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

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.

American Tourist Stabbed to Death in Medan

I almost considered not making a post about this because the last thing North Sumatra needs is for people to think it’s a dangerous place to visit. A few nights ago in Medan an American tourist was killed while in a becak (pedicab) on his way to his hotel from Polonia Airport. I’ve left Polonia many times by becak with my backpack and valuables in a smaller handbag, so it could have happened at anytime to me. I have always been warned to be careful of bag snatchers. This is common in just about any city in the world you visit so I always figured if it is going to happen there isn’t much I can do to prevent it other than keeping my bags close.

In this situation it looks like the American guy tried to fight back and in doing so caused his attackers to panic and stab him. I don’t think it’s common for robbers to set out with murder on their minds but when the bag snatch turns out not to be as easy as they expected then they become unpredictable. The very fact that they didn’t even run off with his bags after they stabbed him proves that they were not in the right mind during the incident.

My opinion of Medan being a safe city hasn’t changed. Again, this could have happened in any city. It is a lesson however, that when confronted by attackers it’s best to just give up your valuables and live to breathe another day.

From the article in The Jakarta Post


American Stabbed to Death in Medan
An American citizen, Samuel Hyein, 28, was stabbed late Wednesday en route to a hotel, having just left Polonia International Airport in Medan, North Sumatra.
He bled to death while being treated at Medan’s Elisabeth Hospital, due to the injury in his right leg.
North Sumatra Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Heru Prakoso said Hyein was stabbed by two strangers riding on a motorcycle, while he was in a pedicab on his way to the hotel.
“The victim had just arrived [in Medan] at 10.30 p.m. from Malaysia on an Air Asia flight,” Heru told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
He added, “We are still trying to identify the perpetrators as well as the motives behind the stabbing, as none of his belongings were missing when the stabbing took place.”
He said three teams of detectives have been deployed to investigate the murder case.
An official from the American consulate general in North Sumatra, Kathryn Crockart, arrived to identify the victim but refused to give any comment.
“We are still awaiting the results from the police investigation, therefore we cannot make any comments yet,” the consulate general’s public affairs official, Meta Saragih, said.
Meta added that currently, they are trying to reach the victim’s family in the US.