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Published: March 20th 2007
Lake Toba, Sumatra
Beautiful views of the lake from my balcony.
Sumatra is a travel destination that few people are knowledgeable about, and even fewer people visit. It is, surprisingly, the sixth largest island in the world and well and truly off the beaten track. The previous journal left off in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, from where I organised a bus ticket to Bukittinggi in West Sumatra. Unsurprisingly the bus was jam packed and my travelling companion, although not a tall man, spread his legs luxuriously for the thirty hour journey so that my legs were almost fused together by the end of the trip. This travel caper can be quite a gruelling experience in Indonesia.
We arrived at Merak in north west Java, dear reader, and boarded the ferry for the short trip to Bakauheni in southern Sumatra. I met a group of gracious young Sumatran girls on the ferry, with good English skills and friendly smiles. We chatted away, and they invited me to a meal at a restaurant when we arrived in Bakauheni. I enjoyed a good meal with the girls, and we ate with our right hands while the dishes continued to pile up on the table. Rendang Padang is a famous beef dish in Sumatra
Ferry trip to Sumatra
This friendly Sumatran struck up a conversation and invited me to lunch with her friends.
and is a particularly scrummy dish. Then it was time to continue my journey, and I boarded the bus again as the driver crawled along the mountainous roads at an agonisingly slow pace behind an endless procession of lorries. The journey seemed interminable but after more than a day we finally arrived in Bukittinggi, a relaxed hill town in West Sumatra at an altitude of 930 metres.
The highlight of my stay was going to see bull fights (they are actually buffaloes) in the local village. There were two fights, and the first fight was going well until one bull routed the other which went straight through the exit with the other bull in hot pursuit. They charged straight out onto the road and apparently knocked an old man off his motorbike. The second fight was altogether more action packed, because one bull broke the leg of the other one and sent him into rout. But not being able to run or meet the charge the fight became pretty gruesome until finally they pulled the first bull off. I think I may be having that second bull for dinner next time I order Rendang Padang!
Then I headed
Lunch with the locals in Bakauheni
Eating the copious dishes with right hands in traditional Sumatran style.
on to Lake Toba in northern Sumatra, a beautiful lake that was formed when a massive volcano collapsed in on itself. This eruption over 70,000 years ago is thought to be the biggest volcanic eruption in the last two million years. There's plenty of high quality accommodation right on the lake, and I spent a relaxing time on Lake Toba which stretches 100kms by 30kms. I then travelled north of the capital Medan to Bukit Lawang, which is 86kms from the capital and home to the Orangutang rehabilitation centre. It was a great experience to see these magnificent endangered animals in their natural habitat, as they live in the wild only in Sumatra and Borneo.
I met an American guy on the trip north, and we headed back to Medan together for the last stop on my trip to Sumatra. We went to a restaurant in Medan on the final night, but the kitchen was just closing down. However the chef assured us that we could still have a meal, and I ordered sate chicken which was reheated, or so I believe. That meal turned out to be a a very big mistake! We went back to the hotel
and everything seemed to be fine. My travel friend kindly decided to come to the airport with me next morning to see me off for my flight back to Bali, and it was at this stage that I was starting to feel bad in the tummy. We made our farewells, and I boarded the flight with no forewarning of the absolute debacle that was about to unfold.
In one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life I became suddenly, violently and uncontrollably sick on the aircraft. I was like a projectile vomiting character straight out of The Exorcist, and no amount of preparation with an ever constant supply of sick bags could keep things under control. I spent my time apologizing profusely to the air hostesses, who would move me from seat to seat. At one stage I remember seeing a pair of Indonesian men literally running down the aisle to get away from me. It was something I´ll never forget, and to be honest I was mortified by the whole experience!
The last stop on my trip was back in Bali, where I met up with some Australian friends whilst gradually recovering from my severe stomach
Shoe repairs, Medan
There are professional craftsmen to get you out of a bind all over the world!
ailment mainly holed up in the hotel. I tried to do what I could with my friends, although I was very weak and had lost a lot of weight. I swear I'll never be able to eat sate chicken again! Despite my unfortunate culinary mishap Sumatra is a wonderful travel destination. The vast island within Indonesia is truly unique and fascinating, in spite of the challenges that arise from long bus journeys. The people are friendly and there's plenty to see and do, basically all of you should be here now!
Experience is one thing you can't get for nothing." Oscar Wilde
It's home time so until next time, I'm signing off for now
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