Five Lakes Expedition

“Some of the guides I partner with in the village of Lempur were thinking of offering this new multi-day jungle trek down there at the southern end of Kerinci. But before we throw it up on the Wild Sumatra site, I need to scout it out myself; I really have no idea what to expect. You up for a little exploration?” I asked the two young backpackers. Both of them, one Dutch and one Costa Rican, nodded in enthusiastic agreement.

And so, after making our preparations and coordinating with Zacky, the guide leader, we set off the next morning for an adventure in the Sumatran wilderness.

Lake Nyalo

The hike from the trailhead to the first lake, Danau Nyalo, was pretty quick and easy, only about fifteen minutes or so. We passed through highland farms of cabe (hot chilies – basically a staple food of the region) and other vegetables, on the way to the edge of the jungle. The closer we got, the louder the morning song of a family of Siamang gibbons echoed through the air.

The gibbons were so close! But we just…couldn’t….see…them. I snapped a photo, hoping that on closer inspection I’d be able to make one out. No joy.

This plant grew  like a weed along the trail through the farmlands. Zacky had us put the roots up to our nose – a strong aroma of wintergreen!

Once on the edge of the lake, the ground became softer and softer as we entered the swampland, with a floating mass of vegetation and peat we would sink into if we stood still for too long. In order to get a closer look at the lake without that sinking feeling, we climbed some of the surrounding trees.

Zacky climbing a tree overhanging the lake.

A paddling of wild ducks thought we got a little too close, and took to the sky.

There were a number of pitcher plants growing in the area.

Moving on, we walked through some more farmland until we came to a section of marsh.

With all of the mud and grass, it was pretty much prime water buffalo habitat.

Pitcher plants seemed to like it as well.

If you didn’t step exactly right, you would go plunging down deep into the mud, as our poor Costa Rican friend discovered. It was like quicksand! You needed another person to help pull you out, and you hoped your shoes were on tight, or they’d be left behind!

Finally back on (relatively) solid ground, we entered a hutan adat, a traditionally managed village forest, where crops like bamboo, cinnamon, and fruit are sustainably harvested. Thousands of a special variety of pitcher plant also grew abundantly. These nepenthes are also harvested by the people of Lempur as a container for steaming a local variety of lemang, a sweet coconut rice, called kancung beruk.

A species of nepenthes pitcher plant, used for making the local delicacy kancung beruk

Finally out of the low wetlands area, we made it to a little farm road heading up the mountain.

Up the mountain through agroforests of cinnamon and other crops.

A flying draco (draco volans) lizard! One of the coolest creatures around. Blends in pretty well, doesn’t it?

There were great views of the Lempur valley as we made it close to the top. Notice the pinks and reds of the cinnamon leaves – at certain times of the year in Kerinci, the new growth makes it look a bit like autumn. It was also clear that we were racing the rain to our campsite on the edge of Lake Duo, the second lake.

Just as we arrived at Lake Duo, it began to sprinkle. We quickly threw up our tents before the skies opened up—typical in the late afternoons in the rainforest! We hoped it would pass quickly. And it did, and then some. The stars were brilliant in the dark night sky, as we cooked dinner and laughed by the light of the campfire.

It was so clear that we could even make out the milky way with the naked eye, rising just above the mountains.

Lake Duo

We woke up the next morning to some more great weather. At about 1300m above sea level, the air was cool and crisp, with mist hanging over the surface of the lake and the jungle around us, waiting to be burned off by the sun.

A Black Laughingthrush (Garrulax lugubris)

Ripples from a moth struggling in the water.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast listening to the songs of the birds in the surrounding hills and watching the odd hornbill and eagle pass overhead. We spotted some bamboo rafts along the shore used by the occasional fisherman, and spent some time paddling out and around the lake. 

Paddling across Danau Duo

Morning dew beads on a wildflower beside the lake

After packing up, we hit the trail once again, passing through groves of bamboo.

A deep bass woomp woomp led us to a large Mountain Imperial Pigeon (Ducula badia).

A Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus).

Lake Kecik

We arrived at Lake Kecik around midday. Locals say animals like deer and tapir often use the lake as a watering hole in the afternoons and evening, but with our timing, it was unlikely we would see any. The Kerinci region’s high elevation means temperatures are relatively cool year round, but being almost directly on the equator makes the sun pretty intense—hence we didn’t want to spend too long exposed out on the lake. We also had a lot more ground to cover before we reached our next campsite, so, after lingering for just a short while, we continued on our journey.

On the shores of Danau Kecik.

We spotted a number of beautiful birds on the way.

Temminck’s Sunbird (Aethopyga-temminckii).

A Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush (Garrulax mitratus).

A Fire-tufted Barbet (Psilopogon pyrolophus).

And walked through a magical cinnamon forest, with bird-nest ferns (Asplenium nidus) and other epiphytes filling the sky.

We came to a wooden hut in a small clearing where a farmer lived with his young family, right on the border where the hutan adat and virgin forest meet. Real frontier living—they even spoke of a tiger occasionally coming through their fields, in its hunt for wild boar. 

The last farmer’s hut on the edge of virgin forest. Cinnamon and patchouli dry in the tropical sun.

They had the cutest little puppy.

We continued on, entering the untouched rainforest. But, somewhat unfortunately, only about fifteen minutes into it, it lived up to its name. It rained. A lot. For about three hours, we walked on through the downpour. I know it’s not for everyone, but oh how I love the rain! There’s just something about being caught in it out in the wild that is so freeing and refreshing, especially after a long trek.

A beautiful, large spider welcomed us as we entered the forest.

A very large caterpillar. Right after this shot, the heavens opened up.

Despite the rain, we still managed to see some mitered leaf monkeys and a number of birds even! We walked across a shallow part of the Manjuto river, where Zacky said the trek could be extended a further few days even deeper into the rainforest, to a hidden waterfall.

Not too far past the river, we finally made it to Lake Kaco in the late afternoon. We huddled together for warmth, laughing underneath a little bamboo and tarp shelter, waiting for the rain to stop. Once it did, we set up camp, ate, and chatted into the evening, saw the lovely frog below, and turned in for the night.

A frog by Lake Kaco enjoying the cool, wet evening.

Lake Kaco

Lake Kaco

The next morning was lovely. Rays of light filtered through the leaves, seemingly making Danau Kaco glow with the most azure blue you can imagine. After breakfast, we swam in the cool, spring-fed water of the lake, jumped off the overhanging tree (the same one that Bear Grylls jumped off of), watched the schools of fish swimming around us, and spotted some explosively colorful freshwater crabs.

Nothing beats waking up in the rainforest.

Especially when you get to wake up next to this.

A crab in the middle of the rainforest.
 
A steady stream of mineral-filled underground spring water, responsible for the insanely blue color, is constantly pumping into Lake Kaco.
Diving in.

After more than a few hours of swimming around and exploring, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away, for the final leg back to Lempur village. We again waded knee-deep across the Manjuto river, and over a small feeder stream with the help of a bamboo bridge. We passed the serene Seluang Bersisik Emas waterfall and saw some more leaf monkeys, before we stepped out of the forest and into the rice paddies.

Seluang Bersisik Emas Waterfall.

Yellow-handed Mitered Langurs (Presbytis melalophos melalophos), Kerinci’s endemic leaf monkeys.

The rice paddies of Lempur village.

Lake Lingkat

Due to the time constraints of one of the backpackers, we weren’t able to hit the fifth and final lake, Danau Lingkat that same day. Thankfully, Lingkat is the closest and most accessible to the village of the five lakes, so it was easy to head back another time. As a popular hangout spot for the people of the village, there are always a number of locals to talk to, with bamboo rafts readily available. On the northern side of the lake is a small marshland with a few species of pitcher plants, while on the south side of the lake there’s a lovely forest at the foot of Gunung Batuah where Siamang gibbons can usually be heard singing in the mornings.

Paddling across the lake on a bamboo raft.

There’s a local legend that a giant snake lives in the waters of the lake, and will pull down anyone that swims in it.

Delias singhapura butterly, seen on the lakeshore.

In the end, the trip was a great success. The mix of landscapes—from wetlands to mountains,farmland to primary rainforest, jungle streams to lakes—made the trek constantly interesting. It was also great seeing the wildlife and birdlife, and how it varied depending on whether we were on the forests edge or deep within. The backpackers really enjoyed themselves, as did I, and the local guides headed up by Zacky did a wonderful job.

Since this trip, we’ve been able to adjust and tweak things a bit so that there is even more time in deep forest, with the option to extend the trek by a few days for those who are really interested in long, multi-day jungle treks in Sumatra. Some of our guests’ best wildlife spottings have been on this trek, including sun bear, deer, tapir, gibbons, and even once, extraordinarily, a Sumatran tiger!

If you’re interested in supporting ecotourism and conservation in the rainforests of Sumatra, contact us and we can help get you set up.

Come discover Kerinci for yourself! Learn about the region, visit our itineraries page, or view a map and additional points of interest around Kerinci to create your own custom trip. Read up on how to get here, and check out our travel tips when you’re ready to start planning.
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