Sunday, April 8, 2001

Indonesia - Somewhere in Sumatra’s Mountains

Gunung Kerinci
A new episode in our Travels started middle of March.

After a Farewell Party in my favorite Irish Pub in Japan, coincidentally on St. Patrick's day (with enough Guinness to last till next year) we finally took off to SINGAPORE on our way to SUMATRA. I am very impressed by SINGAPORE! This City/Country is an oasis in Asia: Modern, colorful, clean, no noise, no disgusting odors, very green... and the best part is that the dozens of nationalities are united in one city and the English language joins them together.

After one week of multi-cultural experiences and 4 pounds more on the scale, it seemed hard to leave again for travels through the third world. Bye bye cleanliness, organized public transport and air-con...

Fortunately, the ferry from SINGAPORE to INDONESIA took only 45 minutes, so we didn't really have a chance to dream any more about the "High tea buffet" at the Marriott, the excellent fruit juices of the "Hawker stores" and other goodies that we had just left behind.

"Welcome to INDONESIA" was printed on a rather shabby looking sign at the port of PULAU BATAM, a small island south of S'pore. Apart from 5 Star resort hotels with golf courses and jetty, there isn't much that BATAM has to offer for Backpackers. That's why we left with the next available ferry to the big island of SUMATRA. While sitting in the high-speed ferry towards JAMBI, we were reading in the paper that the Pirate attacks in the Malacca straits were strongly increasing these days... Wait a minute! This is the Malacca straits! Well then, "Bon Voyage" and good luck.

A little tired, but at least not robbed by Pirates, we finally arived in the 'real' INDONESIA... our first thought was to turn arround and go back to Singapore, there were sooo many touts at the pier that we got wary of what was to come in the next weeks in Indonesia. Fortunately the touts cleared fast and once in JAMBI, we were pretty much not hassled by touts anymore.

Typical long distance bus in Sumatra
We left JAMBI, Sumatra’s third largest city, a few days later. In a bus that was only fitted with children's seats heading for BENGKULU. (This had to be seats for kids, no grown up cut possibly fit in one of these seats measuring 15” in width).

10 hours later, 10cm shorter and 10 bruises richer we 'escaped' the bus at a small hill-station called CURUP. Our destination BENGKULU was still 3 hours further, but we just couldn’t handle the squeezing any longer!!!
As soon as we stepped out of the Bus, it started to rain and eventually, as the icing on the cake: a power failure! There we were, standing in the darkness with no idea where the hotels from our guidebook would be; actually not even sure if we were in really CURUP, in the outskirts or if the Bus driver has played a joke on us. A few minutes later we were approached by a young couple that offered their umbrellas and guided us to the nearest Hotel, fortunately an easy 3 minutes walk away.
Hot springs near Curup

The next day, we were overwhelmed by the helpfulness of the locals. We would often be offered a ride in their cars or on their motorbikes. Sometimes we were invited to come to their house. As skeptical as we had gotten in India, we always made up excuses. Looking back, I think that these were honest invitations, not linked to some ulterior motive.

A couple days later, after exploring the town and the hot springs, we recovered enough to take on the remaining 3 hours ride down to the coast and BENGKULU. This time in an even more cramped minibus.
We actually survived that trip very well. But the 35° temperatures and a high humidity at our destination was well beyond the comfortable limit, almost knocked us out of our sandals.
The real adventurer does not surrender because of this little heat, so we shouldered our backpacks and left to explore the foreign grounds for a roof over or heads. We were rewarded with the  small but wonderful Ragil Kuning homestay, surrounded by a nice water garden. And for once, I also actually enjoyed the benefits of a cold shower (warm water is a luxury only available in expensive hotels).
After some days of acclimatizing and lots of cold showers, I actually managed to start feeling comfortable and survive on drinking "only" 4 liters of water a day!

Pulau Tikus
Apart from just sweating and some limited walking, we hired a fisherman and his boat to bring us out to PULAU TIKUS (rat island) for the day.
There were no rats visible on this small island, but we were there for the fish anyway... When we started snorkeling we were as pale as the sand on the beach, but when we stopped, the crabs were envious of our bright red legs!

Since our legs looked like red lobsters served on a white plate, we were forced to stay in the shade and having to sleep on our belly for the next couple of days. That cold water Mandi was once more highly appreciated.
I know what you are thinking now... But sunscreen and T-shirt seemed good enough protection,  I guess next time I'll also wear Jeans for snorkeling.

Cramped buses in Sumatra were not new to us, but even further space conservation was beyond our imagination. The journey to IPUH would teach us a lesson: How to squeeze 5 to 6 adults onto a row of 4 "kids" seats! The bus was also loaded with people on the roof and with another bunch hanging on the doors! Fortunately Julane and I could escape this hell of a bus ride after 5 hours! (the bus continued for another 10h up north). In small coastal village of IPUH people were staring at us as if we were Martians. We had encountered before, that not so many Bulang Orang (Moon people,  the local name for Caucasians) must be coming to Sumatra. We had only seen 5 other "Moonies" in the past 2 weeks.
In some places we must have been the only foreigners in months (or even years?) People treated us like celebrities. From every corner and window we could hear "hello mister!". The few locals that knew some bits and pieces of English, came up to us to talk. Sometimes this seemed to be a bit of a show off as well. Who else has the courage to go up to aliens or moon people and talk to them?

From IPUH we continued to the KERINCHI National Park, actually to the town SUNGAI PENUH. Of course it was another "kids bus", but fortunately not completely full. Apart from bruised knees that constantly banged into the front bench I had not suffered any other injuries after this 10-hour torture.
Our homestay in Kersik Tuo
There isn't much to report about SUNGAI PENUH. Except for the already mentioned  friendliness and helpfulness of the Indonesians. One day, as we walked around Lake Kerinchi, we returned to the next bigger village a bit late and missed the last bus back to SUNGAI PENUH... Well then we would have to walk the 15Km (9 miles) back to the hotel, we thought... not even after a minutes walk, we were offered a ride by a local (we didn't even hold our thumbs up!)

The next destination on our Itinerary is the tiny village of KERSIK TUO, situated in a gigantic tea plantation and on the foot of Mt. KERINCHI. So here we are now in Sumatra’s mountains, surrounded by volcanoes, some of which are still active.

Gunung Kerinici (we never had this good weather)
I am sitting on the patio of our little home-stay writing this update. Every now and then I'm looking up to him, the proud  smoking "Gunung Kerinchi" with its almost perfect conical shape. There is enough reason to be proud: 3805m (12480 feet) it makes it not only the tallest active volcano in Sumatra, but also the largest peak of whole island. Shall we try to climb it or not? The temptation is big, but I have not forgotten the muscle ache after climbing the last volcano (Fuji in Japan)....  hmm! Let's first only climb up to DANAU GUNUNG TUJUH (seven mountain lake) this one is only at 2000m (6560 feet) and also a record holder (highest volcanic lake in south east Asia). And as the name suggests it’s surrounded by seven mountains, or actually volcanoes.

... more later ...
 NOTE: we left our camera in Singapore, 
all  Sumatra pictures are from the Web