Orang UtanAn aspirin for the medicine man
A truly unforgettable encounter.
Another hot and sticky Sumatran day is culminating in a tropical sunset as we are waiting to embark the old cutter in front of us which is bound for the Mentawai islands a nights ride into the Indian Ocean. A couple of men are hecticly loading boxes into the hull of the vessel while others are waiting, smoking, playing cards. The handful of tourists which dot the scene look a bit lost as they are about to leave the world they know. Some down a couple of last-minute anti-malaria pills in an attempt to boost their confidence ahead of the unknown: The jungle of Pulau Siberut.
Upon arrival Irwan our guide loads us on two motorbikes and a cup of tea later into a boat which brings us straight into the heart of the island to the house of Aman Gresi, a medicine man, who together with his nephew is going to accompany us on our eight day trekking tour through the jungle. We have an early start the next morning and it soon becomes evident that we would get what we were hoping for: The experience of a lifetime. After five minutes our
They are juicy, they are healthy, they are not so yummy.
shoes were soaked (in which state they would remain for the rest of the week). After one hour we come across a little green snake (deadly of course) which our medicine man swiftly decapitates with a quick flick of his machete. After one day I am wearing a loin cloth!
The walking which consists mainly of balancing on logs criss-crossing the muddy swamps is a challenge in itself and leaves you so tired at the end of the day that you don't mind to sleep on the floor. Impressingly, Irwan survives the days without eating as he is practising Ramadan at the time. Fortunately for us, the Mentawaians have a different approach to the fasting month. "My head is Muslim but my stomach is Christian", tells us a smiling Aman Gresi over a full plate of rice. His favourite sentence is "many eating many strooong!" so we never have to be concerned about our bodily well-being. While we get a lot of rice and noodles we supplement our diet with the normal bush tucker of the islanders: Sago (their staple food, is quite nice), taro (delicious), crabs (not bad), chicken (if only they would remove the bones), snails (not for
Carrying home a block of Sago
me) and maggots (better cooked than raw). There is still a considerable amount of people on the island which is largely self sufficient. Only sugar and cigarettes they need regularly from the other side. In fact their smoking habits are scary at the least. They just smoke as much as they can. It is probably unwise (if not dangerous) to set foot on the island without give-away cigarettes in your bag which is the accepted currency between tourists and islanders. However, we would suggest never to hand out whole packages but single cigarettes instead and to bring sugar, sweets and needles (to remove thorns from the feet) as well to use them as presents if possible. Don't arrive empty handed but don't spoil them either. Only give in return for a favour.
Eventhough our medicin man is convinced that smoking gives him lots of energy I have a feeling that his sudden headaches are rather what he got from the cigarettes we brought from the mainland. He asked us for an aspirin but we refused to hand out anything unless he stopped smoking which of course he didn't do.
During the eight days on the island we stayed with four
Leading through the interior of Pulau Siberut
different families and collected dozens of unforgettable memories while participating in everyday life of the Mentawai people. We seemed to be the only tourists in almost half a year so they held a ceremony and killed some chicken. While they of course are hoping for more tourists (and cigarettes) I personally hope that they manage to remain as true and amazing as they are. "Sumatra Bombing"
A one-month-visa for Indonesia was all we got and we decided to spend that time in Sumatra only. Talking to others about their hellish bus rides from Java northwards we didn't regret this decision. There were no tourists in Sumatra at the same time as us who we didn't meet - or so it felt, anyway. The huge drop in tourist numbers in the last decade is for the local guide, water seller and wood carver probably the biggest catastrophe of all. While the civil war in Aceh has slowed down in action in recent months, Sumatra’s North still suffers from the effects of the tsunami hitting the West coast in 2004 and even worse of the earthquakes on Pulau Wei following the wave just three weeks later. With the North
Sunset in Labuanbajo
And the underwater world is even better!
temporarily off the tourist map Sumatra has lost a major tourist magnet. Meanwhile Bukit Lawang is trying hard to resettle itself after a river flood caused by illegal logging in the nearby national park destroyed half of the village. Bukit Lawang used to be a famous viewing spot for semi wild orang-utans, but with most of the accomodation destroyed tourists stopped coming. We enjoyed the quietude and the orang-utans very much, but had to admit that three tourists
against fifteen would-be guides is no ideal balance. Pretty much the same picture in Tuk Tuk at the shore of Lake Toba. This area used to be a must-see stop on the usual Indonesia-in-three-weeks-tour and a big holiday destination for richer Malay and Chinese people. Today, Sumatra probably still suffers under the Asian economy crisis and with constant regional strifes and security issues the tour groups also keep away. For a couple of years Sumatra’s tourist industry has even struggled to receive independent travellers who are put off by the "one-month-only-visa-policy" and don't manage to fit Sumatra into the schedule. This is a Java-made decision, fearing the Western impact through tourism onto (muslim) lifestyle, told us a (muslim) travel agent in Bukittinggi.
Motorbike in Mataram
Four is normal, five is a lot, but the record is six.
They also cancelled international flights to Medan, the capital of Sumatra. Most tourists now choose to visit only Java, Bali and Lombok. The tourists we met and talked with on Sumatra were either crazy Germans who raced in thirty days through whole Sumatra, Java and Nusa Tenggara (only to find out that they didn't like Indonesia much - who wonders why...) or long-term Indonesian addicts who came to Sumatra exactly
because no one else does. In Tuk Tuk we chose a two-storey house to live in for 2 dollars per night and went to eat at two to three different restaurants each day enjoying the huge choice and trying to spread our money to more than one location. A crazy situation: fifty restaurants and just ten tourists. It was here on the balcony of our two-storey house when we heard the news about another Bali bombing on October 1st, 2005. The Christian locals shrugged their shoulders: "They are crazy, these Muslims." Sumatran people are too well used to catastrophes to show much emotion. But what everyone in the West might think is a new economic crisis in Bali is actually hitting Sumatra most, where every single tourist counts. Bali is
One of the must dos on the Java tour.
far away, but people will still decide that Indonesia is not safe at the moment and keep away and Sumatra is again the loser.
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. Planet Portrait
* Top 3:
Jungle Trekking on the Mentawai Islands
Diving in Komodo NP
Orang Utans in Bukit Lawang
* Our route:
Medan - Bukit Lawang - Tuk Tuk - Bukittinggi - Pulau Siberut - Pekanbaru - Jakarta - Yogyakarta - Cemoro Lawang - Banyuwangi - Amed - Mataram - Labuanbajo - Bajawa - Moni - Ende - Kupang - Kefamenanu
* That was bad:
We couldn't get a 60 day visa so we had to go to Singapore to pick up a new one.
* Recommended guest house:
In Tuk Tuk. A whole Batak house for 15'000 Rp. a night!
30 days at the border for 50 USD were no problem (check list of countries which get VOA). However we struggled to get 60 days (which is the minimum time to go through the country from west to east or vice versa) at the embassies in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. We have heard that there are places which can arrange 60 days but can't tell you where they are.
* Money saver tip:
As everywhere in Asia: Use public buses, eat on the street and bargain, bargain, bargain...
* We paid for a meal:
between 2000 and 10000 Rupiahs Planet Pictures
Tot: 2.946s; Tpl: 0.018s; cc: 31; qc: 121; dbt: 0.0447s; 2; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.7mb