Basic information

Sumatra is the western-most island in the Indonesian archipelago. Its west coast lies on the Indian Ocean and the northeast part of the island borders on the Straits of Malacca, historically an important shipping and trade route and also a channel that has traditionally been plagued by piracy. Sumatra is the second largest Indonesian island, so to get to know it some more time is needed. It is purely Islamic so there is no chance of facing spirits, dragons and other holy Hindu creatures as for example in Bali. Sumatra is geography varied. A volcanic mountain range, known as Bukit Barisan, covers the province from east to west. Two of its mountains, Mt. Leuser and Mt. Kerinci are over 9,000 feet high. Although its forests have been greatly depleted by the harvesting of timber, the island is still forested.
Sumatra has been a major destination for transmigration. Most Javanese migrants have settled in rural eastern areas and have engaged in agriculture, mainly the cultivation of rice, rubber and coffee.

The northern part

In the province Aceh can be found both enormous volcanos and rain forests. Gurung Leuser National Park is one of the last places in the world where you can see critically endangered orangutans in their natural environment, in wild. Besides that, park is a home for many other threatened species such as Sumatran tiger or rhinoceros but there are also elephants, Thomas leaf monkeys, macaques, gibbons, birds or snakes. To meet orangutans in the park, if you are lucky, it is enough to take one-day trip, but to meet rhinos or tigers you have to go deep inside the jungle. Gurung Leuser, Kerinci and Bukit Barisan Parks are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2004.

Spectacular Toba lake is located around six hours drive south from Medan. It is worth seeing because of its immense size. It is a large natural lake occupying the caldera of supervolcano. The lake is about 100 km long and 35 km wide and up to 505 meters deep. Its picturesque localisation makes it even more spectacular, as being surrounded by beautiful waterfalls, rice terraces and mountains. Moreover, the lake area is inhabited by very interesting ethnic groups such as Batak. They live in boat-shaped houses, that are rich ornamented. Batak claim themselves to be Christians either Catholic or Protestant but they have combined their religion with indigenous religious beliefs. Religious syncretism is widely spread around.

West Sumatra

The most commonly known cities are Bukittinggi and Padang. Bukittingi is believed to be one of the most beautiful Sumatran towns, surrounded by three volcanoes. One of them, Marapi, is an active one, but still can be climbed. This trekking is quite a tough one, but spectacular views recompense the taken effort. Bukittiggi is also famous for its Japanese tunnels dating form II World War and outstanding canyon. Around 10 km away from the city  there is a Batang Palupuh Nature Conservation Center (Rafflesia Park). Rafflesia is one of the world largest flowers that bursts into bloom in rainy season just for few days. It is beautiful and spectacular, but the odor is strong. This area is also famous for bull racing, as natives call it Pacu JawiIn Pacu Jawi, coupled cows run along the muddy field about 20-30 meters long. Each couple is steered by a jockey with his hands on the cows’ tails and his feet on the wooden contraption that binds the cows together. The jockey bites one of the cows’ tip of the tail to make it run, which then pulls the second cow. The jockey often has to bite the tail again in the middle of the race to make cows go faster. Usually only a pair runs in one go, followed quickly by the next ones. Jockeys would stretch arms and legs as wide as possible to steer and keep the cows together. Very often they would fall in the mud and come out of the race all muddy.

Padang is a starting place to Mentawai Islands. First of all, it is an ideal place for surfers, big waves and good weather conditions make it more than perfect. Siberut Island is a home for Mentawai people, native tribe who sharpen their teeth with a chisel for aesthetic reasons. Tattooing is done with a needle and wood which is hammered on the needle by a shaman called sikerei. Menatawi worship spirits, have their own unique traditions and shamans.

Southern Sumatra

This part of island is dominated by coffee plantations where we witness the process of its production right from the very beginning, from the first little seed, to the delectable taste of coffee beverages. Sumatran coffee is strong, black and extraordinary. While not very fond of coffee, Sumatra has a spectacular coast line that offers perfect conditions to a wide range of water sports. Moreover, you can spend time in Kambas National Park where in dense rainforest among the swamps both elephants and even most endangered species of Sumatran rhino can be met. It is one of the oldest National Parks in Indonesia and it is commonly visited by bird-watchers and ornithologists.

This part of Sumatra is also famous for a bit unusual production of world-known kopi luwak. The civet eats coffee cherries and passes the seeds, coffee beans, without digesting them. Drinking coffee made from these beans tastes much better than the conventional coffee. People are aware of kopi luwak as long as from the end of 19th century.

Sumatra is very interesting place to visit not only because of its geographic diversity but also because its home for many endangered species that can be found only here.

About author:

Sebastian

Information technology architect, loving expeditions in the wilderness of Indonesia.

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