Welcome to the jungle
Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
25Trip End Jun 01, 2011
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Where I stayed
We spent the first week of May split between two areas on Sumatra. The first being on an island on Lake Toba and the second on a jungle trek near Katembe. Getting around Sumatra was not easy, nor pleasant. When people visit Indonesia they go to Bali (as we did the next week) because it caters to tourists with beautiful beaches, surfing, spas, and endless restaurants. Sumatra was none of theses things. The infrastructure is very poor. Hardly anyone speaks English. We spent hours winding around the countryside in 'taxis' that were held to no safety code, nor were the roads we drove on. One day we spent 13 hours on a bumpy, nauseating road without seat belts, hoping our driver was getting the correct directions from the random people we encountered along the way
Despite the primitive conditions, probably because of them, we were able to see unparalleled natural beauty. The landscape was so textured, the ground was constantly moving with hills, rice patties, rainforests and waterfalls.
Sunday we flew from Johannesburg, South Africa to Medan, Indonesia with a brief layover in Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia. After a four hour drive to Parapat and a one hour ferry across Lake Toba we arrived at Tuk-Tuk. Lake Toba is a crater left from a massive volcano that erupted 75,000 years ago. The lake is 60 miles long and 20 miles wide. It's so clear you think you can see the bottom, but it's actually over 1,000 feet deep. The area was quite possibly the most beautiful view I've ever seen. We stayed at Samosir Villa Resort right on the lake. The resort had nice rooms (not air conditioned of course), a pool, and a beautiful seating area by the lake which I watched Ben jump off their version of a diving board into the lake. We rented a motor bike for two days that cost us 80,000 Rupes. There is no such thing as a bike rental for tourists in Tuk-Tuk because their aren't many tourists. Instead, people are eager to rent out their personal motorbike. I couldn't imagine trying to rent out my car for a couple days to help pay it off
Monday we had complementary breakfast at our resort in the morning. Two pieces of toast and motor oil they call coffee. Ironic how much I love Starbuck's Sumatra Roast but the coffee on Sumatra is not palatable. Obviously Sumatra just grows it and Starbucks roasts it. After breakfast we saddled up on our manly moped and drove 4km to Ambartia where there was an alleged hiking path that would take two hours to get to Dolok. People were extremely nice and helpful even though the only word they understood was "Dolok". They pointed us in the direction of the path, but failure greeted us on every turn. After several attempts that all landed us stranded in thick shrubs on a steep cliff we got back on our bike and proceed around the island to Pangururan. Pangururan connects the island to the mainland of Sumatra, so the town was quite lively with many shops. We randomly chose to eat at Ona Resto. The owner was thrilled to have us dine in his restaurant. He cleared the best table for us, showed us the fresh fish in his fridge, helped us order, and took our picture for his Facebook page. We had Asam Manis (spicy sweet & sour fish) and Nasi Ikan Mujahir Goreng (fried fish). They were both delicious! We then headed to the hot springs before leaving town on our 43km drive back to Tuk Tuk
Tuesday we went for a drive on the motorbike again, but this time we went West out of Tuk Tuk. This view was more scenic, but the drive was not as relaxing. The roads were not "sleepy" as Lonely Planet had dubbed them. The rough, hilly roads were jolting, not sleepy. We made occasional stops to hike along the way. The day was full of one breathtaking view after another. Unanimously one of the best parts of the entire trip was driving the moped around Samosir Island. We came back to Tuk-Tuk for a late lunch around 2:30. Ben had a fresh banana milkshake and a pineapple & coconut fried taco, while I had something similar to a grilled cheese sand which with avocado. The food took an hour to make since the cook had to leave and buy the fruit for our order
Wednesday morning we left on a private van to Katembe. The trip was projected to be 6, 10 & 17 hours from various sources. Whether no one really knew or no one knew the number in English it didn't matter. We were just along for the ride. The torturous trip was 9 hours with a few highlights: a goat tied to the top of a van and a man driving a moped with a cigarette in one hand and a baby in the other. By 5:45 we arrived at Friendship Guesthouse. We were truly in the middle of no where, but the middle of know where comes at a great price, $6 a night! Our room was a little shack complete with a bed, dim light and several cockroaches.
Thursday after breakfast we headed out with our guide and cook for our 3 day jungle trek
Friday we slept much better in our tent than we had our shack at Friendship Guesthouse. Our cook deep-fried bananas for our breakfast and paired it with sugar cookies for a delicious, state fair style breakfast. We hiked looking for monkeys, orangutans, and hopeful for tigers for three hours. Much of that time seemed like our guide did not know where we were. He didn't speak much English, but he did say "I don't know" a lot. Not what I want to hear when we are walking around aimlessly in an Indonesian jungle. We saw quite a few monkeys and Hornbill birds
Saturday we hiked for about an hour around our campsite before heading back to Katembe. When we were on the main road heading back to town we saw a mother orangutan wtih her baby. We watched them eat, play and swing through the branches for half an hour. When we got back to the Friendship Guesthouse we decided to go to Kuta Kane to hopefully find accommodations with a shower. Since we were flying out of the Kuta Kane airport in the morning we figured the town must be large enough to have a few others things, like an ATM
Sunday morning we nervously waited for our taxi to the airport. He showed up 15 nerve racking minutes late. Finally at the tiny airport we only had two more problems facing us. First our bags weighed more than the limit and second, we didn't have the 40,000 Rupiah ($4.41) for our deportation tax. No one said anything about our bags weighing 3kg too much. The employees tried to muster enough English to ask us to pay the deportation tax. Our open wallet showing 27,000 Rupiah showed them we didn't have enough money. It was obviously pity the employee had for us as he reached into Ben's wallet and took 20,000R, only half of the fee. The flight to Medan was took the full plane of 4 passengers only 40 minutes. Once in Medan we ran to an ATM! A friendly woman who has a free lance position at the airport helped us find flights to Jakarta, Java and then on to Denpasar, Bali. She also told us about the VIP lounge. For $5 we could sit in air conditioning, use the internet and enjoy an all you can eat buffet. Hands down the best $5 spent on the entire trip. We were in awe of how dire everything had seemed 24 hours ago and now we were carelessly sitting in the lap of luxury. The rest of the days travels went smoothly and we arrived in Denpasar by 9:00.