Archive for Travel

New site on Lake Toba

I have been to Lake Toba a few times now and always have a great time staying there. It is one of the most quiet and relaxing places I have ever been to.

The people are very friendly and it is a very cheap place to stay. I am planning on adding more information to the site in the coming months.

www.laketoba.info

parapat-ferries

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Experiencing heavy rain in Jakarta

I am in Jakarta now for a few days and experienced heavy rains here for the first time. Of course it rained often in Medan where I have been living, but the drainage system seems to work well there. Not so in Jakarta. I was using the free wifi in a hotel restaurant and when I thought the rain had subsided, I tried making a quick dash back to my hotel in backpacker ghetto of Jalan Jaksa.

The street looked more like a river. The footpaths along the street are narrow and usually have cars and bikes parked on them and there are also plenty of food carts, making it difficult to make your way down the street. The water of course is brown and I didn’t like not being able to see what might lie in that murky water. Fortunately I made it back to my hotel without dropping my laptop or falling in a hole.

jakarta-rain

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U-turn

After catching our flight to Padang and a bus the next day to Bukittinggi, due to an illness in my girlfriend’s family we had to go back to Medan.

We only had about a half-day sightseeing in in Bukittinggi. All of the flights were full back to Medan so we had to take the economy bus. It was about an 18-hour trip, which was a little painful at times, but an interesting experience.

If you look at a map the distance isn’t so great, but the roads are very windy and hilly and in parts they have been washed away. I can’t believe we didn’t even have one breakdown.

They seem to be suffering an even bigger downturn in tourism in West Sumatra than North Sumatra, with only a handful of tourists spotted in Bukittinggi. One tour guide complained to me, “It just hasn’t been the same since the Bali bombings”.

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The start of a journey

With a fresh new visa stamp in my passport I am starting another mini-adventure in Indonesia. The first leg of the trip will be from Medan to Padang. I checked my Lonely Planet and it said the bus takes around 20 hours. I don’t mind traveling by bus or train, but I have a tolerance level of around 10 hours. So I decided it would be better to fly.

Indonesia Matters has a great article on the pros and cons of booking airline tickets in Indonesia. Where available, I will go with Air Asia, which is a Malaysian based airline and are usually cheap and I have a bit more confidence flying with them than Indonesian airlines.

Unfortunately AirAsia don’t fly Medan-Padang, so I checked Mandala Air. I don’t have an Indonesian credit card I needed to pay and pick up the tickets at the sales office at Medan airport. Since I wasn’t actually sure what we would do, I didn’t make the booking on the website. At the airport the staff asked us how much the prices were on the website. Isn’t it their job to tell us the price?! I think they just wanted to try and get more money out me being a foreigner.

I know traveling by bus has its dangers but I couldn’t help typing in “Mandala Air Safety” in Google. Wikipedia reports just one fatal accident after taking off in Medan in 2005. They are also on the European Union’s airline blacklist and is currently forbidden to fly into the European Union.

Although now they have been placed in Safety Category 1 by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). How reassuring!

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Eat, Pray and Love

My sister recommended me the book Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
. She warned me that it was a “girly book” but I like travel books and since one of the countries the author visits is Indonesia, I thought I would give it a read.

Some parts of the Italy section were good. It was supposed to be about food, but food was only the topic in a few paragraphs. Nothing like an Italian version of a “Year in Province”. Some parts of the book are interesting, but most of the book is about how the author is trying to get over her divorce and an ex-boyfriend.

In India she stays at an Ashram. I don’t know but the whole thing of westerners going to India to find God through meditation is a bit of a tired cliche. She had plans to stay at the Ashram for a while and then travel around India. A convinces her to stay at the Ashram for the whole time she is in India. I think this was a mistake and would have got more out of spending a few months traveling around the country.

Sometimes I think I have problems, but then I see and hear of people who are much worse off than myself and the problems I have really are minuscule compared with them.

Finally she goes to Indonesia (Bali) to meet with a medicine man. She complains about the corruption yet partakes it in herself to get a visa to stay longer in the country. She befriends a female medicine doctor who is poor and has nowhere to live. She raises money from her friends in America and raises $18,000 which she wires to lady’s bank account in Indonesia.

The woman complains she can’t find the right place and says how it would be better if she just had a bit more money. The author and her friends thought they were doing a good deed. Take the story out of Bali though and it would be described as a scam or a con, which the author got played.

The book is going to be made into a movie with Julia Roberts playing the lead.

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Medan crocodile farm

I went to the crocodile farm here in Medan yesterday. I have never been up so close to them, it was a little frightening. They had some in concrete pens and more swimming in a lake. Entrance fee was around 5,000 rupiah. For an extra 50,000 you could feed a duck to them.

crocodiles

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Driving trains in Indonesia

Unfortunately I couldn't really capture how packed the train was

Unfortunately I couldn't really capture how packed the train was

Well, I didn’t get to drive the train, but it was as close as I was ever going to get to driving a train. Coming back to Medan after a four day holiday in Indonesia, the buses and trains were packed. Now I have been to Japan and China so I thought that I would be fine traveling on a packed train, but Indonesians take it to a new level.

When the train pulled into the station, people ran to the doors that were already full. The people already on the train weren’t going to let anyone else on. We decided to wait for the next train in two hours time. A few minutes later after asking about the next train, a train driver who was driving just the engine back to Medan, asked if we wanted to ride with him, as long as we bought him and his staff some cigarettes.

indonesia-train

It was better than waiting around for another two hours for a train that was more than likely going to be full too. I love trains, so it was a lot of fun riding with the driver and a couple of other passengers. Unfortunately there was only other seat, so we either had to stand for the three hour trip or sit on bits of cardboard.

The views of the countryside were much better than what you see when you go by bus. Some kids played “chicken” with the train jumping off the tracks at the last minute. My heart raced everytime as they only had to trip and it would be “bye-bye” as there is no way that locomotive would have been able to stop in time. There are also so many little crossings along the way that don’t have gates. The driver had his hand on the whistle most of the way. Fortunately, we didn’t hit anyone, but it was amazing to see how many people would try and beat the train rather than wait for a minute for the train to pass.

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Eating bat

You never know what you are going to come across walking around Indonesia. Today it was some bats being sold by the road side. My first thought was maybe for a pet, but then I remembered bat being something of a delicacy in Indonesia.

I was kind of curious as to how you cook bats, so thanks to Google, I found this recipe:

FRUIT BAT SOUP
Serves 4

• 3 fruit bats, well washed but neither skinned nor eviscerated
• Water
• 1 Tb finely sliced fresh ginger
• 1 large onion, quartered
• Sea salt to taste
• Chopped scallions
• Soy sauce and/or coconut cream

1. Place bats in a large kettle and add water to cover. Add ginger, onion, and salt. Bring to boil and simmer 45 minutes. Strain broth into second kettle.

2. Take bats, skin them, discard skin. Remove meat from bones. Return meat and any viscera fancied to the broth. Heat.

3. Serve, liberally sprinkled with scallions and seasoned with soy sauce and/or coconut cream.

bat

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Why is Bali such a popular tourist destination in Indonesia?

bali-peopleAfter reading this editorial in the Jakarta Post I wanted to write my own article on why I think Bali is more popular than other islands in Indonesia.

The editorial tries to answer the same question, but only seems to talk about religion and the main religion of the Balinese – Hindu.

While Balinese Hindus are preparing for the observa-tion of Nyepi, hopefully it is not regarded as offensive or ridiculous to ask a tempting question: Will Bali remain as magnificent as what it is now when Hinduism is not the largest religion there? There is no intention at all to offend other religions; this question is merely a matter of curiosity.

What we want to say is that Hindus should have a central role in guiding Balinese people and that the world would benefit from such guidance. Indonesians, whatever their religion is, can learn a lot from the way and values of our comrades, while Balinese Hindus can also learn from other citizens of different religions to enrich Indonesia.

The numbers speak for themselves. In 2008 Bali had 1.97 million foreign visitors, while the whole of Indonesia had 6.4 million visitors.

I think westerners are interested in Balinese culture, but not just their religion. For many foreigners, including many Australians, a holiday in Bali means beaches and cheap beer.

I think part of Bali’s success is that is a very accessible destination and offers great value for money. If you only have a short holiday like many Japanese, it is only a six hour flight and you can be laying on the beach not long after you reach the island’s airport – Denpasar.

Sure Indonesia has many more beautiful islands and places to visit, but they take much longer to get to and the whole journey requires more effort. I heard Pulau Wei in Aceh is more beautiful than Bali and I thought of going there for Christmas last year. A friend told me how I wouldn’t be able to wear shorts when I arrived in Aceh as the area is under Shariah law.

Many parts of Indonesia have had their fair share of natural disasters. Bali had its terrorist bombings, which I believe put some people off visiting the island for a while, but tourism has been getting strong again in recent years. The trials and death sentences of the Bali bombers were widely reported around the world and it is well known that the terrorists were not Balinese. I am sure some people feel that by visiting Bali they are doing their bit to help the local economy after the attacks and not give satisfaction to the terrorists that they had somehow won by keeping people away from the island.

The culture, music, art and architecture of Bali captured the interests of several foreigners who spent some time there and wrote about their experiences. A House in Bali written by Colin McPhee in the 1930s is one such book that comes to mind.

Infrastructure in Bali is not great and the island is suffering from rampant development, but this doesn’t mean it is any better in other parts of Indonesia. Traveling on public buses with three people to a seat and more people traveling on the roof is not everyone’s vision of a holiday.

For people who do make the effort traveling outside of Bali they will be rewarded with beautiful jungle, diving, wildlife and friendly people and you can almost have it all to yourself.

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Travel in Indonesia – always an adventure

lake-toba-ferryI am quickly finding out that travel in Indonesia is always a bit of an adventure. I decided to visit Lake Toba for the weekend to get out of Medan for a few days. The trip is about a 4 hour drive from Medan to Parapat, which you then travel by ferry to Samosir Island.

The road into Parapat is pretty good by Indonesian standards, although it can get narrow in places and there are a few tight bends. The road goes downhill as you head towards Parapat and there is a big drop down on the right side into the lake.

We came to an abrupt stop and it was soon obvious that there had been some kind of accident. We were by then about 6km out of Parapat and the driver said it would take a long time to clear the road, so it would be quicker to walk – six kilometers also didn’t sound too long and anything would be better than sitting in the bus.

It wasn’t long before we reached the site of the accident. A fairly large truck/lorry had gone off the side of the road and there were about six tow trucks trying to pull it back onto the road. I pulled out my camera and the police even gestured for me to go forward and get closer to the action. I took some great pictures, that I thought would make it onto the front page of the Jakarta Post, only to realize later that I left my memory card in my computer. Doh!

I was pretty surprised how they could finally pull the truck back onto the road. It was inches away from falling down about a 50 meter drop. The front cabin of the truck had been completely crushed and unless the driver jumped out early, I don’t think they would have stood a chance of survival.

We continued walking down the road and it got a bit hairy as cars and trucks started to pass through. Further down the road, the traffic was banked up again. There had been a mild land slide and one lane of the narrow road was covered in rocks and dirt.

I think I reached Parapat at around 3:00pm after being picked up from my place at 9:00am in the morning from Medan.

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