Tuesday, September 1, 2009


They say Thailand is the 'Land of Smiles' but they are way wrong, Sumatran's are the ones permanent smile on their face.

After some serious back and forth contemplation on whether or not I wanted to brave the chaos of traveling in one of the more remote regions of Indonesia, I finally booked a flight into Medan and hopped on the the 'chicken bus' to Danu (Lake) Toba, an enormous crater lake known to be worlds largest volcanic crater. To a geologist, this is pretty freaking sweet. Yes, I'm a nerd.

Lake Toba was incredible. It's massive. In the middle of the lake there is huge island (bigger than the island of Singapore) where I spent just short of a week lounging and swimming, riding motorcycles, chatting with the locals and playing soccer with the kids. The main town, Tuk Tuk, use to be a pretty big party scene back in the mid-nineties but that has long since died off, now it's a quiet place with dozens of empty lakeside resorts, the perfect place for a backpacker on a budget! It did however come across a little disheartening to see so many locals who had established souvenir shops along the strip and are now making almost no money. But everyone of them still had a smile on their face, and were happy to see that there are still some people out there that haven't forgotten about them. It was definitely a nice change of pace to not be constantly called into shops, the only thing I would ever hear them ask me is if I wanted 'magic mushrooms' (they're legal here).

The weather wasn't exactly stellar though, it was suppose to be the dry season but the LP did say it was 'always a little rainy in Sumatra' and at 1000 meters elevation it got pretty chilly at night. I definitely missed having pants, a sweater and a rain jacket in my bag! But it wasn't all bad, I did get out on the bike several times to explore the island, managed to embarrass myself with all my knowledge of the volcanic hot springs and mud pools around and bought some pretty cool Batak souvenirs.

So after some extreme chilling, I hopped back on the chicken bus to Medan and jumped on a cheap flight up to the very northern tip of Sumatra, Banda Aceh, and eventually onto a small island called Pulau Weh. This was my first time in a region that was 100% Muslim. Although there are many Muslim's in Malaysia, there is also a huge Chinese and Indian population as well so it was interesting to see every woman wearing a head scarf and hearing the call to prayer numerous times throughout the day. The mosque's are so beautiful there. Ohh and I almost forgot... It's Ramadan right now. In Lake Toba the general population was Christian so this didn't affect me much, but in Aceh this meant that food is only served in the evenings due to the daily fasting that goes on during this religious holiday.

Pulau Weh was nice, but the rain was relentless. I went on two dives, saw a few sharks and something massive, possibly a whale shark but it was far away and hard to say for sure. The current was unbelievably strong which made the dive a little scary, especially when I saw the dive masters were concerned about it. I also never realized how freaking cold it is in 23C water but it's damn chilly down there after about an hour. All of my dives up to this point had been well over 28 degrees but at 23 I was shivering. I can't imagine how people dive in Canada. I would have liked to do more diving but the ride to and from the sites in pouring rain just wasn't pleasant. I didn't expect to be shivering in the tropics! One stellar experience I did have though was snorkeling with dozens of sea turtles. Many of them lived right off shore so you could swim down and give them a high five. Such beautiful creatures, this really made my time there worth it.

So after four days on Pulau Weh (the sun did show itself for a few hours the morning I left) I went back to Banda Aceh and flew back to Penang, Malaysia. Overall my time in Sumatra was great and although the weather limited my beach time, I would still highly recommend visiting and would definitely go back again, especially to climb some of the volcanoes and chill with the wild orangutangs.

It's funny now thinking about how concerned I was before going about traveling alone there. I read that road travel was intense (it's scary as hell) and the cities were very chaotic (that's an understatement!) but I have to thank a Spanish guy I met in Penang for reminding me that I had traveled India. And it's true, nothing compares to India. Everyone I meet that has traveled the world always says India is the hardest and really is. But that's why I loved it, that's why everyone loves it. I miss that country so much. If I could do my trip over again I would have done SE Asia first because everywhere I go I keep comparing it back to my time in India and it never measures up. Now I know why so many backpackers I met there were on their third or fourth trip around the country. India really is the traveling epic.

I leave for the Perhentian Islands on the NE coast of Malaysia tomorrow morning. Two weeks on the beach and then home.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment, no need to sign in but leave your name so I know who you are!