Sumatra – palm trees and plastic bags

If you know anything about Sumatra you might think of a large island in Indonesia known for its rugged tropical terrain. A place where jungle, lakes , waterfalls and volcanos are in abundance . Home to the Sumatran tiger and the orangutan. Well we witnessed most of the above on this leg of the journey but it wouldn’t be right to gush about the natural beauty of Sumatra without mentioning what was apparent as soon as we left Medan.

This was the sheer volume of palm trees where the rain forest should have been. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a palm tree. Preferably on an island, with me on a hammock, sipping a cocktail, not in danger of being knocked out by a falling coconut. This was different. We travelled kilometre after kilometre wondering where on earth the rainforest had gone. Instead we passed palm trees as far as the eye could see in every direction, and loads of lorry trucks carrying the precious nuts to make palm oil. Now of course I had read about deforestation in Indonesia, slashing and burning to make way for palm oil plantations, weak environmental laws and the knock on effects linked to global warming and animal endangerment. Reading and seeing with my own eyes turned out to be two completely different things. It’s real. Rainforests are disappearing and palm trees are taking over. I realise there is a local industry that benefits from palm oil employment opportunities but it is just so sad. Thank god there is still some rain-forest left, but for how long one has to wonder?

The other blemish on the landscape of Sumatra was the amount of litter lining almost every road we passed, namely plastic. I am not exaggerating when I say there wouldn’t have been a single stretch of road without plastic litter , presumably thrown out of car windows by passing motorists. Local people seemed oblivious to this eye-sore. Shop fronts and houses ( well, dirt patches) were dotted with plastic garbage. No one seemed to be bothered by this. Certainly there didn’t seem to be any effort to clean it up. Even the spectator Spiso-piso waterfall in north Sumatra has a steep walking track to its base that was covered in plastic litter.

Now don’t get me wrong, Sumatra is an amazing place , and the little jungle town we stayed in called Bukit Lawang was very tidy, but wow, what has happened to a society that has become so complacent to littering and a world so hungry for palm oil? I guess it’s easy to turn a blind eye when it’s not our backyard being destroyed.

Rant over …. our trip into the jungle will be a separate blog

One thought on “Sumatra – palm trees and plastic bags

  1. Yes I know what you mean
    I’ve started following palm oil investigations & not buying things containing palm oil. Cheezels! Pantene shampoo! Hot cross buns! I’ve been paving the way for palm oil plantations all this time, well not anymore! Sumatra is one of the worlds oldest rainforests & it’s disappearing along with the wildlife of this amazing place. I’m so proud of you guys showing your kids all this. Can’t wait for the jungle story


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