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 5-21/7 1996   INFO and DIARY   1

Photos                 Diary 1 2


Steensbech asks if I will join him in Indonesia in a few months. No, not really - I just came home Western Afric. Thinking about it for a couple of days, and then thinking about it, is my biggest wish: Of course I want to go with him, Artist-Klaus, Henriette and Biver to Indonesia.

The Fjälreväven is packed, the injections given, and after a short flight to Heatrow, London, we continue to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I kind of remember a bit of the towns layout, and guide around. We spend the afternoon, then head to Butterworth by night train. New clean sleeping car, but unfortunately built for dwarves!

Morning in Botterworth, down to the ferry to Penang, where we immediately proceed to the Port of Georges Town, to catch the boat to Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia. It just doesn't sail on Saturdays, but all the agencies are more than willing to sell us a ticket (DKK 110) for Sunday.

In our desperate struggle to find another connection, we pass the harbour bailiff's office. We are told that the ferry suffered machine damage last Friday, and will probably not sail Sunday, and perhaps not Monday either.
Brief meating, then we head to the centre to book a flight. Very few offices are open, but we find one who thinks there are 4 seats available for Medan this afternoon (we are 5!). Finds the airline's office under Kumtar Tower, and gets confirmed that there are only 4 seats available - in 2nd class (DKK 190), but all seats in 1st class are available (DKK 220). We take 5!

We find a small sidewalk restaurant and get some food before heading to the airport. Get a fun yellow card: "Gold Lounge" along with the boarding card. "Well, we probably can't afford that, but they probably have a nice toilet". Oh yes - and free coffee, cake, bar, newspapers, telephone, fax, coke, etc. We had come to the right shelf for just DKK 30 extra. The 1st class stewards are 1st class and so is everything from the wide leather seats to the food too.

After the far too short flight, we stay seated to let  the mob go out first. After a while, the staff becomes a little impatient, as the mob is waiting behind the curtain. We walk out to our private bus, and have the custom to ourselves, because the backpacks have also travelled in the first class.

Then we are finally on Sumatra Indonesia, it has become afternoon, and it is time to find shelter for the night. We drive into Medan, which must be one of the world's most polluted cities. It's clean, but the smog is barely cut through.

Somewhere we see flying dogs hanging with steel wire around their feet. They are sold by a street vendor for dinner. Can it fly, crawl, walk, crawl, swim, or jump; it can be eaten!
Find a hotel overlooking The Great Mosque. Madam laughs from we get in, to we leave. When we order food, she puts on the "chef's hat" and disappears. Suddenly, she is back again with the food. Under pressure, she admits that she doesn't bother to cook, she buys it on the corner.

It will be a heavy rainstorm, and Steensbech and I take a walk in the deserted streets, much to the delight of the locals, who stand and crawl together in gates and coffee shops. It doesn't get any better, Steensbech has some pretty slick shorts on. We find some umbrellas for all of us. It helps; it's not raining the rest of the week!
In the evening, Steensbech and I go out to watch, and not least hear bull-frogs, frogs and leaffrogs. They enjoy themselves in the open sewer, that runs around the cemetery.

After some Quran reading during the night, we wake up fresh, and head to the bus terminal, where about 100 privately owned Hi Aceér are found. After some searching, we find the one that runs out towards Bukit Lawang, a nature reserve where puts out orang-utans.

There can be 4 backpacks, 200 kg of rice, 200 kg of chemicals and 3 rolls of barbed wire + the loose, on the roof of a Hi Ace, and 26 people inside / outside it, along with their concrete posts, chickens and what do I know.
We end up far out in the mountains, on the border of the large nature reserve; Bukit Lawang. We start to track a very narrow path, and get to a little settlement along the river. There are "hotels" on the other side, each hotel having its own flimsy walkway across the roaring river. We pick one, and sit out on the terrace to have dinner.
In the river below us, people come rushing past on inflated truck hoses. It looks funny and Steensbech is challenging me.

It is difficult to fall asleep, the roar of the river only 15 meters away is quite high, there is the animal sounds of the world, it is still suffocating hot, but suddenly; it is morning. The bath can be taken in the room's toilet / bathroom. Everything in concrete, hole in the ground, mandy with half cold mountain water.

We get the house's specialty: Flat pancakes with anything, and coffee on the terrace. Steensbech and I walk up the river to rent a few rings. We are smart (we thought), and rent right up where the tour starts.
I get off to a good start, get some help from the local boys, and beat Steensbech with many lengths. This is repeated every time, and Steensbech has to admit the ultimate defeat: Lose me in sports!
When we have finished the last trip of the day, the ring must be returned way up the river. We also get the others seduce on rides, and Biver punctures - giggle!

Before our breakfast, we head into the primeval forest to see the morning feeding of the orang-utans. The orang-utans that are released are domesticated, which have been confiscated, and cannot survive in the wild without training. Together with a few additional tourists, we see the feeding. It's too artificial for us!

The funniest thing is actually the crossing of the stream. A hollowed-out tree trunk is filled with tourists, and during the crossing, it is almost filled with water. The current is quite strong and it drives the "ferry", which is attached to a front and rear wires. When we go back, some of the locals do not bother to wait for the ferry, and just walk 30 meters down the river, crossing on foot. There are tourists who have gotten more wet!

We find a "company" that arranges tracking and rafting. We start with rafting, but only the next morning. The rest of the day we spend reading, eating, sleeping, and for me: Humiliating Steensbech in tupe rafting. We go further and further, and use all trix, even weight-reducing exercises.

We drive early in the morning to a larger river, traverse through the primeval forest, pass a small village, and continue. On the first part of the trip the inflatable boat is transported on moped. We pass some half-finished / dilapidated bridges, incredible views.

We have 3 guides as the size of the boat requires a minimum of 8 passengers. We take turns using the foot pump to get air into the boat. Excess clothing, shoes, cameras and food come in black plasticbags, the boat is carried 30 meters, almost vertically, down to the river. We get on helmets and life jackets and throw ourselves into the waves.

It goes through some of the most beautiful primeval forest one can imagine, down by waterfalls and somewhere we pass a village's citizens or more likely a tour group. They are down by the river and bathing. As we pass, everyone is waving and those with cameras (3-4 pieces) are photographing us eagerly.

Sometimes, we pass under narrow suspension bridges, maybe 50-100 meters above our heads.
Sulphur is beginning to be smelled, and as we round a corner, the landscape changes dramatically into a bay. Huge trunks are washed up between the rocks during the rainy season. Under these there is almost no vegetation. There are scattered clouds of steam over bubbling holes. We have reached the hot springs.

We topple over the boat's railing, into the extremely hot water. At the bottom of the bay the water is probably 60-70C, further out more comfortable. On the shore, there are plastered mud pools and boiling springs. Away from the smell; a deeply breathtaking area.

We reach a sandy beach, where we go ashore. Inside the primeval forest, a narrow but 15 meter high waterfall is showered. We get some muscle massages while the guides prepare lunch. Cold, strong spicy concocted dish, followed by fruit. We stretch out on the sandy beach, and show each other magic tricks.

Then it goes on. On a relatively flat, wide and calm stretch, we push each other in the water, and swim along the boat. Inside the shore we have been able to see giant ferns, marecats, monitors, orchids, giant bamboo, java ferns, peace lilies, and just a huge green wall.

The next day we have to track. We have found 2 American girls, who want to join. They are a bit slow, but it gives me more time to study nature. Equipped with water bottles and guides, we move carefully through the dense vegetation. It sometimes goes vertically up and down, but you can cling to the vegetation.

At an early stage we encounter some half-empty orang-utans. Steensbech gives it a drink from its water bottle. It steals the water bottle and baths, Steensbech thirsts, and hopes his cold sores will infect it! We others laugh.
We come across a very wild orang-utan with its young. The carrier, which has otherwise consistently formed the rear, is suddenly ahead of us all, and the animal comes bursting. I yell "RUN, RUN!" to the Americans, and avoid the angry beast with the 1-2 meter. The front guide has thrown bananas and it slows the beast's advance. Py-ha, that kind of gives the heat.

We see many other monkeys and other animals. Big butterflies, the sound of exotic birds, and a rare glimpse of one. I run ahead, stop and look around, while the others catch up, time and time again. It is probably quite dangerous to run on the slopes of the primeval forest, whether up or down, but you see more. When walking, you spend 95% of your time finding foot / hand fasteners. When you stand still, you can use all your senses to consider the surrounding nature.
Totally exasperated, but also with a memory of life, we come out of the primeval forest, right by the hotel.

We relax for a day and then check out. We've stayed 4½ days in the hotel, I've stayed alone in a double room and eaten all my food on site. It will be 125 kr! A month of full service here costs the same as at the local Danish hotel with breakfast - for one day!

Back in Medan we find the luxury bus to Banda Ache. We sit and hang in front of the 2-bus terminal, roam the neighbourhood a bit, and at dusk the nearest new bus departs. There is a toilet in the bus, but it really is physically impossible to get there, as the driver is driving real fast on the winding road. I can easily get up in one of the domestic city buses without holding on to anything, but here I fell short.

The others sit on the first row, I on the 4th. They spend the night looking at the little piece of asphalt, illuminated by the headlights, fearing for their lives. I talking to a woman from Java, as well as sleeping.

We walk a bit around in Banda Ache, Steensbech needs new glasses, the other was lost during the tube rafting. Hardly as much smog as in Medan, otherwise the cities are pretty similar. We find an optician who sells Rohdenstock, and it ends up with Steensbech getting 3 pairs of glasses for just over DKK 1,000. The last couple will be sent home to him. That's under 1/10 of Danish prices!

We take the ferry (there were 2 until February, then one went down with man and mouse!), to the island of Pulau Weh. We find the tourist car (14 bag-packers sit and ignors each other: They are out where no other white man ever been, and try to maintain that illusion), and are driven into town. The first night we spend in the "capital" Sebang. The first hotel we find, is too disgusting, given the price. The second very hot and without the great opportunities for venting, but it is getting late.

We go out to town to get some food. Lonely Planet recommends a restaurant. We walk towards it, pass a lot of dark but exciting eateries, and get to an over-enlightened plastic horror. It may have been a good eatery since it was "discovered," but the owner has misused his increased profits.

After the unlucky dinner, Steensbech and I go for a walk. The streets are quite dark, and sometimes a little light comes out from a cafe / bar or a grocery shop. We find a cup of tea on a porch, and head home.
               The tour continues in
Diary 2


Photos                 Diary 1 2