Circumnavigation of Sumatra

Published on Monday, February 28, 2011

  • Singapore

  • Singapore

  • Malacca

  • Malacca

  • Brastagi

  • Gunung Leuser National Park

  • Gunung Leuser National Park

  • Lhokseumawe

  • Banda Aceh

  • Banda Aceh

  • Banda Aceh

  • Banda Aceh

  • Nias Island

  • Palau Palau Batu

  • Palau Palau Batu

  • Padang

  • Krui

  • Krui

  • Krui

  • Krui

  • Ujun Kulon

  • Ujun Kulon

  • Ujun Kulon

  • Ujun Kulon

  • Krakatoa

  • Belitung

  • Belitung

  • Belitung

Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - Singapore: This morning we set off to explore the city/island/nation of Singapore. Those who were keen birders caught the subway to the Jurong Bird Park. Jonathan Rossouw pointed out the native birds in the trees and the most notable avians in the enclosures, such as Wilson's bird-of-paradise, Nicobar pigeons, and the Malay peacock pheasant. Returning at mid-day, everyone lunched on board, and then set out again. Highlights of the afternoon tour included the Singapore waterfront, the colonial center of town, parliament, the Supreme Court, and the opera house. Later we visited the Arab quarter, with the Sultan's Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the country. Then it was on to Chinatown, with its colorful shops preparing for the Chinese New Year. We worked our way along the narrow streets to Sri Mariamman Temple, built in 1827 and the oldest Hindu temple in the country, with its intricately decorated towers. A floral highlight was a stop in the Singapore Botanical Gardens, where we concentrated on the National Orchid Garden collections. Alcoves, walkways, stairs, and archways were festooned with beautiful hybrid orchids. We returned to the Clipper Odyssey at dusk and set out for the Malacca Straits, enjoying a dramatic sunset over the island of Singapore.

Thursday, January 6 - Melacca, Malaysia: Calm seas made for easy sleep, but a squall this morning created rather challenging conditions for disembarkation. The captain pulled up the anchor and drifted a little deeper in the straits and was able to create a lee and tie up to our tenders for the transfer to Malacc. Our Malaysian guides onshore whisked us away to visit some Venice-like canals on the waterfront, and the graveyards on the Hill of Chinese. We explored the Church of St. Francis Xavier, and were introduced to Malacca trees. Then it was on to the large Ethnographical Museum, where we learned about the colonization history with the replacement of local sultans by the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and finally Japanese. On our way back to the ship we passed by Porta de Santiago, gateway into the original Portuguese fortifications in the 1500s. Some of us glanced into the trees and noticed Asian koels, orioles, and a pair of white-bellied sea eagles.

Back on board, with calmer seas, we headed northwest and our lecture series began with Nancy Sullivan discussing Java Man and his Descendents. Later Linda Hahn gave us an excellent Introduction to Indonesia, preparing us for our visit to Sumatra.

Friday, January 7 - Brastagi / Gunung National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia: This morning we divided up in the port of Belawan on the northeast coast of Sumatra. One party set out for the highlands of Brastagi and the village of Lingga. Here they were welcomed by the Karo Batak people and were treated to a number of musical and cultural presentations. The breathtaking bus ride back, with a police escort, involved some high speed travel down the wrong side of the highway and circumvented hours of snarled traffic in Medan. A second group embarked on an overnight excursion to Gunung National Park in the interior, passing through extensive oil palm plantations en route. A pleasant walk past town led to a crossing of the Bahorak River. Our guides used ropes and a paddle to create a pendulum that swung a white-water raft across the river, serving as a ferry to the forested far shore. A hike up a steep muddy trail to a viewing platform revealed a mother Sumatran orangutan, with an infant, swinging through the trees and descending to feed. The orangutans are wild, having survived various levels of mistreatment and then rehabilitation, but still come for small daily feedings of bananas and milk from the park rangers. We returned along the river and spent the night at the Rindu Alan Hotel.

Saturday, January 8 - Gunung Leuser National Park: Today everyone went to the park to see the orangutans. Those who stayed on board had a very early departure and we all met at the hotel and set out to cross the river. The operation was a bit smoother once the rafts arrived, hand carried up the trail from town, and with two rafts we crossed more quickly this time. In a light rain we made the river traverse and went a short distance upstream to see three orangutans in the trees. Between yesterday and today, we were fantastically lucky to see and photograph three other primates along the trails, long-tailed macaque, pig-tailed macaque, and Thomas' leaf-monkey. Some of us returned directly to the hotel grounds, and another contingent walked through the park's rain forest, paralleling the Bahorak River, descended through rubber plantations, and emerged at a footbridge at the hotel. Many went exploring the nearby eco-lodge grounds, where a number of birds were seen, such as Arctic warblers and ashy tailorbirds. A striking Sumatran pit viper was discovered resting in a shrub, deadly venomous but tolerant of photographs. And Giovanna Fasanelli found a mother and young of our fifth primate: the silvered langur. Their babies are a striking ginger or orange-brown, clinging to mother's silver-gray fur. After lunch and a bus ride through the congestion of Medan, we were all reunited with the ship. At our first recap we were briefed on the significance of our destination tomorrow, the historic town of Pirak Timu.

Sunday, January 9 - Lhokseumawe: We arrived in Aceh Province in the morning and set out on a drive to the community center in North Aceh Regency. We made good time, what with a police escort, siren blaring, chased by an ambulance, and with major intersections blocked off so we could proceed. As the first tourist ship to visit the province, we received special handling and all courtesies. At the Regence Hall, a large crowd of locals followed us in to see an exquisite dance performance by young men and women of the community in flashy traditional clothing. We were surprised and delighted by unexpected moves, yips, and rope tricks. Then it was off to the interior, where were witnessed a re-enactment of a traditional wedding amid a throbbing drumbeat. Once again it seems most of the villagers had crowded in around us to view the performers. The birders enjoyed a great spotted eagle soaring over the rice paddies, the first sighting ever in Sumatra.

Back on the ship we moved a short distance to the mouth of a river and dropped our Zodiacs for an expedition stop. We cruised around photographing local fishermen and their boats and exploring the beaches until dusk sent us back to the ship.

Monday, January 10 - Banda Aceh: In 2004, the city of Banda Aceh lost more than 160,000 people to the 9.3 magnitude earthquake and tsunami. We had a sobering visit to a mass grave memorial, where 14,264 bodies were buried and we also saw the ship PLTD Apung, a floating power station weighing 780 tons, which was carried 4 km inland by the tsunami. On a more cheerful note, we were treated to colorful snacks, speeches, music, and dance by a province obviously delighted to have us as guests. We perused a historical and an ethnological museum and saw an exquisite mosque and reflecting pool, which survived when almost everything else was destroyed by the tsunami.

In the afternoon we cruised past the scenic hills of the northwestern tip of Sumatra, and dropped anchor off the island of Pulau Bunta. Many of us snorkeled over the coral, letting the current take us from one Zodiac to the next. Others walked along the paths and beaches of the coconut plantation where many birds were sighted. We set off down the western coast of Sumatra in late afternoon, watching a dramatic sky and thunderstorm off to the north.

Tuesday, January 11 - Salaut Basar, Simeulue Islands: This morning we investigated two small islands well off the northwestern shore of Sumatra, and made a landing on Salaut Basar, part of the Simeulue Islands. On a grand, white-sand beach we spotted cowries and green turtle nests. Coconuts planted in the island’s interior are harvested by several of the locals for copra. Green pigeons were conspicuous, and scattered noni plants and flowering orchids were found along the paths. Though the swell made our landing and departure a bit sporting, the water temperature was comfortably warm.

In the afternoon we proceeded southeast, and Jonathan presented Bloodsuckers, Flying Frogs, and Old Men: The Natural Riches of Sundaland. This was followed by Linda with a talk on Nias: History and Architecture.

Wednesday, January 12 - Bawemataluwo Village, Nias Island: Under a clear sky the Zodiacs brought us to the harbor of Nias Island where we transferred to small trucks for the ride up to Bawemataluwo Village. Here the chief and his clan performed dramatic dances with swords and shields, whooping and yipping. Their colorful costumes were decorated with loofah and pig tusks. After the dancing, many of us purchased special traditional necklaces to protect us from the swords of headhunters. We also witnessed the unique practice of stone-jumping where young warriors jump over a six-and-a-half-foot high stone wall. After lunch on the ship, we had several options for the afternoon. Some returned to the market in town, cameras in-hand. Others went snorkeling, and although there was no coral about 60 species of fish were found. Some went swimming, raced hermit crabs, and enjoyed the limpet urchins on the limestone coast. Others went for a walk along the beach and found five species of orchids.

At about 8:30 in the evening the Clipper Odyssey crossed south over the equator. Everyone gathered in the lounge for a celebratory glass of champagne. A swarthy pirate stumbled into the lounge and welcomed us across the equator.

Thursday, January 13 - Pulau Pulau Batu and Bojo Island: This morning we made an expedition stop in the island chain around Little (Pulau Pulau) Batu Island.  Snorkelers were pleased to see a crocodilefish as well as a banded snake-eel and a blue-spotted lagoon ray. On land an eastern crimson sunbird was a highlight for the birders, and a boomerang orchid was seen unfurling its flowers high on the side of a tree.

During a barbeque lunch on the pool deck we watched the captain guide the ship through the narrows southwest of Tanahmasa Island to anchor at Bojo Island. For the remainder of the afternoon we snorkeled and swam or hiked along the edges of the tall trees with showy birds like imperial pigeons and blue-rumped parrots. Here a remarkable discovery was made, a small population of silver pigeons! This species believed to be extinct after 1931 and only rediscovered a year ago on the Simeulu Islands.

Friday, January 14 - Padang and Cupek Village, Solok: Today we were greeted by the governor of West Sumatra on the dock in Padang amid a flamboyant welcome ceremony. We then set off for Solok Province with yet another police escort. At the village of Cupek, we had a special treat, a re-enactment of a traditional wedding, complete with intricate headdresses and glittering costumes. Afterwards, we watched a baffling demonstration of barefoot men walking on freshly broken glass, rolling on crushed glass, eating glass shards, and in general bloodlessly defying the laws of physics.

For lunch we continued our drive uphill, arriving at mid-day at the Solok Province Regence House. After a tasty traditional lunch on floor mats, we enjoyed some fresh fruit for dessert which included salak (scaly palm fruits, also called snake fruit). Then we received a fashion show, with various handsome traditional dresses modeled for us. Following an interesting dance involving eggs, we returned to the harbor and set sail to the southeast. In the late afternoon, Nancy gave us a lecture on Austronesian Meanings.

Saturday, January 15 - Bengkulu: During our morning at sea we enjoyed a dazzling lecture from Leksmono Santosa, called Sumatra Textiles, beautifully illustrated with abundant samples of museum-quality pieces. This was followed by Peter Zika with his talk on Rainforests.

Around midday we arrive at Bengkulu. The harbor here is filled with silt, so we boarded Zodiacs to land on the beach at the south side of town. We received a welcome ceremony on the sand and then embarked on a tour of town. We visited the museum at the home site of Indonesia's first president, Mr. Soekarno, where we were entertained by a dance with music and vigorous drumming. After this we ventured into a traditional market full of spices, vegetables, and unusual fruits and tubers. In addition, we walked through the earthworks of Fort Marlborough, with a fine view of the former harbor, as well as a mountain vista. Some of us wandered around in Chinatown for a while before returning to the ship.

In the evening we had a special event for recap, with everyone modeling their recent clothing purchases, with a running commentary on the art, style, and patterns by Linda and Leksmono. After dinner we attended an unforgettable Crew Talent Show.

Sunday, January 16 - Krui: After a short Zodiac ride, we arrived at the town of Krui. A cheerful traditional welcome sent us on our way—with a police escort—up into the nearby hill country. With two tour options, one group visited Lampung village near Liwa which is more similar to the culture in eastern Sumatra, reflected in their traditional dress, choice of musical instruments, and in their dancing. Then we investigated the notorious coffee-making process where gourmet Asian palm civets choose, eat, and pass the best coffee beans. The resulting Kopi Luwak coffee is renowned and quite expensive. After a brief stop at Bukit Barisan National Park we saw the copal production operations in a damar tree grove, with a series of enormous notches cut in the lower trunks of the trees. The collected resin is used in cosmetics and varnish.

The other group spent the entire day in the national park and found recent wild elephant tracks, a tortoise, heard siamangs (the largest of the gibbons), saw mitered langurs, watched spectacular rhinoceros hornbills, and thoroughly enjoyed a multitude of butterflies, leafhoppers, minivets, orchids, gingers, and other rain forest creatures. Epiphytic clubmosses, lush ferns, immense buttressed trees, the occasional land leech, rugged hiking and elusive waterfalls were all part of the fun.

Monday, January 17 - Ujung Kulon, Java, and Krakatoa Island: Ujong Kulon National Park is a World Heritage Site at the extreme western tip of Java. In 1883 the eruption tsunami from Krakatoa (Krakatau) demolished its villages and devastated the landscape. The locals refused to resettle there, which allowed the land to re-vegetate, and it is now an extensive natural area. We meandered up a narrow channel on the Cigenter River spotting reticulated pythons, water monitors, wreathed hornbills, and long-tailed macaques. Giant Nypa palms lined the salty channel and brilliantly colored fiddler crabs scuttled in the mud. We also went for a walk in a savanna, obviously grazed by wild cattle progenitors called banteng. The forest edge was graced by the purple floral displays of crepe myrtle trees.

After a barbeque lunch on the pool deck, we set a course for the Sunda Straits passing directly over the epicenter of the massive 1883 eruption. With the ship between Rakata and Anakrakata (son of Krakatoa) we watched several dramatic black smoke-bursts rise from the crater, hurling volcanic debris onto the cinder summit. A few naupaka had colonized the a’a lava, and a rather battered casuarina forest was established on the northeastern slopes. As we continued to the north, we heard from Kevin Clement, lecturing on Alfred Russel Wallace and His Dangerous Idea. During our sunset cocktail party, we watched some brilliant lightning flashes play across the clouds on the northern horizon.

Tuesday, January 18 - Belitung: As the ship continued northeast, we heard from Peter with a talk on Orchids, Liars, and Cheaters, then Jonathan presented a lecture on Sumatran orangutans titled The Big Red Apes. When we arrived at the wharf in Belitung we received a lively welcome to the island. Then we divided up in groups. One party went to the town of Tanjungpandan and saw Chinese, Javanese, and Balinese dances, before continuing on to a lovely beach with granitic outcrops.

The other group headed out with Jonathan to look for birds and flowers in the countryside, stopping in mangroves, mud flats, brushy roadsides, pondshores and second-growth forest. Yellow bitterns were a highlight, but most remarkable was a white-faced plover mixed among several other plover species. Very little is known about the biology and range of this recent Asian split from the Kentish (snowy) plover.

Back on the ship we pulled away from Indonesia, and set a course north for Singapore. We gathered in the lounge and enjoyed cocktails compliments of Captain Peter Fielding, and then attended a special farewell dinner in the dining room.

Wednesday, January 19 - At sea: We enjoy very calm seas today as the Clipper Odyssey carved a route towards Singapore. We heard from two members of our lecture staff in the morning. Anita Van Breda from WWF talked about World Wildlife Fund's work in Sumatra and next came Giovanna, with her provocative lecture Fish Are Better Than Birds!

After lunch we changed our clocks, moving them forward one hour. This clever move put us on Singapore time without sacrificing sleep. After a disembarkation briefing we enjoyed tea and waffles in the Day Lounge. Following our final recap and briefing, we had dinner and then a special treat. Natalia Baechtold presented a lovely slide show of our Circumnavigation of Sumatra.

Thursday, January 20 - Singapore: Our journey over, today we all scattered to the winds, with most of us heading for the airport and flights home.