10 April 2013

Mega and Yuni - Adventures in Sumatra.

[I have about three weeks left in Indonesia! I know, crazy, right? Yes, my amazing time here is quickly coming to an end. But I am okay with this. I have had such a wonderful time abroad - last year in Haiti, and now here, in Indonesia. Any way, I won't get too sentimental just yet since I have a good amount of time left. I was traveling for most of March, and need to catch up on my blog posts. This post is about my trip to Medan.] 

I had some time off due to the Chinese New Year back in February and I decided to go to Medan, a city in the northern part of Sumatra Island. I hung out with Catherine, another Fulbrighter and friend of mine stationed in Medan. The main purpose of the trip was to ride elephants and see orangutans. During my short stay in Medan, I learned that it is a very diverse city. The Strait of Malacca, which lies between the Malay Peninsula and north Sumatra was used as a trading route by the Chinese and Indians. And you can see the influence of these particular groups and of people descending from other parts of southeast Asia. Medan is populated by many Indonesians of Chinese and Indian ancestry as well as the Bataks, the indigenous people. 
My friends and I were trying to bargain with this becak rider to 
get to Café 061 (061 is the area code for Medan). 

Walking on the side walk on the way to Café 061.

Sights on the streets of Medan. 

My friends and I went to the Tjong A Fie Mansion/museum. Tjong A Fie was a Chinese merchant who was put in charge by the Dutch to govern the people of Medan. The Victorian and Chinese styled house is impressive. The high ceilings were hand-painted and there are interesting pieces of art work all over the mansion. As our tour ended, we met his relatives who still live in the house. They were preparing for festivities to celebrate the Chinese New Year.   
This used to be a ballroom for his guests. 

The Moroccan-styled Grand Mosque on Jalan Mesjid Raya. 

Istana Maimoon (Maimoon Palace) was built by the sultan of Deli (the former name of the area where Medan is located) in 1888. The current sultan of Deli was installed when we was only eight years old, and he currently lives in Sulawesi. His is role is only ceremonial. 

After touring the town and eating delicious German, Italian, and Indian food, Catherine and I went to Tangkahan. Tangkahan is an elephant sanctuary located to the west of Medan. We were able to ride an elephant through and alongside a river. It was my first time riding an elephant and it was incredible! Catherine and I had the pleasure of riding Yuni, a female elephant. The elephants are beautiful, intelligent, and majestic. The experience felt surreal and I kept touching Yuni to feel her skin, which is course and covered sparsely with prickly hair. 
It cost us 10,000 Indonesian Rupiah (or $1) to cross this awesome bridge. 

Our elephant Yuni! 

Catherine enjoys her elephant ride. 

During the trek, the elephants stopped to eat. Nom nom :). 

Catherine and I make our best elephant ears. 

After our elephant ride, Catherine and I were allowed to clean the elephants while they bathed. In reality, they can clean themselves, but it's a cool treat for a tourist to scrub an elephant. Then, the elephants gave us a "bath." The latter was quite entertaining. 
This park ranger is removing dirt from the elephant's foot. 

What a gorgeous creature. 

Bath time! 

Yuni looks very comfortable in the water. 

We got to clean and hold Yuni's trunk. It felt so weird to have it wrapped around 
my hand. I didn't hold it to long because the movement felt snake-like, and I let it go. 
Though, it was good to experience that. 

Catherine was first up for her bath. 

Yuni shows me no mercy. Even though I knew it was coming, 
it is still a bit of a shock to get sprayed by an elephant. 

One more time just for kicks. 

After cleaning Yuni, Catherine and I fed her small green bananas.

A picture up trunk and personal. 

When will I ever get kissed by an elephant right? I was close, but I 
turned away at the last second. I was scared of it for some reason. 

A muddy cow we saw on our walk back to our inn. 

We stayed at the Mega Inn in Tangkahan. Our room was lovely and we had a hammock on our balcony in the back. The owner, Mega, is a very kind man. He and his staff cooked us some amazing meals. Catherine and I had delicious banana oatmeal, mie goreng (fried noodles), banana milkshakes, and ginger tea. At night, we talked to him and he put us in contact with his friend in Bukit Lawang, our next destination. There were four French people staying there as well (a couple and two pilots). We  got some Indonesian Bintang beers and talked to them into the night about traveling, working in Indonesia, and the cultures of French people, Americans, and Indonesians. We were so caught up in our conversations that we didn't realize the inn staff were trying to close the restaurant. We finally got the hint and went to bed. The next morning, we all had breakfast together before Catherine and I left. 

A picture from our ride to Bukit Lawang. I cannot get enough of 
seeing sights like this in Indonesia. It truly is a beautiful country. 

The tourist town of Bukit Lawang is small. Once we arrived, we wanted to take advantage of the daylight, so Catherine and I decided to explore the bat caves in the area. All of the caves, big and small, were connected to one another. The bat caves are beautiful and it was a workout getting through each one. We saw several spiders, centipedes of different lengths, frogs, and we collected smooth rocks from small streams running through the caves. 
On the walk to the cave, you can't miss these bent trees. The 
wind in the forest is so strong that it bends all of the trees. 

One of the spiders we saw.

After our cave tour, our guides took us to a river. 
We listened to some music and played games.

One guide laid these sticks to form this equation. All you have to do is pick up one stick and place it somewhere else to make this equation true. So, do you know which stick needs to be relocated?

Another equation, same rules.

I enjoy taking pictures from bridges. We crossed this bridge to and from the bat caves. 

The next day, we started our 9am trek to see the orangutans at UNESCO World Heritage Site Gunung Leuser National Park near the town of Bukit Lawang. We were ready to go with all of our water bottles and mosquito repellent. The park is vast and the terrain we experienced was hilly with narrow paths, and very steep at times. We used thick vines to help us get down certain paths. 
Walking through the shops of Bukit Lawang.

The first orangutan we saw hung onto a tree with her baby snuggled tightly under her arm.
I could not believe what I saw. I snapped a few pictures, but then I put my camera away 
because I needed my eyes to fully absorb the beautiful orangutans before them. 

A Thomas's Leaf/Thomas's Langur monkey. 

We stopped to eat bananas and passion fruit and encountered our second orangutan. He was high up in and obscured a bit by the tall trees of the forest. Our guides, offering him a banana (which they are not supposed to do), lured the orangutan to where we were standing. The orangutan dangled several inches away from my face as its out-stretched arms reached for the banana. It was quite an adrenaline rush, and kind of like seeing a celebrity. Oh my goodness! I've been a huge fan of yours for the longest time. May I take a photo of you??! Once the orangutan grabbed the banana and consumed it, he climbed back up into the trees and disappeared. 

A long-tailed monkey. 

Lunch time - We ate pineapples and nasi (rice) with chicken and vegetables.

A picture from our walk back along the river. 

Two goats we saw rummaging through trash for food. 

My trip to Sumatra was different from previous trips to Jakarta and other cities in Indonesia - It was an incredible adventure. Catherine and I really enjoyed being in the jungle listening to the sounds of monkeys and walking on the park grounds. I was so happy that I had the opportunity to see this side of Indonesia. It's a testament to the country's diversity.

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