Sungai Penuh (literally "full river") is a town of about 45,000 located in the Jambi province of Sumatra. It is a convenient launching point for those wishing to visit Taman Nasonal Kerinci Seblat (Kerinci Seblat National Park), with easy access to Gunung Kerinci (Mt. Kerinci), an active volcano, Danau Gunung Tujuh (Seven Mountain Lake), and other attractions. Since our camera traps are in this park, Sungai Penuh is a natural choice for our home and base of operations.
The Landscape & Climate
Sungai Penuh is relatively flat, but set in a valley so that rolling hills and mountains can be seen in every direction. Because of its tropical location, the temperature is a comfortable 75 F (24 C) all year round. During the rainy season (November - March) it rains nearly every day around the same time in the late afternoon. Otherwise the weather is beautiful.
Because of its altitude, Sungai Penuh is slightly cooler than sea-level cities like Jakarta, which makes it much more comfortable. Heating and air conditioning are not necessary, nor is hot water for bathing. On unusually cool days (70 F, 21 C) some Indonesians will wear heavy sweaters and winter coats, being accustomed only to the warm climate.
Children welcoming us to our new home
Although other westerners, many of them also searching for Orang Pendek, come through Sungai Penuh, the local residents are never lacking in surprise at the sight of our different appearance. After three months, we still can't leave our house without giving someone a reason to run home and tell their family about the strange people they saw. Fortunately, the people are extremely friendly. "Hello Mister!" seems to be the Indonesian national greeting, even if you're not a "mister", and they like to shout it proudly.
Visitors often drop by unannounced, so we've gotten used to entertaining guests. This can be especially interesting after school lets out for the day, as once we were inundated with young children demanding to show us their toys and ask us questions regarding our home.
English is taught in the schools starting at a very early age, so that we are continually surprised by the number of people we've met with an decent command of English.
Rice plantations, gardens, and farms abound. Most Indonesians eat rice with every meal; indeed they require it to feel "full", so rice farmers provide the staple of every Indonesian's diet. In Sumatra, chilies are known for their "flavor" giving properties. Again, it is not a real meal without plenty of chiles. Luckily, we enjoy spicy food, even if we are sweating profusely by the end of every meal.
Rice fields just outside our home
Most people do not have cars, but nearly everyone has a motorcycle. Getting around town is extremely simple: motorcycles for hire ("ojek") are everywhere and can be hailed like taxis.