countin' the days

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Indo Life

It's been 10 days now since I hopped a ferry and crossed into Indonesia, and if it weren't for my 60-day visa, I might never leave. Things are certainly different here, and I was brought back to Africa immediately: the internet is all dial-up, transportation is all via crowded uncomfortable minibuses on hilariously unkempt roads, cities are smoggy and crowded and lane lanes & stoplights serve little purpose, prices are cheap but seem to triple for white-skinned foreigners, and relatively short distances are made painfully long by misinformation, difficulty arranging transport, and the dread of spending days jammed into the back row of a tiny van with a metal rod jammed into your back. But, that's what keeps things fun, right? Aside from these little third world tidbits, Indonesia is absolutely fantastic. It is 17,500 islands worth of unspoiled landscapes, friendly people, exotic wildlife, unbelievable food, completely out-of-this-world coffee, and unique destinations full of peace, adventure, or whatever you're seeking. The last 10 days has brought me to two of Sumatra's biggest "tourist destinations," and thankfully neither was actually full of tourists. Instead, they've been full of curious, warm-hearted locals anxious to make new friends and exchange foreign languages.

First stop on the island of Sumatra was Bukit Lawang, a jungley hill village famous for its orangutans. They have a feeding centre, where orphaned orangutans are rehabilitated and taught to begin gathering their own food so they can eventually be released into the wild. We went twice, and saw the same old man orang both times, but both times he passed by so close to me that he brushed right up against me. Almost equally as cool as watching a semi-wild orangutan swing through the trees and play around, were the Tomas monkeys, who I affectionately refer to as the mohawk monkeys. Coolest hairdo ever. But the real highlight of Lawang, for me, was the day we rafted down the fairly turbulent river in rented intertubes. After chugging a large Bintang, we floated for a couple hours, enjoying the tranquil scenery, waving and smiling at confused farmers, and rescuing our new friend Roma who couldn't seem to stay on her tube.

After Bukit Lawang, the boys headed to Berastagi to climb Sibayak, one of Indonesia's many active volcanoes. I, however, with the feel of unpleasant minibus travel suddenly fresh in my mind, opted to head straight for the chillest place I could find. So here I am in Lake Toba, easily one of the best places I've ever been. The lake itself was created about 80,000 years old by the collapse of a massive volcano that sparked the last Ice Age. It's the deepest lake in the world (450m) and the island that sits in the middle of it is larger than Singapore. The boys caught back up with me a couple days ago after taking not one, not two, but three minibuses to get here and we've all been relishing in slowing down.

Toba is one of the best places in the world to completely and totally chill out. And as I marked the 6 month anniversary of my trip a couple days ago (June 18), I am more
than happy to be unpacked and taking it nice and easy on this gorgeous, sparkling blue lake. On the days I don't feel like just reading, strolling around, and drinking way too much super strong Sumatran coffee (it is truly divine stuff), I can visit a local market, hike through the super lush mountains (read: bushwhack through the jungle), explore the huge heart-shaped waterfall, drink palm-wine with the locals, or perhaps sample the fresh local magical fungus and see where the day takes me. Just to add to it, the local Batak culture is one that is completly infused with music. I have never, ever been to a place where when anyone picks up a guitar, they can not only play it well, but can sing extremely well too... this is that place. Everyone plays guitar, and plays it well. Everyone sings, insanely well, in luscious 3-part harmonies set to local Batak songs. There is also some fantastic traditional music, which I am endlessly attempting to learn more about. Toba is one of those places you get warned about, a backpacker heaven where life is cheap, and real good, and you just might stay waaaaaay longer than you thought. And it's so true.

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