Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Indonesia: North Sumatra overland

Indonesia is the only country in the world privileged to be named by a Scotsman, James Logan. In 1850, Logan from Berwickshire, editor of the Penang Gazette, shortened 'Indian Archipelago' to Indonesia and the name stuck - what a great claim to fame.
Thursday 30 September: The 10:00am Indomal Express
(three hours) arrives at the port of Dumai in east Sumatra and I'm nodded through immigration in minutes. Motorbike taxi to the bus station, 3:00pm local stopping bus to Pekanbaru (6 hours), and taxi for an overnight stop at Poppie's Homestay in this dull, oil-rich administrative centre.
The most important form of transport in the east Sumatra is not the train, nor the boat, not even the bus or motorbike - it's the pipeline and oil pipelines criss-cross the landscape, more numerous than the bumpy pot-holed roads. This is not a good introduction to Indonesia but I'm heading north and I know that overland travel here is tough. Sumatra's a big island, the world's sixth largest.
Friday 1 October: A two-hour wait at Pekanbaru's new bus station to catch the 7:30pm overnight bus to Medan's southern bus station at Amplas (13 hours). It promises much - reclining seats,
toilet, air-con, karaoke. I read this as cold and noisy so pack a fleece pullover, but actually it's pleasantly cool with a subdued music video, blanket and pillow - it's comfortable and I sleep well.
Saturday 2: Motorbike sidecar (70th mode of transport) to stop overnight at Angel Guesthouse in central Medan and see the old colonial Tjong A Fie Mansion and the Deli sultan's Maimoon Palace.
Sunday 3: Rested and ready to go again it's a 6:00pm motorbike sidecar ride to the northern Pinang Baris bus station and the, much less comfortable, 7:00pm overnight bus to Banda Aceh (12 hours).
Monday 4: Motorbike sidecar west to Banda's harbour at Uleh-leh for the 9:30am fast Pulo Rondo (one hour) to Pulau Weh's ferry-port, then minibus to the island's main town of Sabang, and motorbike taxi 15 miles to the little sandy-rocky beach strip at Iboih (pronounced ee-boah). Phew.
Photos: Medan to Pulau Weh.

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