Sunday, August 16, 2009

Traveling Sumatra

“You are eating Indonesian food?!?” “We thought foreigner only ate toast all day long!” This little scenario played out in a tiny warung somewhere in Sumatra where we duly sat eating very authentic local cuisine. A bunch of Indonesians were thoroughly amused and surprised by us “white people” sitting there eating their kind of food – and we even seemed to like it! Of course we liked it – Sumatra is renowned for its delicious, if a bit spicy, padang food.

Sumatra is one of the places in Indonesia that used to have loads of backpackers, but now after one catastrophe after another, Sumatra is well and truly off the beaten track. That just might be another good reason to visit… Other sound arguments for packing your backpack and start exploring Sumatra is the amazing nature that unfolds where ever you look, the chance to climb volcanoes, observe orangutans in their natural habitat (one of only two places left on earth where this is possible), kicking back on gorgeous beaches and incredible diving.

You don’t go to Sumatra for your regular sand’n’sun holiday – that would be Bali. Sumatra is adventure, experiences and challenges of the kind that needs the stamina to live through long, extremely bumpy bus rides, a small compact backpack and sensible shoes.

We went with way too much luggage including a laptop, the most sensible shoes I was carrying was a pair of kawasakis (which is a perfectly good pair of shoes, however they are not made for jungle trekking on muddy slopes in the Sumatran tropical forest – especially not since they were a light shade of yellow…). And as for the long, bumpy bus rides – we did do a few, but for the longest one (would have been at least 13 hours) we opted for a cheap flight instead. Still we had an amazing trip! In little under 3 weeks we tried to breathe through all the smog in Medan; Sumatra biggest city, we swam in Southeast Asias largest lake; Danau Toba, we jungle trekked and saw orangtuans in Bukit Lawang and hung out at the lovely beaches with the locals at Pulau Weh. You’d be hard pressed to squeeze much more in as getting from one place to another is a very time consuming affair in Sumatra. The beauty of that however means that there is still loads of things for us to see next time we venture to Sumatra :-)

Straddled by equator Sumatra is nearly 2000km long, stretching from Banda Aceh in the north to Bakauheni in the south, as slightly smaller than France. Sumatra is the proud owner of nearly 100 volcanoes, 15 of them still active and the tallest one being 3805 meters tall. In the jungles of Sumatra you may be so lucky to discover Rafflesia arnoldii; the world’s largest flower. You might also bump into the endangered Sumatran rhino, elephants and Sumatrans tigers. However the main attraction is the orangutan, they can be found in Gunung Leuser National Park – 5000 wild orangutans are believed to still roam the park.

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