Just chillin'

Trip Start Apr 10, 2004
Trip End Jun 09, 2004

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Monday, April 26, 2004

So, you left us in Penang (on Batu Ferringhi- Foreigner Beach) and we couldnt be further from there now. Were staying on Samosir Island, which is about the size of Singapore, and lies in middle of Lake Toba- the biggest lake in SE Asia. The lake is in the middle of an ancient volcanic crater, and its absolutely spectacular. The boat from Penang to Sumatra was uneventful, though immigration was interesting- total chaos. Our ideal plan was to head up Nth to Bukit Lawang, a little village on the edge of an enormous National Park (orangutan territory), but Nov last year there was an enormous flood (thanks to over-logging of the area) and in 15min the whole area was wiped out. We ended up in a travel agent in the capital, Medan (big, smelly, dirty, insane traffic), who told us we could still do a trek, and stay in a homestay, which we were extremely happy with. The drive north was interesting- the road is so bad (from the logging trucks) that 85ks takes 4 hours. Not fun in a tiny minibus with no suspension. On the way up, a woman from the travel agent was telling us what had happened to her in the flood- she'd lost her restaurant, her home, her husband had died, she'd seen her best friend die because she wasnt strong enough to keep hold of the rope she was clinging to, and lost most of her family. She said it all with tears in her eyes, but a smile on her face. And despite the fact that she now travelled to Medan from Bukit Lawang every day to work to support her son, she just kept saying how blessed she was because they had both survived. It was like that everywhere in BL- everyone we met had a horrible story to tell, but they were all still so happy. It should have been a really depressing place, the 300 trekking guides who had more than enough work before the floods are now all out of work, and all they can do is wait for the tourists to come back (the three days we were there, only 10 had arrived), but it wasnt- everyone was just so happy to see us that we couldnt walk through the village without being mobbed.

When the six of us left on the trek (our companions- an annoying American couple, and an older British coueple, + our two guides), we walked from the remaining area of BL up to the jungle through the valley which had been the hub of the whole tourist trade up there, and there was nothing left. Only a few shells of hotels further away from the river, and enormous trees lying everywhere. But after all that depressing stuff, the jungle was amazing! After only about 1hr in the jungle-proper and a lecture from our guide on how we shouldnt expect too much, we turned a corner to find a mother and baby hanging from a tree. We were less than a metre away, and she wasnt at all worried, we were even able to feed her- quite an experience, standing in the middle of the jungle stroking the hand of an ornagutan while it munches on a banana youve just given it. They were so beautiful, I took a whole roll of film. That was only the first of many- we saw seven orangautans that day. But they werent all so friendly. Two actually chased us- no matter how exhausetd you think you are, you move damn fast when your guide's yelling at you to 'go, go, go' and theres an aggressive orangutan chasing you. The first time, one came at us when we were at the bottom of a VERY steep climb, but we scrambled up in record time, blisters or no blisters. The second came after us when we'd had to take a detour because of the first aggressive orang, and one of our guides was bush-bashing us a path through the jungle. We fell down the hill at break-neck speed, while the second guide stayed behind to protect us- i kid you not. He came back about 15min later with an enormous scratch on one arm, and left us with a lot more respect for orangutans. Other highlights: Simon discovering the enormous bloodtsain on his t-shirt from the leech he'd picked up- it was gone, having sucked its fill and fallen off :) Falling (theres no other word for it) down an almost vertical slope to get to the river, Simon and I laughing hysterically every time we slipped over, clutching at vines, while everyone else clucked sympathetically, the hour walk down the river (after a much-needed swim), bamboo poles in hand, to get to our campsite. After tea and biscuits (very civilised) we all bathed in the river, and settled ourselves next to the fire for the rest of the nite. Surrounded by fireflies, stars, and the sounds of the jungle, it was a pretty magic nite. Sleeping on the hard ground, not so magic- rocks do not a mattress make. Next day, after possibly the best breakfeast of my LIFE- we had first, then SECOND breakfast ten minutes later!) we were all so exhausted we had to have breaks every twenty minutes or so. Nothing so eventful happened, coupla more ornagutans (we def werent as blase as that sounds), and then finally flat ground and only the dodgy bamboo suspension bridge between us and a cold drink.

Stayed in BL another day (wandered around, sat for an hour or so in the river to do our washing, and hung out with one of the unemployed guide- Ali G) then left for Medan again. A horrible day, had a run-in with dodgy Indonesian bureaucracy at the post office trying to send stuff ahead -just hope it gets there, and seemed like everyone in the city was trying to rip us off. Exhausting. Then we got on a bus with the driver from hell. Was sposed to be a relaxing 4 hour drive to Lake Toba, but instead I spent the whole time staring at my lap after deciding if i was going to die, I didnt want to know. We were in an enormous coach, and spent most of the trip on the wrong side of the rd, staring at oncoming traffic ( iwas in the front seat), swerving in and out of the traffic, tailgating (5cm or so). The most terrifying drive of my life- how we didnt have a head-on collision I have no idea.

Lake Toba, by contrast, is extremely relaxing. Weve been here 4 days, and really havnt done much. We changed GH yesterday cos ours was just too quiet (theres prob only about 30 tourists on the whole island and theres about 30GHs)- the only people we were sharing with were an elderly Dutch guy whod been there a year (played classical music every morning, and dissappeared at nite cos he 'liked the local ladies'), a younger Dutch surfie guy who'd been there months and a silent Brazillian woman. Not tantalising company.

Now were in a much better place, coupla more backpackers (maybe 15 people staying here), and we still have a beautiful view of the lake from our balcony (think weve taken photos of it in ever different type of light).

Apart from wander around the village, the most energetic thing weve done is hire motorbikes (today) for a cruise around the island. SO much fun. We had one each, and despite a horrible visit to a village which seemed to be there only to sell souvenirs (the only tourists there we were dragged into hut after hut by women moaning about how poor they were and how bad business was), we had an excellent day- screw safety, theres nothing better than riding a bike with the wind in your hair, and just thongs on your feet :) Though Simon did get burnt to a lovely shade of red.

Loving Sumatra, obviously, so were going to stay here til our visa runs out on the 19th May. Next stop is Nias Island where Lagundi Beach is. Its on the International Surfing Circuit and Simons determined to learn to surf there. Should be interesting... :)

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