The quest for liberation

Month: February 2016

Bukit Lawang – Welcome to the orang jungle

We’ve got fun and games! Guns N Roses – that was the soundtrack in my head after arriving here, sitting 10 hours in a car for 250 kilometers, I really wanted to rock out!

And I did, Saturday night was a big one! A pretty good live band played right at the place I stayed Indra Valley. Vivian a lady from Hungary checked in the 2nd room just in time for the party, we got on pretty well together and shared couple of beer and lots of stories & laughs while listening to the sweet sounds of the “The Valley Boys”.

I bumped into the two Dutch girls I shared a car with from Lake Toba the other day in town and we went to the bat cave together. I didn’t expect anything and was just stoked by the natural beauty, a big cave with awesome rock formations and actual bats living in there. It took us one hour to properly explore the whole system and crawl all over, of course without a guide, we brought a torch!

The main reason, all the tourist venture out here to the jungle is the orang-utans. Once created in the 70’s by a Swiss organisation, a rehabilitation center was used to train orang-utans which were held in captivity to survive again in nature. Also public feedings took place twice a day, so tourists could just visit the viewing platforms to see the apes, in the meantime this has stopped and you have to go on a trek to spot them.

Some quick facts about the big primates:

  • Currently only found in Indonesia (Sumatra and Borneo)
  • Live in trees
  • Up to 4 times stronger than humans
  • Among the most intelligent primates
  • Mainly eat fruits
  • Live over 30 years

You got to go with a guide as the ways of the jungle are pretty entangled. We went up and down, through valleys, over lots of roots, we slipped over rocks, hanging on jungle vines and crawled up holding on them, deep in the massive jungle of Gunung Leuser National Park, it feels wild, although we walk along worn out paths. On our trek we could spot multiple orang-utans it’s just amazing looking at them see how they move or chill in the wild. We also saw lots of leaf monkey’s, some snakes, giant ants, a turtle, fish, insects, butterflies, mosquito’s, cicadas, termites and other insects, big trees and massive entangled jungle vines. I came back to the village by rafting in a big tire – local style, so much fun!

Lovely jungle and I enjoyed every bit, the trek was strenuous with steep climbs and descents, the area around the valley just magnificent and exploding with life but somehow I feel more drawn towards the ocean now, times they are a changing!

Lake Toba – the warm volcanic chill

From Pulau Weh I flew back to Medan – lucky to spot perfect clouds that day, hopped on a car, taking me to Parapat, the eastern transport hub of Lake Toba. The ride was just a bit rough with a lot of traffic ahead and our driver constantly breaking and speeding, overtaking vehicles and turning the music up on his favorite songs, we made it in 4 hours though and in the end it wasn’t too bad.
The ferry for Samosir Island, takes 30 to 60 minutes, depending where one wants to get dropped off.
I’m going to a smaller island which sits in the largest crater lake on the planet, the caldera of a super volcano on the island of Sumatra, funny thought!

I found it quite intriguing when I read it, so I’m quoting Wikipedia this time:

Lake Toba is the site of a massive supervolcanic eruption estimated at VEI 8 that occurred 69,000 to 77,000 years ago, representing a climate-changing event. It is the largest known explosive eruption on Earth in the last 25 million years. According to the Toba catastrophe theory, it had global consequences for human populations: it killed most humans living at that time and is believed to have created a population bottleneck in central east Africa and India, which affects the genetic make up of the human world-wide population to the present.”

Ok enough of the superlatives now 😉
As usual, volcanic areas after some time turn into beautiful nutritious landscapes, like New Zealand, or Hawaii. The same happened in Indonesia. When I arrived I instantly felt the good vibes even though it was beginning to rain.
2 km away from the main tourist drag a more quieter place called Mas cottages was my home for almost a week and I could really drop everything here, yes I had a bit of food poisoning – finally it got me, after all those month in India, but hey, not the worst place to hang around and chill. Staying directly at the water, overlooking the huge lake and the volcanic hills, I really needed to think back of sweet as Aotearoa, some similarities are obvious!

The water temperature is pleasant and screams for swimming, the cottages even have a rope swing 😉
During my extended balcony sessions I could see boats come and go, bringing tourists to mainland and back, locals fishing in traditional floats wearing typical hats, using an old technique and newer nets, birds fishing right next, insects flying all over and wrestling each other and the ants on the floor busy as usual.

The other days I went around with the scooter exploring the landscape and felt welcomed in Batak territory. A German missionary converted the local Batak people to Christianity and one can see many churches around, on Sunday everyone is dressed in their finest outfits when going to their place of worship. I couldn’t believe the eye! The traditional houses with the distinct high roof also jut out of the lush green landscape, some even feature beautiful decor. It’s a different world over here, compared to the rest of the Muslim dominated country and very interesting to read about the Batak, who once were among the most warlike in the country and gave up eating their enemies 200 years ago. They originated from – Thailand / Myanmar migrating to Indonesia and used the surrounding hills as a natural barrier and were isolated for centuries, if you wanna know more:

Going up the mountain road offers rewarding lookouts over half the lake on clear days and I saw plenty of rice paddies with jungle backdrops. People follow village life, children sitting on water buffaloes, the mighty animals just don’t care, totally relaxed, no fence most of them just roam free, some on a leach but all so friendly – must be in the local water 😉

Properly re-energized I move on to meet more friends in the jungle…


Pulau Weh – Back to island life

I went to Pulau Weh by plane, Pulau is the Indonesian word for island. Flying over Sumatra was just gorgeous, lush green hills and bigger mountains of Gunung Leuser National Park and the northern province of Aceh, so beautiful from above! The half crowded propeller plane touched the tarmac of the country’s most northern island after an hour’s flight. Let the adventures begin!

Despite of relaxing on the beach, snorkeling and scuba diving, there is not that much to do, perfect conditions with 20+ dive sites, just around the corner. I did another 10 dives at Lumba Lumba Dive Center and was directly greeted by the owners Marjon & Ton when checking in. I met more lovely people during my stay, Sanni from Berlin a very relaxed Dive Master – how come I meet so many Berliners the last 2 weeks, something the universe wants to tell me? 🙂 I also dived with Phoebe & Lee and the Pro’s Johan, Sophie, Stefanie & Mike helped me with some diving theory. The diving buddy I got most comfortable with is Jean-Pierre, we spent value time above and below the surface, cheers for the sweet talks with never ending topics and to seeing A LOT OF SHIT down below 😉 great diving, always a pleasure.
Jean-Pierre and Lee were also the ones who joined me on my first beer after 50+ days of cleansing and being straight, perfect to start drinking again with an Irish and a Belgium friend, I felt quite drunk after the first sips; in the end I had three Beer when staggering to my bed 😉

During the dives I saw multiple moray eels – honey comb, zebra, black and spotted ones, banded sea snakes, different sizes of puffer fish, multiple stingrays & octopus, black tip reef sharks, different shrimp, jelly fish, multiple lobster, coddle fish, scorpion fish, stone fish, sea turtles as well as big fan corals, brain corals, multiple soft corals, anemone’s and many more – lovely underwater scenery with big drops and dark blue waters, different as in the Andaman’s, so yeah it’s been great!

If you dig the music, check out my friends soundcloud page:

My diving is getting better as does my skills on the scooter, when not floating underwater I rode along the rebuilt roads. Almost 8 years after the devastating Boxing Day tsunami, which hit the island pretty badly with lots of damage in infrastructure, it’s slowly improving. Perfect biking conditions now, many curves and hills, the street snakes up and down, left and right. Some sweet beaches on the way and brilliant lookouts were to be found, but still the island is not that developed which adds a unique feel and on top the locals are so friendly, greeting, waving hands as I pass by, especially when leaving the big road and riding the small trails through villages. The monkeys along the road just waiting for food, otherwise they leave. Sometimes I even saw guys with rifles, but no worries, they just go on the animal hunt – for dinner, of course 😉

On the northern tip of Weh I found kilometre 0, the first kilometre of the country, a monument is being built for 2 years already I wonder when they finally finish…

Also the food is great, a lot of seafood, at lunch times the local eateries have some kind of buffet with rice, vegetables, chicken and fish curry – very yummy and good value for the money. Plus finally avocado is growing here, not to be found in India I get my dosage now every day, the juice is so delicious, you can also add chocolate sauce, or get a salad – mhh come and get some!
One more thing, the rain! It’s raining quite a bit, still alright with temperatures round the 30’s – now I see why it’s called rainforest 😉

It’s been a wonderful week with awesome people, sweet diving, surrounded by natural beauty – a perfect start to the land of the many islands, I’ll keep on walking…

Indonesia – Kick starting new adventures

The vast archipelago of Indonesia spreads out over an unbelievable area of almost 2 million square kilometers from Aceh province- northern Sumatra up to the Papua New Guinenan border with about 13.000 inhabited islands and a lot more uninhabited. If you plan on visiting a new island every day it would take more than 36 years to visit the entire country. Imagine you go 4 times from Berlin to Moscow, that’s about the distance from Medan in northern Sumatra to Jayapura in East Papua. So it’s big and it takes time to get around, flying is popular in our days, the ferry services are barely advertised and bus rides are bumpy as road conditions are not ideal. On top you get a 30 days visa on arrival, that’s 30 islands a day, not even 1% of the country 😉

Going there was a crazy 40+ hours of travels, involving 4 flights and a ferry ride plus some hours of overlay I was tired but always aware! The shortest way from the Andamans to Indonesia would have been by boat (Medan the city I wanted to go in Indonesia is about the same distance from Port Blair as Chennai!) but as that’s not an option, because of political and military reasons, the only connection to India’s beautiful islands are the mainland cities of Chennai or Kolkata. So I went back to mother India, enjoyed the last 10 hours in Chennai going around town and visiting temples, eating the last spicy Indian meal before I flew to Sri Lanka, hopped on a connection flight to Singapore and went further to arrive finally at Medan in northern Sumatra – ready for a good long sleep, the last one I had at the Indian ferry in the Andamans – the most comfortable ever – lovely bunk beds and the shaking see put me to sweet dreams, as did the humming A/C of the comfy hotel bed 🙂

Medan has not that much touristy attractions, I just sorted myself, and relaxed in the fancy hotel with pool – I enjoyed the luxurious life after the bamboo huts of the last weeks but 3 days were enough, ready to start new adventures.


North Andaman – further off the beaten track

Directly the first night when we arrived at Kalipur, we could see a turtle nesting, we were so lucky as she was right there, starting the dig when we came to the beach – it’s a long procedure! First a hole needs to be dug, then the 130 eggs need to be laid and then the hole needs to be covered with sand and camouflaged – it was great to watch the creature that seems a bit lost on land.

We had quite some rainy days up north, I was longing for rain since months but as soon as it rained for a couple of hours I felt the negative vibes spreading, also no bikes available in Diglipur, the main town around, to explore the area on our own, we first decided to treat ourselves! Nice mango lassi and falooda (a cold sweet as hell beverage) – with that sugar intake the clouds went away and we embarked the rickshaw to visit the mud volcanos – a natural phenomenon of the area. Probably the best short jungle walk on a small narrow trail on the island and every 10 min a grayish spot with bubbling mud in the form of a volcano, the tallest of them being a meter in height, it’s the gas that makes the trick, you can actually light it and it will go up in a small fireball – I learned that after our visit though 😉

A proper hill, “Saddle Peak” with 732 meter the highest spot in the Andamans is just close by, it’s a good day hike. The first 3 kilometer we went along the beach, the wind was pushing big waves ashore, the roaring sound of the ocean was following us constantly – I never saw the Andaman sea so rough, not even in Thailand. The next 5 km were a steep climb up the hill with lots of roots and man-made steps through thick jungle with an awesome amount of butterflies and other insects, crabs and lovely birds – the forest was very much alive. The weather changed during our ascent – big clouds moving in blocking the view once we made it to the top, we could still see some islands off the coast but also big rain clouds wettening the land and the sea further east. On our way down we went right through the clouds and the nebula around with all the moos covered trees made me feel hiking New Zealand! It was a demanding hike we enjoyed it even with the clouds and the rain.

The other day we went snorkeling around Craegy Island – it took us 30 min to swim across, we properly explored the island and it’s rocky north east facing cliff, snorkeling was good with alive and colorful coral, even though the visibility wasn’t great, the second session the waters were more clear to spot bigger fish, snakes, squid and big ass coral – another sweet day in paradise and Thomas’ last, it’s been a pleasure my friend – see you again this year!

With Fotini and Warren the lovely Greek/American couple who always had a story to tell about almost every topic and Rachel and Sam from the UK two full on happy guys who always had a smile and a joke for everyone around, I went on a day trip to Ross & Smith Island. Two islands joined by a small stretch of sand in between which makes it easy to walk between the two. Smith is the bigger one and I walked along the beach to find a deserted recreation spot, of course I took a rest. Ross Island is rather small and no people linger around – being a wildlife sanctuary, still some good photo opportunities with jungle vines can be found 🙂
And the sandy bank that connects both of the white sandy beauties is screaming for a swim on either side, one more shallow and calm, the other rough and deep – of course I dipped in both – surrounded by ocean and the beach in the middle, just awesome!

With Rachel and Sam I also went diving, we explored the area around the left side of Stoney Island with awesome visibility, directly greeted by a sting ray and big schools of small fish, it was my first exploration dive and we had lots of fun! The second dive was at “Hard Rock Café”, the perfect reef off Craegy where Thomas and me snorkeled before, but this time we had better visibility and the perfect guide. Neil showed us around, he was also the one naming the dive site – now we all know why the name 😉 Beautiful intact coral, the biggest I’ve seen, coral walls reaching from 2 to 10 meter below the surface with active reef life happening all around. Soft coral, anemones with colonies of clown fish, moray with the cleaner shrimp, eel, snails, the smallest fish I’ve ever seen, 2 millimeter black with yellow dots – the macro life a reef has to offer is as splendid as the big stuff that can be seen – swimming with 20 humphead parrotfish measuring 1,5 m in size was just another magical moment.
For the next dives with Daniel and Erez we went to explore the right hand side off Stoney Island, Daniel called the site “Ray Rock” as he was the one to spot the biggest Bloached Fantail Ray ever, with 2 meter wingspan easily – a giant among us! The fish life was exploding all around – such an untouched site, feeling good to be part of the first season the diving has opened at Kalipur. The instructor Hanna and her boyfriend Neil a dive master had very much influence on the great dives we had, easy and relaxed and smiling all the time it was the best and longest dives for me in the Andaman’s! It’s been a sweet ride with all of you divers – cheers for the fun!

The people and the great outdoors made me stay for a longer time. In the end I even met 2 guys from Berlin and we had a German evening with spicy Indian food! And of course there was Alex the all-round talent and resort owner, he could organize everything, he played doctor fixing small wounds, he’s a chef training local guys to cook and in the evening he played the music and else he did what he could do best – entertain everyone! He’s spreading such a good energy and we had deep talks and lots of laughs, when I ever make it back to this lovely piece of land I’ll come to the farm on Smith Island – I’ll take your word for granted Alex 😉

Cheers to all the good people of the two weeks in Pristine Beach Resort, it was a very social time and just the right vibe I needed for my last days in Incredible India, well and not to forget – the fabulous coconut panna cotta @ Pristine did the rest and we ate it all 😉

The next adventure will wait for me in Indonesia, I’m already travelling 4 month now and when looking back it was intense and so diverse. I’ve been to mountains, beaches, so many cities, towns & villages, I was partying quite a bit, spent quality time on my one, let my spirit rise a couple of times and found new friends along the trail – most of the goals I set for myself are reached but I feel there is something waiting ahead I’ll keep my senses alert and my mind sharp, ready to take off!

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