Blangkejeren, Once Upon A Time

Sitting on the big rocks, I tried to catch any sounds coming from the far. The sound which was not familiar and I was doubts whether I even had heard that kind of sound in my entire life before.

“What is that?” I asked Ali, my friend that was sitting next to me.

“What?” He asked me back.

“That sound,” I said.

“Oh.” Ali took his deep breath. “It’s sound of Honey Bear. A kind of bear commonly found here,” he said slowly. I could feel that my face was getting pale. I stared at Fery, my other friend sitting on the ground, right in front of me. He didn’t say anything. “Relax. It’s not like what you thought. That bear is not that big,” Ali said again.

“Ohh. I thought that we’re going to meet the giant bear”, Fery finally spoke.

“Oh. They’re not that big. But, usually, when they made that kind of noise, it was a sign that there were some tigers around,” Ali said calmly. I suddenly wish I died.

That was in 2007. I just got a new job with one of humanitarian organizations to assist flood affected people in 9 villages in Aceh province. Our base was in Blangkejeren, the capital of Gayo Luwes District, in Aceh Province, Indonesia. Our aim was to assist community to rebuild their life by providing infrastructure and livelihood assistance to villages’ community to start their new life post disaster. Nonetheless, all nine villages were not located in the capital of district. Instead, we need to drive for almost three hours to reach 8 of them. The last one, it required driving for three hours and continued walking for 9 hours since there was no access road to get into the village.

We had been staying in Blangkejeren for five days. We had completed plans and we were ready to start the assignments. However, due to location which was not so easy to reach, we needed to wait for our chief, Konrad, to return from Banda Aceh to get us some cars and requirement that will be used during our assignments in the field. Such as phone satellite, for example. But, we couldn’t wait that long. We were bored just to do the same things day by day (I checked material prices everyday to ensure my calculation was not over budget. The owner of construction shop was annoyed with my presence to his shop everyday). I even finished my shopping to fill my new small room to make it feel at home. So, finally I came up with the idea.

“Guys. We’d been here for five days. So far that I could do was checking construction material prices. I couldn’t even make some drawings since I didn’t know the project location and what we will build there. So, what about going to the field today?” I gave a fascinating idea.

“It’s good idea, Nurul. Let’s go,” Edwin, one of my engineer colleagues said. Fery and Ali also thought that the idea was awesome.

So, here we were. Ali, Fery, Edwin and I went to the villages with two motorbikes. Of course, I didn’t ride, instead I was sitting on passenger seat and let Ali rode that bike for me. Meanwhile, Fery and Edwin were with the other motorbike. Other friend, Zil, tried to stop us by convincing that we should wait for return of Konrad since that would be not safe to drive around with motor bike and without any satellite phone. There was no reception in the fields so mobile phone would be useless. But, we were too exciting to start the work and thought “who cares with the sat phone?”

We would not visit all villages. Our target was visiting some of them to get some ideas for our clear works planning. Our first stop was a village named Gajah. In Indonesian, it means elephant. But do not ask me the history of that name. I have no idea at all. The road to Gajah was okay. It was asphalted, with not so many pot holes along the way. The view was amazing, especially when we started passing the road of Ladia Galaska splitting the rain forest of Sumatera. Ali kept telling proudly that he was forest guide for more than ten years, so he knew this forest very well as his own children. Along the way, it was green hills and valleys, and sometimes we met group of sheep walking in the middle of the road. When we arrived in the village, we met the village chief and explained him know about our program. It seemed he already knew since Konrad had visited the villages before he started the program and recruited us.

Bukit Barisan Mountains, the scenery we got along the way

Bukit Barisan Mountains, the scenery we got along the way

Gajah was affected with big floods like two months before. It was causing damages here and there. Many roads were blocked, some houses were disappeared due to big flood currents and landslides, causing broken and damages bridges everywhere. It needed reconstruction immediately. Edwin and Ali talked to some people, meanwhile Fery and I discussed future works that we could do for this village.

We didn’t stay that long there. Then, we continued our journey to the next village, Uring. The road was getting worse, even there were some roads were blocked by the landslides and the mud.

We were arrived in Pante Rime village. It was a lunch time, and my stomach gave some signs that it needs to be refilled soon. We went to the only small restaurant (I was not even sure that we could call it restaurant since it was really small and the only menu it had was rice and instant noodle), but we ate like a hell. We were starving.

Pante Rime Village

Pante Rime Village

After lunch, we continue our trip to the next village, Pertik, where the problem began. To reach Pertik. we needed to cross the river and the bridge was standing there couple of months ago was destroyed by the flood. The only way to cross it was walking in it. So, Fery and I were walking, meanwhile Ali and Edwin tried to cross with the bikes. Problem started to come when we were crossing the river. Some water got into the machine of Edwin’s bike and it was suddenly switched off. He needed to switch it on many times to make it on again. So, we still could visit the rest of villages.

Fery, crossing the river

Fery, crossing the river

It was 4 pm when Ali reminded us to go back to Blangkejeren immediately unless we would get caught in the dark. And the disaster began. Edwin’s bike was switched off after riding for every 10 minutes and released some smoke in the same times. After it happened, we needed to cool it down by showering some water on the machine in order to make it on again. Thanks God, there were a lot of rivers along the way. So anytime we passed them, we filled our bottles with full of water that would be used in the next stop.

Edwin and Fery trying to switch the motor on

Edwin and Fery trying to switch the motor on

It was 7 pm. It was dark. We were in the middle of jungle. And Edwin’s motor bike was totally off. There was nobody but us. Sounds of night animals started to sound that made that nights became scarier than it should. We were so desperate. We were still far from the city. Even with the normal bike, it still needed another hour to reach Blangkejeren. We were totally alone, and we must be ready with the possibility that tigers could come anytime.

When the night started to fall

When the night started to fall

“You know what, guys,” Ali spoke as the only person who had experience the most in the jungle. “If the tigers come, do not run. Instead, we should look at them in the eye,” I was not sure whether I could still look that tiger in the eye before I got fainted if I ever see them. Oh God. What’s on earth made me think to come to the villages without any proper equipment was a good idea. We should listen to Zil.

No one spoke. To break the ice, Fery started to sing the songs from Boyz to Men, one Sweet Day. He had a good voice and was the member of choir and had won some international competitions. Hearing Fery sang was more interesting than hearing Ali’s stories about tigers.

And suddenly, the miracle happened. Edwin tried the motor bike again, and it started well. Fery and I screamed and jumped happily. We couldn’t believe our fate. I thought that we were going to spend our night in the jungle. We left the jungle and rode back to the city.

Note: Konrad was not so happy with our impulsive actions and made us promise for not doing it again in the future. Well, sometimes we need to do something wrong in order to make something right.