Makarim, blamed corrupt officials and business people for the practice.
The search for bodies continues around the worst-hit village of Bukit Lawang.
“These illegal loggers are like terrorists,” said Mr Makarim, after talks with the Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, in Jakarta.
But he said: “It is difficult to combat illegal logging because we must face financial backers and their shameless protectors both from the Indonesian armed forces and police, and from other government agencies.”
Not only did the illegal logging exacerbate the flooding of the river by creating massive run-off, but there were also thousands of logs which came crashing downriver, smashing into homes and bridges, destroying much in their path. Horrible, but sadly, typical.
One of the reasons we came to Sumatra was to see firsthand the rainforest ecosystem, how people live with it, and the effects of man’s actions on it. In Singapore we choked on a smokey haze blowing over from the fires in Sumatra – fires which were started to clear land for palm oil plantations. On the drive from Medan to Bukit Lawang we saw, yet again, just how massive the palm oil plantations are and how little natural rainforest is left. In this area it was slashed and burned years ago and replaced with thousands and thousands of neat rows of oil palms, and in some cases, rubber trees. It would appear that about the only rainforest left in the area is the park itself.
When the rainforest is cleared, long drainage trenches are cut. This dries out the soil of the forest floor, killing or weakening the plants and making it easier to burn and clear the land. Once cleared, young oil palms are planted in neat rows between the trenches. They will mature and produce oil bearing fruit for about 30 years. Don’t ask what happens to the thousands of species of plants and animals that lived in the rainforest.
One of the old drainage trenches between the oil palm rows.
Endless rows of oil palms
I won’t go on about deforestation and its effects here. Suffice it to say that it is shocking what has been lost, how much (and in some ways, how little) things have changed since I was last here 23 years ago. According to this recent study, primary forest has declined by 40% in the past twenty years and 92% of Sumatra has lost its virgin forest. Nothing good can come of this in the long run, and the local people have profited little from this great loss. Quite the contrary.
Anyway, we arrived in Bukit Lawang and checked into a nice little guesthouse along the river in the main part of the village. It was one of the cheaper places, but quite comfortable, and their little restaurant had great food. To Jette’s delight the family that owned the place had a couple of kids, and a new puppy.
Our little cabin
Homework on the porch
Our home in Bukit Lawang
Bruno – the guesthouse puppy
I didn’t get any photos of them, but there were mischievous macaque monkeys around who would swing down from the surrounding trees and steal food and other things. One afternoon I was sitting on the porch reading. There was a plastic bag with some fruit sitting on the table in front of me. As I was reading, I saw a movement in my peripheral vision. I looked up from my book and there was a monkey hanging from the side of the building at the edge of the patio about 10 feet in front of me. We locked eyes for a moment and then he suddenly leapt from the wall to a nearby column and from the column to the edge of the table in front of me. Still making eye contact I leaned forward and hissed loudly, fully expecting to scare him away. Instead he opened his mouth and showed me his teeth, calmly reached over and lifted a star fruit from the bag on the table, and stuck it in his mouth. He paused for half a second to glare at me, then leaped back, bouncing off the column up to the wall, disappearing up and over the edge of the roof. One of the ladies that works at the guesthouse appeared with a slingshot and started shooting pebbles at the monkey, who was sitting at the peak of the roof enjoyed my fresh starfruit. Lesson learned. Stupid humans making hissing noises doesn’t frighten Sumatran monkeys. If anything it just amuses them.
Slingshot for chasing away mischievous monkeys
The locals in the village told us that the orangutan rehabilitation center was now permanently closed. We asked why and were told that all of the orangutans had been “successfully rehabilitated” and so there was no longer a need for the center. Hmmmm… We booked an overnight “jungle trek” through our guesthouse. The next morning we threw a few things in a backpack and headed out with our guide. We walked through the village, along the river, and into the forest.
Beginning our trek
Welcome to the jungle
We followed narrow, but well traveled paths through the forest. It was quite hilly with some very steep and slippery sections. There was no technical climbing, but we were sometimes forced to climb or descend especially steep or muddy sections on all fours.
Full moon on this hill
Over the mossy log
Up a muddy embankment
It was hot and so humid. We were sweating like crazy. As we hiked through some of the wet valley areas there were swarms of mosquitoes, but on the hilltops there were very few. There were some really fantastic, giant old trees, lots of vines that tempted me to play Tarzan, and some critters along the way.
A friendly turtle says, “Hey jerk, put me down!”
This is a “small” female ant. Only the big males bite.
Great old tree and vines
Look at this twisty vine!
After a few hours, we stopped for a snack of fruit. It was quite a spread.
After the snack we pressed on, and came upon another lady and her guide feeding a Thomas Leaf Monkey, a species found only in Northern Sumatra.
Local guide feeding a Thomas Leaf Monkey
Sadly, this was a scene that was to be repeated throughout the day. Now we understood why the guides had brought so much fruit – they were feeding the animals! Before we left on our trek we made very clear that while we were eager to see orangutan and other wildlife, we wanted to see them from a distance. We did NOT want to get too close. Alas, that was not to be. We had read that some of the orangutans could be quite aggressive, particularly an adult female named Minah. Throughout the day we crossed paths with other groups and guides, and in every instance they were feeding the orangutan and monkeys. Quite clearly this was standard practice. The animals had learned that humans on the trail meant a yummy snack of fruit. They showed no fear of people, on the contrary, they approached people knowing full well that they would be rewarded with food. We can only assume that the rehabilitation center was closed so that the tourists could feed the animals on their “jungle treks.” Yep, it appeared that we were now part of the problem.
Down the path
One we went, and before long we saw our first orangutans, up towards the top of some nearby trees.
Seeing our first orangutans
Orangutans in a tree. Can you see them up there?
We hiked a bit more. We followed the trail up a hill and emerged into a small clearing at the top. The trail continued on the other side of the clearing. Standing on the far side by the path was one of the orangutans, Minah, with a baby on her back. Another tourist and guide were standing in the clearing and the guide was getting fruit out of his bag to feed Minah. Our guide urged us closer, but we refused, reiterating that we did NOT want to get close to the animals, especially the orangutans, and we certainly didn’t want to feed them. He said that we had to go past her to follow the trail, and again we refused. Clearly frustrated with us, he had the second guide lead us down a smaller trail to the side of the clearing, allowing us to keep our distance from Minah.
Local guide feeding Minah as we head for the side trail.
When he rejoined us down the trail, we told him again that we did NOT want to get close to the orangutans, and we questioned the wisdom of feeding them. He told us that they had to feed them, otherwise they will get aggressive, especially Minah. He showed us some fresh scars on his forearm and told us how, about 5 weeks ago he had encountered Minah on the trail. He was reaching into his bag to get some fruit for her, but apparently she got impatient, grabbed his arm, and bit it. He said that while he was punching her three other guides were able to pull him from her grasp. He seemed quite proud of this, and told us with a smile that the treks were boring if they didn’t see Minah, and that the local guides had a saying: “No Minah, no fun. No Minah, no run!” So much for rehabilitation, eh?
These guys can really climb
We hiked some more and again as we crested a hill, we crossed paths with another orangutan – one of Minah’s older children. Mila was a minute or so behind us, and I don’t think she realized that the orangutan was there as she came up the path.
Looking at Mila as she comes up the path
Regardless, the guides led her behind the orangutan as one of them made an offering of fruit.
A little too close for comfort
We hiked on…
On one narrow, sloped section of trail we encountered Jackie, another orangutan.
Thankfully, that was our last encounter with orangutans. This was just too close, and the conditions too sad. We came to see and understand their plight, and ended up feeling like we were contributing to the problem. Guides feeding them for the entertainment of tourists simply seems to create dependencies and encourage interactions which are risky for both sides. On the other hand, without the tourist dollars and interest, I also wonder if they would still exist in this area at all. No doubt orangutans are beautiful creatures, but they face a dim future. Their habitat will continue to be destroyed and they will likely continue to be under threat. “Critically endangered” is not a good thing to be, and from what we saw, I doubt conditions will ever improve for our sad cousins the Sumatran Orangutans.
So, with those cheery thoughts, on with our story. We hiked on and before long the river came into view. Our campsite was on the bank of the river and other groups and guides were arriving too. Those who were not spending the night were wrapping their bags in plastic and getting into tubes to go back down river.
The river comes into view
Tubin’ Sumatra style
While the guides prepared dinner, we cooled off in the river with a group of noisy French, Moroccans, and Algerians.
Time to swim
Our jungle bath complete, we dried off and went into our shelter for dinner. Jette was not feeling well. All of our bottled water was gone, and the guides were boiling and serving smokey tasting, slightly cloudy river water. Jette took a sip, but no more. She was exhausted and I think dehydrated. She didn’t want to eat, and laid down on her pallet. Mila and I ate a little bit and laid down too. We were tired and with Jette not feeling well, we wanted to keep a close eye on her. I talked for an hour or so with our guide then we all tried to sleep. The French group in the shelter next to us were sitting around a fire playing drinking games and singing. I tired to listen to the sound of the jungle, but they were drowned out by their shouts, songs and antics. This continued for almost SIX HOURS until the last couple of them stumbled off to bed around 3:30 a.m.
Extremely loud French drinking games
In the morning, Jette was feeling better. We had a good time watching the water monitors swim in the river, and troupes of monkeys along the banks. Some of the monkeys were quite aggressive and would come into camp to try and steal things. We had fun throwing rocks at them to scare them off. Of course we never hit them, but when a throw got close the monkeys would scamper away.
Throwing a rock at a monkey
I don’t have photos as the camera was stuffed in a waterproof bag, but after a while it was time to pile into a raft made of inner tubes lashed together and float down the river and back to our guesthouse.
We spent another day in Bukit Lawang, and since we had been eating all of our meals and spending most of our time at our guesthouse, we walked a little further down the main path to explore a bit and had lunch at the Jungle Inn. The guys there were really nice, and it looks like it would be a fun place to stay too. They have one “cabin” that is two stories with a balcony overlooking a private waterfall. Nice.
Walking down to the Jungle Inn
In Bukit Lawang
On one of our days in Bukit Lawang, we walked from the main tourist area along the river, back through the palm oil plantations to the market area of the village. One day a week, Friday if I remember correctly, is market day and folks from all around come to stock up on what ever they might need – chickens, fish, produce, clothing, soap, you name it. Goods are laid out on the ground, or in simple stalls, and the sometimes muddy paths between them have a constant stream of local shoppers.
The weekly market at Bukit Lawang
At one end of the market, there is a large, open area that was filled with men making deals and large, rectangular bundles of what looked like big mushroom tops. The smell – a rancid, earthy, fermented odor – was intense.
Every once in awhile a man would pull out a parang (machete), chop into a bundle and inspect it. We couldn’t figure out what these things were, and my gosh the smell! I walked over and asked one of the men, “Apa ini?” (“What is this?). “Karet” was his answer. Rubber. Of course! To harvest the natural latex sap from rubber trees, strips of bark are cut forming a channel, and half a coconut is hung to collect the latex sap which oozes out. These odd bundles of mushroom-shaped things, were the half-coconut shaped lumps of latex all pressed together! Recently, rubber prices have dropped by 50% so what was once profitable is now not so much. One of our taxi drivers started driving taxis because he could not longer make a living with rubber.
Here’s a video that shows the rubber tapping and processing as it is done in Thailand. At this market the raw rubber is just bundled and sold, presumably the later stages of processing are done elsewhere.
Alas it was time to move on, so from Bukit Lawang and took a minibus to Berastagi. But that’s another blog post…
On the road to Berastagi
Still playing catch-up, so this post is a “flashback” to more than a month ago and our visit to the Cameron Highlands area in Malaysia.
Tea plantation gymnastics
From Taman Negara, we took a “minibus” to the Cameron Highlands area in central Malaysia. It is mountainous, highlands area and the “breadbasket” of Malaysia. In colonial times it was a hill-station for the British ruling class – a cool retreat from the unending heat and humidity of Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown. The British established tea plantations. It’s climate is excellent both for tea and other produce and it remains one of the most productive agricultural areas in Malaysia, with many vegetable farms, orchards, apiaries, and of course tea plantations. One of the most popular activities besides scenic walks through the tea plantations is picking strawberries. Yum!
There are a number of small towns or villages sprinkled through the area. Tanah Rata is the biggest and really the commercial center. All of the towns are a bit on the grungy side – they are working agricultural towns – and many of the smaller towns or villages are really nothing more than a collection of agricultural and industrial suppliers. The “supply chain” here is quite visible, in a way that you would never see in the West. The open storefronts have truck tires, pipes, concrete, gravel, lumber, and all kinds of supplies and equipment spilling out onto the street. The narrow roads are jammed not just with tour busses and cars, but also with giant, overloaded, under-maintained trucks and heavy equipment. As you drive through the mountain roads you see vast tea plantations, terraced vegetable farms, orchards, and miles and miles of plastic sheets in the form of greenhouses. In a couple of areas, there are quarries – whole mountainsides that have been blasted raw, and once pristine, now shockingly polluted lakes. You have the sense that the earth all around is being torn, ripped, and molded to man’s will in a fairly brutal way and you are right in the middle of the chaos. At the same time, there are many areas of untouched forest. From distance it is all quite beautiful. Up close sometimes less so.
There are four main ethnic groups in Malaysia: muslim Malays, Chinese, Indians, and the aboriginal people – called “Orang Asli.” The Orang Asli are jungle dwellers and the original inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula. Like many native peoples, they have fallen victim to conquering peoples and more recently, “modern” life. Here’s a snippet of Orang Asli history from Wikipedia:
Slave raids into Orang Asli settlements were also quite common feature back in the 18th and 19th centuries. These slave-raiders were mainly local Malays and Bataks, who considered the Orang Asli as ‘kafirs’, ‘non-humans’, ‘savages’ and ‘jungle-beasts. The modus operandi was basically to swoop down a settlement and then kill off all the adult men. Women and children were captured alive as they are ‘easier to tame.’ The captives Orang Asli slaves were sold off or given to local rulers and chieftains to gain their favour. Slaves trade soon developed and even continued into the present century despite the official abolition of all forms of slavery in 1884. The derogatory term “Sakai” is used to refer to the Orang Asli until the middle of the 20th century meant slave or dependent.
Today, the forests that have housed and fed them for generations have largely been destroyed or repurposed, and they have been pushed to limited tracts of land and the margins of a new society.
When we looked for accommodation online we found a place called the Rain Forest Inn that had really good reviews. We booked it and it turned out to be a fantastic experience. It was started by two partners – an Orang Asli man named John and his Chinese friend. It is on Orang Asli lands, and is a series of mostly-traditional bamboo huts built on a hillside, next to a beautiful stream with a waterfall.
View across the valley at the base of the property
Testing the bed
Exploring the stream
Navigating the rocks
Up to the waterfall
The lower falls
Bamboo pipes make for a fun shower in the stream
The lower part of the stream is wide and calm and feeds into a nearby creek
Exploring the adjoining creek
Hey! What’s this?
We had lots of fun playing in the stream, exploring the creek, and climbing the waterfall – there’s a upper falls area with a small pool that is perfect for a relaxing soak. But watch out! The rocks are slippery. At dinner, we were treated to a big spread of traditional Orang Asli cooking. It was simple but very delicious and many of the things we ate were grown or gathered on the property.
Dinner being prepared
The dining room
Traditional dishes at dinner
That night Jette got really sick. She had a headache and was vomiting. After throwing up a few times she fell asleep. She slept through the night and in the morning she felt fine. We think it may have been something she ate at lunch, but we’re not sure. It could have been something at dinner, but no one else was sick, and we ate a similar dinner on our second night with no ill effects. Both Mila and Jette have had similar episodes a couple of times on our travels – a sudden headache followed by vomiting, then a quick recovery. We’re thinking that they are allergic or sensitive to some ingredient we have yet to identify, perhaps MSG. We’ve found that we all get headaches if there is too much MSG in our food. Luckily we’ve been very healthy overall and have managed to avoid the typical “travellers tummy” that has struck so many of our fellow travellers.
John, one of the owners of Rain Forest Inn, is quite a character and has interesting background. Unlike most Orang Asli, he is educated. He studied mechanical engineering and joined the military. He was “Seal” in the Malaysian Special Forces and saw combat in places like the Philippines and Somalia. He lost part of one foot to a mine, and has a large, vertical scar down one cheek where a islamic extremist in the Southern Philippines stabbed him with a knife. After 15 years, he retired from the service and came back to his village. He spent a couple of years lobbying the local government to build a road to the village (it was a two-day walk to the nearest town). After he succeeded in getting the road built, he built a grocery store in the village. He had the idea for the guesthouse, and the Rain Forest Inn was born.
A traditional puzzle made from rattan and string
John showing us how to solve the puzzle
After breakfast one day, John and the village chief showed us how to make a variety of traditional snare traps, and also how to shoot a blowgun. The Orang Asli hunt and fight with blowguns and poison darts. Different poisons are used for hunting different animals (they eat everything, even the local monkeys) and there are special poisons for dispatching people. Firearms are not easy to get in Malaysia, so the Orang Asli still use blowguns for self-defense. Given John’s past line of work, he is very security conscious. I would hate to be the hapless criminal who happens to look for mischief in this village. Let’s just say that the Rain Forest Inn is a very safe place to stay, LOL.
Jette and the blowgun
At least I didn’t swallow the dart. Also, Look at how big I am compared to the village chief!
John and the village chief showing us how to make snare traps
Detail of the snare on one of the traps. The rattan is actually quite stiff and has a sharp edge by design. It is connected to a small tree bent over as a powerful spring.
There is always time for a swing in a hammock
We did a day tour of the tea plantations and various sights around Cameron Highlands. My photos are rotten and really don’t do justice to the beautiful, undulating hills covered in tea bushes.
Tea bushes and the valley
Climbing up to a scenic overlook
Walking through the BOH tea plantation
We also toured the BOH factory where tea is processed. To make black tea, the tea leaves are rolled, fermented, dried and sorted in a very simple process using equipment that dates back to 1928.
The BOH tea factory
The sorting machine sorts leaves by size and drops them into large sacks.
Different grades of tea
More tea bushes
Note the people in the scene for scale
Am I really doing this?!
Pretty place for gymnastics
Visit to a bee farm
Looking for the queen in the hive
Hives on the hillside
Photos in the shop
The highest view point in Cameron Highlands
Climbing the rusty old tower
View from the tower
Jette with a kid at a local farm
At a strawberry farm
The guys working at this farm were from Bangladesh. They obviously get a lot of tourists, as they really had their schtick down. One of them insisted on taking photos of us, so Mila gave him her phone. He proceeded to pose Jette and snap some hilariously cheesy photos.
The crazy photo session begins. Note the pose and the strawberry in the foreground.
The resulting photo
It went on, and on. Mila and I were called in to pose too.
Clearly, this was our moment of glory.The bangladeshi with the camera wanted us to do more kissing and his pose suggestions got more and more “interesting.” I think he was trying to recreate Bollywood movie posters with posed gringos and fruit. We’d had enough and called it quits. We do have our limits.
All in all, our visit to Cameron Highlands was great. Staying at Rain Forest Inn and getting a peek into Orang Asli life was definitely the highlight.
About an hour and half North of Chaing Mai is Si Lanna National Park. In the park is a large lake called Mae Ngat Somboon Cham, known to many of the locals as “The Dam.” It is a bit off the beaten path and we thought it would be a nice escape for a few days. We called around and found a “floating guesthouse” with an opening, hired a songthaew, and headed North. We didn’t know quite what to expect.
On the way out of town we stopped at a market for a few provisions. We’d read that food at the lake was quite basic and thought it would be good to take some fruit and snacks just in case.
We arrived at the lake. The songthaew stopped right next to the dam in an area where the longtail boats dock for passengers and supplies. We unloaded our stuff and when our songthaew driver told the guys gathered the name of our floating guesthouse, one of the boat drivers came forward and led us to his boat.
Our songthaew and driver
Longtail boats at the lake
Loading the longtail boat
Away we go
We hopped in and away we went across the lake. Ten or fifteen minutes later we pulled up to a group of floating structures – our home away from home.
Here’s a rough video of the trip. Of course the camera battery died just as we arrived at the floating guesthouse. We need to get a new battery.
We unloaded our stuff and checked in with the lady that ran the joint. No one spoke English, which was fine with us. There were about a half-dozen thatched “huts” with tin roofs floating on wooden platforms or decks. They were all linked by wooden decks. At one end was the office/restaurant which was essentially a big covered porch. We were the only gringos. The other rooms were occupied by Thai families or groups of young Thais.
The new digs
We could see the water through the slats of the bathroom floor. It did look like there was a tank beneath the toilet. That was good. Water for the shower and the flush bucket was from the lake. I never used the shower, I just jumped in the lake!
The facilities were very basic but clean, and hey, this is what they should be like on a lake in a national park in Northern Thailand. These are the local rustic cabins!
View of other rooms from our porch
The walkway connecting everything
Jette standing by the restaurant
The view down to the restaurant
Taking a dip
We could swim right off the deck in front of our room, and the water temperature was perfect. The water was green and somewhat clear. You could see about 4 feet before the green haziness obscured everything. We saw lots of minnows and some bigger fish, but no giant snakeheads, and nothing nibbled our toes.
The high dive
The restaurant had a selection of basic dishes, centered mostly around local fish. Our favorite was the fish fried with garlic. It was tasty, especially with the lime and hot chilli sauce. We ended up eating it at almost every meal!
Breakfast lunch and dinner
We relaxed, swam, ate, paddled around in the canoe, read, and did some math.
On the second day, we heard voices, kids voices, speaking English. They were coming from another group of guesthouses, next door, so we jumped in the canoe and went to see who it might be. We paddled over and met a couple of really nice Kiwi families who live in Chiang Mai. They too had come to the lake for a couple days of fun and relaxation. Mila and I enjoyed visiting with them, and Jette spent the rest of the day playing with her five new friends. They had a blast, and we barely saw Jette again until sundown!
Fun with the Kiwis
Jette had wanted to jump off the high dive but had been too apprehensive to do it. With her new friends encouraging her, she quickly conquered that fear! I happened to catch it from a distance:
Jette does the high dive.
The kids also had a fun time finding frog eggs, which to be found in long, gelatinous tubes stuck to the floats of the guesthouses.
Aside from swimming or the canoe, the only way to cross from their guesthouse and our guesthouse was to climb along the edge of one the buildings and then cross on a “balance beam” of loosely lashed, wiggly bamboo. It was a bit of an adventure going back and forth.
Crossing the bamboo balance beam
The next day Jette and the Kiwi kids played all morning. What a treat. Just before lunch we jumped back in a longtail boat and headed back towards civilization.
The boat back to civilization
We had a great time at the lake. It was nice to get off the beaten path and just relax for a couple of days. It was especially nice for Jette who got to swim, conquer the high-dive, and make some new friends!
Today we rode 37.48 km from Rudesheim to Sankt Goar
We packed up camp and rode into Rudesheim proper. Rudesheim is siad to be the second most visited tourist destination in Germany, after the Cologne Cathedral. Smack in the middle of the wine country of the Middle Rhine, it is a cute little village, but very, very touristy. In fact, I don’t think there is much in town other than tourist-focused businesses. It’s cute little streets and alleyways are packed full of little cafes, trinket shops, wine bars, beer gardens, and B&Bs. A tourist ghetto, but a nice one. We poked around town and had a tea and some sweets while we waited for the next ferry across the river.
One of the many cute little alleys
Jette in the cafe
Stealing a bite of strudel
The main street along the river
Looking back through the village to the vineyards in the hills
I happened to snap the following photo in Rudesheim, so I’ll go off on a quick “gear” tangent… Somewhere along the way someone stole my handlebar bag. Or maybe we left it in the hotel in Strasburg. We’re not sure. All we know is it went missing (it was empty at the time). Anyway, I bought a cheap 20 Euro bag at a bike shop near Mainz. Here’s a shot of the front of my bike with the new handlebar bag and Mila’s new sleeping bag which now lives on my front rack.
New handlebar bag
The new bag is much bigger. All I had in the old bag was my camera, so this one allows me to stash a few other things in there too, and provides easier access to the camera, which is nice.
So. We hopped on the ferry and headed across the river to Bingen, where we picked up the route along the West shore of the river.
Waiting for the ferry to Bingen
Bikes on the ferry
On the ferry
Looking back at Rudesheim from the Ferry
We landed in Bingen, which had a great view of the terraced vineyards across the river. The hand-built stone retaining walls were pretty amazing. They have certainly mastered the art of hillside farming.
The view of terraced vineyards from Bingen
Terraced hillside vineyards
We rolled into town and found the main shopping street where we stopped into the mobile phone shop to buy more credits for our prepaid SIM card. We use Google Maps on my phone for navigation and for searching for campgrounds and other things that we might need along the way.
Stopped to buy more cell phone credits
Credits “topped up” we found the path and hit the road. The path followed the bank of the river and we had nice views of the passing ships as well as the terraced hillsides and little villages along the opposite bank. Along the way we passed more jetties with little sandy “beaches.” We stopped for a beach break.
Jette and Mila on the jetty beach
While we were stopped an older man on a bike stopped and told us that he had a boat and that the water levels were really low in the river. That was something that we had been noticing for a couple of days. From the look of the water lines on the shore, the vegetation and even the floating docks, it looked like the water level was as much as 2 or 2.5 meters lower than “normal.”
Little village tucked in the valley
The trail along the river
Oh, did I mention there were castles? Along this section of the Middle Rhine there are many castles and it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with all of the cargo ships, we’ve started to see lots of big river cruise ships too.
Super cyclists with castle
Jette on the Middle Rhine with castle
In many of the towns and villages we’ve passed through, they are getting ready for Octoberfest with town squares, main streets and river fronts morphing into soon-to-be-open biergartens!
Getting ready for Octoberfest
As we got closer to Lorelei and St. Goar the trail hugged the edge of the river and was often high up above the river. Immediately to our left was the two lane highway, so it was noisy with passing vehicles. When the big river cruise ships passed we rang our bicycle bells and waved, trying to get the all the old people (there seemed to be nothing but grey hair!) on the boats to wave back. Some of them did.
Do you remember the story of the Rhine Maidens? We told you about them when we were in Disentis, Switzerland. Well, this section of the Rhine has The Lorelei.
Here’s how Wikipedia describes the Lorelei:
The Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine near St. Goarshausen, Germany, which soars some 120 metres above the waterline. It marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea, and is the most famous feature of the Rhine Gorge… A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents there.
Lorelei is also the name of a feminine water spirit, similar to mermaids or Rhinemaidens, associated with this rock in popular folklore and in works of music, art and literature.
There are a number of stories and myths about the Lorelei – from a beautiful siren who lures men to their deaths to dwarfs living in caves on the cliff. We didn’t see either, but we did stop for the night and set up camp in a beautiful spot on the bank right across the river.
Our tent and the Lorelei
Our camp was right next to a house and Jette had a fun time climbing the stone walls. At a couple points a girl about Jette’s age walked by, checking us out. The second time she came by I said hello and told her our names. She said her name was Sophia. I asked if she lived in the house. She said yes and with a shy smile she was gone again. We didn’t see her again but in the morning we left her a note thanking her for letting us camp next to her house and giving her Jette’s email address and asking if she wanted to be pen pals.
View from our tent
We had dinner at on the patio of a nearby restaurant. Jette had some fun on their trampoline.
Restaurant patio with trampoline
I enjoyed what has become a typical dinner for me in this part of Germany – a green salad and a margherita pizza. Yum!
After dinner we hit the sack and slept to the sound of many, many boats and ships passing the Lorelei in the darkness.
Today we rode 34.94 km from Mainz to Rudesheim am Rhein.
We had nowhere to plug in last night, and our camera batteries are dead. Photos today are from my phone, which doesn’t always like to focus, so some are blurry. C’est la vie.
I got up a couple hours before Mila and Jette and had a hot tea. It was a chilly morning and my sleeping bag had been too light for the night before. I drank the tea and walked around the campground to warm up. Alan was up and we talked for an hour or more. Mila and Jette woke up and we packed up camp and said our goodbyes to Alan. We rode back across the bridge into town to find breakfast and to get a warmer sleeping bag at the camping store we saw next door to Taco Kidd.
Jette looking cozy as we roll out of camp
Morning view crossing the bridge into Koblenz
Stopped at the camping shop
With a new sleeping bag in hand we rode over to one of the main shopping streets to find breakfast and food for the road. We were slow and it was almost noon by the time we had crossed the river again and were back on the Euro Velo 15 route headed North. There was quite a bit of construction and a number of detours along the way and we got off the route a few times. Signage was poor around Mainz and that made it easy to get off route too.
We stopped for an ice cream break in sleepy little Wiesbaden. Ice cream seems to be a popular treat for touring cyclists and there have been surprisingly few ice cream shops along the route!
Ice cream stop in Wiesbaden
Ice cream in Wiesbaden
The weather was nice and we even had a tailwind for some of the day. That’s a treat. Unlike the Upper Rhine where there were virtually no boats, and the Rhone au Rhin Canal where we didn’t see boats until the latter part, this section of the Rhine is full of big ships coming from the Netherlands, the North Sea and beyond. We saw big container ships, barges, and tankers.
Pretty skies and no more cornfields!
Along the river
More shipping traffic
Blue skies and tailwinds
We stopped for a water break at Oestrich-Winkel where this is an old crane that was once used to loading and unloading wine barrels from ships.
Human powered crane in Oestrich-Winkel
Built in 1745, the crane was powered by people on treadmills! Image two giant hamster wheels inside the crane, each with two men on them. Sound like fun? It was hard, dangerous work. Apparently it was not uncommon for the men to slip and fall in the wheels and have limbs crused by the machinery, or even to be crushed to death. I’ll pass on the human hamster job, thanks.
As we got closer to Rudesheim there were jetties built along the shore, often with little sandy beaches in their corners.
Sandy beaches and smiles
On the edge of Rudesheim, we set up camp at Rheingaucamping. We had a great location with just the bike path between our tent and the river.
River views from our mansion
The folks at the campground were nice enough to loan us an RV hookup cable and outlet so we could have power in our tent to charge our batteries! The only thing missing was internet, but at least we could charge our cameras and phones. Nice.
We had a nice dinner at the Boosthaus Restaurant just down the path.
Dinner at Bootshaus
Math before dinner
We watched the ships go by as the sun set on the Rhine.
Mila was cozy in the new sleeping bag, and I used our two light sleeping bags together. Unless it gets really cold, I think we’ll all be cozy and warm now.