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Giant rafflesias of Sumatra

Fast as a weasel through the jungle

Get out of the house! Back then, in 2011, that wasn’t a threat but a plan. We, Morten und Rochssare, had had enough of our home turf. Instead, we could smell freedom. We wanted to romp through distant, unknown forests. Change was in the air so we slipped out of our home, out into the world.

A lot has happened since then. We travelled from Tierra del Fuego to the Caribbean, through South America. And now we're hitchhiking through Asia. We may not have seen our homeland for a long time, but we have had lots of new experiences. We're content. The sun shines on our faces – we’re also content on rainy days.

Right now we're travelling around Sumatra. The world’s sixth-largest island still lies slightly off the beaten track. Here we roam undisturbed through the forests, encountering numerous natural wonders. Including the pair of weasels at my feet. With them I move quickly through lush, earthy tropical forest.

The forest floor has depth; it’s softened by last night’s rain. A downpour like you’ll only find in the tropics. Slippery paths lead up hilly ridges. Old leaves cover the fertile soil. Each step is accompanied by a gentle slurp from the damp ground. We're searching for the giant rafflesia, a plant that amazes us with its size and splendour.

It has no leaves, roots or stalk and is one of the world’s largest blooms. A monster with a diameter of up to a metre, and the weight of three newborn babies. It's one of the rarest plants in the world. There are only a few places left where giant rafflesias are sighted regularly.

The village of Batang Paluphu on Sumatra is one of them. Around here these plants grow throughout the year. We hike through the indigenous farmers’ rice terraces. Behind them rises the jungle. Narrow paths lead through the undergrowth. Fallen trees lie over it. Sunlight is filtered through the treetops. Only here and there it breaks, fairytale-like, through the canopy of leaves.

The rafflesia is a total scrounger. It sticks to the vines that are everywhere here in the forest. Unable to create chlorophyll by itself, it would be lost without its host. We slink through the jungle, searching in all directions. Noses to the wind, we want to pick up the scent of the rafflesias, which give off a sweetish, rotting smell.

But our noses find nothing. Instead, after an hour on muddy paths, we stumble over dark-brown cabbages on the forest floor. They’re the buds of the giant rafflesia. It takes eight months for them to develop into the full flower, which then blooms for about a week and a half.

A few steps away from the edge of the path there's a steep drop of at least three metres. And it's down there that we spy the fully developed bloom of a rafflesia. Like a round-bellied, reddish brown cooking pot it lies on the ground. Five huge, spotted petals circle its centre. The diameter of the flower is perhaps 80 cm. We’ve never seen anything like it.

Holding on to loose vines we climb down the slope to get even closer. In the middle of the humid forest we’re fascinated by the sight. Seeing the giant rafflesia is a gift. Finding it is an adventure. We move happily through the undergrowth. Sumatra's rainforest has found its place on our inner map. It’s part of our territory.

Run wild!

Morten & Rochssare

Fotos: © Rochssare Neromand-Soma

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