Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week’s Postcard is from Ella, a youth arts worker and a ‘wet behind the ears’ travel blogger. Originally from the UK, she moved to Perth, Australia two years ago for work. After saving enough, she had her boyfriend decided to quit their jobs and use the money they’d saved to have an adventure; To go back to the UK through South east Asia, mainland Asia and Europe, but with a catch. They are not using an aeroplane: no flying, only boats, trains, buses, mopeds, carts, donkeys or anything else they can find! So far they have been on the road for four and a half months and are about to cross the border into Myanmar from Thailand.
Don’t forget to check out Ella’s blog, All the Ways There and Back Again.
Welcome Ella. Tell us about your latest destination!
Sumatra in Indonesia. It was brilliant! The landscape is very beautiful, its a volcanic island with jungle clad mountains pushing up out of the sea. There were amazing animals to see and all sorts of exotic plants growing everywhere, cocoa, durion, cardomon, mangos, coffee all in the same forest. Few western tourists venture to the remoter areas so we did feel like celebrities in some smaller towns we visited. The infrastructure on the island is not the best, so it can be tricky to get around. But it is truly worth the effort of braving the long bus journey on the very bumpy roads.
It sounds like an incredible experience! How was the weather?
We were there in mid March, and like most of South-east Asia, its hot and humid. However, going up into the more mountainous areas the temperature cooled down.
Where were you staying?
Accommodation is mainly guest houses and hotels in Sumatra. We stayed in everything from wooden batak houses to boring hotel rooms. My favourite was at Lake Maninjau where we had our own wooden chalet on the waters edge, complete with outdoor bathroom for only £4 a night. The place was called Muaro Beach Bungalows and I would highly recommend a stay!
So, what did you get up to?
We were in Sumatra for two and a half weeks, though definitely could have stayed longer. We went to Bukittinggi and visited the surrounding jungle where they collect and make organic coffee luwak (or cat poo coffee…it tastes delicious!) and saw the rare Rafflesia flower, hung out by beautiful Lake Maninjau which was formed by a huge volcanic eruption meaning the lake is completely surrounded by breathtaking mountains. We then moved east to lake Toba and rented mopeds to see the history of the island, which is the size of Singapore, in the centre of the fresh water lake. The last big thing we did was go to Bukit Lawang and go trekking through the jungle to see orang-utans…incredible!
Wow, sounds amazing! Can you pick a highlight from all that?
The natural beauty of the mountainous landscape was definitely a highlight and to see orang-utans in the wild was just unbelievable. But I think the best part of Sumatra were the people and their friendliness. Being in areas where people were so happy, confused and excited to see westerns was such an amazing experience.
Make us jealous – how was the food in Indonesia?
Food in Sumatra was nice and spicy. Lots of it consists of either fried noodles or fried rice or what’s known as Padang food, which is preprepared dishes of curries which you see in the windows of restaurants that you can choose a spoonful of with rice. One of my favourite foods was lompong which you had for breakfast, which was made up of steamed rice pudding, noodles, spicy coconut curry, jake fruit, a boiled egg and prawn crackers (in fact they love prawn crackers in Sumatra, they come with everything!). We had it from a street vendor in Bukittinggi.
Do you have any funny stories from your trip?
Yes lots! Because we didn’t want to fly we took a ferry from Singapore hoping we could get onwards to Sumatra all in one day. However, we didn’t speak much Indonesian and the ticket seller didn’t speak much English. A long story short: we ended up on a remote island off the coast of Sumatra with the locals laughing at our plan! Eventually the one English speaker in town arrived to tell us the boat to Sumatra didn’t go till the next morning and kindly showed us the way to the only hotel. I think we made the islanders day…people kept driving past on mopeds to see the westerners and asking to have their picture taken with us!
And were there any disasters?
When we were at lake Toba we hired mopeds for the day. Being intrepid types we decided to take an inland road through the centre of the island but after a few miles the road got progressively rougher and rougher, until really it was just boulders and rocks. Well city mopeds aren’t built for so much off roading and we got a puncture…in the middle of nowhere, during the hottest part of the day with no food or water…whoops! However, all the locals going by wanted to help. In the end we got our punture fixed for 30p and a lovely lady cooked us a delicious lunch, so sometimes disasters turns into diamond moments.
I love it when you can find friendly locals to help out – in the UK people would just ignore you! So, do you have any tips or advice for anyone heading to Sumatra?
If you are going to any remoter areas, or less touristy parts, take a phrasebook or some key words written down somewhere. Also Sumatra has mainly nonflushing squat toilets, so its always good to carry some tissues and hand sanitiser with you.
Speaking of keywords, whats the most useful bit of Indonesian you picked up?
‘terima kasih’ means thank you!
NB – all images are owned by Ella Craddock.