01.03.2013 - 15.03.2013
The sixth largest island in the World. The land of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, political and religious conflicts, slow internet connections even slower buses and pot hole highways. Home to 40 million people. Home to a huge biodiversity of land and sea creatures including orangutans, King Cobras and the odd tiger. Temporary home to 2 intrepid backpackers. This is Sumatra, Indonesia.
Our Air Asia flight glanced over the jungle topped mountains and verdant plains of palms, skimming over rivers and lakes then landed in Medan, home to 2 million people and a good many cockroaches and rats. Pretty Medan isn't. It's chaotic, and choking with cars. Crossing a road involves more daring do than wrestling with a Komodo Dragon. Walking along the pavement is equally hazardous as missing pathing slabs reveal huge leg braking drops into the vermin infested depths of the drains below.
We arrived on a weekend evening and all the budget hotels seemed to be full. Joe however put his negotiating hat on and secured us a discount in a 3 star hotel. Walking around town however at night we came across a run down semi mini Vegas area of shopping malls and flickering neon lights. The people were very curious of our presence but very friendly. This is when I took an instant liking to Indonesians, possibly placing them as the friendliest people in the world. 10 minutes would be considered a long stretch before the frequent greeting of "Hello Meeeeeeester".
Medan however was merely a wobbly stepping stone for a leap into the Sumatran adventures ahead. First stop was the magnificent Lake Toba which must be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It is lake Garda on acid with a tropical tinge, and an imposing mountainous backdrop. It is the biggest lake in SE Asia. Within the lake is an island the size of Singapore. Also jutting out is narrow peninsular of Tuk Tuk. Tuk Tuk has laid back irresistible charm of a low key beach resort, maybe Goa 20 years ago. To reach our destination we took a ferry that stopped off at the actual resort like a boat taxi service. Choice of on board music was some bluesy Eric Clapton tracks.
A few metres from the door of our room and you were in the lake. The lake is a perfect temperature due to thermal heating and although is half a km deep in places is calm and good for swimming. Had a great 3 days here including exploring some of the interior on a bike. The food was excellent including fresh river fish and mushroom omelettes to fly for.
Toba is a place I could leave my clothes on a beach at, change my identity and not return home. Move on we must though. After Toba the lofty peak of a 2km plus high active volcano beckoned This was Brestagi, pleasant little town surrounded by green cultivated fields. The crops booming with a shot of volcanic Viagra. This is one of the most accessible volcanoes in the country. Potentially this is a treacherous walk although we set off early on a day with no rain. We arrived at the peak to witness this hissing of the sulfuric geezers. The rotten egg smell was accentuated after bathing, post trek in the sculpturing springs in the valley below. The smell however lingered on my clothes for a week.
One of the main reasons to go to Sumatra is to rub shoulders with our primate cousins, but not the primates who linger around Stockport Mersey Square on a Saturday afternoon, although not as vicious they are the real deal. I'm talking Orangutans . Bukit Luwang is about 3 hours from Medan. The town was struck by disaster a few years ago when the flood waters carried a large tree that devastated the village killing hundreds of people. The place is recovered and a warm welcome is guaranteed in exchange for spending your tourist Ropupiah (14000 to the pound that is). This was a base for a 2 day trek where we witnessed Orangutans in the wild, one was only a couple of metres away. Aswell as Orangutans. across the river from our campsite I spotted a monitor lizzard the size of a crocodile. We also saw gibbons, punk like monkeys and trees that go on for ever. The trekking element of the trip included climbing and descending very steep inclines of the dense jungle. Think of Tarzan movies complete with vines, monster girth tree trunks and a spaghetti junction of tree routes. The sound of the jungle became more intense the more we trekked. The trip was wrapped up tubing or floating down river on giant inter tubes.
We left the real jungle to take an overnight bus from the urban jungle to Band Ache. Across the waters was the island of Sabang - snorkeling and diving mecca. We stayed at 2 pretty quiet resorts. Despite much of the coral dying in the Tsunami I was able to see turtles and ray fish. One species conspicuously absent though was the beer and alcohol. This rare breed of intoxicating liquid was unfortunately either an absent or highly expensive item due to the deeply religious nature of the place.
Talking of religion............ After Sabang we spent a night at Band Ache, far North of Sumatra. This is a state that has seen political, racial and religious conflict. A form of Sharia law is in place. It is also the site of major Tsunami devastation. 230,000 people lost their life. Many had a story to tell. Most people had lost friends and family. A monument, or tribute to the survivors told the extraordinary tale of a boat carrying 56 Tsunami evacuees was swept a few kilometers inland and ended up on the roof of a house where it remains today as a museum. Rumour has it that all 56 survived as did the owner of the house. A crocodile however had also survived and was lying in wait under the boat.
We bid farewell to the wilds of Sumatra and flew to the urban jungle of Jakarta.