Whilst i was in Melbourne in 2013 one of my friends from Melbourne kept saying ‘you have to go to Sumatra when you go to Asia!’ so after I had decided to spend a whole month in Indonesia I thought I have to go!
I didn’t know a thing about it and only knew one person who had been and when I started researching I saw that lonely planet describes Sumatra as ‘don’t come for a holiday that’s Bali, or empire buildings that’s java, Sumatra is an adventure, the kind of demanding ride that requires a dusty knapsack and tough travelling skin’.. and 6 weeks into my Asia trip this was something that i wanted!
I booked a flight from Bali to Medan which is the biggest city in North Sumatra as this was close to some places my friend had recommended.
My flight had a stop over in another Indonesian island called java. The first part of the flight was fine but the second half of the journey ended up 5 hours delayed! We had to get off the plane in java then get on another and then were told to get off that. I had no idea what was going on as the announcements were only in Indonesian which is fair enough really considering there were only 5 white people waiting for the flight and the rest were Indonesian.
I got speaking to the only other 4 white English speaking people (although they were from Brazil so their English wasn’t great!) but one of the guys spoke Indonesian so was able to fill me in… Very handy! To say sorry for the delay they did give out free fried chicken from McDonalds.. Not to good for me as a vegetarian though and they also were offering to give a decent amount of money too but you had to have an Indonesian bank account.. Not good for me either but never mind I just sat and waited while getting quite a few stares!
I was getting worried because it was getting late and I hadn’t booked accommodation in Medan and knew it wasn’t a great city. I debated staying in Medan airport if I arrived in the middle of the night because I heard it was fairly nice and safe, but because we went through a time zone when we finally did land it was just past midnight which i felt wasn’t too bad.
I went with the first taxi guy that started to hassle me.. It was too late to barter or work out what was the right amount to pay so we agreed to put the metre on and I got in a taxi with a guy that didn’t speak any English but knew the guesthouse- Blue angel that I wanted to go to and I just hoped they had a 24hr reception!
Luckily they did although it was more of an outdated restaurant with the young boys just lying around listening to music. They had a single room for 70,000 rupiah which was good compared to what I had been paying to Bali and the fact that the taxi cost a lot more than I thought. It was about 1am so they guy at reception was quite sleepy and I really didn’t get a good and safe impression from the place. He took me up 3 floors which were very sticky and hot and opened a tiny single room which was also so hot but there wasn’t much I could do at this point so I just said I’ll take it and had a very hot and sleepless night.
I knew I wanted to go to Lake Toba the following day as Medan isn’t a place you want to stay if you don’t have to so I went to reception very early in the morning and booked a bus there for 10.00am. It arrived 30 minutes late but as I was to learn transport in Sumatra isn’t it’s strong point.
We picked up 2 local families heading for lake toba so it was a bit of a squeeze and the driver was pretty irratic and seemed to spend so much time overtaking and facing oncoming traffic and beeping but that’s south east Asia for you!
The trip took a total of 6 hours and I was pretty exhausted by this time from the day of travel before, the bad sleep and also the lack of sleep in Ubud from doing the sunrise climb had caught up on me. One of the guys also taking the mini bus was about 17 and he made a bit of conversation with me on the lunch stop and then confirmed which port I wanted to be dropped at at the lake and then told the taxi driver as he and none of the others in the bus could speak English so that helped a lot and I really appreciated it.
For the last 15 minutes of the journey we could see the lake and the island in the middle. It was very cloudy but it really looked amazing.
I got dropped at the port and got told to get on a boat that looked just like the boat that was described in wiki travel (which is like my bible now!) so that was good.
As per usual I hadn’t booked accommodation, there wasn’t really any cheap accommodation online anyway but I had some places in mind from what I had read, however as we reached one of them on the boat it seemed more like a hotel with just families which wasn’t for me! There were 2 european guys on the boat without bags so I assumed they had just headed back to the mainland for something so I asked them where they were staying as I was starting to get hassled by people selling their accommodation to me and decided that they were backpackers so I’m sure where ever they were staying had to be ok or something around it would be and I was right!