posted October 27th
Lonely Planet puts it well: Don’t come here looking for a holiday –that’s Bali. Sumatra is an adventure; the kind of demanding ride that requires a dusty knapsack & tough traveling skin…
The adventures started as soon as we exited Medan airport. Our accommodation host had told us in advance that the correct taxi fare was IDR150,000, (about $10). The taxi desk at the airport agreed with this & gave us a written invoice showing that this was the amount to pay on arrival. We showed our exact address to the taxi driver, along with a phone number to call, in case he needed any clarification. All appeared to be well, except that the journey was apparently longer than the driver expected, & he needed to phone 2 times to ask directions…. By the time we arrived at our destination, the taxi driver had evidently decided that the agreed price was too low & forcefully demanded a tip! We explained in English that it was a fixed price & he argued in Indonesian that we have to give a tip! He saw that we weren’t going to back down & so ended up by swearing at us & driving off in a huff! Welcome to Indonesia.
We found that our AirBnB accommodation was so-so but not really as expected. Usually AirBnB means you’re staying with a local family in their home; however this place was nothing other than a cheap hostel pretending to be a family home. On top of that, it was located quite far away from the centre. Restaurant options in the area were very limited & despite our explaining in broken Indonesian that we needed to eat ‘tanpa pedas, tanpa sanbal’ (no chillies & other hot spices!), every meal we had burned our mouths & stomachs. Fortunately we would only be in this place 2 days.
Leaving the rather gory scene, we moved on to Maimun Palace where we encountered many local families, all dressed up in beautiful matching outfits for Hari Raya — one of Islam’s main festivals. Amazingly, we found that as foreigners we had a kind of ‘celebrity status’ as a lot of the locals wanted to have their photo taken with us! For the next half hour we posed with different families as they took a variety of photos with different mobile phones & cameras. It grew to be quite a lengthy process as there were group photos to be taken, photos with the children, photos with females only, photos with males only, standing photos, sitting photos….
Eventually the photo-shoot came to an end & we proceeded to the last item on our list of things to do in downtown Medan: find a money changer. It was a half-hour walk to the place, through a nice area with good hotels & embassies. However, as we were crossing a small road, a scooter with 2 young teenagers came towards us. It looked like they were going to pass behind us, but then they changed their minds & decided to pass right in front of us, almost colliding with us in the process. They came to a halt & just as I was about to shout at them for their bad driving, one of the boys reached out & grabbed Sue’s silver necklace! The scooter shot off with the boy on the back of the scooter triumphantly laughing & showing off the stolen asset! We were shocked as although we’d heard about drive-by robberies, we’d never experienced one before.
We left Medan the next day, happy to move on to the volcano town of Berastagi, which we liked a lot better….more about Berastagi in part 2!