3rd Jul 2012 - 11th Jul 2012
Mr Emma and Thierry Henry Go To Sumatra …
We were really looking forward to Sumatra but it was going to be hard going as we had a lot to see in a short time. We left our hotel in KL at an ungodly hour (again … too much getting up before the sun rises isn’t good for you!) and caught the shuttle bus to the airport at 5.30am. Our flight from KL to Medan was really quick lasting approx 1 hour. It seemed like ten minute after the seat belt sign went off it went back on again and they prepared us for landing! Andy isn’t keen on flying and at that crazy early hour he found it unsurprisingly easy to fall asleep and that’s how he stayed through the whole flight!
When we arrived in Medan we queued up to get our Indonesian visa and then went through customs. I was stressing about having some bananas in my bag after I saw a big sign prohibiting fruit and veg and as a result of this we walked out of the airport without our bags! We stopped debating how much the fine for illegal bananas was as no one had batted an eye lid at us anyway and went back in to get our bags! Duh!
Rather than get an airport taxi we walked out of the airport to the main road and in no time a shared taxi (minibus) stopped to pick us up. With our bags crammed on our laps and trying to take up as little space as possible we were ferried to the local bus station. It was pretty dead with no information or obvious ticket sale but as usual plenty of people wanting to know where we were going. It was then we realized we didn’t have much money so Andy valiantly left me relaxing on a bench and went in search of a cash point, but after walking around for a while he returned empty handed. It was annoying because about 10 minutes before we had been at the airport where there were at least 5! There was nothing we could do so we finally jumped in a minibus from the bus station to Bukit Lawang. It was 25,000 rupiah each (about £1.60) so very cheap, but money didn’t guarantee you a seat to yourself. At one point there were 15 people in a 10 seater minibus, plus luggage. Cramped!! Even when it was full the ‘conductor’ was still trying to get extra people on board, shouting ‘Bukky Laa’ loudly out of the window.
By about 4pm we were in Bukit Lawang. After a little bit of searching for a room (we have established the more you look at the better room you can get and even with the bags it is worth the extra effort) we turned up a great room for 70,000 rupiah (£4.60) It had a great view of some pesky monkeys on the local roofs and occasionally one even jumped on our roof! Bukit Lawang was a really cool little place, a village running along a fast paced river with jungle all around it.
The place didn’t seem too full of tourists and despite being labeled as the ‘touristy orangutan experience’ it didn’t seem that way to us. Bukit first became popular with tourists as they were able to visit the Orangutan rehabilitation centre and feeding station that was based here. The rehabilitation centre has since closed down but the feeding station remains and it was our first encounter with an Orangutan. We brought our permits and walked to the end of the road of hotels expecting to see a bridge over the river but came across a ‘boat’ if you can even call it that, ferrying people across for the feeding session which started at 8.30am. The very dodgy looking boat basically swung out across the river and was caught on the other side by another boatman. Once you made it here alive you had to try to depart without falling over! Then we walked up hill for a good 15minutes until we came across the small crowd of on lookers and a huge Orangutan chilling out drinking some milk. It was really awesome and amazing to be there. The Orangutan swang through the trees up to the feeding platform from its place on the ground near the crowd and then headed back again. This time however it was a bit close for comfort and the park rangers ushered everyone back a bit. They then gave the Orangutan a big bunch of bananas which seemed to do the trick and in a jiffy it was off into the jungle again. Just as we were going to leave another smaller Orangutan came out of the jungle and gathered up all the left over bananas. It was the end of our allotted time but no one wanted to leave! It was a really cool morning!
Having loved seeing the Orangutans in the morning we decided to book a 3 hour trek into the jungle for the next day. We could have done longer but it was a bit pricey anyway and I was suffering with really bad athletes foot and some nasty blisters and was pretty much bandaged up from toe to ankle. So 3 hours of trekking would probably be more than enough. We still had the money problem, namely we didn’t have enough, and so we only paid half the trekking as a deposit. No problem though, we had met a local guy the day before and arranged with him to take Andy the 10kms to the nearest cash point so we could get some money. Poor old Andy had a bit of an adventure that afternoon as he suffered 10km on the back of a bike on the bendy potholed roads of Sumatra (and all with no helmet!!) It would have all been worth it but he couldn’t get any money as the cash point wouldn’t accept Visa. Everything but!! The next cash point was another 50km away so we had to think of a back up plan. We counted all our little bits of cash and found a local money changer. It turned out (luckily) that the 33 American Dollars, 10 Singapore Dollars and what we had left of our rupiah was just enough to see us through to our next destination. We had to pay for the rest of the trekking, our room, and our onward bus ticket and we still had just enough to feed ourselves … phew!
The next day we went trekking with our guide Anto. We had an initial steep climb but then we were in the thick of the jungle and close to the wild Orangutans. During our 3 hours we saw another 6 Orangutans. One mother and baby and later a group of 4, this time 2 mothers and their babies. The babies were playing with each other and it was amazing to stand below quietly and watch them all. Our guide explained to us the problems in Bukit Lawang and how the feeding station is no longer needed as the rehabilitation centre is closed. He said there was one famous Orangutan called Mina who had been bred in captivity who still required feeding but that the other Orangutans didn’t. He said the government kept the centre open to encourage tourists and that he didn’t agree with what they were doing there. It is always hard to know the whole story and we don’t know whether this is totally unbiased but if we came again I don’t think we would go to the feeding centre, I think to see Orangutans in the jungle is better, even if you don’t see them quite so close up. As well as Orangutans we also saw a jungle peacock, loads of amazing plants and trees and some crazy termite colonies! My feet were destroyed by the end but it was bloody brilliant!
Oh I almost forgot on our last day there had been some confusion with our room and it had been double booked. The little old lady owner (through a translator) said how bad she felt and would we mind moving into another room … it was a bit more expensive but she would do us a deal. So for £2 more we spent our last night in a proper swanky room with fantastic views over the river and as the tropical rain poured down on the last afternoon (as it had every other day!) we sat on our balcony and watched the river swell and rage past us. Very cool!
We got to Lake Toba in one piece after catching the ferry to Tuk Tuk the area we were staying in and vowed to take public transport from now on. We spent a couple of days chilling out in the absolutely beautiful surroundings. Our bungalow overlooked the lake and one afternoon we had a dip. It was freezing and feeling fish swimming round you was weird but it was great at the same time. There were some really good local restaurants, one we had been recommended by a couple we met in Bukit Lawang. It was called Jenny’s and although it was unashamedly touristic it did the best grilled lake fish on the Island. Now we aren’t really fish kind of people but we figured you couldn’t come here without trying some of the local produce so we both ordered grilled lake fish with chips and salad for 35,000 rupiah (£2.30) The fish was big and you could see it being grilled on the bbq at the front of the restaurant. It was so good I had it again before I left the island.
We didn’t do much else while we were here except read books, walk around the island, catch up on some blogs and eat avocados! They are grown everywhere here (we even saw them growing wild on the side of the road) and avocado or guacamole on toast is a popular breakfast option. I had it twice in Lake Toba and realized I hadn’t eaten avocado since I left home!
After our experience on the tourist bus into Lake Toba we kept our word and took the local bus out. It wasn’t the easy option by any means as not many other tourists do it. We had to walk to the main road, about 2kms, with our bags and hail down a shared mini bus to the main town, then take another bus to the other side of the island and finally change to another minibus to Berastagi. It took all day, it was hot and cramped but with out a doubt it was the best way to travel! Andy got some great confused looks from little children and the breathtaking views over the lake from the hillside roads were amazing.
People had talked about Berastagi not being very nice and they were right! It was a pretty crappy looking town and the accommodation was awful compared to what we had in Bukit and Lake Toba but it didn’t matter too much as we were only in town to see the volcano. There are two volcanoes there and we chose to trek up and down the smaller one. When I say smaller it’s still 2094 meters high and took us a total of about 9 hours from leaving our hotel to stumbling back in exhausted later! When we walked through the hotel door the staff looked shocked and said ‘What happened!!!’.Jeez …. We must have looked bad or else it normally takes people 4 hours, I’m not sure!
I wanted to be in tip top condition to do the walk and my feet were healing nicely. So obviously this would not be a good time to fall over head first on the uneven pavement! Which is exactly what I did! I was fine and it was just a flesh wound but it flipping stang and the next day I had to walk up the volcano bandaged up like one of those stupid tourists we saw in Thailand all the time who fell off their motorbike!
The trek itself was amazing and totally breathtaking. We really felt like we had gone back in time to the land of the dinosaurs as the landscape was so harsh and menacing. As we got closer to the top of the volcano the smell of eggs got stronger and stronger thanks to all the Sulphur around. The volcano crater was awesome and to stand so close to the incredibly loud geezers of escaping steam was really cool.
On the way up we bumped into a load of Indonesian school kids who after asking my name called out to me as we walked on ‘Mr Emma, Mr Emma, Good Bye Mr Emma’ It was an afternoon for making new friends and at the top of the volcano we also met a huge group of Indonesian teenagers on a day out who requested a load of photos with us. It was funny to be somewhere so remote and still be in someone’s holiday snaps!
The trail back was at times hard to follow and sometimes we felt like we would never find our way out and there would be a reenactment special on TV showing our last known whereabouts! Yeah I know I have a tendency to exaggerate everything but seriously it was bad … the paper map we had been given was useless, there were no signs whatsoever. The rain started coming down, just to make things a bit more difficult and we responded to the mud by falling over loads! Andy held the record that day at 5 falls! But we are properly lucky people … all those falls and no injuries … nothing but a muddy back and a dented pride! At times we were in such thick forest we couldn’t see much sunlight let alone the way out so it was an adrenalin fueled end to the amazing day. When we finally came out onto a proper tarmaced road we were really relieved.
We bumped into the teenagers again when we eventually reached civilization. They were going to the hot springs and we were going back to the hotel for a well deserved shower. We jumped in a local mini bus to get back to town and just as I stepped in I heard a cry of ‘Ohh!! Hello Mr Emma!’ If it wasn’t some of the kids from earlier! …. Small world.
We spent our last day in Sumatra in Medan. There we walked around for a while looking at rubbish rooms and one point being taken to the 5th floor to be shown a room with a single bed and a mattress on the floor next to it!! Erm …. no thanks! It was a flying visit but we had a walk around the town, saw the large mosque and then collapsed on our hotels comfy sofa and looked up things about Bali on the internet. It was another early night as I set the alarm for 3.45am I thought what an amazing time we’d had in Sumatra!
Oh …. And if you’re wondering about the Thierry Henry thing … well it seems that in Sumatra Mr Farrow-Thomas bears a striking resemblance to the French footballing legend…. I can’t see it myself but the Indonesians were convinced! On more than one occasion we heard shouts of ‘Hey …Thierry Henry!’ It was hilarious.
Next stop Bali …
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