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Posts Tagged ‘Indonesia’

A Short Time in Sumatra

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

Upon my arrival in Medan, the capital city of the island of Sumatra, I was immediately reminded of India, and not the India I love.  Being the country’s 4th largest city, it is crowded, busy, loud, dirty, and feels foreign, unlike so In Medanmuch of SE Asia.  I arrived at my homestay, which was the only budget accommodation I could find listed online, and realized that I was also back in a country which was like India in that even the places which are trying to offer a very high level of hospitality are just slightly missing the mark.  I was grateful that I had to spend only one night in this city before heading to the jungle.

With the help of a man at the homestay, I was able to book transport from Medan to Ketambe, a village of 100 people in the middle of Gruner Leuser National Park, one of the largest swatches of jungle still in existence in Indonesia.  Like so many other parcels of jungle in Asia, there are areas which are being converted to oil palm plantations, all in the name of money.  Tarzan SwingHopefully, the government will realized what they are doing before the orangutans, gibbons, and monkeys have no trees they can climb, no food to forage, no habitat in which they can exist.   But back to the transport.  Thankfully, I was able to get the last seat in an SUV transporting myself and 4 others up into the jungle.  This guaranteed the arrival at my guesthouse after an 8 hour trip, rather than getting stuck in the town of Kutacane.  Being in an SUV was better than being on a minibus, but still very difficult.  First, I was the only English speaker with several Indonesians; second, Indonesian men smoke like it is in style and without regard for others; and third, the driver made a pass at me, which thankfully he understood my response when I said “No!  I don’t know what you’re thinking, but NO WAY!”  I was concerned because I was making the last 80 minutes of the trip by myself, yet when we reached the town of Kutacane, a new driver took over.  Thank God, because I was feeling really uncomfortable about it.  After my arrival in the big city of Medan, and then this, I was asking myself “Why did I come hTrekking to campere? Why?”  Fortunately, my concerns were alleviated upon reaching my final destination.

I ended up spending 5 full days in Ketambe, 3 of which were on a trek in the jungle.  I had found my guide through Friendship Guesthouse, and apparently, without my knowing it, my guide is famous.  His name is John, and he was named after JFK.  He has been a guide in the jungle for 18 years, and he knows the area like the back of his hand.  There are thousands of trails in the jungle, and he can take any of them and end up at his planned destination.  The two of us hiked 2 hours into the jungle, our packs containing one change of clothes to sleep in, one swimsuit to bathe in, one towel, a sleep mat, tent, and food and cooking supplies, that’s it.  For those of you already thinking it, yes, my clothes stank unlike anytime yet on my trip; 3 full days of hiking through the sultry jungle, I was ripe.

This jungle is thick, green, wet (technically rainforest), and alive.  So, on a short trek like I did, the main thing people hope to see is orangutans; on longer treks deeper into the forest, people hope to also see rhinos, elephants, snakes, and In a Fallen Treemaybe a big cat at a long distance.  It is a beautiful experience to see orangutan in the wild, and I was lucky to see eight of them; 3 young males, 2 females with babies, and one old female.  They are amazing creatures, whom love to have fun swaying from tree to tree, hanging upside down, and just enjoying life.  They are much more like humans than any other monkey or ape.  First, all four of their hands are just that, hands.  They can hang any which way they feel comfortable because of it.  They don’t like being watched, and let you know with a squeaky sucking sound; and in the case of the old female, they may even break a limb to cast down at you when you are not listening to them.  And apparently they mate like humans; several different positions, tenderly, for an hour or so.  The other primates here mate like all other mammals, quickly from behind.  We followed one of the young males for an hour in hopes that he was looking for a partner, but after so much time, John decided that he probably wasn’t, so we left him alone.  In addition to the orangutan, we saw one white-handed gibbon (a small ape), severaYoung Male Orangutanl long-tailed macaques and Thomas’ leaf monkeys (aka the funky monkey because of the Mohawk they sport), many giant squirrels, seven-group hornbill, king hornbill, and a pair of rajah scops (I think) owls.  The owls were the big score, very rare to see, especially when the sun is still shining.  They are amazing to see in real life with their huge wise eyes and sharp beaks.  We did one night trek in which we were hoping to see a flying squirrel or a slow loris, or the rare sun bear, but we didn’t see anything besides some lightening bugs, glowing insects, and moths.   Still, it was way cool.  Pitch black with the flashlights out.

Our meals were very similar throughout the day.  Either fried rice or fried noodles with a similar mix of veggies; base of onion, garlic, chilies, and green beans; add tomato, potato, carrot, or ginger for variety; and every meal was served with an egg.  Indonesians love their eggs and eat one pretty much every meal.  I know eggs contain the good cholesterol, but between them and the Snake Fruitsmoking, there have got to be some health problems in Sumatra.  For a treat we’d have biscuits with tea (those are cookies for the American English speakers) or snake fruit, a tasty firm fruit with a sweet and sour flavor, named so because their skin is like snake skin.  Bathing was done in the river, which was incredibly refreshing after a day of trekking, not cold but cool enough to bring the body temp down.  And sleeping was generally peaceful with a lullaby of the river and cicadas.  We had some rain every day, usually around lunch, so the timing was perfect for a rest.  The trek was one of my most memorable experiences.

From Ketambe, I traveled all day by car, plane, bus, and ferry to the northern island of Pulau Weh, in the state of Banda Aceh.  This state has an interesting recent history as they were in the midst of a civil war when the tsunami hit December 26, 2004, which resulted in much destruction and devastation, and the end of the war.  Now open to tourists, Banda Aceh is also becoming more Gapang Beachaccommodating.  I stayed at a top notch dive resort right on Gapang Beach.  The bungalow I stayed in may have been my nicest accommodation all trip (aside from Los Angeles), and cost me so, too, but I had no way to know that the first come first served budget accommodation would all be full for the Christmas holiday in a Muslim country.  It’s okay though, it was a treat to myself and I just dove less.  I justified this with the fact that my next destination is the Philippines, specifically for diving.  Here I tried Aceh curry which was so different from any other curry I’ve ever had, made with roasted coconut, a recipe I will have to try to find and duplicate.

The diving in Pulau Weh is well known among those who dive in this part of the world.  It was beautiful, obviously different than home, but also so different then Thailand.  The first dive I did was called PP, or Pantee Peunateung, with beautiful coral structure and huge sea fans.   This site is known for big stuff, like sharks, which I did not see.  I saw my first Napoleon wrasse, and there were lots of big fish, trevally and tuna, and schools of chevron barracuda.  The second dive was Batee Tokong and this site is famous for eels, lots and lots of eels of the moray and ribbon variety.  I saw dozens, including some of the biggest morays I’ve ever seen, and others with interesting colorful markings.  Some of the coral here was like flying over hilly terrain; it was unlike anything I’d seen before.  There are lots of fish species here, too, including the elusive frog fish, which I did see.  Other fish include beautiful tropicals, lots of angels and butterfly fish, lion fish and scorpion fish, shrimp and nudibranches, octopus and trigger fish, and unicorn fish.  This all got me very excited for the diving I have to come.

After my third day it was time to take the ferry back to Banda Aceh for my flight.  I had caught a tuk tuk from the ferry to my hotel for the night, and the same driver was taking me to the airport the following morning. Here in Indonesia, the tuk tuk is basically a motor bike with a sidecar.  I swear I wasn’t sure we were going to make it.  About five minutes from the hotel the On way to Banda Acehmotorbike just stopped.  There was something wrong with the connection to the gas can, so after he was trying to get the motor going for several minutes, another driver came along and gave us a push, which got us going.  Then, about 10 minutes from the airport, it’s a 30 minutes trip, one of the tires on the sidecar pops.  So, I get onto the motor bike with him for the rest of the trip, but I was really wondering what else could go wrong.  It was rather comedic.

At the airport I had my first really good cup of Sumatran coffee, before heading out to Kuala Lumpur for one night before heading to the Philippines.  It doesn’t beat out Vietnamese coffee for me, but the coffee from Banda Aceh sure is good, too.  For pictures of Sumatra, click here.

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