Circumnavigation of Sumatra

Published on Friday, February 08, 2013

  • Singapore

  • Singapore

  • Singapore

  • Singapore

  • Malacca, Malaysia

  • Orangutan, Gunung Leuser National Park

  • Orangutan, Gunung Leuser National Park

  • Gunung Leuser National Park

  • Banda Aceh

  • Banda Aceh

  • Banda Aceh

  • Banda Aceh

  • Banda Aceh

  • Nias Island

  • Nias Island

  • Nias Island

  • Nias Island

  • Batu Islands

  • Batu Islands

  • Batu Islands

  • Cupek

  • Cupek

  • Cupek

  • Cupek

  • Bengkulu

  • Krui

  • Krui

  • Krakatoa

  • Ujung Kulon National Park

  • Ujung Kulon National Park

  • Krakatoa

  • Belitung Island

  • Belitung Island

  • Belitung Island

  • Belitung Island

Friday, January 4, 2013 - Singapore: This morning we awoke to find that everyone had arrived safe and sound after long journeys from across the world. The Clipper Odyssey was now our home away from home, and we were all happy to be there. While in Singapore we visited the few remaining buildings from the British colonial era, first stopping by the magnificent National Orchid Garden. From there, our tour of the city focused on the various cultural groups that settled in this town—we saw the Colonial District; Arab Street, with its superb example of a Malay-style mosque, as well as numerous Chinese-style shops; the southern-Indian-style Hindu Mosque, dedicated to the God Shiva; and finally Chinatown, with its bustling market, the smells of local delicacies, and the impressive Chinese Buddhist temple dedicated to the Buddha of the Future. We returned to the ship for our introduction to the staff and dinner.

Saturday, January 5 - Malacca, Malaysia: Today was a fantastic cultural day. We were introduced to peranakan, which refers to the fusion of the Chinese males, babas, with local women, nyonyas, forming the basic culture of Malacca. Along with the numerous sites, museums, and a spectacular lunch of peranakan food, we toured the main areas of European influence in the town, such as the famous Christ Church; the Stadthuys, with its displays of Malaccan history and culture; St. Paul’s hill; and the Portuguese fortress that was the founding site of this great city. A true highlight of the day was the ride on colorful trishaws, two-seater vehicles propelled by men on bicycles, through the Old Town. To show how the various peoples lived side-by-side in harmony, we were shown a Muslim mosque with a Chinese roof that was two doors down from the local Tamil South Indian Hindu Temple, and a block away from the beautiful Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, with its Confucianist, Taoist, and Buddhist shrines. After a leisurely walk on Jonker Street, we visited the Macau Gallery House and finished our tour at a traditional Malay family house, where we were served local delicacies and given woven rice packages made of palm fronds by the ladies of the house. We returned to the ship for our captain’s introductory cocktail party and dinner.

Sunday, January 6 - At Sea: After two full days of activities on shore, we were ready for a day of rest at sea. The weather was perfect and the seas calm. Our first day with lectures, in the morning we heard from Ron Wixman about the geography and climate of Southeast Asia and its influence on the historic migrations of peoples into Southeast Asia. He also discussed the rise of various cultures and the role of Indian and Chinese culture in the development of the region. Later, one of our naturalists, Lawrence Weitz, gave a truly inspiring talk on the orangutans (people of the forest in the Malay language) of both Borneo and Sumatra, their life habits, and their plight as mankind reduces their living space yearly through the destruction of their habitat. In the afternoon our anthropologist, Kathy Robinson, spoke on the peoples of interior Sumatra in terms of kinship structures and house types. It was fascinating to hear about the female lineage and matrilocal patterns of traditional Minangkabau society. We turned in early, as we were expecting an early morning wake-up call for the Bukit Lawang Orangutan Sanctuary.

Monday, January 7 - Gunung Leuser National Park: What Singapore and Malacca are in terms of the fabulous cultural diversity of this region, Gunung Leuser National Park in Bukit Lawang is in terms of nature. After a short walk we were treated to a mother orangutan, about seven months pregnant, accompanied by her six-year-old son. It was a photographer’s delight as they were virtually right next to us and didn’t mind us, nor the flash photography. Walking along the slippery path covered in leaves, most of the group climbed up 120 uneven stairs to a higher feeding ground where the same orangutans came to rest. The mother built a nest and took a nap while the son entertained us. As if that alone did not make our journey worthwhile, out of the canopy of trees came a large band of white-handed gibbons with their loud vocalizations—a rare treat! We also got to see long-tailed macaques, both in the trees and at the river’s edge when we were returning to Bukit Lawang for lunch. On our return trip to the ship, we saw the sea of palms planted for their oil bearing fruit, the primary export of Sumatra and Borneo. After returning to the Clipper Odyssey we had extended talks by Brad Climpson and Lawrence on the primates that we saw today.

Tuesday, January 8 - Belawan: Our goal of reaching Lingga village, a Karo Batak village in the Sumatran highlands, was unfortunately thwarted by a container truck carrying concrete on the only road up to the highlands. Mike Messick, our expedition leader, soon made the executive decision to turn us around and go back to Belawan, a process that was somewhat easier said than done. Our guides, bus drivers’ assistants, and a policeman ran ahead and were able to get scores of trucks, buses, cars, and other vehicles off the road to let us pass, running  on foot for over three kilometers—they were our heroes! After a tasty lunch, a mix of Sumatran and Chinese foods, we visited the museum of the northern Sumatran peoples where we learned a great deal about the cultural, religious, ethnic, and racial diversity of this region.

Wednesday, January 9 - At Sea: On our restful day at sea between Belawan and Banda Aceh, we heard lectures from three of our staff. Brad presented a visually stunning lecture on the invertebrates of the coral reefs of the Indonesian archipelago. Kathy spoke on the history and changing nature of the movements of the people of Aceh to obtain and maintain their independence of autonomy from the time of the creation of the first Islamic Sultanate of Indonesia. And after our Zodiac and snorkel briefing, Lexmono Santoso discussed the geography, population, cultural diversity and history of Indonesia.

Thursday, January 10 - Palau Weh and Banda Aceh: Today was packed with events—we enjoyed naturalist activities in the morning at Palau Weh, and the afternoon was dominated by cultural activities. Lawrence led a nature walk on Palau Weh, a small island off northern Sumatra, where among many other things they saw gray-headed fish eagles, a multitude of rattan plants growing, and an orb-weaver spider with a golden web that stretched ten feet across. At the same time, Brad led a snorkeling expedition during which many different species of coral, star fish, and reef fish were seen. Butterflyfish and surgeonfish varieties, with their spectacular colors, captivated everyone, but the highlight for many was the turtle swimming on the reef.
At Banda Aceh we focused on the disaster that took place in 2004. An earthquake with a magnitude of 9.3 was followed by a tsunami that took the lives of approximately 160,000 people here, and another 100,000 in other countries. We saw the barge that had been carried four kilometers inland by the tsunami, and visited the Tsunami Museum, where we saw illustrations of the devastation. We also saw the local mosque which was the only building left standing and unharmed by the tsunami.

We explored the museum of ethnography, where the varying cultures of the peoples of northern Sumatra were on display. We were treated to an outdoor display of folk and religious dances of the Acehenese people, including a group of sufi male drummers, who’s colorful costumes were so magnificent, many of us wanted our pictures taken with them. We were also treated to local Acehenese coffee, sweets, and a local spicy omelet while we watched the performances. To top off this incredible day, our Zodiac ride back to the Clipper Odyssey brought us one of the most spectacular sunsets any of us had ever seen.

Friday, January 11 - At Sea: This morning we were treated to another lecture by Kathy on the material culture of the people on Nias Island. We learned about the village social structure, housing and village patterns, and about many of the distinct cultural aspects of Nias people. Brad continued his discussion of life on the coral reef with a stimulating talk on the vertebrates, reptiles, and fish with cartilage structures (rays, sharks, and skates) called elasmobranchs. After lunch we had a talk on earthquakes and plate tectonics, with an emphasis on this area of the Ring of Fire. We enjoyed an ice cream social before hearing from Ron regarding the cultures and religions in southeast Asia and Sumatra.

Saturday, January 12 - Nias Island: What an experience! After a short ride we arrived at the base of a staircase at Bawemataluwo village, where we were greeted by local men dressed as warriors and escorted up the steps to the village itself. We were treated to a dance performance and a local stone jumping demonstration, where young warriors jump over a six-and-a-half-foot high stone monument. All of this was done before the king of the village who sat in front of his royal house in the center of the village. After the performances we walked through the village and came away with bracelets, statues, necklaces, and a huge variety of locally made objects made of wood, stone, boar’s teeth, and coconut shell, and most of all, a fabulous memory of this unique event.

After lunch we had three choices of activity: snorkeling with Brad, a nature hike with Lawrence, or a walk through Telok Dalam village and its local market. The hikers got to see, among other things, a stork-billed kingfisher and even witnessed a hermit crab race. The snorkelers enjoyed the wide variety of reef fishes, and those that walked through the local market with Ron and Kathy got to see and smell the wide array of goods sold in the local small stalls.

As the weather was perfect and the seas perfectly calm, we enjoyed dinner on the pool deck, where, at around 8:30 p.m., our captain blew the ship’s horn to signal that we were crossing the equator! Lynne Greig read a poem as we toasted our crossing with a glass of champagne.

Sunday, January 13 - Batu Islands: Today was a snorkeler’s delight. This morning our scouts found a beautifully pristine beach that could have been on a postcard. The swimming was superb in the crystal-clear water. Lawrence led a nature walk through the island where kingfishers were seen, along with a pair of white paradise doves and scores of hermit crabs. We enjoyed an outdoor barbeque on the pool deck as our ship passed through the narrows between the two largest of the Batu Islands. We dropped anchor off Bojo Island and were treated to an even nicer beach on an island that had a virtually natural vegetation cover. While some trekked through the forest with Lawrence, others went snorkeling just mere feet off the beach. Not only was there a great variety of corals here, but there was also an array of sponges, numerous varieties of fish, and the piece de resistance—beautiful anemonefish. Above us flew Brahminy kites, white-bellied sea eagles with huge wing spans, and ospreys. Lawrence pointed out a large-billed heron, which is rare in Indonesia, and also showed the walkers finch hermit crabs eating coconut. The beach combing, swimming, and snorkeling were the best yet on the trip. The weather was beautiful as well, and it only started to drizzle just as the last Zodiac pulled up to the ship.

Monday, January 14 - Padang / Cupek: Upon arrival at the port in Solok Province we set off for the Minangkabau
village of Cupek. On the ride up we passed a number of traditional Minangkabau houses, terraced rice paddies, and beautiful tropical forest lands. We were greeted by locals enacting a traditional wedding ceremony, led by a young man on a horse, the son of a nobleman. The two families exchanged long speeches, followed by a long procession of women carrying the wedding gifts on their heads. In addition to this magnificent procession, there were performances of dancing, music, and “walking on glass.” We were also treated to lessons on how to prepare rendang, a national dish of the Minangkabau famous throughout Indonesia, made of beef slow-cooked in coconut milk and spices, and a show of trained monkeys that plucked coconuts from the high trees. At the mayor of the district’s house, we were treated to a delicious meal of local specialties and even received sarongs as gifts from the mayor.

Tuesday, January 15 - Bengkulu: This morning we cruised toward Bengkulu in southwestern Sumatra. On our way we were treated to more lectures. The first was given by Lawrence on the plight of the rhinoceros populations of Africa and southeast Asia. Leks followed with a detailed discussion on the textiles of Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia. Upon arrival in Bengkulu, we enjoyed a welcoming ceremony with music and dance by the locals in traditional costumes. We then visited the old Marlborough fortress, which is virtually intact, followed by Chinatown where, in some of the old shops, the caretakers have created holes specifically for nesting swifts. After they’ve migrated elsewhere, these high quality nests are used for making bird’s nest soup, a Chinese delicacy. We finished our excursion with a performance of music, songs, dances, and martial arts at the former home of President Sukarno.

Wednesday, January 16 - Krui: Our nature enthusiasts left the ship early with Lawrence to go to Bukit Barisan National Park. On their walk through the tropical forest, they crossed suspension bridges over swift flowing streams, and even walked through some of them, before encountering elephant tracks—this was truly exciting as the Sumatran elephant is critically endangered and on the verge of extinction. Whiskered treeswifts were also seen, but the large number of leeches dropping out of the foliage drove even our most intrepid naturalists out of the forest.

The rest of us were treated to a greeting ceremony on the dock, before joining the hikers for fried bananas, roasted corn, local coffee, and a sweet ginger drink. We were then off to meet the sultan of the region at his home; though he was not there we were greeted by a procession of local villagers in costume, playing drums, singing, and marching with us. After a series of speeches by a variety of officials and nobles, we were able to meet the dancers, who offered traditional folk items and their famous coffee. Civet cats eat the coffee fruit, and pass the beans through their digestive system, which gives the coffee (called kopi luwak) a distinct flavor. The passed and expelled beans are washed, roasted, and sold for a very high price. This was followed by a shopping spree where we bought sarongs and other textiles, local embroidered hats, batiked shirts, masks, and a host of other local products. On the way back to the ship we went for a brief walk in Bukit Barisan National Park, and stopped in a village to see how damar (a tree resin) is gathered.

Thursday, January 17 - Ujung Kulon National Park / Krakatoa Island: In the morning, our most intrepid passengers set out for exploring. Those who went on a long walk saw banteng cattle, a water monitor, a troop of long-tailed macaques in the trees, and Asian-pied hornbills. Those on the long Zodiac cruise saw crested, Caspian, and bridled terns, as well as white-bellied sea eagles, and those on the short Zodiac trip saw a reticulated python in a tree that dropped down into a stream. After lunch we arrived at Anak Krakatoa; Mike had found a lovely spot for us to go on shore and the weather was perfect. This was a true highlight of the trip—with the lava flows, the active fumaroles, the layers of ash piled meters high, the volcano itself, and the beautifully colored formations of rock along the shore, all made for spectacular viewing. We landed on a black sand beach, littered with pumice rocks, and a spectacular wall of layered ash. After spending time on the beach we cruised around part of the island via Zodiac. To punctuate the day, we had a wonderful death-by-chocolate desert extravaganza after dinner.

Friday, January 18 - Belitung Island: This morning Ron spoke on the spice trade in Southeast Asia with a specific focus on Sumatra. He talked about spices as medicinals, not just as flavorings, their role in the rise of European colonization of the region, and the impact on the landscape and the cultures of the peoples of the region. After lunch on board we had a short bus ride to the town of Tanjung Pandan where we were treated to performances representative of the three main groups on the island—Javanese/Belitungese, Chinese, and Balinese. At our welcoming ceremony we were accompanied by a beautiful Balinese Barong, two Chinese lions, and Javanese dragon figures. The dragon, barong, and Chinese lions were young people in costume. We enjoyed local snacks and tea before more performances with young people in beautiful local attire. From Tanjung Pandan we stopped at a beautiful beach in Tinggi. There were huge granite boulders comprising beautiful formations around a bay with clean beach sands. After playing on the beach and wading in the water, as well as climbing the stone formations, some of us enjoyed eating rambutan, mangostene, and fresh coconut. This was our last stop in Indonesia, and this evening we set sail for Singapore.

Saturday, January 19 - At Sea: On our day at sea we heard our last lectures of the trip. From Lawrence we learned about the elephants of Africa, India, and Sumatra, and the use of trunks and tusks of the varying types of elephants. This was followed by Ron discussing traditional and modern forms of paddy rice agriculture in East and Southeast Asia. Here he talked about the importance of the water buffalo or oxen, and of ducks, in traditional agricultural patterns, and about the fact that rice paddies provided the major sources of protein (fish, frogs, snakes, mollusks, birds, etc.) as well as rice itself. This evening was our captain’s farewell cocktail party and our farewell dinner, before leaving Indonesia.

Sunday, January 20 - Singapore: With our journey over, we left the Clipper Odyssey and our newly made friends, and headed to the airport for various flights home, or to hotels where some enjoyed another day in Singapore before returning to real life.