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On our own again
Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to Ketembe (Indonesia), Jun-05-08 / Jun-21-08

After a beautiful month of travelling together with the parents of Edwin, we are on our own again. That means travelling with public transport again, and sleeping in budget guesthouses. From Kuala Lumpur we flew to Banda Aceh on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra. Banda Aceh is a city that many people associate with misery. The Boxing Day tsunami has hit this area hard, earthquakes have taken their toll and the independence fight of Aceh has destroyed many lives. However, it’s not all bad news, because important steps were taken in the peace process after the tsunami. A peace agreement is reached and Aceh is a safe travel destination again. When we enter the airport terminal, we immediately notice the difference with Malaysia. Almost everything is done manually, there are chickens on the runway and the queues at the immigration office are resolved provokingly slow. This gives us the time to enjoy the views on the misty hills that surround us. When we are finally through the immigration, we are welcomed by hordes of taxi drivers who speak only a little English. Although there aren’t many tourists coming to Banda Aceh, the taxi drivers already know that they can ask higher prices to westerners. They are used to the many aid workers that arrive and leave at this airport on a daily basis.

A view on the centre of Banda Aceh
After making ourselves at home in a small hotel, we are going to explore the city. Banda Aceh is a friendly place with a predominant Muslim population. Almost all women are veiled, but they are prominently present on the streets and the markets. In some Muslim countries, you don’t see many women working outside of their homes, but that is certainly not the case in Banda Aceh. The traffic is much more hectic than in Malaysia. The horns are blown more often and motorcycles pass you from all directions. Something simple as crossing a street is much easier in Malaysia. The motor rickshaws are motorcycles with a sidecar made of wood and iron that is used to transport everyone and everything. The record number of adults that we saw on such a motor rickshaw so far, is five, but we expect that this record will be broken in the coming months. After another day in Banda Aceh we travel to Takengon with an old aged minibus. It is a nice ride with beautiful views in a typical Indonesian landscape with hills, paddy fields and water buffalo’s, but after an eight hour drive we are happy to be there. Takengon sees even less foreign visitors and people are clearly elated to welcome you in their little restaurant. When eating in the little restaurants, it is clear that we aren’t in Malaysia anymore. While in simple eateries in Malaysia you can choose between fried rice and white rice, your choice here is limited to white rice only. So, no choice at all! The white rice is the main part of the dish and is accompanied with additional side dishes (called curries), like fish, chicken or vegetables. When we think about for example a fish curry, we think about a thicker curry with lots of spices, vegetables and some big parts of fish. But here, in the northern part of Indonesia, the sauce is like water with some kind of a colour. The sauce is mainly made of coconut milk and oil. The oil is an important ingredient to make it possible to keep the curry well for a whole day. They make the curries at the beginning of the day, and put them in large bowls that are displayed in an often dirty showcase at the entrance of the restaurant. When people want to eat, they get a plate of white rice and afterwards they can help themselves by choosing one or more of the curries. When we eat white rice, we use the sauce to give the dish more taste and to make it smoother. But that is not the way they do it here. They eat fish curry because of the fish, and not because if the sauce. That’s why we see most people eating white rice with a dry piece of fish. But the food is good and it fills our stomachs. We eat a filling dinner, including two drinks, for less than € 1.50. But after a couple of days white rice and watery curries, we are looking forward to more diverse food. After visiting Takengon, we travel further to the small village of Ketembe. We travel again by minibus, and after some hours in a minibus that is too small, we named this ride “Stereo screaming from the back seat”. For more information about crying babies, chain smoking fellow passengers and the smell of pooh that mix together with the smell of burned brake lining, please read the article stereo screaming from the back seat.
Edwin takes a break in Gunung Leuser NP

When we arrive in Ketembe, we decide to take a guesthouse with a great bungalow near the river. From the veranda of our bungalow, we have a great view on the forests of Gunung Leuser National Park. We use the village of Ketembe as basis for several daytrips to Gunung Leuser NP. Our main reason to visit the park is of course the Orang utan, that is still living in the wild in this park. It is hot, the paths are slippery and we are several times victim of the hungry leeches, but we saw several Orang utans and some great Hornbills. See also our article “In search for the Orang Utans” and photo impression about the Gunung Leuser National Park. We found is useful to use a guide on several daytrips to get used to the park and to get known with the trails. Afterwards, it is great to spend some days exploring some of the path yourself. It is wise to stay on the main trails, but even than you have good chances to see the animals. We saw for example two times the Orang utans from the main road.

After days of plodding away in the jungle, we took some forced days rest because of the “Sputter pooh” incident. Read the whole story here. We thought it would be wiser to wait some days before going by bus to our next destination, Donau Toba, 10 hours away.


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