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Published: October 13th 2013
We fly into Padang and decide to spend at least a day there on the advice of lonely planet. Well lonely planet is wrong on this one. Padang is not nice. It just another overcrowded city, but more devout so we struggle to get lunch. It is our first taste of Sumatera though and it is very different from Bali and Java. We feel like celebrities, everyone says hello and asks how we are. We go into a pharmacy to buy cream and all the female staff stand and stare at me. It is very strange and takes some getting used to. The people are so nice; everyone seems happy to see you and wants to talk to you. Anyway we skip out of this place pretty quick.
Our next stop is Lake Maninjau. It is a lovely spot to relax by a lake that is heated by the volcano. We stayed in a pretty basic hut next to the lake. By basic I do mean regular cockroaches, hole in the floor toilet and plenty of friendly mosquitos. I have a theory, the locals sell 'mosquito repellent' to the tourists, it’s actually sugar water or something so that we get bitten and they don’t….
The lake is a temperate 28 degrees and is lovely, we spend the next 3 or 4 days swimming, lying in the sun or taking the canoe out. Basically I sit there whilst James rows, when I attempt to row us we just keep going around in circles. We have our first experience of riding a scooter, after some persuasion James agrees to take me on the back; we grab a couple of friends and head off around the lake. It takes around 3 hours and the roads (if you can call them that) are very poor. The scenery is fantastic though, you know when they say “the grass is always greener” well then I think they are refereeing to Maninjau as it’s the most vibrant green I have ever seen.
We head off from Lake Maninjau for Lake Toba, which is more touristy. It takes 26 hours on the worst, bendy roads ever and is not pleasant. The area is unique in the fact that is an island in a lake which also has a lake inside it so it goes island, lake, island, lake. This was formed due to a massive eruption millions of years ago. The rest of Sumatera is Muslim but this little island is Christian, so I can relax with my legs and shoulders out. It is one of the biggest crater lakes in the world approximately the size of Singapore. Unfortunately the weather is not as good as it had been at Lake Maninjau and water is not as warm and a bit choppy. We spend most of time here eating out (surprise surprise) there was a great restaurant where the owner baked fresh bread every day, smoked her own bacon and got the avocados from the tree outside, this made for the nicest sandwiches. We were told that this is one of the easiest places to ride a scooter so I thought I would give it a try and it didn’t go too bad, I actually really enjoyed it. The roads were still bad but there is less traffic so not too much weaving to be had. I only almost crashed once, that’s a win in my book.
Our next stop is Bukitt Lawang in the jungle, one of the highlights of our trip so far. We book a 3 day jungle trek which includes camping in the forest. We meet our group who all seem very nice; there is a girl full of make-up foundation, bronzer the whole lot. This is entertaining as it is extremely hot and humid, within minutes it is all melting down her face. The trek involves going to areas where semi wild orang-utans are known to frequent and the guides give them food to coax them out. It is unreal, we are literally in touching distance of them and they are the most amazing creatures I have seen. We stand and observe them for a while when the guide calls me over, pulls my neck down and covers it in mango, one of the orang-utans grabs me by the shoulder and it eats it while holding its adorable baby. It was truly a magical moment and slightly terrify considering she could probably have killed me in a nano second. The trek is hard and hot, the downhill parts feel almost vertical and we have to swing from jungle vines and trees to get down. By the time we make it to the river we are dirty, sweaty and sore but had the best adventure. The camp is next to the river so we all go for a swim to cool off and wash. The guides put on a delicious Indonesian buffet for us and get us all playing games by candle light. The camp is just a canopy and completely open to the wonders and horrors of the jungle, it’s hard and noisy. In morning we head to a secluded waterfall for a swim and do not have to trek back to the town as we tube back in rubber rings. Our guides think it is amusing to cover us in tribal paint and head dresses so all the locals laugh when they see us coming down the river.
The day after we go elephant trekking, I am a bit dubious about this due to the often mistreatment of the animals. Luckily the elephants seemed to be looked after very well and have a great relationship with their trainer. These particular elephants were being nuisances to the surrounding villages so have been rehabilitated and they use them to patrol for illegal logging in the area. The elephants are so cute I immediately fall in love with them. We get hitched up and they take us for a walk, it’s quite unnerving as we are often going up and down steep hills but they have excellent balance. After that they go for a bath, which they seem to love. They go charging in with delight and play with each other in the water. We are then allowed in to give them a wash. The trainers give the order for the elephants to lie down and they do exactly as they are told whilst we give them a scrub. After we are done the trainers say one word and the elephant soaks you, it’s so much fun.
Grand finale… when we got back to our room we saw a group of ants carrying a dead cockroach out of our room, bizarre and gross.
The sums up our time in Indonesia, from here we fly to Singapore and onto Borneo.
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