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Crossing the equator
Ketembe (Indonesia) to Kalianda (Indonesia), Jun-22-08 / Jul-11-08

After the bowels of Ivonne are well again, it is time to move on to our next destination in Sumatra. We stayed more than ten days in Ketembe and we loved it. With pain in our hearts we say goodbye to the Orang Utans and travel in a long bus day of twelve hours to Lake Toba (Danau Toba). This is for the time being the last place in Sumatra where we can take a break and enjoy the relative luxury. We are absolutely not looking forward to the bus journeys that we have to undertake after our visit to Lake Toba. In the next couple of weeks we will have some long, really long bus journeys.

Lake Toba is the largest lake in Southeast Asia and probably also the most beautiful lake of Sumatra. The peninsula Samosir is located in the lake and hosts the entire infrastructure for travellers. Decades ago, Lake Toba was a very popular holiday destination, but last years, the tourists decided not to come anymore. It is sad to see that beautiful hotels and resorts are empty now and that the local people have a difficult times earning their money. Nobody knows exactly what the reason is for this downswing, but local entrepreneurs complain about the fact that the visa rules are stricter than before and that they still have the negative impact of the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005. The fact that not many travellers visit Lake Toba these days also has some advantages for the people who decide to go. It is quiet and the rooms in the beautiful hotels are a really bargain. As a matter of fact, it is now probably the best time to go before the masses rediscover this place again. We stayed for three days in Lake Toba, partly because we are not looking forward to the next bus journey, the 17-hours trip from Lake Toba (the town of Parapat) to Bukittinggi. And even worse, this stretch can only be done by night bus. And that is something we really do not like. But ok, after some days of recharging our batteries in Lake Toba, we bought our ticket and jumped on the night bus to Bukittinggi (read the complete story here).

The beautiful Rafflesia flower nearby Bukittinggi
Bukittinggi is the first destination on the southern hemisphere that we visit during this journey. At the place where we cross the equator, a small monument is erected to show the exact place. Bukittinggi is a mid-sized town with no really highlights, but the main reason for us to visit this town is the Rafflesia flower. The Rafflesia is a parasitic flower that grows on the root of a specific tree and it is the largest flower (in diameter) in the world. The size of the flower can exceed one meter in diameter. It takes many months before the bud of the flower blooms. Because of this long time, the flower is very vulnerable for destruction. And if it blooms, it blooms only for one week. This makes the flower quite rare and difficult to see. We already tried to see the Rafflesia in Kubah NP in Malaysia, but we failed. But now we are lucky. Approximately 15 kilometres outside Bukittinggi, there is one Rafflesia blooming at the moment. The area around Bukittinggi is famous for the Rafflesia’s, so it is a good place to give your luck a chance. We went to the place to see the flower, and it made our long bus journey to Bukittinggi absolutely worthwhile.

After a couple of days in Bukittinggi, we travelled further southwards to the very small village of Kersik Tua. Kersik Tua is located on the base of the fantastic Mount Kerinci volcano. Sumatra has many volcanos and we definitely want to climb one. We decided to climb the Kerinci volcano because it is still active, it is the highest mountain on Sumatra (3805 metres), and because it is located in Kerinci National Park. This park is famous for its birdlife. Many endemic bird species of Sumatra can be found in this park. So, you probably will meet a couple of fanatic birdwatchers in Kersik Tua if you decide to visit this park. Unfortunately, also this park suffers a lot from the still ongoing logging activities in the park. So, it is doubtful if this park will stay as special in the future, as it is today. Eventually we climbed the volcano, but it was a really tough ‘expedition’ for us. It was a typical example of “glad that we did it, but we wouldn’t do it again” (see also the photo impression and article of Kerinci NP). After our visit to Kerinci NP we had to spend a full day in the bus again to get on the Trans Sumatra Highway. But by the time we reach the town of Bangko on the Trans Sumatra Highway, we are stuck for one day. All the buses southwards are full for the next day, so we have to wait for one day. Bangko is not really an interesting place, but it is nice to stay there for a day to experience Sumatran town life. You will get a lot of attention, because they do not see a lot of foreigners in Bangko. But finally on Sunday, we got on the bus at 2.00 pm for the 21-hour bus journey to the city of Banda Lampung, in the very south of Sumatra. We were looking forward to this city, because we heard it is the place where you can take a middle class hotel room for a very reasonable price. And that is what we wanted after a couple of weeks staying in basic hotels.

Four people on a motorcycle is not yet the maximum

After arrival in Banda Lampung we checked in in the Andalas hotel and enjoyed the hot shower, the good bed, the simple breakfast buffet and the nearby Pizza Hut. We loved the salad bar and it gave us the necessary vitamins that we didn’t get for a long time. We even treated ourselves on a lunch at McDonald’s. Oh man, it is great to enjoy these simple western luxurious ‘things’ once in a while. We found the typical Sumatran food a little bit disappointing. Of course, there are probably many upscale restaurants where you can have great Sumatran food, but if you eat in the places where also the locals go, the choice is limited. Most of the time you have to choose between Nasi Goreng (fried Rice), Mie Goreng (noodles) or Nasi Padang. Nasi Padang is some kind of buffet where you can choose between different dishes. The dishes are eaten with a lot of white rice. However, the dishes are most of the time limited to meagre chicken legs or pieces of fish full of bones, which means that the main element of the meal is the white rice. Sauce or vegetables is unheard of. Not the type of food that fills the stomachs of western people who are on the hop all day. For convenience’s sake, we do not take into account the different kind of curries that we would never consider, like for instance the cooked cow skin of the leg. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. We heard that the Javan kitchen is much better. We hope it is true, and we will know it somewhere in the next couple of days when we go to Java. That will be the time that we can also gain the kilo’s again, that we lost during our almost 6 weeks journey through Sumatra. But the fact that we lost these kilos was probably our biggest luck in Way Kambas, when we unexpectedly looked into the eyes of a wild tiger. He probably thought: “I am not going to put my teeth in these western skeletons” (read the whole story here). So, thank you Sumatran kitchen for letting us live!


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