From Jakarta, we flew to Médan with Mandala Airlines. First, we planned to take a Pelni Ship from Jakarta to Padang (42 hours), on the west coast of Sumatra. On these ships you have choice between 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and economy class. Economy class was out of the question because I really had it with budget travelling for a while, and economy class is the budget of the budget class. But other classes were sold out. So, we took a first class option and flew in 2 hours to Médan
Arriving here was like entering a sauna, but not different from Jakarta. Hot and steamy. The city is dusty and crowded with cars, but not too bad. We stayed in a mid class hotel in the centre of the city (airport is very close to the city as well) and booked a mini bus to Lake Toba for the next morning. This trip took about 4 hours, and after waiting in the harbour of Parapat for 1,5 hour, we were brought to Samosir island by ferry (half an hour). All in one, it took us a day to get there. Samosir island is really very scenic. Tourism has come up in the past years though, and I was
glad we stayed here during low season. There are different villages on the island, and the most famous and most visited for sure is Tuk Tuk. On the lake side, there are many many lovely hotels, some with the typical Batak roofs. All are very cheap and good value. We stayed in Samosir Cottages in Tuk Tuk, and had a lovely room with a beautiful view on the lake, and even HOT water
We experienced that one should not visit Samosir with the expectation to come across a lot of cultural heritage. The only interesting thing here is the Batak culture, but is very much exploited to please tourists. Also, it was very hard to find real Indonesian food in Tuk Tuk. Almost all meals are European and American style, with pizzas (good though!), hamburgers, tacos etc. We were really disappointed by this, because we came to Indonesia to experience Indonesian things!
But THE attraction of Samosir island is the stunning beauty of the area. It is pittoresque, green, hilly, quiet, there are waterfalls, beautiful bays and everywhere you look you will have a fantastic view!
We hired mountain bikes in the villages and took off for Ambarita (to the north) and to Tomok (to the south).
Batak House, Lake Toba (Samosir Island)
That was great, although very tiring, due to the many hills (close to the shore the hills are minor though). If you
know how to drive a motor bike, it is probably a better idea to hire one of those, because you can visit a much wider area of course (we never made it to the hot springs on the west coast), and it is less tiring.
This is an attraction in Ambarita, where you can hire a guide, who will show you the inside of the houses and tell you all about the Batak history, complete with cruel stories of murders.
Médan, the Mesjid Raya Mosque
After 6 days of complete relaxation on Lake Toba, we headed for Bukit Lawang, the Orang Utan town. To get there we had to take a mini bus to Médan first, and from there a bus to Bukit Lawang. The trip again goes through beautiful scenery, and takes about 7 hours. In Médan we visited this mosque, the Mesjid Raya. A guide offered a free (rare….) tour through it, but I had to pay a small fee to some children who watched my shoes at the entrance: SHOE PARKING! I couldn´t help laughing!
Bukit Lawang, Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. The Feeding platform
When we arrived in Bukit Lawang, after a long journey complete with flat tires, we were attacked by at least 30 men, who pulled us in all directions to bring us to hotels, sell us tours etc. This is no exaggeration, and I was more than annoyed, yelled to leave us alone and even more, not to touch me, but that didn´t help. They asked us where we wanted to stay, and when we mentioned the name of the hotel, they pointed in 10 different directions how to get there. Finally I asked a man in a shop where we had to go, and he pointed us in the good direction, thank god. Welcome in Bukit Lawang. We had a nice banana-pineapple-cocos
Jungle Trekking around Bukit Lawang. First we see some ´wild´ Orang Utans
pancake for dinner, and when we got back to our appartment we had to be careful not to step on the hundreds of huge frogs which
showed up every evening after sunset. Ugh! There are not many animals I hate, but frogs are definitely among them.
Next morning we went to the headquarters of The Orang Utan Rehabilitation centre, to buy a permit to visit the place. In the afternoon we went up to the feeding platform (about 45 minutes of walking from the centre of town) and saw the Orang Utans coming towards it, to get there twice daily meal of bananas. The aim of the centre is to learn the animals
which were born in prisonship, to live in the jungle again. Slowly slowly they are tought how to survive and in the end, they are put back in the forest. Being there, they get the opportunity to be feeded twice a day, but only bananas, so the are stimulated to find other types of fruits on their own. Once they are enough adapted, they don´t come back anymore, but live a ´free´ life. They will never be really wild again though, because they are too much used to people. So, when tourists make a jungle tour in these forests with a guide, like we did (see photo), there are some guides, who feed them bananas and other fruits
After 8 hours of very steep hiking, we arrive at our camp site, completely exhausted
to please their tourists. But this is really stupid, because this way they ruin the hard
work of the Rehabilitation programma. The animals have to learn to survive on their own, and by the way, human contact can contaminate them with some diseases where they have no resistence against. So asked around first, before you decide which guide you will take on your tour.
We definitely made the wrong choice concerning guides. They knew really nothing about the flora and fauna while there were so many beautiful things to see. The 2 day tour (which was really overpriced too) was very very hard, too rough for normal people like us. It was more like trekking than it was animal spotting; be aware before you go! We thought we would get a heart attack while climbing like Jane and Tarzan for 7 hours! The hills were too high, it was hot, you cannot carry enough water for 2 days,n there were many leeches, mosquitoes etc
And the walking speed was too high. All the time they were saying we couldn´t slow down because we had to cross the river before dark and before the rain showers! Yes please! Finally we reached the camp site, crossed the river by tubes (nice!) and spent a real adventurous night in the jungle, with spiders, snakes, mice, ants etc. in and around our ´hut´,which was not more than a smal roof. Next morning, we all experienced muscle pain like we never did before, probably from the rough trekking we did, but not to forget from the more than thin mats we slept on. After breakfast, we headed back to the village, but even for all the money in the world, I would not have gone back by foot! We went back rafting down the rivir, and this great experience made us forget all about the previous day. Our only concern were the survival of our cameras…..