From the travel diary, October 28, 2011:
After the Security Check, Penang Airport
It was a breeze, the airport. No worrying about shoes. Just a quick, clean exit from passport control, a short security check and many, many smiles. We sit and wait for the 45 minute flight across the Straits of Malacca to Medan, Indonesia on the island of Sumatra. Our goal: orangutans.
Midair, over the Straits of Malacca
It is to be regretted that one can longer catch a ferry from Penang to Medan. One can longer taste the salt on one’s lips or see the tropical clouds languishing over the gentle, gentian-blue of the Straits of Malacca. Some things are to be mourned in this hyper-fast world of ours and this is one. A man or woman cannot call him or herself truly free until they have done so.
Leaving Medan, Sumatra
The smells hideous, the traffic execrable, the air is thick with diesel fumes and cloves. Palm trees line streets chaotic with mopeds, trucks, taxis and tuk-tuks–a motorcycle with a covered side-car, the ubiquitous travel form unique to South East Asia. Buildings, new but dilapidated from thirty monsoons. Skies, mostly cloudy with a chance of Noah’s floods, this monsoon has been the wettest in decades. La Nina has her effect here too.
Not a single American car, or product to be found here, all Daihatsu, Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai. A platoon of crisp-dressed soldiers disembark from their truck to subdue an impromptu proteest forming outside of town. The devout attend Friday prayers, scuttering along towards the mosque on dusty streets to the sounds of the Azan.
And then it happens, town and city disappear into a vibrant green of rolling hills, palm oil plantations and clear rivers. The vegetation clings to everything. Traffic dies down. People walk from farm and field to village, kids in tow. Dark, Melanesian skin and multi-colored dresses, skull caps and smiles. Everywhere smiles.
We pour out of our car to a roadside feast of fish, vegetables and rice. A hundred different birds chatter in the trees.
Arriving in Bukit Lawang
We pull in to the hill and river side village of Bukit Lawang. Children play in the streets. Villagers bath in the river. A gibbon hoots from the forest.
Time slows to the old ways, the ancient rhythms. We have arrived.