We awoke this morning to news that the Indonesian volcano Gunung Sinabung has again erupted. As you may recall, it was just a few months ago that we were in Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia climbing Gunung Sibayak. Each morning and evening while we were in Berastagi would would climb to the roof of the home we were staying in and watch the smoke coming from Sinabung.
Climbing to the roof to look at Sinabung
Sinabung smoking on the horizon
Talking about the last eruption…and the present danger.
The husband of the family we were staying with had an extensive album of photos he had taken in 2010, the last major eruption of Sinabung. The photos were a strong reminder of nature’s power – flowing lava, billowing smoke, dozens of charred bodies, horribly burned survivors with skin baked and peeling, everything covered in snow-like ash… A nightmarish scene.
And yet people choose to live and work all around the volcano. The land is fertile, the climate friendly. The area is Sumatra’s “bread basket.” The family we stayed with was convinced that it was totally safe.
Lush fields in our “backyard”
A house in Berastagi
To put the locations in perspective, here is a map that shows Sinabung, Sibayak and the house where we stayed:
The red circle is Sinabung (just erupted), the green circle is Sibayak (the one we climbed), and the blue circle is the house where we stayed. The map scale is about 1 inch = 5 miles.
Sinabung smoulders at sunset
A sulphurous lump on the side of the volcano
Not hot lava
Local kids at work
We hope our friends there are safe, and continue to be so…
From Medan, we took a minivan to Bukit Lawang, a small tourist village on the Bohorok River at the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park. Bukit Lawang has been a popular stop for tourists in Northern Sumatra for at least a couple of decades.
It’s a trekking base for those wanting to explore the rainforest of the park and see what’s left of the endangered Sumatran Orangutans at the nearby orangutan rehabilitation center. Bukit Lawang is set up 100% for tourists, but for a tourist trap, it’s a very laid back place. Locals say “hello” and “good morning” when they pass you on the trails and unlike most of Indonesia, there aren’t any aggressive touts. There are dozens of little guesthouses and restaurants, and each night as the sun goes down it is hard NOT to find a bunch of happy-go-lucky locals sharing a few beers and singing songs with the young backpackers who are the main visitors to the area. If you visit, I guarantee that you will hear the “Bukit Lawang Song” (aka the “Jungle Trek Song”) at least ten thousand times!
Bukit Lawang is inland, far from the coasts of Sumatra, so it was not affected by the 2004 earthquake and tsunami.
Ironically though, hundreds of people were killed and the village devastated by a flood in 2003. Here’s a photo and a snippet from a BBC news report at the time:
Another 100 people are missing after the disaster, which is thought to have been made worse by extensive logging removing cover that once retained rain.
The minister, Nabiel Makarim, blamed corrupt officials and business people for the practice.
The search for bodies continues around the worst-hit village of Bukit Lawang.
“These illegal loggers are like terrorists,” said Mr Makarim, after talks with the Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, in Jakarta.
But he said: “It is difficult to combat illegal logging because we must face financial backers and their shameless protectors both from the Indonesian armed forces and police, and from other government agencies.”
Not only did the illegal logging exacerbate the flooding of the river by creating massive run-off, but there were also thousands of logs which came crashing downriver, smashing into homes and bridges, destroying much in their path. Horrible, but sadly, typical.
One of the reasons we came to Sumatra was to see firsthand the rainforest ecosystem, how people live with it, and the effects of man’s actions on it. In Singapore we choked on a smokey haze blowing over from the fires in Sumatra – fires which were started to clear land for palm oil plantations. On the drive from Medan to Bukit Lawang we saw, yet again, just how massive the palm oil plantations are and how little natural rainforest is left. In this area it was slashed and burned years ago and replaced with thousands and thousands of neat rows of oil palms, and in some cases, rubber trees. It would appear that about the only rainforest left in the area is the park itself.
When the rainforest is cleared, long drainage trenches are cut. This dries out the soil of the forest floor, killing or weakening the plants and making it easier to burn and clear the land. Once cleared, young oil palms are planted in neat rows between the trenches. They will mature and produce oil bearing fruit for about 30 years. Don’t ask what happens to the thousands of species of plants and animals that lived in the rainforest.
One of the old drainage trenches between the oil palm rows.
Endless rows of oil palms
I won’t go on about deforestation and its effects here. Suffice it to say that it is shocking what has been lost, how much (and in some ways, how little) things have changed since I was last here 23 years ago. According to this recent study, primary forest has declined by 40% in the past twenty years and 92% of Sumatra has lost its virgin forest. Nothing good can come of this in the long run, and the local people have profited little from this great loss. Quite the contrary.
Anyway, we arrived in Bukit Lawang and checked into a nice little guesthouse along the river in the main part of the village. It was one of the cheaper places, but quite comfortable, and their little restaurant had great food. To Jette’s delight the family that owned the place had a couple of kids, and a new puppy.
Our little cabin
Homework on the porch
Our home in Bukit Lawang
Bruno – the guesthouse puppy
I didn’t get any photos of them, but there were mischievous macaque monkeys around who would swing down from the surrounding trees and steal food and other things. One afternoon I was sitting on the porch reading. There was a plastic bag with some fruit sitting on the table in front of me. As I was reading, I saw a movement in my peripheral vision. I looked up from my book and there was a monkey hanging from the side of the building at the edge of the patio about 10 feet in front of me. We locked eyes for a moment and then he suddenly leapt from the wall to a nearby column and from the column to the edge of the table in front of me. Still making eye contact I leaned forward and hissed loudly, fully expecting to scare him away. Instead he opened his mouth and showed me his teeth, calmly reached over and lifted a star fruit from the bag on the table, and stuck it in his mouth. He paused for half a second to glare at me, then leaped back, bouncing off the column up to the wall, disappearing up and over the edge of the roof. One of the ladies that works at the guesthouse appeared with a slingshot and started shooting pebbles at the monkey, who was sitting at the peak of the roof enjoyed my fresh starfruit. Lesson learned. Stupid humans making hissing noises doesn’t frighten Sumatran monkeys. If anything it just amuses them.
Slingshot for chasing away mischievous monkeys
The locals in the village told us that the orangutan rehabilitation center was now permanently closed. We asked why and were told that all of the orangutans had been “successfully rehabilitated” and so there was no longer a need for the center. Hmmmm… We booked an overnight “jungle trek” through our guesthouse. The next morning we threw a few things in a backpack and headed out with our guide. We walked through the village, along the river, and into the forest.
Beginning our trek
Welcome to the jungle
We followed narrow, but well traveled paths through the forest. It was quite hilly with some very steep and slippery sections. There was no technical climbing, but we were sometimes forced to climb or descend especially steep or muddy sections on all fours.
Full moon on this hill
Over the mossy log
Up a muddy embankment
It was hot and so humid. We were sweating like crazy. As we hiked through some of the wet valley areas there were swarms of mosquitoes, but on the hilltops there were very few. There were some really fantastic, giant old trees, lots of vines that tempted me to play Tarzan, and some critters along the way.
A friendly turtle says, “Hey jerk, put me down!”
This is a “small” female ant. Only the big males bite.
Great old tree and vines
Look at this twisty vine!
After a few hours, we stopped for a snack of fruit. It was quite a spread.
After the snack we pressed on, and came upon another lady and her guide feeding a Thomas Leaf Monkey, a species found only in Northern Sumatra.
Local guide feeding a Thomas Leaf Monkey
Sadly, this was a scene that was to be repeated throughout the day. Now we understood why the guides had brought so much fruit – they were feeding the animals! Before we left on our trek we made very clear that while we were eager to see orangutan and other wildlife, we wanted to see them from a distance. We did NOT want to get too close. Alas, that was not to be. We had read that some of the orangutans could be quite aggressive, particularly an adult female named Minah. Throughout the day we crossed paths with other groups and guides, and in every instance they were feeding the orangutan and monkeys. Quite clearly this was standard practice. The animals had learned that humans on the trail meant a yummy snack of fruit. They showed no fear of people, on the contrary, they approached people knowing full well that they would be rewarded with food. We can only assume that the rehabilitation center was closed so that the tourists could feed the animals on their “jungle treks.” Yep, it appeared that we were now part of the problem.
Down the path
One we went, and before long we saw our first orangutans, up towards the top of some nearby trees.
Seeing our first orangutans
Orangutans in a tree. Can you see them up there?
We hiked a bit more. We followed the trail up a hill and emerged into a small clearing at the top. The trail continued on the other side of the clearing. Standing on the far side by the path was one of the orangutans, Minah, with a baby on her back. Another tourist and guide were standing in the clearing and the guide was getting fruit out of his bag to feed Minah. Our guide urged us closer, but we refused, reiterating that we did NOT want to get close to the animals, especially the orangutans, and we certainly didn’t want to feed them. He said that we had to go past her to follow the trail, and again we refused. Clearly frustrated with us, he had the second guide lead us down a smaller trail to the side of the clearing, allowing us to keep our distance from Minah.
Local guide feeding Minah as we head for the side trail.
When he rejoined us down the trail, we told him again that we did NOT want to get close to the orangutans, and we questioned the wisdom of feeding them. He told us that they had to feed them, otherwise they will get aggressive, especially Minah. He showed us some fresh scars on his forearm and told us how, about 5 weeks ago he had encountered Minah on the trail. He was reaching into his bag to get some fruit for her, but apparently she got impatient, grabbed his arm, and bit it. He said that while he was punching her three other guides were able to pull him from her grasp. He seemed quite proud of this, and told us with a smile that the treks were boring if they didn’t see Minah, and that the local guides had a saying: “No Minah, no fun. No Minah, no run!” So much for rehabilitation, eh?
These guys can really climb
We hiked some more and again as we crested a hill, we crossed paths with another orangutan – one of Minah’s older children. Mila was a minute or so behind us, and I don’t think she realized that the orangutan was there as she came up the path.
Looking at Mila as she comes up the path
Regardless, the guides led her behind the orangutan as one of them made an offering of fruit.
A little too close for comfort
We hiked on…
On one narrow, sloped section of trail we encountered Jackie, another orangutan.
Thankfully, that was our last encounter with orangutans. This was just too close, and the conditions too sad. We came to see and understand their plight, and ended up feeling like we were contributing to the problem. Guides feeding them for the entertainment of tourists simply seems to create dependencies and encourage interactions which are risky for both sides. On the other hand, without the tourist dollars and interest, I also wonder if they would still exist in this area at all. No doubt orangutans are beautiful creatures, but they face a dim future. Their habitat will continue to be destroyed and they will likely continue to be under threat. “Critically endangered” is not a good thing to be, and from what we saw, I doubt conditions will ever improve for our sad cousins the Sumatran Orangutans.
So, with those cheery thoughts, on with our story. We hiked on and before long the river came into view. Our campsite was on the bank of the river and other groups and guides were arriving too. Those who were not spending the night were wrapping their bags in plastic and getting into tubes to go back down river.
The river comes into view
Tubin’ Sumatra style
While the guides prepared dinner, we cooled off in the river with a group of noisy French, Moroccans, and Algerians.
Time to swim
Our jungle bath complete, we dried off and went into our shelter for dinner. Jette was not feeling well. All of our bottled water was gone, and the guides were boiling and serving smokey tasting, slightly cloudy river water. Jette took a sip, but no more. She was exhausted and I think dehydrated. She didn’t want to eat, and laid down on her pallet. Mila and I ate a little bit and laid down too. We were tired and with Jette not feeling well, we wanted to keep a close eye on her. I talked for an hour or so with our guide then we all tried to sleep. The French group in the shelter next to us were sitting around a fire playing drinking games and singing. I tired to listen to the sound of the jungle, but they were drowned out by their shouts, songs and antics. This continued for almost SIX HOURS until the last couple of them stumbled off to bed around 3:30 a.m.
Extremely loud French drinking games
In the morning, Jette was feeling better. We had a good time watching the water monitors swim in the river, and troupes of monkeys along the banks. Some of the monkeys were quite aggressive and would come into camp to try and steal things. We had fun throwing rocks at them to scare them off. Of course we never hit them, but when a throw got close the monkeys would scamper away.
Throwing a rock at a monkey
I don’t have photos as the camera was stuffed in a waterproof bag, but after a while it was time to pile into a raft made of inner tubes lashed together and float down the river and back to our guesthouse.
We spent another day in Bukit Lawang, and since we had been eating all of our meals and spending most of our time at our guesthouse, we walked a little further down the main path to explore a bit and had lunch at the Jungle Inn. The guys there were really nice, and it looks like it would be a fun place to stay too. They have one “cabin” that is two stories with a balcony overlooking a private waterfall. Nice.
Walking down to the Jungle Inn
In Bukit Lawang
On one of our days in Bukit Lawang, we walked from the main tourist area along the river, back through the palm oil plantations to the market area of the village. One day a week, Friday if I remember correctly, is market day and folks from all around come to stock up on what ever they might need – chickens, fish, produce, clothing, soap, you name it. Goods are laid out on the ground, or in simple stalls, and the sometimes muddy paths between them have a constant stream of local shoppers.
The weekly market at Bukit Lawang
At one end of the market, there is a large, open area that was filled with men making deals and large, rectangular bundles of what looked like big mushroom tops. The smell – a rancid, earthy, fermented odor – was intense.
Every once in awhile a man would pull out a parang (machete), chop into a bundle and inspect it. We couldn’t figure out what these things were, and my gosh the smell! I walked over and asked one of the men, “Apa ini?” (“What is this?). “Karet” was his answer. Rubber. Of course! To harvest the natural latex sap from rubber trees, strips of bark are cut forming a channel, and half a coconut is hung to collect the latex sap which oozes out. These odd bundles of mushroom-shaped things, were the half-coconut shaped lumps of latex all pressed together! Recently, rubber prices have dropped by 50% so what was once profitable is now not so much. One of our taxi drivers started driving taxis because he could not longer make a living with rubber.
Here’s a video that shows the rubber tapping and processing as it is done in Thailand. At this market the raw rubber is just bundled and sold, presumably the later stages of processing are done elsewhere.
Alas it was time to move on, so from Bukit Lawang and took a minibus to Berastagi. But that’s another blog post…
It’s eerie to consider that we were just in Sumatra mere weeks ago and just days ago, a significant 7.9 earthquake hit southwest of the island. We consider ourselves lucky to have gotten the chance to visit such an incredible place yet miss the turbulence that comes with living there.
Indonesia is a country composed of fourteen THOUSAND islands, six THOUSAND of which are inhabited; we visited ONE, Sumatra.
Our first and last stop in Sumatra was Medan. We flew into Medan from Penang, Malaysia. We also flew out of Medan on our way back to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia before flying on to Sri Lanka. For a city that is typically used as a transit hub, atypically, we spent a combined four days here and discovered a few of the city’s charms. Our travels through Indonesia went something like this:
Penang, Malaysia flight to Medan, Indonesia
Medan > Bukit Lawang > Berastagi > Lake Toba/Samosir Island > Medan
Medan, Indonesia flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka
Medan is the fifth largest city in the country and is the largest city after Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, and Bekasi, all of which are on the island of Java.
Our plane trip from Penang was short and easy and we arrived in the early evening, right around sunset. We spent a significant bit of time inside the airport trying to find a SIM card, while politely avoiding large numbers of overpriced taxi touts. Once we had our SIM card purchased and installed, we were able to locate our destination on Google Maps. We’ve found this simple measure incredibly useful on more than one occasion. If a taxi driver has never heard of the particular guesthouse where we are staying, we can show him a dropped pin on a Google map. If that fails, having internet is useful to pull up our hosts’ phone number. We can then just hand the phone to the driver to discuss directions in the local language. Sounds simple enough, but with thirteen countries travelled so far, keeping track of all those tiny SIM cards and communicating our needs upon arrival in each new country is a step that takes a bit of time and some effort, but has always cut down on that slightly disorienting, slightly overwhelming feeling of being in a completely new place on this planet every few weeks.
Medan was a bit of a shock to our systems after the loveliness, charm and relatively high level of modern development of Penang. Our guesthouse was in a residential neighborhood about 45 minutes from the airport and most of that time was spent driving through dimly lit residential neighborhoods. Indonesian drivers are notoriously wild and reckless, weaving in and out of the suggested street lane markings into oncoming traffic. Somehow, though, we lucked into the slowest driver in Medan. His caution and slow speed may have caused all of the other drivers around us to look all the more insane.
There was quite a bit of homogeneity between the neighborhoods that we drove past in that they all seemed to be lively, late in the evening, full of smiling children running around, having what appeared to be a great time. There was, of course, a cacophony of motorcycle and car horns blasting away constantly for no apparent reason.
There were dozens of street vendors, most of whom were selling ayam goreng (fried chicken) and many others with independent petrol stations. It appeared that in order to be a licensed petrol dealer, one must first locate a dozen plastic, empty 1.5 liter water bottles and refill them with 1 liter of petrol. Once the bottles are placed across a small table, shelving unit, chair or any other somewhat stable surface for display, business is officially open. With every sort of gas-powered vehicle whizzing by, the stations were definitely a necessity, but there was a disorienting sense of redundant commerce; the stations were sometimes right next to each other, often across the road from each other and just here, there and everywhere. It seemed like a very popular business with low barriers to entry, low overhead, low spoilage and questionable margins.
Jette and I sat in the back seat, taking in our new environment, while Waco sat in the passenger seat, chatting with the driver in his rusty, yet useable, Bahasa. Jette and I sat very impressed; the driver was quite complimentary to Waco’s efforts, also!
The quality of housing and overall infrastructure, upon first glance, appeared devastatingly low. Knowing that Indonesia is a wealthy country with a significant level of profit from many industries, with the largest economy in Southeast Asia, I was quite shocked to observe the low level of road construction, garbage everywhere and general lack of solid infrastructure that I had assumed would be there based upon the country’s wealth. We drove for some time through quite similar neighborhoods until we arrived at our guesthouse, K77. We were greeted warmly by Lola, the wife in the husband/wife team who own and operate the guesthouse, but before we went inside, a little group of neighborhood kids came running up to us and some of the tiniest ones came running up to Jette and took her hand to their foreheads, a custom called “salim” which indicates respect in their social structure and hierarchy. As westerners, we are uncomfortable with outright hierarchical statements and physical acts that are representative of societal position, but in Indonesian society, hierarchical relationships are respected, emphasized and maintained, so we felt the need to go along with local customs.
We wrapped up our hellos and came in to see that our host had brought out a tray of juice and a delicious snack of sweet sticky rice lopis for us. They were sooooo good and our first time trying them. They were our first introduction to Indonesian sweets, but wouldn’t be our last; we were to discover that Medan is known for tasty cakes.
We took our bags upstairs, got cleaned up and stepped out to search for a quite bite of dinner. The street in front of K77 is quite narrow, with most of the street-facing buildings being either one or two stories. Going out on foot brought us a lot of attention. We spent a few minutes sharing smiles, then walked along to find some dinner.
Local business? homework spot? motorcycle parking spaces? all of the above?
We walked the wild streets of Medan for a bit, dodging traffic with every step across broken concrete rubble bits as we tried to find a place to sit and have a meal. While we explored, we ran into a young Chinese man who was also staying at K77 and we ventured around for a bit together. After an intense, life-risking street crossing, where we all ran across and teetered on a crumbling median, cars and motor scooters zig-zagging and whizzing by without slowing down, we saw a small restaurant that looked reasonably busy (always a good sign) and clean (another positive trait). We ordered with the help of Waco’s rusty Bahasa language skills and ended up having a delicious dinner. Pretty much everyone in the restaurant stared at us throughout our entire meal; we had so many pairs of eyes on us, we could only laugh. After having been in Penang, home to thousands of expats, we had gotten used to feeling like we were just one of many, and not too special. Indonesia was going to be different, very different. Our first hours here were shaping up to frame our entire visit to the country; Sumatran tourism has slowed to a trickle and people were intrigued by us. Some were so excited to meet us, they made us feel like celebrities, asking for our photos.
This fruit vendor was a college student helping at her family’s fruit stand
Here she is with mom, who asked for photos
The next morning, we set out in vain to find a laundry facility that could clean our growing bag of unwearable clothes in time for our departure the following day. We walked and explored, assuming that we would find a place easily, as we had in so many other cities and countries before. After walking in vain for nearly an hour, with extremely vague directions and “help” from some locals, we finally found a dry-cleaner. The clerk started to count our items and came to a pair of undies, at which point she put everything back into our bag and stated simply, “Oh, sorry, cannot”. We stood a bit dumbfounded, “Pardon”? She was quite apologetic, but their facility had a policy against cleaning undergarments. Well, there are three of us and half our laundry is underwear!
Tired, hot, and sweaty, we decided we’d spent enough time and energy on our laundry task of the day and proceeded onwards, by tuk-tuk, to some of Medan’s more interesting sights. We went straight to Tip-Top Cafe, a colonial-era relic of a restaurant that’s been around since 1934. The signage, covered patio and menu were a throwback to another time, which is always fun, but there was also an awkwardness to the experience. There were too many suited servers for the number of customers the cafe was serving. We ordered a few items and thought our meals were fine, but the formality of the service felt quite forced in a city like Medan. Tip-Top is a place where locals of questionable honor and shady expats come to rub elbows and “do business”, and spend more rupiah for one meal than the servers likely received for their week’s wages. We finished quickly and moved along.
Amazing for this spot to have survived since 1934
Jette relaxing at Tip Top
The nasi goreng (fried rice) at Tip Top
A pretty tasty little fried potato cake
We ventured across the street, to the Tjong A Fie mansion after lunch. The historically significant Chinese, feng shui, turn-of-the-century mansion, turned out to be incredibly similar to the Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion in Penang, that we had just seen days before. The buildings almost appeared to have used the exact same blueprints! Our excellent guide through the home revealed that the Indonesian was a nephew of the Malaysian magnate, which was fascinating and might explain the similarity of the two properties. The Indonesian tour allowed for more exploration within the property, which was really fun and sated our curiosity to see rooms that had been deemed “private” at the Blue Mansion in Penang.
The entrance to the mansion is quite unassuming
Greeted with a subtle garden just inside the gate
A grand space!
The detail on these ceilings was incredible
Slightly crumbling, but so detailed
This one was outside under the porch
The interior spaces are completely open to the exterior
Second level walkway between bedrooms
This is a turn-of-the-century carved stone soybean mill for making tofu
Ground floor garden space
Jette’s hand was eaten by this foo dog as we left
After the mansion, we walked to a cafe and had some cold drinks. Refreshed, we stood to leave and were immediately approached by a group of school kids. They had a class assignment and Waco agreed to be their subject.
Being interviewed and filmed
This young man had a list of questions about our visit to his city
It was a fun moment in our day and we were happy we didn’t brush them off. There were quite a few individuals and groups who asked for money as we walked around and we (wrongly) assumed the kids might be an organized group collecting funds. We wonder where their video will be played?!?
We finished the interview and continued our walk, observing some crumbling buildings that must have had a former life filled with glamour.
Someone bring me a power-washer!
Look at this incredible bamboo scaffolding
Great modernist facade with many years of “patina”
We took in more sights around the city, eventually finding our way to its famous baking district. Medan is known for many cakes, and anyone living there or passing through is obligated by friends and family to bring them a favorite cake. We saw people buying up to a dozen cake boxes at a time, and throughout our travels in Indonesia, we would notice other travellers with Medan cake bakery boxes that they were bringing back for themselves or to share. We tried Ratna Bakery and were delighted with their scrumptious Lapis Legit and Bika Ambon.
This slice didn’t last long
The cakes were not too sweet, had beautiful construction, and unique flavors and aromas of pandanas leaf, cardamom and other unidentifiable ones. We all enjoyed the texture of the bika ambon, which some people call “honeycomb”.
The past month has been a whirlwind trip through Malaysia and Sumatra. We’ve visited the disappearing rainforests of both, trekked through the jungle, climbed an active volcano, met orangutans in the wild, and stayed on a beautiful island in a giant lake, in the crater of yet another volcano.
In Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
Rainforest ants are BIG!
We promise we to blog about it soon, but not tonight.
Tonight we are back in Kuala Lumpur. It’s getting close to midnight and we have to be up before the sun tomorrow for a flight to SRI LANKA!
We promise more updates soon, but in the meantime here is a short video of our climb of Gunung Sibayak in Sumatra. I wish you could smell the sulphur and feel the heat. It was awesome!
Yesterday we climbed to the top of Gunung Sibayak, a volcano near Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia. We got up at 4 am and made it to the top rim of the volcano just as the sun was rising. It was awesome!
The video above is just a quick “Hello” but we are working hard to get a full post up with all the details on the volcano experience as well as our recent adventures in the rain forests and urban jungles of Sumatra.
A mapped summary of our most recent travels since the beginning of 2016.
We’re nearly six weeks behind real time posts, and delays in our posts will likely continue. We simply haven’t been able to upload photos and videos in Malaysia and Indonesia. Internet connections are usually very slow and sometimes, just barely functional. We haven’t found anywhere (for weeks!) where we have enough upload speed for our growing collection of photos and videos. We experienced slow connections in Thailand, too, but managed to find one or two dependable locations with enough bandwidth (in hindsight, what a luxury!).
Here are a few maps that show our recent travel. We left Bangkok at the start of the New Year, January 2016. We flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Then, we took a minivan with a few other passengers to the Jetty in Kuala Tembeling where we boarded a small wood longboat-style river boat to Taman Negara, a 130 million year old rainforest and national park about 240km northeast of Kuala Lumpur. From there, we drove about 250km west, to Cameron Highlands, one of Malaysia’s most extensive hill stations, with blissfully cool temperatures and altitudes that ranged from 3,600ft to 5,200ft above sea level.
After Cameron Highlands, we had a minivan to ourselves for the entire 260km drive to Pulau Pinang, an island that sits on the west coast of Malaysia in the Straits of Malacca within the Malaysian state of Penang. We spent most of our time in Georgetown, a UNESCOWorld Heritage site, one of the most commercially and economically developed cities in Malaysia, and a charming historic city all rolled into one.
From Penang, we flew to Medan, Indonesia, the third largest city in the country.
From Medan, we had a private car drive us the short 70km to Bukit Lawang, a small village adjacent to Gunung Leuser National Park. The park is part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra which is part of a UNESCOWorld Heritage site. We are writing from Bukit Lawang now, and have departure plans tomorrow morning for Berastagi, known for cooler temperatures (yay!), a couple of volcanoes and some hot springs.
For scale, consider that “little” volcanic island (Samosir) you see sitting southeast of Bukit Lawang in the middle of a natural lake (Danau Toba/Lake Toba). Samosir island is the size of Singapore.