In this post:
- Sleeping at a bakery
- Changing a Muslim man’s perception that All Jews are bad
- Getting chased down by an Orangutan
- Falling off a motorcycle driving 60 km/hr
- Living with a Palm Oil Farmer / English teacher
While Bali has it’s own charm when you step off the beaten path, in order to get a feel for Indonesian culture we decided to visit the North-Western island of Sumatra.
First, a geography lesson:
Bali is very small and Sumatra is that HUGE mass of land. Everything outlined in red is part of the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia!
Imagine waking up inside a bakery and finding yourself inhaling deeply, getting high on the smell of freshly baked breads and cakes pulling you out of bed. Our time in Sumatra kicked off deliciously since we were lucky enough to couch surf at a bakery with a great guy named Ferry (sorry no pictures…we ate all the evidence!)
I can’t say the rest of our time was as tasty. What Indonesia boasts in exotic fruits, we felt it lacked in good food options as vegetarians. The first few times we ate Mie Goreng (fried noodles with egg) for breakfast it was fun, but after 2 weeks of practically eating the same thing 3 times a day I was over it! (Although Andres says he can’t get enough of it…)
Typical Indonesian fried noodles and veggies
Climbing Mount Sibayak
Together with a group of Indonesian couchsurfers, we rented a car and went for an overnight trip to Sibayak Volcano.
The weather was extremely foggy and the sulfur was so intense it burned our eyes the entire time we were up there. Unfortunately not the best conditions but that’s the risk with trekking an active volcano!
Enjoying a volcanic hot pool near Sibayak Volcano
While at the volcanic pools, I told one of the guys (he was Muslim) that Suz and I are Jewish. He showed a very confused face and said: “But I don’t understand, you are very kind”, implying that he believed all jews to be bad people. I was not very surprised at his confusion, but I patiently explained to him why his perception is wrong and I believe to have changed his way of thinking. In fact, here is the funny review he left on my Couchsurfing account:
“I have story with Andres. He is so fine. And very care to peoples. When we went to Sibayak volcano he very care to driver that sleepy, and we stop in coconut shop and drink there for chilling. I am happy at the time.” (He meant that the driver was falling asleep and I offered to buy him a coffee)
Jungle Trek in Bukit Lawang
From Medan we travelled to Bukit Lawang, one of the few places in the world you can still see Orangutans in the wild. The big guy below was chilling in a tree when suddenly he started working his way towards us, inching closer and closer. At first our guides stayed calm but as the Orangutan started to seriously chase…”MOVE! NOW!”
Leeches sucking Andres dry!
With a Jungle “Medicine Man”
Rainy Days in Lake Toba
After a few days in the jungle we made it to Lake Toba, the largest crater lake in South East Asia. Together with our 70 year old Spanish friend, Sandrina, and another couple, we rented scooters and headed off to explore. Unfortunately, what started as a beautiful stay turned into a non-stop downpour by lunch and we still had another 3hrs left of riding to get back home.
Happy riders pre-rainstorm
Amazing views of Lake Toba
We slipped and fell off the bike going at about 50-60 km/hr! 😦 Luckily we only got scratches and bruises but despite being in a sort of shock, we had to continue riding in the rain to make it home. Very scary moment but luckily nothing terrible happened. *Weird coincidence – we met another traveler couple recently that had the same scooter accident on the same island!
Just a few scratches and bruises, luckily long gone now 🙂
Tourists in Kisaran?
Our last stop in North Sumatra was Kisaran. Not your typical stop on the tourist trail but one of those places where we got to meet another uniquely amazing person. We spent a few days in Kisaran with Theresa and teaching English at her school.
We were the only foreigners in the whole town. So much that even the police asked Suz for a picture!
Also, every time we rode our bikes around town, strangers would yell out to us as we drove past them:
“I love you!” or
“What’s your name?”
Theresa took us out to sing karaoke, meet her friends, help at her English school, and visit her Palm Oil Farm.
Singing Karaoke in Japanese!
Getting interviewed by local paper because tourists never come to this town and they want to know why we are here. And guess what, the guy spoke zero english! Luckily we had a translator.
The long sunny ride to the village where Theresa’s family lives and takes care of the farm
The fruit from the palm oil. This is where they get the oil from. Just by touching it, your hands get all oily!
This was an interesting visit because before arriving in Indonesia we met many people who stopped eating anything that used palm oil as an ingredient in protest of the unethical farming of it. On the other hand, we got a first hand look into the life of a person who relies on the palm oil crop for income. It’s not always clear what is right or wrong when you feel connected to both sides of the story.
Over the last 20 years Sumatra has been affected by volcanoes erupting, floods, terrorism, and the terrible 2004 Tsunami. While they’ve been through a lot, people are very kind and welcoming, always trying to take pictures with us.There is so much natural beauty to experience and very few tourists which make it feel very off the beaten path.
Here is a typical fun interaction with the friendly folk of Indonesia.