Archives for posts with tag: Sumatra

Baiturrahman Grand Mosque (Indonesian: Mesjid Raya Baiturrahman) is a large mosque located in the centre of the city of Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia. It is of great symbolic significance to the Acehnese people as a symbol of Acehnese religion and culture, especially since it survived the devastating 2004 tsunami intact. – Wikipedia.

So I thought I had done everything I could to look respectful, I was wearing long baggy pants, had zipped my hoodie all the way up to my chin and covered all my hair with a scarf. I even asked a woman before I went inside if I looked ok, she said yes so I went for it. But still, within moments of settling myself inconspicuously in the very back I was approached by a man who brusquely asked me, “Are you Muslim?” At first I thought he was asking me where I was from, as that’s one of the things I am asked most often and his accent was undeniably think, but no he repeated it, “Are you a Muslim?” Well, I’m not about to lie, plus I would be found out pretty quickly if questioned about the theology so I said “No.” He said (still barely polite) “You must leave!” Ok, I’m not going to argue with that, though I would certainly like to. In all the churches, mosques, temples etc I have been into I have never been asked to leave. In fact in my very first mosque I was welcomed with open arms. I was, quite frankly, embarrassed for myself, but also for him. How unfortunate that he couldn’t find it in himself to be welcoming, to educate, to encourage acceptance, to be tolerant.

Fortunately, I’m a little sneaky when it comes to photos so I had managed to grab a few before getting the boot. 🙂




July 6 – July 21.

Yes, this is a big gap but much of it was somewhat wasted time as I got sick so there wasn’t much to write about, nor to take pictures of, however I will try to fill you in (briefly) about what I got up to.

From Lake Toba I took a 20 hour overnight bus ride (torturous) to Bukit Lawang. While I was there I visited a very dark cave full of bats, I couldn’t photograph that because it hurts their eyes if you use a flash so I took this instead.

I got a quick look at a shy and very fast moving Gibbon family…

Also I got to hang out with these guys, watch them eat bananas, throw them up, then eat it, and then do it again, and again, and again…banana milkshake.

From Bukit I went up to Medan, I was feeling pretty crappy at this point, a cold, a really bad one, so I treated myself to a stay at the freaking amazing Marriott Hotel, a Deluxe Executive room no less. On the 27th floor, with a view over the tin roofs of the city. I laid in the bathtub watching the sunset over the city through a floor to ceiling window and then I watched tv, all from the tub. I think I was in there about 3 hours, I left quite a filthy ring in that tub. I also neglected to photograph the magnificence to share with you, I blame my sick brain.

I flew the next morning (still sick) to Banda Aceh, I’d planned to spend 9 days on Pualu Weh, snorkeling and enjoying beach time. However that flight caused my ears to do terrible things and one of them never unplugged, thus I found myself with my very first ear infection ever, and also far away from an English speaking doctor and decent drugs. I made do with what he had on hand but after my second visit and not much improvement he suggested I see a doctor once I got to Singapore ( a flight I had already booked). So that was my plan. However I did get to explore the island by moto a bit, I saw a lovely waterfall and swam in it (head above water of course)…

A very smelly volcano…

Found this lovely old abandoned mosque…

And watched a beautiful sunset from Kilometer Zero…

I also met this guy, we became inseparable (at least while I was eating feeding him)…

I spent a day hanging out in Banda Aceh waiting to take my flight to Singapore. I visited the Tsunami Museum, a very cool building, though unfortunately not that interesting as a museum…

Saw some sights…

And I had a weird experience at a famous mosque, but you’ll have to read about that here instead.

I got that flight to Singapore and went immediately to a doctor. More drugs, a couple visits to an ear, nose and throat specialist and 10 days (and $350 Canadian dollars) later I was deemed well enough to fly onwards into Java.

While I was killing time in Singapore I took lots of pictures and started my serious first efforts at street photography, or candid people shots, what ever you want to call them it was a great way to spend my days while healing and I now have yet another thing that I look for when out walking with my camera!

Whew, almost all caught up now.

June 30- July  5

On the 30th I head back into Bukittinggi by local bus, a crowded affair and smoky with the heavy scent of the clove cigarettes that are smoked here. I hang out at Bedudal café for the day waiting for the bus that will take me overnight to Lake Toba. I get on the bus at 5pm (when it is supposed to leave) and we promptly head out around 5:40. It’s not a comfy journey, terrible seats, bumpy roads and a seatmate that likes to dig her knees into my back. We stop twice in 20 hours, once at a place with the most nasty, putrid bathrooms and appallingly shriveled and old food (why are these types of places the ones that are chosen by bus companies?) and once at a mosque, in the middle of nowhere, with another appalling bathroom, for sunrise prayer.

I arrive in Prapat early in the morning and take a share taxi to the port to get a boat over to Tuk Tuk, the tourist enclave of Samosir Island. The boat takes about half an hour and drops me almost right in front of the guesthouse I’m headed to (you can request your stop). I’m staying at Bagus Bay, recommended to me by someone I met in Bukittinggi. It’s turns out to be a good choice, I get a traditional Batak house all to myself, and it’s huge, I could live in the bathroom. Pretty chuffed.  Also the folks that work there are super friendly and helpful and I settle in quite quickly and end up comfortably doing nothing at all for a few days. I make some plans, booking flights from Medan to Banda Aceh and the return and also from Medan to Singapore. This isn’t easy as Lion Air’s website doesn’t want to accept my credit card and I spend 2 days just working out that mess, but finally succeed and have tickets in hand. Also staying at Bagus is a woman I met briefly when I stayed in Cherating. Her name is Eve and I enjoy hanging out with her and chatting. She’s been traveling for over a year now and it’s good to get her perspective on some of the places she’s been as a solo woman traveler, especially India as it’s likely I’ll be doing that on my own in 2013.

I take one day on a motorbike and drive around the island of Samosir. Tuk Tuk is a small peninsula that is basically dedicated to tourism and is attached to Samosir, an island the size of Singapore and a good 6 -7 hour drive to circumnavigate. Samosir is an authentic slice of Sumatra, a place with people living lives that have nothing to do with tourism, and I get to drive through and observe for a day. I’m riding with 3 German guys I have met and we cruise at a meandering pace stopping and taking photos quite often. There are a plentiful number of photographic opportunities, from amazing landscape shots to cute kids, pigs, water buffalo, Batak houses and the accompanying spirit houses for the dead.


June 28-30

I decide to go spend 2 nights at Lake Maninjau, it’s not too far from Bukittinggi and I get lucky and score a ride from a guy I meet at Bedudal café who happens to own a guesthouse on the lake. He takes me and my pack for the hour and a half ride which culminates with a series of 44 hairpin curves to finally reach the lake. I get settled in then go for a little wander around the very small town. It’s not really a town even, more just a slightly bigger version of the road that goes all the way around the lake.

I take a motorbike the next day to circumnavigate the lake. It’s simple to drive and I get to say hello to a lot of people. I cruise through rice paddies and past water buffalo and plenty of mosques, through little tiny villages and past lovely lake views. 

June 26 to 28, 2012.

I decide to spend a day just wandering around the town.. There are horse drawn carriages, not especially for tourists even, the locals use them a lot.

I spy these beautiful classic Indonesian puppets

And a very packed “family” bus.

Bukittinggi s a hilly little place, with streets that don’t make any sense, curving this way and that, no logic to speak of. I tell you the city planners at home spoiled us for SE Asia, there is no grid here. I check out the local market, full of fruits and veg, meats and various weird smells (durian, fresh and old meats, spices, rotting vegetable matter, flowers, and urine, ah yes, the smell of SE Asia). This gentleman asks me if I will take his picture, I happily comply.

I’m fascinated by the traditional Batak buildings, they have large steeply-pitched saddle back roofs, and are usually intricately decorated.  Seeing a large Batak building in the distance I decide to make it my goal and start walking in that direction. I get pretty lost as I lose sight of the building but I do eventually find it, up at the top of a very steep hill. I wander up there and am a little disappointed, it’s not as rustic as I had hoped, it turns out I have found the local government building, aka city hall.

Reality intrudes as I have gotten quite lost and turned around and am really not sure which way to go to get back to town. I see a taxi and ask him how much to take me to the clock tower, a landmark quite near my hotel. He rudely tells me a ridiculously inflated price and I tell him that he has insulted me and that I am not stupid and I walk away from him. Preposterous, but I am lost and now I have to figure out how to get back. I walk down the hill and see a café so I figure I will ask for directions there.  I ask the café proprietress for help and we’re struggling because she doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Indonesian when two young men who have been dining in the café overhear my dilemma and kindly offer to walk me back. One, William, can speak English fairly well, the other, Rahmat, can’t but I think he understands a fair bit. They become my friends for the remainder of the day.

We walk back into town, I buy them juice on the way and we take a rest at the clock tower. It’s really crowded with people, lots of Indonesian tourists and a large contingent of people in stuffed animal suits a la Barney, Sponge Bob, Power Rangers etc. It’s pretty surreal. They also want me to pay them to take pictures so no go. I also notice something odd about the roman numerals on the clock tower, can you spot it?

We decide to head over to Panorama Park to watch the sunset. There are some great views here of 2 of the local volcanoes, Gunung Marapi and Gunung Singgalang though they are usually shrouded in clouds. We can look down from the viewpoint into the valley where a small river wends its way. We stay for the sunset and then the guys walk me home, they insist and I thank them for rescuing my lost self. Lovely.

June 23 to 26, 2012.

I arrive in Bukittinggi after another 5 hour bus ride which turned out to be 8, a harrowing journey where I sat in what I like to call the “kill seat” the front passenger seat.  I find that when put into this position it is best to keep my eyes closed at all times so as to not watch as we overtake massive trucks on curves and/or pass 6 cars at the same time all while staring down oncoming traffic and speed recklessly, really it’s less stressful just to not watch, and sleep which fortunately I usually do quite well when on public transportation. Anyways, we make it and I’m dropped off in the middle of town. I soon discover that it’s a school holiday and the weekend so decent and cheap accommodation is impossible to find. I find cheap but it’s so nasty I’d be scared to catch a social disease from the bed so I go for clean but pricey, at least it’s likely to be virus free.

I find the fantastic Bedudal Café and spend the evening chatting with Dodek (spelling?) who works there. He fills me in on all the local activities I can do and encourages me to go on tours and pay guides etc. He gets it when I say I want to do more by myself though and offers some good advice. I meet 2 sweet French girls, Lucie and Celine and we decide to spend the next day trekking to see the world’s biggest flower, the Rafflesia. The Rafflesia only blooms  for a few days and the bud takes many months to develop, it’s considered a rare flower and may be facing extinction as the forests of Sumatra and Borneo are being systematically decimated.

I meet the ladies in the morning and we are joined by a Spanish man I had met and off we go. We take a local shared taxi (oplet) about 5 kms outside of town, it’s very crowded, we have 15 people jammed in one small minivan with bench seats, it’s crowded, sweaty and great.

We arrive at the small town and find ourselves a local guide to take us to the flower. We hike a trail through a small village and then through the countryside.We see these kids at play, it’s amazing how much fun can be had with a wheelbarrow!

Soon we start up an overgrown path leading into the forest that gets progressively steeper and muddier. I have taken major leech precautions, mosquito repellant, pants tucked into socks and my hiking shoes. In addition I had been given some advice by a local wilderness guide the day before, take a cigarette and break the tobacco into a small amount of water, allow it to stew for a few minutes and then rub the water onto your feet and legs (and any other areas you may be concerned about). All these precautions work and not a leech attached itself to me, though Lucie ends up with 2. After about 45 minutes or so we find the flower, it’s on a pretty steep muddy hill so it’s not a really comfortable place to linger and we have to approach it one by one.  We all smell it, and it’s really rank, kind of fishy/rotten meat smelling. We all have our picture taken with it, to give some idea of the size of thing. It’s pretty neat looking, somewhat alien and if I hadn’t had been told what it was I would assume it was some sort of massive fungus.

We hike back out of the forest and into the village again where we are given the opportunity to try Kopi Lewak. This is coffee made from beans that have been ingested by wild civet cats. The cats eat only the most perfectly ripe berries of the coffee and the bean works its way unharmed through the cats digestive tract, finally being expelled in their poo which the local people collect, once it has dried a bit. They take the poo and clean the beans VERY thoroughly and then roast them. It all adds up to a really delicious cup of coffee, some of the best I’ve had in Sumatra so far.