XWORLD Stage 22 Indonesia
For the XWORLD Tour stage 22 meant we are now halfway or "over the hill": Ten months of adventure have already taken place, and another exciting ten months await future participants. Full of variety and thrills, the latest off-road experience was a prime example of this. On this stage participants were greeted with the hustle and bustle of the city, receptions with politicians, idyllic palm-lined beaches and jungle camps with wild animals (from alligators to poisonous snakes). And even the start of the adventure was unusually wild, as shown by the report for this stage.
"As soon as we trundled through the Indonesian metropolis of Medan in three-wheeled tuk-tuks on the first day we arrived, we realised we were experiencing our very own adventure. Equipped with nine of these little vehicles and a local guide, we then set off to explore the magnificent palaces and mosques in the city. We were also fascinated by the contrasting faces of the town: despite its strong Asian flair, we were constantly reminded of the influence of the Netherlands from the colonial era.
Our sightseeing tour of the town was followed by the call of the wild. As soon as our adventurous trip in the tuk-tuks ended, we set off to visit an alligator farm just outside the city. Feeding time for these huge lizard-like beasts really was a sight worth seeing. Everyone crossed their fingers that we would not run into any of these animals in the wild during the next fortnight - for example, when camping out at night! With hindsight, we had to smile how close we came to reality with our fears.
The next day we set off for Bukit Lawang after loading up the vehicles and discussing the route to be taken. We arrived at around noon following a journey on side roads, complete with a daring river crossing in a pint-sized ferry – the vehicles had to be taken over one by one! After regathering our forces, we then headed for the rain forest. It was full of orang-utans, who soon put a smile on everyone's face.
We put up our tents nearby, right next to a fast-flowing river, where Sumatra's famous (or infamous) rain took us by surprise. We spent a peaceful night there, without any fearsome alligators paying us a call at our camp. We luckily did not learn until the next day that we had in fact spent the night at a spot frequented by poisonous snakes…
We thus set off again next day having enjoyed a good night's rest. But we were obliged to take another route as the one we had originally planned was impassable. But that's par for the course with any off-road adventure trip. This meant we then drove right across the Leuser National Park with its beautiful landscapes – also enjoying close contact with the inhabitants of the mountains. Even when we were putting up our tents in the middle of a palm grove, we soon received a call from the people living in the surrounding villages – we were once again the centre of attention!
The next day we knew we would be spending a long time driving, but nobody suspected how long it would actually be. After crossing the border to the region of Aceh, we initially found ourselves off the main route – with all the excitement that goes with it: mountains, hairpin bends, rickety bridges and river crossings all offered us a fantastic off-road experience.
And we then found out for ourselves what the expression "the end of the road" actually means: the route was blocked with trees and mounds of earth. Not itself a problem as the vehicle equipment could cope with most things – but not with a blockade extending over what was probably 50 metres. We were only 15 km from the coastal road we had been longing for in the northwest of Sumatra. Our destination Suak Nie was actually just an hour and a half's drive away. We now had to turn round and find another route.
Involving a detour of 350 km and a journey by night – with complete dramatic mountain passes which were unusable for Indonesian traffic. And that wasn't all: We had just left the last pass when a message came in over the radio. After 19 hours non-stop on the road, we thought someone was pulling our leg as a new day dawned. Unfortunately it was true - the clutch disc on one of the cars had given up the ghost. Things could actually have been a lot worse. We managed to tow away the vehicle and at least benefited from the early hour to arrive at the hotel in Meulaboh on roads almost free of traffic. At this point we realised to what extent such a trip depends on teamwork.
After only three hours sleep, we then set off for the place we had been long dreaming of: Suak Nie, the village the management and staff at HANSA-FLEX had helped to rebuild with their donations following the catastrophic tsunami in 2004.
Participants in this stage had already visited the village in 2007, hoping to get an idea of the locality and make preparations for further aid and the scheduled stop-off during the XWORLD Tour. Arriving in Suak Nie with vehicles that had set off from Bremen was a great feeling. Besides the delegation from HANSA-FLEX, staff from Terre des Hommes Germany and Indonesia were also on hand to ensure our donations reached the right channels.
After a tour of the rebuilt village we then visited the site where it used to stand before it was engulfed by the deadly waters. We were greatly moved to see the havoc wreaked by this disaster just 132 kilometres from the epicentre of the tsunami. With a death toll of 120, it wiped out half of the village in fractions of a second. This ill-fated place now has hardly any children over the age of four as their chances of survival were virtually nil.
Everyone then met up in the village's own mosque. Here we shared a meal of tasty dishes prepared with great effort by the women of the village. During a religious ceremony Suak Nie expressed its thanks to those present. Such moving moments are bound to linger in the memory of the visitors from Europe for years to come.
"We're aware of our responsibility" – that is HANSA-FLEX's slogan, and we had not chosen to visit Indonesia as a matter of chance. To offer long-term assistance, HANSA-FLEX is planning to help create a plantation for rubber trees. The good news was announced by MD Thomas Armerding during his speech: "What could be more appropriate for us? It is the caoutchouc from rubber trees that forms the basis for the hydraulic hoses and other products in our range." (reports about this topic to follow)
We then set off again on our journey, with our heads full of the moving sights we had experienced in Suak Nie. However minus one vehicle in the convoy: the hilly conditions of our nighttime detour had proved too much for it. We had no alternative but to load this car onto a truck and get it to Jakarta that way.
We then headed south along the coast road. We did not however make very good progress as we decided to stop off several times at the many idyllic beaches the Indian Ocean has to offer. Our destination that day was Lake Toba, the world's largest volcanic lake. At the edge of the crater we were welcomed by a delegation of representatives from local politics (including a police escort!) and invited to attend a celebration.
We were both bemused and delighted that the festivities were being given solely in our honour. On arrival we were received with a resounding 'HORAS!' ('Welcome' in English). The evening was filled with interesting discussions, music and dancing as well as a tribute to ourselves. It transpired that, during planning of the tour, our documents had ended up in the in-tray of an Indonesian embassy worker who had then organised the celebration. The next day we were shown round the region surrounding Lake Toba by the politicians – once again with a police escort – before we bade them goodbye with our thanks and continued on our way southwards.
The Trans-Sumatra Highway immediately became the centre point of our trip. The description 'Highway' was however a total exaggeration: it mostly looked like a beaten-up village road or a generously dimensioned cycle path, which was full of bends and in some cases seemingly bottomless potholes. Another major challenge to both man and machine: the traffic on this road also came thick and fast, from bicycles, through mopeds and cars to buses and trucks. Nor were matters made easier by having to cope with driving on the left in our left-hand drive vehicles – something that made having a front-seat passenger essential here.
As a bit of fun, we started up an interactive game that we dubbed the 'XWORLD Sumatra Challenge'. Points were awarded or forfeited with every action along the route. Given the circumstances, progress become more and more interesting with each level.
Our destination for the day was also soon clear: the equator! Shortly before midnight we reached the line dividing the northern and southern hemisphere. We could hardly believe our luck when we were able to put up our tents just a few metres from the line marking the equator on the ground.
Next morning we spent a lot of time celebrating crossing the equator and taking photographs to immortalise the event. This meant we were now travelling with our vehicles from Bremen in the southern hemisphere, having instantly swapped from winter to summer ... something that we didn't really notice, having experienced temperatures of 30 - 37 degrees C the days just before. We were staggered by reports of weather down to minus 30 degrees C in Germany – and counted ourselves lucky not to be there!
Our route southwards took us past interesting villages and towns, where we made stop-offs of varying length. We camped out for the last time in a palm grove not far from the road. Here we settled down comfortably around the campfire to what was probably the best meal of pasta to be cooked outdoors.
The last few kilometres we covered on Sumatra were 'virtually' troublefree, so allowing us to turn up on time for the ferry from Sumatra to Java. We spent the two-hour crossing out on deck, reviewing the entire tour and enjoying the sensation of the warm winds. When we arrived on Java, we still had another good 120 km ahead of us before reaching Jakarta, the final goal of this stage. We made the journey on a well-built motorway with several lanes, immediately realising that Java is a very different kettle of fish to Sumatra. This was also clearly demonstrated by the comfortable Grand Hyatt Hotel, where we checked in as soon as we arrived.
On the final day everyone was free to do whatever they fancied before meeting up in the evening for a traditional dinner in a restaurant. Here we celebrated our successful adventure and of course also getting "over the hill" on the XWORLD Tour in a fitting manner, including with a spot of karaoke.“