Sumatra 2

Another abbreviated post.

The last push to Belawan, outside of Medan before our extended visa runs out. As mentioned before, there’s no real problem with me running over and paying the fine, but Lucinda has to be out before that date or things get very complicated.

Bukittinggi to Padang Sidempuan
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A fantastic start out of Bukittingghi, through mountains

Fast curvy roads in mostly good condition

No houses until it flattened, then colour

And rice fields

I stayed a while to watch an ox navigate a tight corner

No problems

Ducks looked on

A masjid

And then the equator. Pic in the last post

Through the tallest trees we’ve seen here


One of the countless rivers. Oh, we found out why there are few lakes

Most towns have their own version of a taxi it seems. These were mini. Scooters plus cab

Time for our twice-daily coconut. The roadside stalls look like this

They hack one off and square it, then off with the top

A girl pours the water into a jug then scoops out the pulp. No doubt everyone has done this, but anyway

In a bag with a straw and a smile. About 10 cents

Padang Sidempuan to Parapat
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The toughest riding day in Sumatra. Out of the typical town

And over some hills. This was a great ride for about 30 miles

Then down again, and followed a river

Then all hell broke loose. Nothing wrong with the dirt in this pic, but the next 60 miles was over paths, rubble, everything but road

Until we got close to the biggest lake in Sumatra, Lake Toba

Another truck in the ditch. More on this later

Fires burning everywhere

This is Sumatra

Lake Toba’s main outflow


The lake

Parapat to Medan
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After maybe 20 miles, we hit the most developed road we’ve ridden in Indonesia, the whole way into Medan. Medan was 3 hours of stop-start traffic

Medan to Belawan (and back)
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Lucinda’s getting a famous boat, an ‘onion boat’ across the straight to Malaysia. All riders who travel the length of Sumatra take this weekly boat, owned by a Mr Lim. There’s no other practical option. We have a tough ride for about 3 hours through Medan to Belawan, the port. It’s only 27 miles. We find his office

The traditional thing to do is to take a photo of the bike lift into the boat. But we’ll be damned if we’re going to come back the next day through the traffic, it’s easier to steal a photo from Steph of her lift, from here link 2014-10-15 15.14.22

Our track through Timor-Leste and Indonesia, the green line

Timor-Leste / Indonesia

1) 3666 miles / 5903 K

2) The Muslim call to prayer. Starting at between 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning, hourly until 7:00 in the evening, the call to prayer is always there. In a small town there may be 5 mosques all broadcasting, through speakers, the call to prayer. It’s often intense. Some people have a problem with this, but we thought it was beautiful. And when we first heard it, the morning we arrived in Lavantura, it sounded like a straight, legitimate, prayer to God, precise destination unimportant

3) One of the strongest impressions (this was a ride first, cultural immersion did not happen, save Jogja) are of course the difficulty of the volume, speed and behaviour of the millions of vehicles on the road. Many riders describe the locals as crazy and the riding chaotic. In a way we don’t think anything could be further from the truth. We thought the riders and drivers were the best and safest we’ve seen so far. The reason we saw buses and trucks in the ditch or worse was because sometimes the dimensions of the road and the vehicles occupying a given section just don’t work out in reality. Other than that they’re brilliant. We never saw a bike or car accident, or even contact, ever.

Also, we never saw a rider shoulder check, not once. In fact many of the bikes don’t have mirrors. They flow and behave with the spatial sense of a school of fish, fast mixed in with slow.

The secret: it’s based on trust, everyone is responsible equally for making it work. It felt like an important social comment, but maybe we’re reading too much into it. Indonesia, despite the population felt like a country with its act in order. Despite the difficulties and how seriously tiring it was, we loved the riding after we’d figured it out. But we’ve also described the riding as a shitshow, which is also true.

Lucinda thrived in the circumstances. A big cut-and-thrust enduro was the perfect solution. You had size and sound presence, and were torque-ier (sp?) and more accurate than anything else on the road, and a solid dirt bike for when the road got ugly, which was often.

The second impression is shared with every other rider: the Indonesians are almost universally outgoing and friendly, they actively want to talk to you, take photos of each other, admire the bike, ask questions if they speak some english, smiling the whole while like you’re an old friend. This fades a bit in Sumatra though. But the high point of the ride this way, by far. There were a lot of other thoughts about the whole thing, but we sped through thinking it felt upbeat and optimistic. Helped along by debt to GDP at a comfy 25%.



8 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Don Robinson,

    thanks. fantastic!!


  2. Vladimir Zinovieff,

    Warm greetings!



  3. Tom F,

    I remember in China thinking the driving felt like race rules. Whoever is in front has the line. Move and flow with that in mind and people make way and get by with respect. Sounds a bit like that. (but oncoming traffic doesn’t quite fit race rules.)
    Wasn’t rule #3 never ride at night?
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Anonymous,

    Beautiful, thought provoking, thanks, Nicky

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