Category Archives: Sumatra

Volcano Climb and last days in Sumatra

In Berastagi, Niki immediately signed up to climb Mt. Sinabung, the taller and more sinister of the two local volcanoes. This time, we wised up and actually hired a guide, which is highly recommended in the guidebook and at the hostel, as they have a list of hikers that have absconded or perished whilst on the volcano. In the village at the base of the volcano, we chanced upon a wedding party, which basically consisted of two groups of people facing each other and the bride and groom’s group doing a little dance towards the other group. They were on “stage” for about 30 seconds and then it was done. The women were dressed up in ornate hats and all had red-stained teeth from the ubiquitous betle nut that they love chewing so much in this part of the world.

Our hike started out on a dirt road winding between cabbage fields and as we climbed, the view was just stunning. Then, we turned off the dirt road and for the next two hours, climbed straight up – at most points we were scrambling on all fours to get up. It was difficult, but we were rewarded with the strong smell of sulphur at the top. So, we had some fried rice for lunch and then went exploring the top. We saw some spewage – bright yellow sulphur emanating from within. The air was full of a sulphur-y chalk and very harse on the lungs and eyes. We climbed to the tippy-top and then headed straight down – again, mostly on all fours. We’re glad we had a guide, as we actually made it to the top of the volcano and we didn’t die! We drove back to town on the top of the taxi – that seems to be the way to travel around here, since we did it in Bukit Lwang after tubing as well. It’s quite fun – all the locals love it when they look up and see some foreigners on top, and it’s way more comfortable than sitting inside the tiny bus/taxis.

Ric and Monique stayed back, but we had our final dinner with them. After nearly 3 weeks of traveling together, the 4 of us sadly parted ways. Fortunately, we’ll meet up with them in Bali again in about 2 weeks. Niki and I then hopped on a local bus. Holiday season was ending today (it’s Sunday), so all the buses were jam-packed. We sat on an 18-inch bench in the doorway. Pretty much the whole ride, I was touching 6 people and we had 6 of us in the doorway the entire 2.5 hour ride – we were lucky enough to sit, but everyone else just hung out the door.

In Medan, we wandered around and went to the mall – it’s always fun checking out how people live their everyday lives in other countries. We stocked up on toothpaste, candy and other essentials. Then, we went to the top floor where there was basically an indoor amusement park. We were as much part of the entertainment for the locals as were the rides. The best part was when we were on the roller coaster – which was totally not scary, but there was a power outage in the middle of the ride and it definitely made the kiddie roller coaster more fun. And now we’re heading to Bali. I’m definitely excited for some R&R, some $4 massages, changing up my wardrobe a bit and checking out this oft-raved about paradise that is Bali.


We actually tried climbing a volcano near the town of Bukittinggi, the most active volcano inSumatra, where we hoped to catch sunrise from the top. We initially had our fearless foursome intact, but Monique had never hiked before and felt uncomfortable hiking in the dark and Ric felt obligated to stay with Monique. So, Niki and I weighed our pros and cons and decided to go for it. At 11:30pm, we hired a taxi to take us to the trailhead. Given that my command of the Indonesian language at this point was “Merapi (name of the volcano), Bukittinggi (name of the town where we came from), Teramakasi (thank you) and bagus (good), I had written down the name of the trailhead and figured we were good to go. On the way, our driver pulled over to the side of the road, as a shack was on fire. We ended up driving on to the volcano, but he had no clue where the trailhead was and our directions weren’t super clear. So, he stopped and asked some locals – at which point 3 men came out and one of them (who didn’t speak English) got in the cab. At that point, we decided it was safest to return to Bukittinggi. After some arguing and fierce talking on our end, our driver turned around. When we reached the fire again, it had grown incredibly, so after sitting for 15 minutes, we took a parallel road. We were watching the fire and a HUGE explosion went off – literally like something you see in the movies. It was just a really surreal night – sounds kind of mundane in print, but was just one of those bonding moments at the end of it all.

After leaving Bukittinggi, we took a 16 hour bus ride to Lake Toba, which at 505m deep, is thought to be the world’s deepest lake. Niki, Ric, Monique and all made the harrowing journey intact. Unfortunately, we bought tickets for the local economy bus, but were given a tourist bus instead. These 3 people that I’m traveling with are absolutely awesome in that we all want the most authentic experience as possible and would rather spend time with the locals than take a more impersonal bus. We were warned about our bus journey – apparently lots of people vomit as the roads twist and turn and the potholes are just unbelievable, but we were all fine.

Arriving in Lake Toba, we’ve mostly been relaxing on the Singapore-sized island in the middle of the lake. It’s been incredibly relaxing and I’ve mostly enjoyed the deep conversations we’ve been having, the card games we’ve been playing and the rapport that the 4 of us have established. Niki and I have hit it off so well that we’ve decided to travel together for the next month. I’m really excited, because we’re on the same page. When choosing which volcano to climb, we both want to climb the more challenging one, the one where solo hikers have perished, rather than the tried and true easier one. So, I feel very lucky to have found such a like-minded travel companion.

Here in Lake Toba we went paddling on the lake (5 of us in a kind of awkwardly large rowboat), and today we rented bikes and biked for about 25 miles or so along the coast of the island. It’s stunningly beautiful – rice paddies alongside the road that just immediately turn into a really steep hill. The island has both palm trees and evergreen trees, which is kind of cool. In general, riding along, nearly every single kid shouts “hello” with a big smile on their face. It’s such a warm and welcoming country and the people are just so friendly. The people in this region are the Batak people and have houses with sharp pointed roofs (I think you can kind of see it in the picture). To sum up, Lake Toba is beautiful and just really relaxing, which has been perfect.

*Sorry for 2 of the same picture… I should know how to fix that, but I don’t.

Melaka into Sumatra

I spent one night in Melaka, which is a really cute UNESCO World Heritage site with a charming Chinatown and plenty of Singaporean tourists. The highlight was walking through the night market, trying some local snacks and watching a world record holder put his finger through a coconut (both shell AND husk). I wanted to included a video of this feat, but unfortunately it’s taking WAY too long.

Then, I hopped on a ferry to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Waiting to board the ferry, I met my first American, Niki and a Dutch couple, Elric and Monique. The four of us immediately hit it off and we’ve been together ever since. Niki is not only the first American I’ve met, but also happens to be unemployed. She’s quite well-traveled and we definitely have a lot in common. We stayed for a few hours in the town of Dumai and were picked up by the local English teacher who brought us to his school so we could speak English with his students – we were impromptu English teachers! We also helped package some food for poor people in the region. It was a very fulfilling way to spend an afternoon that otherwise would’ve been passed at yet another non-descript bus station. We took the rickety local bus to the town of Bukittingi. The best part was the kids – there were tons of them on a long, overnight bus ride and they were all so obedient and just broke into enormous grins whenever any of us looked at them. The bus ride was advertised as only 10 hours, but ended up being 15 hours, probably due in part to the frequent stops.

It’s Ramadan (it ends on Sept. 20th!) and Indonesia is the world’s most populous Islamic nation. Our bus ride included stops at 4 in the morning for everyone to eat before sunrise… and a stop at 5 something in the morning for the first of their required 5 daily prayers. It’s quite loud – in the mornings, at my hotel, I’ve been woken by the 5am prayer session that is broadcast throughout the entire town.

Mom and Dad – skip this paragraph. Once we got settled in Bukittingi, we rented motorbikes. I’ve been on them before, but have never driven one. We rented two, and I got to drive. It was manual, so it took some getting used to, but in the end, I was fine. We rode out through a nearby canyon and out into the countryside. We stopped at a little roadside shack for a drink and the drink was only $0.20! Gotta love Indonesia! The next day we did the same thing, but rode to see some waterfalls and go swimming. After getting a flat tire (from running over a nail), I managed to give myself a nice large Indonesian tattoo as Niki and I were trying to back our motorbike off the road. I treated it for a bit on my own and finally went to the “hospital.” My trip to the ER cost me a whopping $12 dollars (including antibiotics). At least with wounds of this nature, they’re quite accoustomed to dealing with them.