Last Days in Sumatra

Indonesia Photo Album Updated.

It was quite funny seeing the look on the faces of the staff at the Samosir Cottages when we arrived back on their doorstep.  We didn’t really have an option other than to back track as all the prices for flights and transport had sky rocketed with everyone going home at the end of Hari Raya Celebrations (End of Ramadan).  The hotels on the other hand were all empty which gave us good bargaining power.  We managed to get the same room, but managed to bargain the price down this time from £7 to £4, and spent another 5 days chilling out and trying to work out our next destination.

The next destination was to be Bukkatingi, but this was only decided after 5 days of deliberations.  The reason being, Bukkatingi was 15 hours away on an overnight bus 😦 We were all dreading it, but decided we just had to bite the bullet and get on with it. The bus would leave at 9pm and get into Bukkatingi at lunchtime the next day. It was really quite depressing waiting at the bus station. The station was like a cleared demolition site, in the middle of a housing estate, and there was a nicotine stained waiting room that looked like it hadn’t been decorated since the 50’s.  We were then told the bus was a couple of hours late due to the weather. Welcome to Sumatra.

The rainy season has started here, and we have been seeing some really wild weather, usually after 6pm.  We were playing cards one night, when the loudest bang of thunder we had ever heard roared above us.  It was so loud, we were totally astounded.  I actually thought there had been an explosion or something.  We stopped to watch the lightning, when suddenly a bolt of lightening zapped the corrugated iron roof of a house just across road.  This is when things turned a bit fraught, and we really got quite concerned for our own safety.  It was pretty amazing looking back now, but at the time it was really quite scary.  Thankfully, we won’t see much more of these as we go further east and get ahead of the monsoons.

The Bus turned up, full of Indonesians who had boarded in Medan.  When I say full, there were actually people sitting on upturned plastic bins in the middle of the aisle. I felt quite guilty as people moved out of our pre-booked seats and onto one the bins.  The journey wasn’t so bad, but I couldn’t believe it when the bus pulled over by a Mosque at 5am and suddenly emptied for all the Muslims to go and pray.  There was river in front of the Mosque, and you could see all the men stripping down to their underpants, and washing themselves all over in what must have been freezing cold water.  That’s when we noticed a man a little further up stream, in the water, in a squat position.  His facial expression suddenly convinced us he was putting something in the river that the guys further down were not going to appreciate. 🙂

Bukkatingi was a nice change from all the rural places we had been to.  The temperature was higher and there were plenty of bars, a huge outdoor market, and lots of places to eat etc. There was also a huge canyon, which was really pretty and quite awe inspiring, and from our viewpoint, little monkeys would scarper around, eyeballing what you had in you’re hands for a steal. But again, it was the people who made it for us.  They are all just so friendly. Everyone shouts “Hello” to you, and children like to stop and speak, mainly because Westerners are more than a bit of a novelty here, but also so they can practice their English and maybe get a photo with you.  Of course, the other great thing was the chance to see Lisa again, and we spent a good few nights on the Beer Bintang, playing cards and trying to learn some basic Indonesian from Lisa. Through Lisa, we met Molly, a really nice Indonesian bloke who is a school teacher of English.

Our next destination was to be Padang, quite a major town, and this would also act as a departure point allowing us to continue onto Java with a domestic flight. The only problem looming was that our 30 day visa’s were about to expire the following week.  We had spent a month in Sumatra, and there was still Java, Bali, Lombok and Flores etc to complete before we could really say we had covered Indonesia. It was looking like a flight back to KL, Malaysia, and a return flight to Java get a new visa, but Molly told us there was another way, and offered to sponsor us for another 30 days.  This would save a small fortune on flights as well as all the hassle, so it was onto Padang and a visit to Immigration. This was to be a long drawn out affair with 5 processing days, so we reluctantly had to sit tight and stay in Padang.  Padang accommodation was quite expensive, even on the budget end of the scale.  Molly knew this, but had other plans for us however, as soon after filling out the paperwork, we immediately boarded a chicken bus to the village of Bungus.  Here, we would meet an ex student of Molly’s, 27 year old Raoule, who owned a homestead on the beach, 20km’s away from the city.

This was not what we had in mind as we were looking forward to a big city again, but little did we know what was in store for us.  Raoule turned out to be a fantastic character, and we all took to him straight away.  We sat in his beach hut overlooking the sea while the sun went down, as Raoule spent time winding us up, telling jokes, and killing himself laughing each time we fell for each one of his stories.  Supposedly he is half Spanish, hence the name, and his great grandfather was a commander with the Spanish Armada who had absconded with his crew and sailed his ship to Indonesia a long time ago. He liked it so much he stayed and married a local girl. Raoule then told us that next day he was going to show us to climb up the palm trees to pick coconuts and bananas.  He went to get us some cold beer from his fridge, and while he was away, we found out from his brother that these were just palm tree’s and the only way we were going to get any fruit, was if we bought some from the local store.  As for the Spanish story, the closest connection Raoule had with Spain was that he had once eaten a Spanish Omelette! Raoule arrived with the beers, and when we quizzed him, he couldn’t open them as he was doubled over giggling and laughing.

We were enjoying his company, when he suddenly became quite serious. He advised us there was not much to do around the village of Bungus.  The sea is full of coral, so we couldn’t swim from the beach.  There was a waterfall we could go and see, but it was supposedly not that impressive.  We could get the bus into town which takes about 40 minutes. Raoule then asked us how we felt about staying overnight on a small private and secluded tropical Island, with turquoise blue water and white sandy beaches. We could go snorkelling, swimming, beach combing and exploring.  We just had to provide our own food, and he would supply fresh water, cooking utensils and the boat! 🙂

We set off next morning, it would take an hour to reach the Island, but we would stop half way at his friend’s place, which was a tropical fish farm floating on the water between the Islands.  What a place, we were blown away by the scenery and were also treated to sweet Indonesian Coffee and Nasi Ikan.  (white rice with freshly fried fish and hot chilli sauce).  Michelle borrowed the canoe and rowed around the fish farm while the sun beat down.  It was the clearest cleanest bluey-green water we had ever seen, with a stretch of white sand beach and lush green tropical Islands dotted around us.

Within an hour so we were bidding our farewell’s and off to our very own Island.  We were not to be disappointed.  The setting was spectacular, and we were left to take it all in while Raoule and his 2 brothers offloaded all the equipment, food, water etc.

Raoule had also packed a cooler full of ice, which would take care of the large case of freezing cold Beer Bintang that was currently sweating in the baking sun.  The Island was breathtaking, and we just chilled as we took turns in the water trying out the snorkelling gear to see tropical fish of various sizes and bright vivid colours.  We built a fire on the beach from old driftwood, got some food on the go, and cracked open the first Bintang as we sat and chilled out watching the sky and Islands change colour as the sun began to disappear. We stayed up late polishing of that crate of Bintang, and had a great laugh sitting on the beach near the fire.  At bedtime, Lyndon jumped on a hammock between two coconut trees and was going to sleep alfresco.  It has probably been one of the greatest highlights of the trip so far.

We said so long to Raoule and the boys and were quite sad to be moving on.  Raoule was glad to see the back of us, well Michelle anyway.  Michelle’s hairdryer had been blowing the fuses back at the homestead, but Raoule wasn’t sure if she had actually been fusing the whole village.  We seemed to get a good send off anyway 🙂

We went back to Immigration in Panang to pick up our visas.  After being told they wouldn’t be ready until the following Monday, we really began to panic.  Our flights to Java had been booked and we really needed those visas.  We had a gut wrenching wait, until the Immigration Officer took pity on us, and asked us to come back at 4pm and our visa’s would be ready.  Talk about cutting it fine.  Thankfully, all came good, and we were now on our way to Java.  The following day, we would be organising our trips to the ancient temples of Borobudur and Perambanan, near Yogyakarta.

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2 Responses to Last Days in Sumatra

  1. Siobhan Newman says:

    Oh man! Your blog and photos sound and look amazing! So glad you have decided to do this, it’s really giving me/us something to think about. The oz dollar/british pound situation is getting worse so enjoy the cheaper life over there. James and I are off to look for extra work to pay off the boots we’ve both bought! I’m now going home with 4 pairs, don’t ask! Keep safe and keep enjoying the awesome experience of a life time, sooooooooo want to be there!!
    Luv u both
    Siobhan 🙂

    Michelle I tried to text you but obviously didn’t work or get through. Can you email me on, just want to chat to you nothing important and it can wait.

  2. Sheila says:

    Hi Pete and Michelle, what a trip this is turning out to be, you make it all sound so easy and wonderful and something everyone should do rather than the usual package holiday to Spain. I know your not thinking of your return journey home just yet, but try and make a detour to Liverpool as we will have a new baby in March and are going to find out whether it is a boy or a girl in a couple of weeks time. Enjoy your days on the lovely beach and party hard into the night.

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