Sunday, 28 September 2014

Scenic Samosir

The journey along the road from the village of Tuk Tuk to Simanindo, at the northern tip of Samosir, was a scenic motorbike ride.

We passed numerous old traditional wooden houses with dwarf sized doors and large bull-horned shaped roofs. The horn part of the roof creates a large dry area - like an extra large porch! Under the house the animals are kept, such as pigs and goats.

Scattered amongst the rice paddies in prominent positions, and in gardens, we spotted similar horn-shaped roofs on graves. These were family tombs and were well cared for. This area of Sumatra was converted to Christianity from Animism under colonial rule, but the tombs still retain a mixture of Christian and Animistic symbolism – probably not unlike the culture itself.

On our travel around the island there were numerous Protestant Christian churches, and I wondered how any could attract a good congregation size due to the sheer ratio of churches to people. We even found a Methodist church, but no one was around to let us in.

Buffalos wallowed in muddy pools by the roadside, whilst goats and cows grazed the lush pastures.

The Batak people of Danau (Lake) Toba could be distinguished by their high cheek bones, puckered lips, and curly hair. They farm carp in the lake and tend to their arable crops. We found them to be cheerful and welcoming types, with a love for playing the guitar and singing.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Reaching Lake Toba

Our guesthouse in Medan had obvious management issues as it took them an hour to make us a coffee for breakfast. We left there about 9am, one hour later than planned, and hungry. We found an Ojek, a motorbike with side-car, and negotiated on a good price to the bus station 12km away. The side-car was too narrow for our Western backsides, so Chris perched in a cambered position for the journey, half sitting on my hip, half down a small gap. When we arrived at the bus station some 45 minutes later Chris had such bad leg cramps he fell out of the Ojek and couldn't walk for 5 minutes, which was most amusing!

We refused the fervent offers for a 'tourist taxi' a posh minibus, which although obviously more comfortable was three times the price of the local bus. Setting off on the five hour drive to Lake Toba we watched the changing landscape, from cramped towns to acres of paddy fields, rubber tree and palm oil plantations, followed by valleys with paddy fields and then steep slopes, bare but for the occasional pine tree. We'd expected to see some jungle, but that had long gone. As the bus climbed up the volcanic slopes, carp fish farms proliferated at man-made terraced ox-bow lakes next to the gushing fast rivers. The bus frequently stopped and picked up passengers along its journey. To ask the bus to stop the ticket collector did a rat-a-ta-tat on a railing with a bolt suspended by a piece of string. School children climbed aboard and tried out their English with us. Hawkers swarmed the bus at various times selling biscuits, noodles, water and drinks. In Myanmar we were surrounded by fellow passengers spitting betel juice, here in Indonesia everyone preferred to smoke spice filled cigarettes, any time, anywhere.

Reaching Parapat, a town on the side of Lake Toba high up amongst Sumatra's volcanic peaks, we were hit by how much cooler it was compared to the humidity of Medan. Lake Toba, we read, is the deepest and largest lake in SE Asia and the 5th largest lake in the world (I'm not sure how they measure that- I assume total capacity at normal water level? - anyone know?) The lake and island were formed after the eruption of a supervolcano some 75,000 years ago. It reminder me of Lake Windermere, not that I've been there for a while, but I imagine it to have a faded glory about it. 

We took a ferry across to Samosir, which is an island-like headland at the north of the lake, isolated except for a slender azimuth of land. Unfortunately the weather was misty so the views across the lake where hindered. Our accommodation, Merylns Guesthouse was right on the waters edge in the village of Tuk Tuk on Samsoir. The couple running the guesthouse were very friendly and welcoming. The guesthouse had hot water and beautifully manicured gardens.

There were only 4 rooms, 2 of which were beautiful traditional Batak houses with small doorways and huge buffalo horn shaped roofs, with giant gable’s ornately carved and painted.

The following day we explored the island on motorbike, the roads where bumpy and often damaged, but there was very little traffic.

A misty Danu Toba, high up in North Sumatra's interior

The local Batak community still fish with canoe

The town of Parapat is popular with holidaying Indonesians

The traditional Batak house design makes for a fantastic lodging for a few days

Friday, 26 September 2014

Diving the zero degree

Gapang is a quiet sand track along a beach, dotted with the occasional huge mangrove tree in the north of Pulau Weh. It has one small Indonesian resort at one end (which looked closed), Lumba Lumba Dive Lodge and a handful of shacks offering delicious noodles, curries and fish dishes. A perfect, quiet, "get away from it all" kind of place.

The dive team at Lumba Lumba are efficient and punctual, a rare experience in the laid back existence of SE Asia. The first dive of the day is normally 9am except on Fridays when the dive centre respects the local fishermen’s Islamic custom of not taking to the sea until after 12 o’clock prayer.

So after a lazy Friday morning still trying to sort out our jet lag, we were ready for the 2pm dive and the boat pushed off 5 minutes early, everyone keen to explore the deep waters just off the islands north west tip, referred to as “Degree Zero” the most westerly tip of Indonesia.

The visibility was generally fantastic, up to 30 metres on the clearest dives and generally with good currents encouraging shoals of bigger fish. We did 5 dives over 3 days seeing shoals of trevally, jack fish, red toothed triggerfish and surgeon fish, a few giant trevally, copious moray eels and at least one octopus on every dive. Our two highlights were a Napoleon Wrasse who must have been over 5 feet long and looked like he owned the reef, and an eagle ray elegantly and effortlessly gliding through the plankton rich currents.

Many thanks must go to Laura and Helen from Manta Divers in the Gili Islands for providing me with these fantastic underwater shots.

After 4 days we were sad to be heading on so soon, but it felt good to have a few dives under our belt after a 4 month absence from being under the water. Next step, to begin exploring Sumatra’s interior.

The busy highway along Gapang Beach

The quiet lush coastline of north Pulau Weh 

What a spot! This huge Napoleon Wrasse was over 5 feet long and "owned" the reef!

A cow fish in the shallows

A giant moray is cleaned by a cleaner wrasse, whilst a juvenile emperor angel fish investigates

This wasp fish pretends to be a leaf in the shallows of Gapang bay

 Huge sea fans cover the underwater canyon sides off the north west tip

 The rice paddies and their volcano guardians line the roadway back to the airport at Banda Aceh. This area of Indonesia was hit hardest by the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, and carried the highest death toll and destruction of any region. Significant amount of national and international aid has been plunged into the region, but it is still recovering.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Comments please

It's great that so many of you read this blog on a regular basis. We happily receive any feedback given and will take it on board wherever possible. One recent query was regarding how to leave a comment. I will try and make it simpler on the layout but in the mean time please follow the instructions below:

At the bottom of each post there is a section where you can leave a comment. After you have typed a comment there is a drop down menu saying "Comment as:" - if you do not have a google or blogger profile simply select "Anonymous" from the list and then press "Publish".

It would be great to hear from you so please don't be shy!

Sumatra's western tip

So we made it to the far side of Pulau Weh, the most westerly point in Indonesia. The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Sumatra was without delay. On arrival we took a taxi to the harbour near Banda Aceh, bought the cheapest ticket available and sat in the hold of the ferry to the island - probability of drowning during sinking quite high, hence £2.50 per person! 

Knowing it was a bumpy forty minute drive over the island to our destination we splashed out and opted for a car rather than a tuk tuk. This probably consumed the saving we'd made on the ferry ticket, but it was well worth it as we cantered over many steep hill and vale, missing monkeys and beeping at children driving mopeds to reach Gapang beach. Our driver was so keen to show his Lewis Hamilton skills that he ran over a cockerel on route. He was a big fella and we thought he'd stop to compensate the owner but just laughed 'ayam goreng' ('chicken with noodles' or maybe he meant the chicken is noodles?!).

Arriving at the Lumba Lumba dive school we were well welcomed by Christian. To our surprise Guliian, our Dive Master from our time in the Pernetian Islands, Malaysia back in March was here also. 

We studied the local dive books and became enticed by the deep water and macro sites on offer. Maybe three days here won't be enough to see the wide range of underwater worlds around the island. 

Our small bay was deserted by 8pm and we ate a filling and delicious local prawn curry with rice, and fish curry with noodles - both very fresh, with two bottles of water for £4, including tip. As our body clocks were still adjusting to the time difference we were hungry!
In hindsight we could have shared one fish and rice/noodle dish between us. We both agreed, following this single experience, that Indonesian food is much taster than Malaysian (sorry)!

The cheapest room here is more than adequate and the shared bathroom even has a western toilet - luxury! Two puppies seem to have adopted us and sleep on our door mat, Chris gives them lots of attention, especially after he steps on them in the night. 

The rice fields outside Banda Aceh surrounded by volcanoes and their remnants

Good old Tuk Tuk transport!!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Back in Blighty

Just a quick note to let all you keen followers know we're currently back in the UK for a few months to celebrate Sarah's brother's wedding and catch up with family. We return to our global adventures in mid-September hence why the blog has been quiet for a few weeks.

That doesn't mean we haven't been adventuring in the UK, here's a few pics showing what we've been up to.

Exploring north Norfolks monuments…….



…..and coastline.