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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Indo Adventures Part 1

Landed in Sumatra, Indonesia for my last leg of this SEAsia journey before heading to Sydney via Singapore in just under three weeks. Looking back I can't believe how quickly the 3 months have gone by! Malaysia was hard to leave being surrounded by such paradise and making great friends. I still have so many photos to upload from the last 3 weeks in Malaysia, but those will have to wait.

Taht said, So far I'm thinking Sumatra was a great choice for the final adventure because adventure is an overstatement and I've been here 3 days.
I arrived in Medan, which was by far the dirtiest, smelliest, saddest place I've been yet. The third-world quality of life has not been so apparent anywhere I've been on this trip. I was thinking back on Laos, which is one of the poorest countries - but you never really felt it there, being so rural and sparsely populated - but here, especially in Medan - its right in your face. Trash everywhere and groups of kids that couldn't have been older than 7 or 8 sitting around smoking cigarettes. At the end of Malaysia, I met some friends that were going back into Thailand now that the protests have calmed down and it crossed my mind that I could have been on a lovely beach instead. One afternoon and a night was plenty in Medan so I caught a vehicle (and I use the term vehicle loosely here) to head to the hilltop stopover toward to center of Sumatra called Berestagi.

The journey was both the most thrilling and terrifying yet. At this stage I felt like I had the bus journey's down - you know they are going to drive too fast for comfort and insist on passing at crazy speeds on blind corners, thats been the norm pretty much everywhere. Sumatra is not croweded with toursits like everywhere else, and ther are know tourists buses to get between points. For people traveling alone the local vans are it unless you are traveling with enough people to hire a car. Well, by local bus station in Medan they meant a tiny store front with a van parked in front on which every panel was a differnt color and I could see men hauling a pig, a few cages of birds and a motorbike onto the roof secured with ropes. I was also the only tourist in site and definitely the only girl getting on the van.
Going into this I knew that Northern Sumatra was less of a backpacker trail, but I have met enough people along the way that had done it and raved about how worthwhile it was that I didn't want to miss it even if it meant traveling more stretches alone than I have elesewhere in southeast asia where you always meet loads of other travellers heading the same way.
My feelings on the bus ride were moments of sharp fear that we were definitly going to collide with the masive truck with god knows what heaped on it heading straight at us as our driver attempts a harrowing pass, before somehow swooping into the smallest space betwee two cars on our side of the road at as close to the last minute as possilble. Then riding literally on the bumper of the car in front before doing it again! It was definitely hair-raising - but I was also laughing to myself thinking "well, you wanted adventure, you got it!" And as soon as we got out of Medan the spectacular natural beauty of the country was pretty breathtaking. And now that I am way up high looking over theland below from Berstagi - I think about 2,000 meters above sea level I am SO happy I made the decision to come here. The town has some old Dutch architecture and it is bookended by two big Volcanoes on each side - One of which, Sibayek, that you can climb to the top of in a day (that was my plan for today, but then I picked up Malcom Gladwell's latest book, What the Dog Saw, and like his othhr three books I haven't moved from one spot all day reading it)
The atmosphere up here is very headclearing and the air is nice and cool. Such a welome change.
From here I will brave the local vans once again and head to the giant lake called Danua Toba in the middle of Sumatra that sounds pretty spectacular.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Livin the dream on Perentian Island Kecil

Perentian Islands off the coast of Malaysia are FAR AND AWAY the most spectacular islands EVER!! Aside from the beach and the island looking like textbook tropical paradise - I mean the clearest most beautiful turquoise water and white sand you have ever seen. But on top of that the coral all around the island is INCREDIBLE. It looks like its from Mars or something. Bright blue and purple massive, brain-like gobs and loads of incredible fish. You can climb all over the island and snorkel around different spots or take a boat trip for a few Ringgit (dollars) and have a boat take you too 6 or 7 spots. I've made some cool friends - people who have been here diving for a while and they took me out to a place called shark point. Swam with about 7 or 8 3-4 foot sharks RIGHT next to us. I was KICKING myself for not springing for the underwater housing for the Flip camera. Also saw some huge turtles barracudas and stingrays! AMAZING. I feel like I've died and found my heaven. I can see why people get stuck here. I'll be spending the better part of this month here and I couldn't be happier about it.
And as an added bonus, I've sort of established a bit of a business here teaching swimming lessons. I was teaching a girl from Kuala Lumpur I met on the boat here and a big family on vacation from China came up and asked me how much I charge for my swim lessons. So I've set up a sign outside on of the snorkel rental shacks for lessons in the morning and have been getting a pretty steady stream of customers. Only a few Ringgit, but it pays for my accommodation :)
I have SO many awesome photos I am dying to post but it just takes wayyy to long to upload them here so those will have to come later.