Für Deutsche Version (Google Übersetzt) hier klicken
I'm way behind on my blog as always, but this Island really deserves a long, detailed post.
Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world and is part of the so called "pacific ring of fire", an area where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. Sumatra alone has around 35 active volcanoes.
I rode almost 5000km in the 2 month i stayed on Sumatra, here is my route:
I arrived early at Belawan port, where i was supposed to pick up Blue from the vegetable boat that brought her over.
With plenty of time before my shipping-agent would meet me, i took a walk into the local morning market.
It was a very rural area, the ground was muddy and full of trash. Fresh fish was sold just next to a huge pile of rubbish.
As there is absolutely no tourism in this area, i was quite an attraction. The old market ladies were shouting all foreign words they had picked up on TV and Radio, Hello "Sweetheart", "Babe", "Handsome", "are you married"... i should have recorded it, very amusing :)
I came across this shop,
and wasn't quite sure what was going on there, why do they have tar and chicken in one place?
But while still asking the question, it suddenly became very clear. As a city kid some things really fall into oblivion.
Half day later, paperwork had been done, enough people were bribed (by the Indonesian shipping-agent),
and i could finally pick her up. Apart from an ant invasion caused by a small fish that landed on my pannier,
the bike was in perfect condition.
the bad shipping experiences that every overlander can tell stories about, are still a thing of the future for me.
My first day ride took me to the hill town of Berastagi, a place i have some unfinished business with.
In 2010 i was on the way to Sumatra by airplain, when i got the news that the Sinabung Volcano is erupting.
Amazed by the idea to see an erupting volcano i put Berastagi (which is only ~11km from Sinabung) on my itinerary.
Unfortunately i arrived 4 days after the last eruption, i could not see anything but a rather boring mountain.
Well, this time luck was on my side...
I spent a week watching this volcano, often starting around 6am till late.
On average there were about 10 eruptions a day. I got really addicted, i thought maybe there will be an even bigger eruption, maybe i can see lava (i couldn't, it's only visible at night and as it is monsoon season, weather was not on my side).
The Sinabung (2460m) is a stratovolcano, the biggest danger that comes from this kind are the so called "Pyroclastic flows",
fast-moving, avalanche-like, ground-hugging, incandescent mixtures of hot volcanic debris, ash, and gases that can travel at speeds in excess of 160 km/h.
The ones you see on the pictures above...
On Sinabung they often reach as far as 3km in a westward direction. For that reason there are serious military checkpoints blocking access in a ~3km radius.
On the first day i wanted to have a closer look and to my surprise i was able to drive to the lake at the foot of the mountain without anyone hindering me. As i found out later this is because there are no Pyroclastic flows in that direction.
But the ash still comes down there so most villages were completely abandoned...
This used to be a school, no one knows when it will be reopened
This picture of a dead Leopard-cat got me some local fame. I asked an Indonesian guide that was very fascinated
by the volcano too, what kind of animal it was. He said he had never seen it before and it is probably a tiger.
*haha*. I tried to explain him that i'm 100% sure it's not a tiger, it has the size of a cat.
As it became clear that he had no clue, i stopped talking about it.
A few hours later at the guesthouse that i was staying, i talked to a Belgian tourist, he just got told by a local that
"a tiger has been seen". The town is small, that can't be coincidence i thought. Is he really advertising my dead something-cat as a tiger? He was, a bit later he showed up and asked me to print my picture on a A5 Fotopaper and wanted to know more about the location. He also suggested that it must have died from the volcanic ash, while this is probably possible, a dead animal next to a road is most likely caused by a car/truck hitting it.
I wasn't the only one watching the erupting volcano, Metro TV, a local news channel was reporting all day long
I think this girl was from one of the affected villages (some had been evacuated for a long long time). Am i the only one who finds her sexy holding this exhaust?
My guesthouse offered school kids to come over and practice their English with foreigners, which is excellent as they could probably never afford proper English lessons. I tried to explain them a bit about geography and was positively surprised by their fair command of English. The guys took a seat in the back row, but the girls were really eager to learn.
I asked them about their future job plans, if i remember it correctly, from left to right:
Policewoman, Nurse, Doctor, Judge, Doctor.
The guys all wanted to be Soldiers, except for one, he wanted to become a pilot.
I also had to do some small maintenance on my luggage system, i assume the corrugations in Mongolia caused it.
in Indonesia, small fixing shops are never far away, you just have to make sure you tell them exactly what to do.
More on nightmarish fixing stories in a later post about Java...
As aluminum is difficult to weld (or at least it's difficult to find someone who can do it), i had to go with another solution.
I enforced it with a 1mm metal plate. This should do for a while.
Hello? Anyone home?
I ordered some spicy noodles, my cook was taking it very serious.
A last picture of Sinabung, erupting at sunset.
There is one last story i want to share with you before i move on.
One day i was
exploring some new roads near the volcano, on my way back, police, ambulance and three trucks full of soldiers passed in the other direction. I didn't think about it a lot and continued, parked the bike at some nice viewpoint close to the volcano. Suddenly a lot of soldiers where running around everywhere, one guy seemed like he fall down the stairs and was screaming like hell, then i realized there were unconscious people lying around (one only 5 meters from me), the soldiers seemed to check their pulses, i had no idea what was going on but it seemed very serious (toxic gases came to mind) so i left in a hurry without asking what's the situation all about.
Well, an hour later i got the information that this was a simulation for the big eruption of Mt. Sinabung that was expected to happen very soon.
Very scary, but if i think about it now, quite funny
So this was my first week on Sumatra, one could think from now on everything would be rather boring, but Sumatra was going to surprise me a few more times.
From Berastagi i wanted to go North, through the Gunung Leuser National Park, one of the oldest rainforests in the world.
After a long day with quite some tricky parts (i chose some village roads along the volcano) i arrived Getambe, which is a town on the road that goes through the middle of the jungle. I arrived dry, but it started pooring down the minute i checked into a homestay. It didn't stop till the next morning. Massive amounts of water were coming down.
The next day i got the information that the rain has caused some landslides 5km north and my road (there is only one) was not passable. I extended my stay and went to have a look what happened there...
imagine riding here at night without any streetlights
The jungle has spit out huge trees and tons of mud, it took 3 houses with it, but luckily nobody died that night.
The army already did a good job to clear the road.
Next day i did a trek into the Gunung Leuser National Park, saw Orang Utans, a black Gibbon, some other animals that i don't know the name of, and other nice things...
A very rare ginger species
Not the only one craving for that fish
I continued north, the road was in good condition and extremely scenic.
I'm not sure if i was so smelly or looking funny, but the kids had a great time :)
The next obstacle wasn't to be a long time coming. The night when the heavy rain came down, other places in Sumatra had major landslides too. This one blocked the road for 2 days already, i was lucky to be one of the first motorbikes that could pass, i only had to wait for one hour.
People there told me that this road (another part) had been impassable for 2 weeks the month before, a road just slipped down the hill completely. I wonder how they fix things like that within 2 weeks, digging further into the mountain is probably not an option in that timeframe.
Now while writing this, I realize it could have actually been that part where you see the bridge in the background.
This is a timebomb, what they gonna do if more of the road goes down the hill?
It was still extremely steep, on the edge of what i can do with my heavily loaded bike.
On a plus side, i did not have any traffic coming from behind me for the whole day :)
I arrived a town called Takengon, stayed a night in the scariest (and most overpriced) hotel ever.
It reminded me of the movie Shining. I was completely alone till i went to bed, then i woke up around 2am and had a look at my bike, 10 rather expensive cars were parked outside. A love hotel, that explained the terrible state and crazy price.
I started early (unsurprisingly all cars were gone by 5am) and could enjoy the town and lake at sunrise
Remains of an old bridge, you see these a lot on Sumatra. Nature wins.
This day i rode all the way up to Banda Aceh, a city with a lot of history.
Before the boxing day tsunami most people would either not know of this place at all or think about pirates and terrorists.
It was really not the safest place to be, there was a serious separatist movement (GAM), criminal gangs kidnap-for-profit operations and piracy off the Aceh coast.
All this came to an end when the devastating tsunami caused by the 9.0 Magnitude earthquake on 26. December 2004 (exactly 10 years ago) hit Ache province.
In this region alone, 200.000 lifes were lost, about 600.000 people lost their home.
2005 Aceh got granted more autonomy and a peace agreement was signed between the Free Aceh Movement and Indonesian government. Piracy stopped completely, as they probably lost all their assets (boats and weapons) and many of them likely died in the waves too.
Here is a picture of how it looked like shortly after the Tsunami
|Greg Baker, File/AP Photo|
Everyone you talk to here, has lost someone. Friends, family, one guy that i spoke to was the sole survivor of his whole school class. But despite these traumatic events, most people seem very happy with the "new Aceh".
In the years following the Tsunami, international Aid of about $US8 billion was available for Aceh Province alone. They rebuilt everything, bigger better houses, larger streets, new schools and hospitals.
Apart from a few surfers, there is almost no tourism in this part of Sumatra. One of the reasons might be the Sharia law, that is enforced additionally to the Indonesian law. No alcohol, strict cloth regulations at the beaches, early closing times of beach cafes are facts that keep away the big tourist crowds. But it makes Aceh a very interesting destination for the more independent traveler.
I've really fallen in love with this Province and it's people, here are some pictures of Aceh 10 years after the Tsunami...
Beautiful empty beaches, only a few surfers frequent this place
This boat got pushed inland for almost 3km and came to halt on top of a few houses. Some of the residents could survive by climbing into it. The government bought the land and turned it into a tourist attraction.
Same story for this massive powership
This nice road continues for another 100m and then abruptly ends. I guess it has been washed away and never been rebuilt
Visiting ships that have been turned into tourist attractions is one thing...
This cement freighter (from the cement factory you see in the background) is completely unrelated to the 2004 Tsunami, despite some "journalists" use it in their tsunami articles...
The story here is, there was a storm, the engine(s) failed and it got pushed to shore. This happened around July 2014.
Locals think it is beyond repair and will probably remain there forever.
For me personally, sights like this, are one of the most interesting things on my travels.
Sunset made the whole setting look like in a war movie
As i mentioned before, only a few surfers come to Banda Aceh (Lhoknga), so i gave it a try too.
I think I managed fine for my first time, it was an easy beach break in beautiful setting.
Indonesian bikers often told me about going to Kilometer Zero, i didn't quite understand what it was in the beginning,
but found out later that for them it is the very start of Indonesia. the northernmost point.
As i planned to cross most of the horizontal length, i thought it would be nice to "start from the beginning"...
It's actually on an Island called Pulau Weh, a short ferry ride from Banda Aceh.
There are also some famous diving/snorkeling spots around.
I haven't seen a lot of earth's amazing underwater-world yet, but the snorkeling i did there was the best so far.
Most corals were dead, but there were thousands of colorful interesting fish swimming around...
These pictures i extracted from the 1h footage that i did with my GoPro, unfortunately the quality is not very good, a video would be nice, but i think i can never finish this blogpost if i start cutting this now.
I found this strange creature, my best guess would be "Muraena", but i really have no idea.
Anyone? (look closely, you can see a mouth and an eye)
Snorkeling wasn't far away, i just had to cross the road from my 10$ guesthouse.
I shipped back to Sumatra and continued along the western coast...
The road went along the Gunung Leuser National Park (that i had crossed through the middle on my way up).
I believe to this point I've seen more than 50 landslides already. Sumatra really remembers you of the forces of nature.
fresh octopus anyone?
Driving in heavy rain is very dangerous, for reasons like this. It was somehow scary to drive over these power cables
It's monsoon season, i got soaked every single day, but at some point i got used to it and enjoyed light-rain rides even more than the sunny bits. People in these houses next to the sea must be used to flooding, i think they were below sea-level.
Only a matter of months till this nice open air toilet will collapse
A remainder of the Acehnese Separatist Movement in Tapaktuan, a bit south of one of the towns hat got almost completely wiped out by the tsunami, Meulaboh. Locals told me a bomb had disabled this vehicle of the Indonesian police.
Finding deserted beaches is an easy task in Indonesia.
Southbound the next destination was Lake Toba, one of the only places on Sumatra that sees a fair amount of tourism.
I had been here before in 2010, so i just relaxed for a few days.
With 100km length and 30km width, it is the largest volcanic lake in the world.
Lake Toba is the site of a massive supervolcanic eruption that occurred 69,000 to 77,000 years ago.
One theory claims that it killed most humans living at that time, but what all scientists agree on is that the eruption of Toba led to a volcanic winter with a worldwide decrease in temperature between 3 to 5 °C, and up to 15 °C in higher latitudes.
Driving down into one of the calderas
The Toba region is home to the mostly christian Batak people, this is one of their traditional houses.
Temperatures here are much cooler, the lake is on ~900m altitude
B1 is the code for Dog meat. B2 is Piglet. Delicacies of the Batak people. There are rumors about cannibalism too (in older times), according to a girl that i met later, who was born on Samosir Island and spoke excellent English, it is very true.
Nice hotel along the way, but not in my budget.
Further south i reached Bukittingi,
where i climbed Mt. Merapi, an active complex volcano.
I started around 7am and almost turned back after 30min, there was a camping spot with a tiger warning sign, i ignored it and continued, a minute later i saw/heard something big was walking through the dense jungle, couldn't spot what it was, but scared me quite a bit. People were telling me before there are tigers, but i believe you must be extremely (un)lucky to see one. Asking more about it afterwards it turns out the climb is even forbidden sometimes, when tigers are in their mating period.
The volcano itself was very spectacular too, standing on the rim of the caldera, you could hear it boiling deep down there, with a smell of rotten eggs (sulfur) all around. Bear Grylls landed here with 2 helicopters a few years ago i heard, lame shortcut :P
Although there weren't any very difficult parts, for me it was quite exhausting, took me 3 1/2 hours up to the top.
view of Mt. Singgalang, another volcano in the area.
multiple small craters around
Constantly steaming, sometimes so much that it was difficult to see where you go.
A traveler i met later on Java told me he was in the crater area a few years ago when Merapi erupted. They traveled in a small group and the guide decided it would be safer to go down on the other side, which is a multiple-day trek through the jungle, but more or less without any beaten tracks. He did not think of this as a good idea, so he split from the group and tried to get back the way he came. Somehow he managed to find the way and escape the ash, he arrived back at the hotel the same day. The others also made it, but were highly dehydrated when they came out of the jungle 3 days later.
you don't want to fall down there
On the way down it started to rain, i took a shortcut and found myself going down some muddy hill almost vertically.
Only with the help of lianes i managed to not slip down 20m into the river. Took me 4h to get back to where i parked my bike.
I spent quite a few days in Bukittingi, many interesting places to visit in the area...
You really don't expect a road/bridge construction like this in the middle of Sumatra
I haven't mentioned much about food yet, and as a Thai food spoiled person, it was not always the tastiest,
but they certainly had a lot of interesting things to try...
In Indonesia you usually eat with your hands. Often you get served "all they have", and you only pay for what you ate.
(i did not eat all the food on the picture).
I had Fruit-bat here, interesting, but not as good as the bats that i had years ago in Laos.
Next destination was the Kerinci Volcano, which i did not climb, but it was a very nice sight in the morning
Kerinci Volcano (3805m)Collecting tea at the foot of Mt. Kerinci
Traffic lights often have no real meaning
Beautiful sunsets on the west coast of Sumatra
Sometimes the coastal road really joins the coast, views are usually fantastic when that happens.
Every few years a new road further inland?
The last days on Sumatra my local biker friend Rudy told me a story of an old dutch steamship that has been found at the foot of a mountain near the port to java, in a depth of around 30 meters. It is believed to have been pushed inland by the tsunami that was resulting from the 1883 Krakatoa explosion. I tried to find some English news/research about it, but nothing, only a few Indonesian reports from local newspapers.
Felt a little bit like Indiana Jones with the "treasure map" that my friend had drawn for me...
it's the 21st century guys, don't expect palm trees and measurement in common cubit
I followed a 4km rough village road and another 100m on the back of a villagers motorbike (not that i couldn't have walked that).
Unfortunately the tunnel that leads to the boat was completely flooded.
Well, then someone else has to find out about the secrets this ship holds, it's probably full of gold *haha*, spices are more likely...
I found this picture with unknown source, it's a drawing of an old steamship captioned "Ocean Steamship Carried Inland in Sumatra by Tsunami from the Krakatoa Eruption, 1883". Is this the very same one that is now 30m under earth surface?
There is so much more i could write about, but enough is enough.
Sumatra has been one of the most amazing places on my travels.
I hope one day i can put all the video footage into a short film.
Happy X-Mas from Bali