I am the original 'Uneasy Rider' .. not especially blessed with much natural motorcycling talent, nor am I a particularly courageous motorcycle rider.
Nevertheless I went 'Right Way Round' New Zealand (at least twice) followed by a wonderful ride around Australia.

Then it was up to southeast Asia, around Indo-China, across southern Central Asia to the Middle East, Asia Minor .. and finally into Europe.

Right Way Round - all the way home .. from New Zealand to England, 2-up on a Honda Transalp.


PROGRESS SO FAR - Distance covered across Western Europe: 6,411 km [3,984 miles] - as at Thursday, October-22nd, 2015

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Persons of the Forest

6 days - from Fri-22nd to Wed-27th June

We succumbed to Lake Toba’s anaesthetising atmosphere with perhaps too much ease .. but didn’t regret spending a single minute of our six days in the middle of that grand ocean lake .. along the eastern shores of Samosir Island (Pulau Samosir).

The amiable, music-loving, Christian (Protestant) local people, the Bataks, are one of the friendliest bunch of folks you are likely to meet anywhere on the planet.

We could easily have got ‘stuck’ on Samosir for another couple of weeks .. no problem.

Apart from doing very little for much of the time except listen to a guitar player or two during the lazy afternoons and evenings whilst looking out over the lake .. sipping a Bintang Bir or two ..

.. we did get out once or twice to explore some of the island*

*Actually, Samosir is not an island at all, as it is linked to the mainland by a narrow isthmus at the township of Pangururan on its western side; so it’s more accurate to call it a peninsular.

The picture you see above is of fine examples of traditional Batak houses. These were on show within the compound of the museum in Samanindo at the northern tip of the island, but there are hundreds and hundreds of these types of dwellings everywhere around Samosir which are fully functioning homes for the families who occupy them.


Arriving at the museum at 10:40am, ten minutes later than planned, we managed to catch most of the display of traditional Batak dancing at the museum grounds. If honest, we would have to say that we were expecting more from the exhibition, which was a bit of a disappointment; comprising of just a handful of unenthusiastic locals going through the motions. They had done it all countless times before – and it showed.

I did video quite a bit of the dancing, but after reviewing all of the footage back in our room it didn’t seem worth editing and rendering into a movie. I mean, none of it!

In typical keeping with this sort of thing, towards the end of the show, members of the spectating audience were asked to participate by copying the Batak dancers’ example. Ellen was first in the queue to join-in.

Again in keeping with this sort of event throughout the Third World – and elsewhere, to be strictly accurate – the audience was invited to donate some ‘tip’ money at the end .. and a handful did chuck some rupiah into the alms box, which was greeted with cheers of ‘horas’ (‘welcome’) by the Batak players.


Returning to our lodgings, about a 30-minutes ride back south along the eastern shoreline of the island, we just had to stop and take some pictures of the beautiful wild flowers that grow in abundance in the verges alongside the sleepy roadway. See for yourself:


And another good thing happened to us, right out of the blue: Michael the Hertfordshire teacher on sabbatical, who we met down south in Lake Maninjau – the day before we crossed the equator – by pure chance turned-up to stay at the very same lodgings .. and booked into the neighbouring room to ours. This was not planned to happen; it was just one hellofa coincidence. Talk about it being a small world, eh?!


Yep, we absolutely loved Samosir Island .. and both agreed that it is one of the very few places in the world that we would want to return to, just to have a holiday. Easy living – easy as a Sunday morning – right under the lush volcanic mountains of Samosir .. and so cheap too. For instance:
  •  Our lakeside balcony room coast us just Rp 60,000 per night ………….….... call it GB£  4.50
  • We spent on average around Rp 300,000 on food and
          all the beer we wanted to drink per day ………………..…………………......... approx. GB£21.00
  • Once there, to get around, a rented scooter per day would cost Rp 75,000 .....  GB£  5.25
                                                                                   TOTAL: Rp 435,000 / day .… GB£30.45

Add-in a bit more for some fuel (not that you would use very much) and the odd souvenir or two, and I reckon GB£35.00 per day would be more than enough to have a great little lifestyle for a 2-3 weeks, or even a whole month’s vacation. Blimey, you would have a hard job living on that sort of money at home!

Worth considering. The big extra, of course, would be the return air fare(s), but I reckon £550 - £700 per person would cover that cost.



Up at 5:00am and we walked away from our room+balcony, with some sadness, just before sunrise. Even at that time of the morning it’s in keeping with the mood of the place to hear someone strumming a guitar and humming one of his favourite songs back to the crowing cockerels.

25 minutes later and we had bought our ferry tickets for the return trip across the lake at Rp 17,000 [GB£1.20] and joined the embarkation queue, again all having to reverse up and onto the steel deck .. except us, of course!

Precisely at 7:00am, which was bang-on time, the captain sounded the usual blasts on the ship’s horn to proclaim that we were leaving the harbour. Ellen snapped a picture of the adjacent passenger ferry, which was also slipping astern to start its first lake crossing of the day. The sun was up over the horizon by this time; Samosir obviously had another glorious day to look forward to.

50 minutes later we were back in the grubby little township of Parapat .. and the reality, of the daily madness that makes this country what it is.

After a breakfast of coffee (kopi), omlettes and rice, by nine o'clock we were heading north to Medan, the capital city of Sumatra - population 2 Million. By 1:30pm we had arrived.


Back into another metropolis. Compared to where we had just left, the inequality appeared rampant. Returning from the rural areas - where the vast majority of Indonesians still live - to a city like Medan .. is like a form of time travel; moving from feudal conditions where ploughing is still often done by water buffalo to a world of crazy traffic, chaotic street markets and jutting buildings that block-out the sunlight.

There is indeed .. only one Indonesia.


We checked into our pre-arranged stopover, JJ's Guesthouse, and straightaway were made to feel welcome. Now managed by the founder's* son, Stanley, who is the original 'Mr Fix-it' and cannot do enough to help, which is a huge bonus, especially as we needed to arrange the bike's shipping up to Penang, Malaysia, within the following few days.

* Jimmy Janssen ('JJ') sadly passed away about 10 years ago.


With an appointment made to visit the shipping agent - PT Melda Jaya, up in Belawan - the following Monday (July-2nd), we had the whole weekend to make our way across to Bukit Lawang, which is located 90 kilometers [56 miles] northwest of Medan.


Saturday-30 June & Sunday 1st July 

 I should mention that we skipped riding the bike for the relatively short distance across to Bukit Lawang and instead decided to go there by becak* and minibus, just to experience how the majority of locals get about during the course of their everyday lives.

* a becak is a small (usually 2-stroke) motorcycle with a perambulator-type sidecar – attached to the near (left-hand) side – that’s usually just big enough to seat two passengers .. with narrow bums!

The minibus fare for the 90 km – 3½ hour – ride out to Bukit Lewang was Rp 15,000 [just over a quid] per person, so although longer in duration, the cost of the journey was much cheaper than going by bike.


All three of the most popular guided trekking options of either (1) a 3-hour trek; or (2) a whole day's trek; or (3) a much longer 2-day outbound trek – into the jungle, in search of whatever wildlife might come your way, were out of the question for me because I've been nursing an infected left big toe – that’s the one you use to shift through the gears (maybe up to 1,000+ times a day!) – since leaving Bali way back in late May. With this in mind, much more than a stroll in the park, preferably along level ground, would only aggravate this now quite longstanding and bloody irritating problem.

Instead we opted to visit the feeding platform on the west bank of the Bahorok River (Sungai Bohorok) where twice a day, at 08:30am .. and again during the late afternoon, visitors can enter the national park boundaries without a guide.

As mentioned, first off though we had to make the crossing to the west side of the river ..

.. which is made by dugout canoe.

The river current 'swings' the canoe across to the west bank. And yes, it leaks like a sieve!

Next followed the 20-minute very steep climb - which was knackering - up to where the park rangers throw a few hands of bananas into the bush in order to tempt our reddish-brown hairy cousins down from the forest canopy for a free early morning snack.

We didn't have to wait too long before five 'Persons of the Forest' came sweeping-in from the canopy above.

One particular male was a real big ol' boy, who must be close to 30 years of age.

Orangutans eat vegetation, bark, honey, insects and even birds' eggs .. but sugary or fatty pulp fruit, like bananas, are one of their most favourite yummy foods.

Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, orangutans are currently found only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

There are probably less than 7,000 orangutans still living in Bukit Lawang, Northern Sumatra*

* Source: Wikipedia

I wonder if our grandchildren will live to see these magnificent, highly intelligent beasts? I hope so .. but I fear not.

After around 45 minutes they seemed to have had their fill, or just got bored at being stared at by we gawkers (.. all in stunned silence, I might add) ..

.. and they silently, but with so much Tarzan-like precision ..

.. were gone.

Probably THE highlight of our Indonesian experience.



Turning now from one of the the most endangered primates ..

.. to one of the most widespread: the Macaques [Genus Macaca]

We stumbled across this family of Macaques on the way back to our room.

They were having soooooo much fun.

Macaques have a very intricate social structure and hierarchy. This guy seemed to be their leader. He even removed berries from the other monkeys' mouths .. and scoffed the lot!


And now a couple of shots of the more familiar great ape - Homo sapiens.

This old gal overtook us walking back down through the rainforest. What amazed me as she passed us .. was that she was .. barefoot!

The soles of her feet must be like shoe leather.

And this handsome young Indo guy, David, who serenaded us - song and guitar - with his interpretation of the Eagles' song "Hotel California"


Sunday - around noon ..

.. and this is how Indonesians spend their weekends. Families together, having a great time down by the river. Good to see.


Our minibus for the return journey from Butik Lawang to Medan ..

.. the original 'rust bucket'
.. you can see clear daylight through the rusted-out holes? ..

.. the interior torn to shreds, literally ..

.. and it got a flat tyre halfway through the journey. The owner-driver couldn't fix it, as the wheel nuts were so badly corroded that they had 'welded' themselves onto the hub!

We jumped onto the next passing minibus that was going our way. "Sorry mate"

After all, this is Indonesia!


Monday, 2nd

Shipping Day.

Monday is also 'Market Day' in and around Medan .. and for this reason it took me 1hr 20 mins to complete the short northbound journey of 25 km [15½ mi] up to the port of Belawan, where I met-up with Mr Anan of PT Melda Jaya, the shipping agents.

Two hours later and all the formalities were complete, including the 'stamping out' process of my precious Carnet de Passage en Douanes (CPD, or simply 'Carnet') - the bike's passport - which means I can now receive a substantial proportion of the near GB£1,000 I had to pay the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) back in August 2011 to acquire the Carnet in the first place.

On the way to dropping the bike off at the wharfside warehouse, Anan pointed-out the old wooden tub, The Mitra Utama, that would be carrying her across the Straight of Malacca to Penang, Malaysia - little more than a day's voyage away to the northeast.

Anan requested a photo alongside the black beast in the very gloomy warehouse . How could I refuse?

'Bon Voyage' Mitra Utama. See you on the other side .. I hope!


Wednesday, July 4th

An early morning alarm call was in order so that we could check-in and board our 10:55am flight up to Penang in good time.

All told we spent six nights at JJ’s Guesthouse in Medan.

Stanley (above), half Indo and half Flemish, the Indonesian-fluent (of course) manager of JJ’s, had been massively helpful in guiding us through all sorts of problems, which without his help, I have no doubt, would otherwise have been extremely difficult indeed to resolve on our own. Communicating effectively with the shipping agents up in the port town of Belawan is just one example.

Thank you Stanley, and your lovely family, for all your time and kind attention .. right down to the smallest minutia of detail.


And so, after 84 days travelling westwards crossing three time zones – and over 7,000 kilometres [4,450+ miles] along atrocious road conditions – the time had finally arrived, through the most slack-arsed airport security operation we have ever stepped through, to embark upon one of Malaysia Airline's subsiduary carrier ('Firefly') aircraft, an ATR72-500 - flight no. FY3403 ..

.. to say goodbye to the Republic of Indonesia, an extraordinary nation; with its 238 million people that make this 17,500-island archipelago - the fourth most populated country in the world. It is, quite simply, the 'sleeping tiger' of south-east Asia.

I may summarise my feelings about our Indo experiences at some future time; but right now, the only words I can think of are these:

Farewell Indonesia .. it’s been emotional!


From Ellen's journal: click on this link → Medan and Bukit Lawang - Orangutans



As I write these words during the late afternoon / early evening on America's Independence Day, we are in fact tucked-up in our lodgings, at The Guest Inn Muntri, in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia .. and it's pissing down with rain outside!

I have already contacted a local Penang-based shipping agent - and arranged to meet him tomorrow morning (Thursday-5th) at 10:00am to start the bike's temporary importation process and clear it through Customs, etceteras.

With now just over one week remaining before we must return home .. I am staggered at how fast these last eigth weeks since leaving England back in May have flown by.

Stayed tuned - the final post of this part of our journey 'Right Way Round' the world will follow in about 7-10 days' time.


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