Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Sumatra Adventure

Sumatra. That mysterious place that called my name since long before our Indonesia Adventure began. Sumatra. Sarah and I made it one of our main goals for this year. And now, mission accomplished. Been there, done that. Well, at least a little.

Sumatra is the fifth largest island in the world. And it might have the worst transportation of all the islands. I don't know, I didn't see any statistics about that. But, whoa. So to say that we've seen Sumatra is a bit of an understatement.

There were many, many places we could have gone to in Sumatra. We had two whole weeks. We saved up our vacation time for the year and took two-thirds of it for this trip. We could have gone to other places. But, as already mentioned, the transportation sucks. I mean, it's bad. Like scary bad. So we split our trip between two places: Bukit Lawang and Danau Toba. They were very different places, both with their own charm.

Bukit Lawang is a small, touristy town situated right on a flowing river, surrounded by thick, lush jungle. The major draw of Bukit Lawang is the orangutans. It's one of the few places in the world where they still exist. But even apart from them (and all the other monkeys we saw), it's just a beautiful place that's nothing, nothing like Surabaya. Absolutely nothing! It was a welcome change.

Danau Toba (remember what danau means, readers?) was a bit different. It's a huge volcanic lake, surrounded by mountains, with a big island in the middle. The island is about the size of Singapore. And there's a small peninsula off the island where most of the tourists stay. It was a nice, relaxing place to spend a week.

Well, I don't want to spend too much time talking. I'm quite late getting this post out, naturally, so I'll get right to the pictures. We have, in fact, had our hands quite full with some other really big events. I don't want to give it away yet, you'll have to keep reading. (That's called a teaser.)

We'll start with some shots of Medan. We live in Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia. Medan is the third. But the becaks there are different. In Surabaya, the passengers ride in front and they're all bicycle-powered. In Medan, the passengers ride on the side of a motorcyle, like a flimsy side-car.

 We got out of there as quickly as possible, and took a miserable three-hour bus ride, with people sitting on our laps to Bukit Lawang.


It's hard to appreciate just how awing the jungle was. You stand next to this flowing river and look at a wall of trees and bushes, crawling with all sorts of primates, strange birds, and other creepy crawlies.

I can't go anywhere without my travel hammock.
 And speaking of primates, we got way too familiar with several different species of primates. Several times a day we had to shoo the damn monkeys off the porch. They got kind of scary. They started hissing at us and baring their teeth at us. We must have looked ridiculous, jumping up and down shouting at these tiny monkeys. But dang, they were annoying. They stole Sarah's journal and ripped the cover off our travel guide. The nerve of those little proto-humans!

They were everywhere!
They're still pretty damn cute, though.

On the prowl.
Sarah's pointing at the long-tailed macaque. See it?
 The major draw, as I mentioned, of Bukit Lawang is the orangutans. It's one of the last places in the world they exist sadly. We went on a day hike into the jungle, and luckily got to see a few up close. We finished up the day with a rafting trip down the river, which I unfortunately don't have any pics of. But at least I got some orangutans!
Staring us down.

Mother and baby.

They were so cool!

She was yawning, not screaming at us.

Pretty jungle shot.

Here's a strange looking primate in checkered pants.
From our porch, we could sit in the hammocks and watch the jungle. In the mornings especially, we'd see orangutans, white-handed gibbons, long-tail macaques, pig-tail macaques, and saw one or two Thomas leaf monkeys also. As I mentioned, the macaques became quite a nuisance, stealing our stuff and challenging us for the porch. In addition to the monkeys, we had rats in the room stealing our stuff at night (they stole my toothbrush!), and we even had a snake one day. Welcome to the jungle!

Those jerks.
They're looking at the rooms and the restaurants below for possible food.

That's a pig-tail macaque. It made the strangest moaning sounds.

Looking strangely human.
And bingo! Got a watermelon.
 And let's have a few more shots of Bukit Lawang before we move on.

Reading became an unhealthy obsession.
 We spent almost a week at Bukit Lawang before the hellacious trip to Danau Toba. But we made it. And it was worth the trip. As is our nature, we stayed at a few different places during the second week. So we got a few different views of the lake. One day we rented bikes and rode around the island. It was a beautiful trip. Toba is home to the Batak culture. I wish I could tell you all about their history and culture. But I can't. So I won't try. I'd just get it all wrong. If you're interested, just click here. But you can feel the difference. And the difference in architecture is apparent. The batak houses are very unique and beautiful.

It rained everyday.

The rain made for some dramatic views.
That's a small gazebo version of a Batak house.
 Here are some shots from our bike trip. One thing we went to see, which we had a read about, was a small lake up in the hills. A lake on an island in a lake on a bigger island in the ocean! Whoa. Unfortunately, lake was an overstatement. We were disappointed to say the least by the mud pond. I wish I had take photos of it just to show how sad it was.

Batak house
Bet you can't tell, but that's Sarah.

A little Batak village on Samosir Island.
These were everywhere. We called them water buffalo.

 Well, it was a good two weeks. But of course we had to return to that horrible, awful, polluted wonderful city we call home, Surabaya. The Sumatra adventure wasn't too adventurous, in fact. Mostly we just sat on our butts, relaxed, and read. And now the news you're all waiting for...

We're coming home. For good. As recently as last month, we were planning on staying here for a second year. But one of our goals has been to get a Master's in Linguistics. We looked around and decided that the program at GSU looks really good. And in order to make it affordable, we'll live in Atlanta for a year first. Luckily, my family lives there so they can make sure we don't die while we search for jobs in the US. Now that is a true adventure!

It will be sad to leave, but we are ready. I miss so many things from back home, but I know that once I leave I'll miss lots of things from Indonesia as well. At the top of the list, by far, is the the kittens. OK, I guess they're not really kittens anymore, but I still love them. They have made this year so wonderful and I will miss them. But I'm very happy that we found them a good home. A friend of a coworker named Indah is very excited about taking them. She came over and met the furry ones, and she passed the test. Kitten-approved. Just look at them!

They're in the suitcase, ready to go!

So now it stands we have just over two weeks left in this country. Wow. Looking back, this year has flown by. We have done and seen quite a bit, but Indonesia's a huge country. We could spend ten years here and not see all the places we want to. We have one more short trip this weekend, back to the Gilis. Just a couple days in paradise. Oh, it's so sad to leave these beautiful beaches behind. That's life, I guess.

As our Indo-adventure starts to draw to close, so does my blog. I want to thank everyone for reading and all the comments. It means a lot to know that people are keeping up with us. I plan on doing one or two more posts before I call it quits for good. So....stay tuned!