Posts Tagged ‘Indonesia’

In a few short hours we will be on a plane to Africa, leaving Southeast Asia to our memories. We had such a fantastic time here. It’s about as far away as you can get from home for us. There are many different religions, languages and customs. All this makes for exciting travels, and was for the most part (excluding Sumatra) relaxing and easy. Before leaving, there are just a few random things we wanted to reflect on. For those of you lucky enough to have visited this part of the world, I’m sure you will be able to relate.

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Loading the ferry

Three nights ago we left the peace and quiet of Lake Toba to head for Medan, a large city on the northeast coast of Sumatra. The plan: to spend one night in Medan recovering from the 5 hour bus ride (this one had absolutely no leg room, a nightmare for me especially) and then to catch the fast ferry to Penang, Malaysia on Sunday morning. Our time in Indonesia was nearly up, and we were feeling ready to leave.

As it turns out, Indonesia wasn’t quite finished with us. We discovered upon arrival in Medan that the ferry only left on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. A warning to other travelers — the Lonely Planet guide is wrong on this one, at least the 2008 copy we have is. They were also wrong about the price. When we did buy our tickets they ended up costing nearly twice what the book said. I guess it’s important to learn early on not to trust the guidebooks implicitly. We’re usually much better at avoiding things like that, but we missed this one. As a result, we suddenly had three days to spend in Medan.

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R&R in Sumatra

Danau Toba

Much like the roads twisting throughout this dramatic jungle landscape, our experience in Indonesia has been a rollercoaster. We were starting to think that r ‘n r was impossible to come by in Sumatra. Until we arrived Lake Toba. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh (sigh).

At a mere $5 canadian per night we have our own little waterfront hut with a hot shower and western toilet! It’s the perfect place to recover. And to swim. And to listen to the waves and the rains. And Mark has been able to eat bacon again since Toba is a mostly Christian community.

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On the long, long road again

We had a great two weeks at HODR, but life as a volunteer wasn’t always a picnic. Showers were of the cold-bucket variety, food varied in look more than in taste, and cleanliness and restfulness were very hard to come by. We worked hard for those two short weeks, without much luxury to come home to at the end of the day. Kudos to all those long-term volunteers who are there for months. It can really take it out of you.

We felt that we deserved a bit of a treat on our first night on the road alone again, so we splurged for a fancier hotel in Bukittinggi. To be honest, fancy is a very relative term here, but in our case it meant hot water and a double mattress. To top it off, we decided to be really touristy and eat at Pizza Hut. After some delicious cheesy garlic bread, a Super Supreme pizza (sans pork of course — Sumatra is very Muslim) and a pitcher of Coca-Cola, we felt happy and sluggish, and were asleep by 8:00pm. At this point, we didn’t know for sure where we were headed next, and we definitely didn’t know that our next journey would be our worst so far…

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HODR volunteers

After nearly two weeks of working in Sungai Geringging, the time has come for us to carry on with our travels. As I wrote before, it was an incredibly inspiring two weeks for both of us. The work that HODR is doing is fantastic, and we are especially appreciative of their approach to volunteer work. Unlike so many other organizations, HODR doesn’t ask for money when you volunteer. Although this creates some operational difficulties, it makes the organization much more accessible to people who might otherwise not get involved. Being on a tight budget as we travel, it’s quite likely that we wouldn’t have shown up at all had it cost us anything. I believe it’s a wonderful approach to take, and I hope that they are able to continue on this way indefinitely. It is a wonderful cornerstone to the approach HODR takes to volunteering.

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Hard at work

There are many different facets to the work being done by Hands On Disaster Response in Sungai Geringging, but three areas in particular were being focussed on while we were there: deconstruction of damaged homes, salvage of building materials, and construction of temporary shelters for families in need. After the earthquakes hit, assessments were done on all of the homes in the area by local authorities to determine their structural condition. They were rated as either “green” for ok, “yellow” for repairable, or “red” for condemned. Houses rated “red” were required to be demolished and reconstructed from scratch. Often these homes were left in a dangerously precarious condition by the quakes, and many families were too afraid to enter them even to recover personal effects. It was the job of the deconstruction teams from HODR to safely demolish or disassemble these homes so that the salvage teams could sort through the rubble and recover reusable materials. I got involved in the deconstruction teams on the third day we were there, and stayed involved in that aspect for the rest of our stay in Sungai Geringging. Meghan pointed out the irony that I’d spent nearly ten years studying and practicing to become a designer of buildings, only to come to Indonesia to take buildings apart, and for no pay. Funny how things work out sometimes.

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Most days I am part of a salvage team. This means we spend most of our time chinking bricks or river rock from mortar. Sometimes we push down walls. We are always surrounded by hoards of adorable children who should probably be in school. They gather around and stare at the ‘boulays’. Today we had a bit of fun with them.

Mark at Hands On Disaster Response

While we were staying at the Beach Inn on Lake Maninjau we met Dave and Dagmara from Vancouver who were on their way to Sungai Geringging, a small community about an hour away that was heavily damaged in two large earthquakes in September — one 7.9 and one 7.0, on back to back days. They told us about a volunteer organization that was working in the area called Hands On Disaster Response. HODR was set up in Sungai Geringging and was doing deconstruction, salvage and transitional shelter construction for families in the area whose homes had been damaged in the quake. As Dave and Dagmara left, they suggested we make our way over to check it out. Unlike many other volunteer organizations, HODR doesn’t cost money to volunteer with, and since we were so close, we thought it would be fun to see what it was all about.

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Lake Maninjau

Lake Maninjau

After one night in Bukittinggi we mustered up the energy to push on to Lake Maninjau, in West Sumatra, for some much-needed r ‘n r. After hauling our packs over rice paddies and busy country roads we eventually found a place with some vacancy, and our own lakeside hut. The place we ended up was called Lili’s. Vacancy was hard to come by because many locals were there celebrating the new year, along with some volunteers from nearby (which Mark will explain in the next post).

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Minangkapau roof

We left Singapore three days ago to begin our journey to Bukkittinggi, which is a city on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. According to the guidebooks we’d read, the trip should have been an early morning ferry from Singapore to Palau Batam (45 minutes), then a ferry to Pekanbaru (6 hours), and finally a bus to Bukkittinggi (6 hours). We knew it was going to be a long day, but we set out at 6am determined to give it a try.

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