Tarutung – Sibolga: Indian Ocean at last

Posted: June 10, 2010 in Mountain bike touring North Sumatra 2008
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Monday April 21, 2008, 68 km (42 miles) – Total so far: 486 km (302 miles)

only 66 kms to Sibolga

Somewhere in our 66 kms on the Trans Sumatra highway today is a downhill stretch with a thousand bends, even through two very tight tunnels cut through solid granite rock. It’s fun to see the larger trucks and buses squeeze forward, then back up and repeat the manoeuvre again, inching their way through. Didn’t really have this problem, cycling by in 94. The occasional landslide can cut off villages and even towns from each other, but this road wouldn’t be the Trans Sumatra, if it didn’t.

The day started with a 10 kms climb out of Tarutung, which made us wonder, aren’t we suppose to be down hilling to the coast? Oh that’s the last 10 kms, so just enjoy the rolling hills in between. The road with a thousands bends can wind uphill too. We did get some fast 50 kmph downhills of course and had to decline a free ride in a truck whose, smoking driver took pity on us.

Rolling. rolling, rolling

As the road to Sibolga narrowed through some spectacular jungle with ferns as big as bicycles. I wondered how people in these seemingly harsh places get by on a daily basis. They probably did as their forefathers did. Scream and yell at passing bicycle tourists. Then there’s the daily rains, slime, mossy walls, broken, run down, muddy homes and always a faint to strong smell of chicken sh*t or worse, something man made.

A common sight were the women who seemed to be doing the bulk, if not all of the work, marketing, child minding, laundry, running the shops and food stalls. The guys, you know, when not farming or procreating, would be just hanging around, having a puff or two or three.

I was looking forward to Sibolga on this day when we seemed to be at our fittest, after riding all the mountain lake. It was great to be able to ride out of the saddle on small climbs without the body complaining, too much.

Kanak kanak Gila

Sibolga’s claim to fame would be it’s location and a staring off point to the Nias Islands offshore. Surfing’s big there, with the next landfall being the Indian subcontinent. Getting to Nias entails a 10 hour overnight ferry ride to trek swampy jungles, to see and stay with megalithic stone age tribes on the islands. Their manhood being proven by jumping over 10 foot high concrete walls. Near misses usually result in broken limbs.

Last year in stormy seas, an overloaded ferry took a dive and some 120 people perished. Think I’ll stick to rolling rubbe

Sibolga is actually worth two days for chilling out. There are some clean, by Indonesian standards, white sand beaches to the north and south of town and surely great sunset pictures among all the fishing boats down by the harbour. Intoxicating smells like drying fish and clove cigarettes. It would also be great to stay overnight on one of the floating fishing kelongs or platforms just off shore and soak in the salty air.

At the town’s night market, the hawkers we spoke to told us that the December 2004 tsunami had a minimal impact on Sibolga as the islands offshore shielded it from 3 deadly waves that decimated other coastal towns in Sumatra. One lady though lost a relative when he walked out about a kilometer, to an island off shore, picking fish off the sea bed, as the sea receded, before a killler wave returned.

There’s a stereotype in Indonesia that all Chinese immigrants are filthy rich. Though only 3% of the population of 200 million, they control 90% of the economy. During our rides, we see that a majority do not own tobacco, mining nor petroleum conglomerates, but happily run mom and pop stores, small eateries and motels. Most run honest businesses, but there are always a few mavericks to make life interesting.

The flash Wisata Indah (beautiful surroundings) Hotel in town has built an island resort offshore where else but on a private island, where according to it’s management, ‘you can do anything you want with whomever you want’ Cant find someone, they’ll arrange that too. Let’s see them arrange a no smoking island. I’d go.

Indian Ocean surf at sunset


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