From Jakarta, we flew to Medan on the island of Sumatra, crossing the Equator on our way. We took two buses from the airport to the town of Berastagi. Our second bus was typical of buses in Sumatra: a small old brightly coloured bus crammed full of people, with an extra 6 school kids sat on the roof amongst the bags, 10 men chain smoking throughout the 3 hour trip and one continually screaming child; all accompanied by cheesy Sumatran pop music videos with the volume cranked up to 11!
We stayed for a couple of nights in Berastagi, which is in the foothills of the volcanoes of Gunung Sinabung and Gunung Sibayak. Gunung Sinabung had erupted a couple of months before and was still simmering with some red smoke whilst we were there. From here we did some walking and also visited a traditional Karo Batak village called Lingga.
From Berastagi we took two opelets (after the first one got a flat tyre), two buses and a boat (which randomly had wing mirrors!) to reach Danau Toba. Danau Toba is the world’s largest crater lake and the largest lake in South East Asia. It is some 300km in circumference and 500m deep. The eruption that created it was so fierce that it plunged the Earth into darkness for two years and created a mini ice age.
We had a few days relaxing on the island and Alex went swimming in the lake. As there was not much traffic we hired a motorbike to explore the island. It was Alex’s first proper time driving a motorbike, but although some of the roads were very rocky, we managed to get around ok. We saw some traditional Batak dancing, visited the Stone Chairs and the King’s Tomb. The Stone Chairs were carved out of rocks by a tribe which up until about 100 years ago practised ritual cannibalism. The tribe cut their enemies and rubbed garlic and chilli into the wounds before cooking and eating them; so we made sure we didn’t forget to leave the village a donation before we left!
From Danau Toba, we travelled for 9 hours to reach the jungle at Bukit Lawang in the Gunung Leuser National Park. We were woken up in the middle of our first night by a rat who had found its way into our room and was trying to steal our sea sickness tablets! After that we put all of our tablets into the metal tin provided for food to try and discourage any more jungle visitors. We spent a few days trekking in the jungle. The trekking was tough with extremely steep slopes and muddy terrain. Some of the slopes were so steep that you had to haul yourself up them by holding onto trees and lianas, or hold all of your weight by clinging on to a tree as you descended, to stop yourself from slipping down.
The tough trekking was worth the effort as we got to see numerous primates and other animals. The primates included Long Tailed Macaques, Pig Tailed Macaques (including a big black backed male), Thomas Leaf Monkeys, Silver Macaques and 8 Orangutan (mainly mothers with babies).
On our last day trekking we were incredibly lucky to see a huge male Orangutan, which was nearly 6ft tall and weighed over 100kg! The guides hadn’t seen a male nearby for over 5 months and we were able to watch him from about 7 meters away. It was an amazing experience.
Back at our room, (after discovering that Kate had unknowingly been a blood donor to a leech!) we were able to spend some time relaxing in our hammock. We were also visited by a troop of Long Tailed Macaques who climbed all over our balcony and tried to break into the room next door to ours, which luckily was empty.
From Bukit Lawang we returned to Medan, ready to take our next flight. After 54 days travelling across 10 different islands and countless amazing experiences, we finally said “Selamat Tinggal” to Indonesia and boarded a plane to Singapore…