North Sumatra Road Trip

Map North Sumatra Lake Toba

Blue line indicates the route with a one night stopover in Beratagi

In about 7 hours me and a couple of mates are going to head south out of Medan for Lake Toba for a week-long road trip through North Sumatra. I plan on leaving the laptop at home. The camera will be with me but it’s unlikely I’ll be making any posts before I come back.

One of the biggest reasons for moving to Medan to teach English was that there is easy access to amazing places for short holidays. Christmas break is here, classes ended last Friday and the next 8 days will be spent driving our motorbikes through the Karo highlands of north Sumatra.

We set out first for the city of Brastagi which is overlooked by Mt. Sinabung. This volcano hadn’t erupted since the year 1600 but in 2010 it woke up from its long sleep with quite the fury. It erupted several times in a few months and is now quite active. We plan on resting one night here and then on to Lake Toba on Tuesday morning.

The three of us will be taking our time meandering slowly through the mountains. The journey by bus from Medan would normally take about 5 hours but we plan on spreading that over a couple of days by stopping in small villages along the way.


Samosir Island on Lake Toba

It’s easy to forget just why we moved to North Sumatra to begin with. Medan is a big bustling city with lots of shouting locals, traffic jams and pollution. It’s important that we make it out of town as often as we can to recharge and get up close with the locals who welcomed us when we first arrived.

Northern Sumatra already doesn’t get the tourists that other places of South East Asia get. On top of this, we’re taking a route rarely traveled by foreign tourists south through the mountains. We’ll get to come across adults who rarely have seen foreigners pass through their villages and children who may have never seen a white person before. Of course this means we might have to veer even further off the main road but we’ve all agreed that we’re going to wing it… play it by ear… and see where the road takes us.

I told myself I want to try at least 10 new things this week. Horse milk? Monitor lizard? What else? Things that are taboo back home can be quite normal in these parts but I’ll talk more about that later.

We’ll end our journey in Lake Toba on the island of Samosir. I was there earlier in 2011 but this time I’ll have my own bike giving me the freedom to move about, as well as a pretty decent handling of the Indonesian language. The lake itself is about the size of Singapore and it forms the cauldron of an ancient and massive super volcano. If you look at the map you can see how all of the North Sumatra province builds in elevation until the lake a the top. The island in the middle is Samosir which was formed after the last great eruption 75,000 years ago. There are hot springs on the island where we plan on doing some swimming. The island has since been inhabitant predominantly by ethnic Batak Tobanese people who practice Catholicism and animalism. This is in stark contrast to the roughly 86% Muslim population of Indonesia.

So, it’s off to bed now, a big day tomorrow.

The day I found the pizza I was looking for…

It has taken a long time but I’ve finally found pizza in South East Asia that at the very least, does the job. I won’t begin to try and convince you that this holds up to American standards as far as pizza goes but it’s by far the best pizza in Medan that I’ve found and definitely the best pizza I’ve had in South East Asia.

pizza Indonesia

It could stand to be bigger. An 18 inch pie would work better

The key is simplicity. So many pizza places try too hard. I think they are going after the Italian Neapolitan style which IS the original however I’ve grown accustomed to the thinner sliced New York style pizza with cheese, sauce and crust with a bit of oregano. They had crushed red peppers and Parmesan cheese and the only thing missing was some garlic powder. (Luckily my mom sent me some from home so I can always bring that along in my pocket)

Out of the three main parts of the pizza the crust is the weakest. It’s tough to get that right apparently because even back home the crust is usually what pizza places screw up the easiest. I’m not sure what they’ve done with the sauce because there is usually this very typical sweet flavor of all red sauce here in South East Asia. They must have not included too much sugar because the sauce does its job. It adds flavor but doesn’t over power. Then finally the cheese. It’s not perfect but again, it doesn’t over power the rest of the pizza. You can still tell it’s not the real deal but there is not too much of any one ingredient causing the pizza to taste funny. It’s just the right amount so that the sauce, the cheese and the crust work together to make a very tasty pizza.

So there it is, if you’re living in Medan or just passing through check out Pisa Cafe which is joined with M Box Karaoke on Jln. Thamrin in Medan, Indonesia. (just down the street from Thamrin Plaza)

TEFL Certification Day 10 & 11: Learning About Being a Teacher

I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to try the teaching thing out. I spent the better part of a decade strapped to a headset and stuck in a cubicle so it was about time I freed myself from those confines and got involved in a job that a bit more rewarding. The course is going really well so far and I keep getting more and more eager to get in the classroom and start teaching.

Tomorrow we observe one of the trainers do the same lesson we’re going to be teaching next week. This was the final week of lectures and note taking. Now, it’s all about being in the classroom and teaching.

After the grammar on Monday and Tuesday we started going over classroom management and strategies. We’ve already learned a lot about what it means to be a teacher in Thailand. There is a high social status that comes along with the title of teacher here that you just don’t get in America. In terms of social status you have the King first, then the royal family, monks and then teachers. Even elders would technically be below me on the social scale. This is important to remember when “wai” ing in Thailand. Wai is the common Buddhist greeting where hands are clasped and placed at different levels depending on the status of the person you are wai’ing. I technically wouldn’t be expected to wai an elder or senior if they knew I was a teacher. This is weird to me and the idea of having someone older than me showing me a higher respect would be difficult to get used to.

There are a lot of differences between western classrooms and eastern. There are even further differences specifically for Thailand. For instance, technically, as a teacher we are allowed to hit students. We were told very clearly never to do this as foreign teachers because the discipline doesn’t mean the same coming from us rather than their native teachers. There are sticks just like in Catholic schools of past generations, that can be used to slap on the hand. In addition there are a lot of subtle differences such as avoiding prolonged eye contact with students, giving a lot of personal space and the idea of not singling out any students for poor performance to avoid them losing face with others in the class. Group work is preferred by students as Thai’s are generally communal when it comes to learning. This is a big difference from American culture since I don’t know any students in college that actually enjoy group activities.

Right now it is Friday night, right in the middle of Songkran, the Thai New Year. I will do a write up on Songkran which is an unbelievable event in Thailand once a year in April where the entire country shuts down for a water festival to ring in the New Year. Until that update, have a good weekend and I’ll talk to you soon. Time to go have some fun!

I teach my first class at 9am on Monday morning. This means actual students and an actually lesson plan. :) Finally!

Here Come the Job Offers!

Well, if it’s one thing I’ve learned through travel is that plans don’t often stick. One minute I’m looking to teach in Hong Kong and the next minute I’m focused on Indonesia. I’ve had a good time here in Thailand but I’m about ready to leave. I was checking with schools in many of the cities that I want to work in that I’ve visited throughout my travels. I even sent some inquiries to Florence, Italy and the Czech Republic. I figured, it would be a good idea to start now since my TEFL certification would be completed soon.

OK, so what happened? If you recall, I spent about a week in the Colombian city of Medellin in late 2009. I fell in love with the city and met some really cool people that live there. They have a huge need for English teachers, especially in the tourism industry as Colombia is opening up to more tourism now that the drug cartel issue has been eliminated. I sent an application to a few schools and heard back from one. They said they love my travel history and my course study in college and understand that I don’t have any experience teaching. They know my TEFL certification is still pending but the job doesn’t begin till May 23rd. This is almost a month after my program ends. So, my plan is to finish my certification on April 29th and then fly back to the U.S. for 2 weeks before landing in Medellin for a week before classes start.

This is a really good situation because I can live/work overseas but at the same time be very close to family and visit as often as possible. So, it looks like I’m going to be returning to the U.S. much sooner than expected, even if it’s just for a couple of weeks. I’m gonna take it.


Final exams!

I’ve been pretty quiet lately as finals week for the Spring semester is coming up. I have two left and will be done by next Tuesday. Just wanted to give the heads up! My full time schedule starts next Monday as well. Also, I’m going on a fishing trip with my brother and a good friend the following weekend. Should be a good time! I’ll update soon!

Spunky Girl Monologues

I consider Spunky Girl to be my mentor in travel blogging. She jumped in head first awhile back and has motivated me to follow her ever since. She taught me it is OK to travel blog when you’re not travelling. I wanted to feature her blog this Friday so be sure to check it out at Spunky Girl Monologues! She does video updating as well as interviews with travel writers. She featured an interview with Julia Dimon earlier this month.

London and Hong Kong Galleries Added!

I just added two more galleries for London and Hong Kong. Hong Kong is one of my favorite places in the world. I added some of the select photos that I took while there for an extended weekend in 2007. I’m looking forward to living there someday. The London photos date back to 2004 and are from my first solo trip outside of the country. Some of those photos include protest signs shortly after the start of the Iraq war.

You can find all my galleries located on the photo page on the menu bar above!

3 New Photo Galleries Added!

I just added 3 new photo galleries to the website for Morocco, Thailand and Colombia. I have many more albums to upload and share. These are select photos from these countries that I wanted to share, however; you can still check out the rest of my pictures on my Flickr account over on the left sidebar of this page.


I woke up this morning and got a Facebook message from an old elementary school classmate of mine who told me about a deal Jetblue was doing for flights from JFK to various airports.  $10 each way plus taxes and the flight came to $41.  With out hesitation I booked my Tampa to NYC flight.  The deal is that you have to fly out on Tuesday 3/9 and return on Wednesday 3/10.  So, now I’m up at 4am with a flight to catch in 3 hours.

I figured I’d be able to find something to do in New York City for one day but I forgot all about the University of South Florida Bulls playing in the Big East basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden this week.  Turns out they play at 12pm later today (Tuesday) So, after waking up this morning and it being the start of a normal week it has turned out quite exciting.  It is technically my spring break right now and I don’t work on Tuesdays so I couldn’t think of any reason NOT to do this.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been spontaneous.  This should be fun.  I can kind of treat this like an excursion I might take on a trip overseas.

Manchester United!!!!!!!

After 2 days. After… 2 grueling days. After 2 hot, stinky, disgusting, bumpy, exciting, overwhelming, enjoyable, crazy, uplifting, terrible, annoying and beautiful days on an Ethiopian bus, I have arrived back in the capital…. Addis Ababa. I don’t have a hotel room right now, I haven’t had a hot shower in almost a week and I’m completely dusty… but I am in a GREAT mood.

At times I wondered why it is that I travel. Other times I wonder how I can live without doing this. I am the bi-polar traveler. I guess I have to cope with it… I mean, it isn’t all going to be fun and exciting. Sometimes I have to deal with the discomfort.

I’ll tell you some things that DO make me very happy. In Ethiopia the national sport is soccer. It isn’t just SOCCER either… it is the English Premier League. They CRAAAAAAAAAVE it. It is insane. I was walking through the street in Lalibela and had children come up to me screaming ‘MANCHESTER UNITED!!!!!’ over and over. I will assume it is because of my David Beckhem good looks that they think I will be happy to hear them say that. (I hear he is playing for the LA Galaxy now) The 2 Czech guys I was on the bus with said they were outside the hotel last night and there was a bonfire with kids doing tribal dances around it chanting ‘ARSENAL ARSENAL ARSENAL!!!!’ (another English soccer team) I’m telling you. I had no idea they were that passionate about it. The good thing is I know a few players in European soccer and it makes for good conversation with the kids. (after they ask you for money)

I got an awesome video of some sort of church march today through the streets. The bus stopped and gave everyone a chance to look out. They were carrying crosses and pictures of all the saints.

Soon after that we were entering the city limits of Addis Ababa and the bus stopped completely. All the men were told to get off the bus. Sexual harrassment!!! They checked all of us for weapons and looked in our bags and then let us go on our way. Amazing how inefficient the security system is when you don’t check the women too.

Back to sports. I would give anything to watch some NFL playoffs right now. I must say after checking the scores this morning I am pulling for the Patriots to go all the way. In this day and age in the NFL a team that can continuosly play at the level they do is great. For now I’m stuck with updates on BBC World and the occasional Liverpool or Chelsea matches.