Cycle Tour Stage 7 - Lost Again (in the Northern Sumatran Jungle)!

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March 18th 2013
Published: March 18th 2013
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George Town (Malaysia) - Bukittinggi (Sumatra, Indonesia): 4th - 17th March 2013

Distance covered so far (since 20 Dec): 5654 km

Imagine that you have popped into a quiet UK town to do some shopping. Today, however, you are 8 foot tall, have chosen to wear a hat that has a neon flashing sign reading “LOOK AT ME”, and you are wearing a suit made entirely out of daffodils. Furthermore, instead of arriving in town conventionally (by walking, or by car, for example), you have trotted into town astride a rhinoceros.

The two of us are putting on the equivalent of this spectacle in Sumatra. We have found ourselves in places that receive no visitors, and quite frankly... we look a bit odd. AND we are travelling in a bizarre fashion (bike). We get A LOT of attention. More so than anywhere else we have been in the world, and EVERYONE wants to say “hello”. Greetings take one of the following forms:

1. The standard:
Indonesian: “HELLO MISTER!”
Andy or Mel: “HELLO!!.... Selamat Pagi! ”
Indonesian: “AAAGGGHHH PAGI PAGI! HHEELLOO MMIISSTTEERR (shouted at full volume and with crazy abandon)!

2. The confused:

3. The philosophical:

4. The ‘use any English possible’:

5. The School Children:
En Masse: “HORAS BOULAY... BOULAYBOULAYBOULAYBOULAY!!” (i.e. Hello foreigner... foreignerforeignerforeigner...)


Our route for this stage has been rather rural. We have got lost, used our tent in villages, and stayed in a number of curious guesthouses. These example dialogues are representative of a normal day....

1. Settling into a guest-house for the evening

Andy to Hotel owner: “Is this really your ‘superior, VIP room’?”
Hotel owner: “Yes Mister!”
Andy: “There appears to be a hole in the ceiling, the windows are holes where the wall has fallen apart... what is the ‘standard room’ like?”
Hotel owner: “Standard room – no television.”

1 hour later, in the much nicer ‘standard’ room...

Mel: “ARGHHHHHHH! Andy, Andy, ANDY! There is one of those huge, poisonous, jumping spiders, in the bathroom!”
Andy: “You MUST stay calm. We don’t want people in this village to think we are feeble.”
Mel: “What shall we do! What shall we do! WHAT SHALL WE DO!”
Andy: “Really, Mel, you are making
Equator - True and FalseEquator - True and FalseEquator - True and False

True: The Water swirls... THE OTHER WAY down the plughole in the South! False: It is not necessarily downhill after crossing the equator.
a huge fuss about this... now where is it?.... CRIPES! THAT IS MASSIVE!”
Mel: “You won’t be able to get near that thing to stamp on it before it jumps! WHAT SHALL WE DO! WHAT SHALL WE DO!”
Andy: “I’ll deal with this sensibly... now watch... I’m going to move the chair into the bathroom and stand on that, I’ll wrap myself up in some towels to protect me when it jumps and then throw a bucket of water over it”
Mel: “Good idea... but be careful...”
Andy: “There! That seems to have dealt with it. Did you see it go down the drain?”
Andy: “How the.....? STAND BACK... It’s going to pounce again... I’m going to have to re-splosh it.”
Andy: “There it is, it’s been sloshed into the toilet... but.... no...... IT’S CRAWLING BACK OUT AGAIN... IT’S TOO BIG TO FIT DOWN THE LOO!”

2. Finding the scenic way south

We have three contradicting maps of Sumatra. One of them has a thick red line (indicating a major road). It includes a stretch from
Leaving Malaysia for SumatraLeaving Malaysia for SumatraLeaving Malaysia for Sumatra

Cheap airlines have killed the ferry service.... unfortunately that means bikes into boxes to hop over the Mallaca Strait by air into Sumatra.
the small town of Batangtoru to the coastal village of Batamundam. On our map it looked like it would be between 30 and 40km, and that would be a good place to end our day’s cycling. We wanted to take this road.

At the prominent turning in Batangtoru....

Indonesians 1,2,3,4 and 5: “HELLO MISTER”
Andy: “HELLO! Is this the way to Batamundam?”
Indonesian 1: “YES! It is 173km down this road”
Simultaneously Indonesian 2: “YES! It is 50 km down this road”
Simultaneously Indonesian 3: “It is 32... no.... 33 km down this road”
Simultaneously Indonesian 4, still waving: “HELLO MISTER!”
Simultaneously Indonesian 5: “BICYCLE!!”
Mel: “Ooooo, they all speak English! The 33km estimation sounds right – that will have us arriving nicely before it starts to get dark.”

5km later, on a road through a rubber plantation....

Indonesian shouting: “HELLO MISTER! WHERE YOU GO”
Mel: “We go to Batamundam”
Indonesian: “Where? There is no such place”
Andy (to Mel): “Amazing – how can he have never heard of a place so prominently marked on our map, and just 25km away!”

Another 15km. The road is now a track in the jungle. It splits, Andy
Andy Lectures on Bike BuildingAndy Lectures on Bike BuildingAndy Lectures on Bike Building

Re-assembly of the bikes at Medan airport led to quite a crowd forming!
and Mel are trying to work out which way to go...

Indonesian, appearing on his moped: “HELLO MISTER!”
Andy: “Hello! Which way to Batamundam, Please.”
Indonesian: “Take the road on the right. Batamundam is between 200 and 1000km away...”
Andy and Mel simultaneously: “Hmmmm.... well.... and onwards?”

A FURTHER 20km through very hot and very humid jungle (40km since Batangtoru)

Andy to an Indonesian lady who speaks some English: “Excuse me, but WHAT is down this road”
Indonesian lady: “Jungle. No villages. Jungle.”
Andy and Mel: “Hmmmmm....”
Indonesian lady: “You are welcome to put your tent next to my house.”
Mel: “Thankyou very much! Where might we be able to wash?”
Indonesian lady: “In the river.”
Mel: “Great. Which way to the river?”
Indonesian lady: “Follow the road. 1Km”

3 hours later, after a wash from half a litre of bottled water in our hostess’ garden (with an audience), and with us dozing off in our tent....

Mel: “Andy wake up! The woman’s extended family is peering into our tent”.

2 hours later....

Andy (shouting over the noise of a jungle monsoonal thunderstorm): “Mel, the tent is flooded!”

Moral: Camping in villages
Rain! Rain! Rain!Rain! Rain! Rain!Rain! Rain! Rain!

Having arrived from Malaysia to Medan airport, we discovered what Indonesian rain is all about. 10 inches in two hours, apparently! (Seems like a lot, but that is what the airport official claimed!)
in the jungle is “level 2” camping.


-- Suicidal moped and bus drivers (only men between the ages of 16 and 40 ish... everyone else is chilled out)!
-- Heavy rain and 34 degrees C! Dripping with sweat and rain simultaneously.
-- Big stuff (insects and reptiles) live in the jungle... and it is likely to either jump or fly.
-- Rapid brush up on mountain biking skills required on extremely rough roads.
-- Beautiful vistas – active and dormant volcanoes, very steep hills, fertile lush landscapes, raging rivers, ferocious waterfalls, and crater lakes (good for swimming!).
-- Incredibly friendly and curious people – we receive celebrity status here due to lack of other foreign visitors.
-- In this Muslim country there are enough evangelical churches in this part to rival Bible-belt America.
-- Awesome food – whoever discovered that avocado with chocolate would make a great drink is a genius!
-- It is perfectly normal to sleep, eat and wash in front of a fascinated audience. The British notion of it being “rude to stare”, is a British notion, and most certainly not an Indonesian one.

A Quiet Dinner for 2A Quiet Dinner for 2A Quiet Dinner for 2

After too much attention, we are now numb to audiences like this when we eat, sleep and wash.
The wise:
-- “It is amazing what one can achieve by focusing on the daily task in hand, rather than worrying about the scale of the overall.” ??Someone Brilliant?? (To help us tackle the physical challenge of the cycling over here)
The philosophical:
-- “To fully understand and appreciate your village, you must cross the river and look at it from the village on the other side.” Rinchin Norbu - Mel’s colleague from Bhutan) (To help us tackle pangs of homesickness)
The cautionary
-- “Andy, just think for a second... you are committing tummy suicide by eating that.” Mel
The gung-ho:
--“If it bleeds then we can kill it” Arnold Schwarzenegger (To help us tackle the myriad of horrid flying and crawling stuff that we encounter daily – sorry to our Buddhist friends if this offends!)

Key Stats:

Distance covered in this stage: 880 km

Distance covered so far (since 20 Dec '12): 5654 km (The same as cycling from London to Basrah, and a little further than London to Tehran!)

Cumulative Mechanicals: Sheared Pannier Rack x1 (Mel); Snapped Bike Chain x3 (Andy); Puncture x7 (Andy), Puncture x
Mel Makes FriendsMel Makes FriendsMel Makes Friends

Andy turns his back for just one second, and Mel makes the most of the opportunity!
23ish (Mel); Explosively Burst Tyre x1 (Mel); Tyre worn through x1 (Mel), Tyre worn through x 1 (Andy); Superglue repair on slashed tyres x1 (Mel); Snapped Water Bottle Cages x2 (Andy), Pannier bag rail snap x1 (Andy); Snapped sunglasses x2 (Andy), x 1 (Mel), Broken Tent Pole x1

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24



The same 16 children would leave our tent to summon their friends and families to come back and stare at us while we tried to sleep.
Horas Bolay!Horas Bolay!
Horas Bolay!

Big Bugs!Big Bugs!
Big Bugs!

This beetle was bigger than this child's hand! It flies.

Lake Toba behind us.
Lake Toba - Great for Swimming!Lake Toba - Great for Swimming!
Lake Toba - Great for Swimming!

Taken from the island of Samosir in the middle. It's an island on a lake, on an island. On the island there's some lakes too. They are lakes on an island on a lake on an island.
Climbing out of Lake Toba CraterClimbing out of Lake Toba Crater
Climbing out of Lake Toba Crater

Look carefully and you can see the twisting road that we had slogged up (it was HOT!)
Waterfall into Lake TobaWaterfall into Lake Toba
Waterfall into Lake Toba

Really beautiful landscapes remain from crazy volcanic activity. This is lake Sipisopiso (try saying that with your mouth full of biscuits.)
Camping in the CraterCamping in the Crater
Camping in the Crater

Lake Toba is a HUGE crater. (30km wide, and sides that rise up 1000m). After a tough cycle out of the crater, we popped up the tent near the top.
Bible Belt North SumatraBible Belt North Sumatra
Bible Belt North Sumatra

Who'd have thought it... churches everywhere. Complete with full blast Gospel music to wake you before dawn.
Big Veggies and a Whopper FishBig Veggies and a Whopper Fish
Big Veggies and a Whopper Fish

LOOK! A monument to The Turnip. And.... An enormous statue of a cabbage. These amazing monuments dwarf the incredible concrete fish (with windows).
Fragrant Road-sidesFragrant Road-sides
Fragrant Road-sides

Drying Produce on the Road: Cinnamon, rice, oranges, nuts, berries, fish, rubber, and washed clothes!
Hotel RoomsHotel Rooms
Hotel Rooms

What it lacks in space, it more than makes up for with its proximity to the 'Call to Prayer' at 5AM.

Bustling. Busy. Crazy. We left quickly.

18th March 2013

Spot the spider!
Hi guys - I'm slightly disappointed (although much relieved) not to have seen a picture of the spider you had to chase around the bathroom. That story gives me nightmares! Lovely pics again. You're nearly on the last leg now. There was definately a sign (Anda Melint) welcoming you by name across the equator. Lots of love xxxx
18th March 2013

This is awesome and so true :)
Bringing back memories of travelling through Indonesia, great photos!
19th March 2013

Many thanks!
Thanks Ali - it is difficult to put Sumatra into words... I'm sure you can recall the blast on your senses that needs more than a bit of prose to bring it to life! Very impressed by your Iceland photos! Andy and Mel
24th March 2013

Love your trip
Love the adventure. Can't wait for more.
5th April 2013

well now, there's a coincidence
Today in Dong Ha we met Mr Binh who wants to show up around the DMZed. We were up for it after talking to him for ten minutes in a cafe run by a bunch of really really barking mad girls but he showed us his little book of comment from happy clients anyway, and we saw your entry, andyandmel. We've been writing a blog called andyandnel. That's strange eh? I've enjoyed reading a couple of your posts. Have fun and write back if you're similarly surprised by our very similarly named blog coincidence.

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