Star Date: July 2005
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Greeting in Batak -Lake Toba)
" Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty, well-preserved body; But rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up and totally worn out, and proclaiming loudly, Wow what a ride! "
(on a poster in Ubud )
A Sumatran prince spotted a lion while taking shelter from a storm. He saw this as an auspicious omen and founded Singapura, City of Lions. In 1819 Sir Thomas Raffles sailed in and built a bastion of the British Empire. Today Singapore is a bustling hub of business and technology. Tightly controlled in every aspect, gone are the seedy waterfront red light districts and satay stands my Mother and I saw just 20 years ago. Left behind is a clean, efficient state of the art city.
It was here that I met my brave and adventurous 80 year old Mom, LaVerne, after she flew solo for 22 hours from Chicago. Following a long sleep we dressed up and strolled back in time to enjoy the history and ambience of Raffles Hotel. Welcomed by a magical Sahib, or turbaned East Indian Sikh, we had dinner followed by hours of relaxing to grand piano music in the Writer’s Nook, former hangout of literary greats Somerset Maugham, Hemingway, Jack London etc. A Singapore Sling, creation of this hotel, topped off a memorable Mother’s Day outing for a wonderful Mother.
After a little window shopping and eating on Orchid Road we flew to Kuala Lumpur for 3 days. There we met Joseph and did the rounds to Imbi Plaza, the computer centre, and Times Square, an upscale shopping complex, containing a 12 storey high indoor roller coaster. We even took Gami to “Egypt” at the 7 storey tall Imax Theater film, Mysteries of Egypt. We had a great view of the Petronas Towers, designed incorporating Muslim symbolism, currently the world’s tallest twin towers. Later in the month Joseph, Mariah and I explored more of Kuala Lumpur. Besides modern technology and software (Mariah bought an impressive laptop on her way through) this emerging city has authentic Indian food in Little India, interesting Hindu and Chinese Temples, the Batu Caves, and sprawling parks featuring Asian animals, birds, orchid gardens and outdoor musical concerts. We went out to lunch and spent the afternoon with an informative, friendly guide from the National Mosque and gained better insight into the mysterious culture of Islam.
Prior to KL Joseph and I flew from Bali to Yogjakarta on Java. We spent several days visiting ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples, in the midst of this hectic Muslim beehive. Java is one of the most densely populated Indonesian islands. The 9th century temple of Borabudur is the largest Buddhist monument in existence. It was serene and spectacular in the morning mist. Back in Yogjakarta we happened onto the colorful annual procession of the Sultan on his way to the mosque, accompanied by an intriguing entourage of courtiers and guards. 'I love a parade' !!
We flew over to bustling Medan, on the island of Sumatra. From there we three, including Gami, took a local bus past rice terraces, rubber trees and grazing water buffaloes. The colorful bus was full of people eating and singing while the bus driver dodged cars and people in time to the Indonesian music. We arrived at one of our favorite spots, Lake Toba, in the midst of a wind storm. After a wild ferry ride over we quickly settled into our home away from home, The Romlan Guesthouse. Overlooking the enormous blue crater lake, a cooler Mediterranean climate soothed our weary souls.
"Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you." (John De Paola) For the next week we basically did nothing but sit on the balcony, talk, take walks, eat and sleep. It was into this state of relaxation that we welcomed my 22 year old son, Kevin. He had just finished the spring semester studying International Studies and Business at the University of Colorado, in Boulder. Tired out already, he flew 23 hours to KL, spent 2 nights, got 2 bottom wisdom teeth removed and still jumped off the ferry in fine form. He needed to rest and this was the perfect place. Two weeks of sleeping, reading, fishing for the elusive “snakeheads”, discussions about business with Joseph and catching up with family was just what the doctor ordered... We are very proud to see what an intelligent, resourceful (& nice) man he has become. He will be able to accomplish anything he sets his mind to!
And just to make the circus complete Mariah, my 27 year old daughter, flew in from England. She has been working as a special needs teacher in the Bath school district and lives with her thoughtful fiancé, Shane, in Bristol. We are very impressed by how independent and caring Mariah has become. She is happy and in love with everything but the cold England winters so they plan to move to Hawaii in 2006 and get married. She enjoyed resting, reading, visiting, sunning and swimming in the lake daily. We rented a car and driver twice and toured the ancient stone council chairs of the Batak people where judgment was passed; (I’ll spare you the details as these folks were cannibals up to 100 years ago), we toured the island, watched traditional Batak dancing and music, and cooked yummy local food at the new house of our friends Rose and Bill. During the month we enjoyed conversations with many foreign travelers: a doctor from France who has spent the last 4 months helping the survivors of the Tsunami up in Aceh, relief workers from Germany taking a break, traveling students from South Africa, a German man who left his job 12 years ago and has enjoyed traversing the globe ever since, an Italian gentleman who spends 6 months on the coast and 6 months traveling, a CPA from Chicago with his lovely Indonesian bride, to name a few. In such a small guesthouse it was “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” We rented 3 of the 8 rooms and Kevin even had his own private Batak house to laze in. We all enjoyed the fine food, prepared by the 4 friendly girls living there, including local vegetable dishes, fresh salads, carrot juice and many potato dishes inspired by the German owner. As normal when families converge there were a few adjustments but overall everyone got along well and we will all remember the fun times at Lake Toba!
Having already "been there, done that", Joseph remained in Lake Toba to work on some computer projects while the rest of us went in search of orangutans. They remain only in two places worldwide, Borneo and Sumatra. It took one full day of travel, first by boat, then minibus down an increasingly nonexistent road, followed by a precarious walk across a suspension foot bridge to one of the 2 existing guesthouses in the jungle. A devastating flash flood in 2003 destroyed the village of Bukit Luwang that Joseph and I had visited in 2001, and killed over 350 people in less than 10 minutes. I walked in disbelief seeing only blank spaces where homes, restaurants and guesthouses had been happily perched along the river. Illegal logging was to blame, also one of the main causes for the near extinction of the orangutans. Buyers will pay any price for these rare rainforest logs, regardless of the consequences. How many people take the time to acknowledge this constant disintegration of Nature on our planet, as we know it? How many even care? After over 30 years of working towards helping the earth in whatever way we could, we are ever amazed.
Mariah and Kevin left the following morning, with a guide, for a 2 day adventure trek through the Sumatran jungle. Gami and I settled into our favorite pose, including a cup of ginger tea to wile away the day in the jungle. Little did we know what an exciting picture would be painted on our canvas that day! I started talking with a local guide and he told of being sound asleep and swept away by the dark cold flood waters, all the time being alternately pulled under or hit with pieces of debris. After an eternity he was thrown up on shore. The following morning he stood in shock as he questioned why he remained when all their houses and 35 members of his family didn’t. Many young men remain while the older ones and women and children didn’t survive. Desperately needing work, I came up with a way to employ 4 of these strong young men. Why not build a chair and carry Gami through the jungle and across the river to see the elusive orangutans?? As promised, 4 men, their organizer, and a couple of sidekicks arrived 4 hours later grinning ear to ear. Your limo, Madame!! Up Gami went in the bamboo sedan chair onto the shoulders of these luckily very sure footed men. It was like a procession from “Passage to India” as we traversed several kilometers of river rock, hills, and 2 waist deep river crossings. What the heck, by the time you get to be 80 if you can’t throw caution to the wind and skid in broadside once in a while, when can you??? This great effort paid off as we spotted 2 orangutans across the river. Gami stayed to watch them while I climbed up the side of the mountain to view the feeding. When I came back everyone was singing and dancing in the shade. After the long trek back we had showers and I arranged for Gami to drift off asleep while having a massage. Following dinner in the lodge that night we were invited over to a party with travelers from all over the world and local guides singing with guitars. There was Gami dancing at 11pm after such a busy day! I hope I have so much spunk and such a positive attitude at 80!
The next day we heard the kids yelling as they floated down the river on inner tubes, returning from their trek. They had a really arduous hike and camped in a picturesque, remote area of the jungle. They had become close to the guides as they ate native fare, learned about medicinal plants, marveled at magical tricks, and observed orangutans, black gibbons, and a score of other Sumatran wildlife and birds up close. Kevin already had planned to try his luck fly fishing the next morning so the three of us headed up the mountain again, to view the orangutan feeding at the Rehabilitation Center. With so few tourists visiting we were the only ones there with the rangers and about 8 orangutans of all ages, including tiny babies. It is a rare treat to get to observe their expressions and antics so close up in the wild, only 4 or 5 feet away in the trees above. So much like humans, they are truly incredible and unique creatures. Sumatra had captured everyone’s hearts!
And so it goes...........................................................Next Macau, Hong Kong and China. Until then Keep Smiling, Keep in touch, and remember to let go and "skid in broadside" once in a while! Take care.
Love, xoxoox Nancy & Joseph
Kuala Lumpur -Backpackers Traveler's Lodge - Opposite Malaya Hotel, Chinatown very basic but cheap, safe, great location and helpful.
Good KL dentist - Dr. V. Sara -BrightSmile Dental, 03-78736666, (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) I got all my amalgams replaced. 1/3 price of U.S., very modern and reliable but no laughing gas-right Kev? (Confirm with him the type of composite filling used.)
Medan, Sumatra - Nidia Nugraha Hotel, good hotel down the alley from the Ibunda Hotel (also good but more expensive),
Visas: we know good agencies for long term
Indonesian visas: (www.highwaybali.com)
'Expensive' but long term Chinese visas in Hong Kong (E. Sambhwani, manager, Gopal Travel: see Aug 05)
The Raja being carried through the jungle to see the orangutans.
Amazing orangutans at Bukit Luwang
Gorgeous view of Lake Toba from our front balcony. Kevin was out in the canoe, Joseph swimming, and Mariah & Gami basking in the sun.
Serene Borabudur Temple near Yogjakarta, Java.
This 9th century
The Sultan's eclectic entourage of courtiers and guards.
It was like
Petronas Towers in KL. Currently the tallest twin towers in the world.
The 12 story, indoor roller coaster in the Times
In cosmopolitan KL few Muslim women are fully
Girls just want to have fun! They fared much
better than I