Sumatra is an island that is synonymous with adventure, old stories of explorers heading into the dark Sumatran jungle on a journey of discovery were running through my head as I crossed from Java on ferry. I was looking forward to this ride immensely, Sumatra is home to some of the worlds most endangered animals, spectacular scenery, active volcanoes, thick jungle and winding roads that sweep their way through it all. The island still also carries with it a reputation of being at times a dangerous place to travel, even the locals that I was riding with refused to travel on certain sections of highway late at night for fear of gangs of sword wielding bandits. I was doing the round trip from Jogjakarta and back with some Indonesian friends, which meant that my style of travelling also had to change a little, most noticeably I traded my usual homestay accommodation for classy hotels, a change I could easily deal with for the next 3 weeks.
We got off the ferry and headed for lampung, home to the Way Kambas elephant sancuary, which was an amazing place to visit, and also a memorial to the Krakatoa volcanic eruption and ensuing tidal wave that left over 36,000 people dead in 1883. We stayed in town long enough to do some sightseeing but were soon on the road again, we still had a long way to go to reach our destination, the island of Sabang in Aceh which was the zero kilometre point of Indonesia and big feather in the cap for any Indonesian motorcyclist. As we headed further toward the center of the island the flat, straight, potholed highway turned into winding and undulating roads (still full of potholes) that led us through jungle covered mountains, this was the riding I was hoping for. Every island in Indonesia has its own unique culture but nowhere else had I seen such distinct changes throughout a single Island as I did in Sumatra, building styles, religion and local customs and attitudes would totally change as you crossed from one part of the island to the next
I was enjoying the ride but soon noticed some oil leaking out of the final drive on my real wheel, I kept a close eye on it but it soon got noticeably worse, with oil leaking all over my rear wheel the riding became much more dangerous. Obviously I had done a seal on the final drive but there wasn’t much I could do about it, the closest BMW service centre was in Medan, a few thousand km away. We made a few calls to get some advice and in the end it was a matter of topping up the rear drive with transmission fluid daily and riding conservatively until we reached Medan. I was quite concerned to say the least, especially when during an oil top up we noticed metal pieces which meant I had also done a wheel bearing, just great!!! Somehow we managed to make it all the way to Medan and within 2 days the bike was fixed and ready to take me to Aceh, many thanks to the guys at BMW Medan for getting me on the road again.
We reached lake Toba and earned ourselves a welcome rest, we had been riding long days on rough roads and what better place to recover than on the shores of this picture perfect lake. Feeling in good spirits after spending a few days in our lakeside hotel and exploring the area we were ready to make our push to Sabang. The roads to Aceh were some of the best in Sumatra, having been rebuilt by international aid after the 2004 tsunami. As we arrived we were greeted by a handful of GS riders and escorted to a local café, the Aceh GS club had come out to welcome us and we spent the evening talking about bikes, travel and watching the moto GP race that was being shown at the café, which was a popular riders hangout. It was a sobering experience seeing some of the monuments to the destruction caused by the natural disaster, most noticabley a large ship that had ended up in a residential area Kilometres inland from the harbour and now sits as a chilling reminder amongst some of the houses that were destroyed at the same time. We met 3 other riders from Java and they joined us on the ferry to Sabang, which is a beautiful jungle covered island, we visited the 0 kilometer point, of course taking many photos while we were there. Before we left Aceh one of my riding companions wanted to visit a friend of his who was in the army and posted here, it turned out that his friend was a 2 star general and in charge of the army in Aceh, it seemed bazaar having tea and cake with a 2 star general in Indonesia, he was a great guy though, especially when he found out I had served in the army in Australia.
We were soon back in Medan and this time I wanted to head into the jungle to see some orang-utans, a must see in Sumatra. My friends weren’t as keen as me so I was so as they headed south I headed to the mountain village of Bukit Lawang. I wasn’t disappointed, I got to trek through the jungle and get up close to these amazing animals. They seemed so peaceful and gentle as they hung out in their small family groups but we got a reminder that they were wild animals when, as we were heading down the hill to the river a female who was known for being aggressive and who had bitten quite a few guides surprised us and chased us down the hill, luckily she turned her attention to a group uphill from us and with my guiding shouting to hurry up and my heart pounding me made our get away. The way out of the jungle was via river tubing, floating along the rapids in our tube was a great way to end a fantastic experience.
I had some km to make up to catch my friends and found myself riding on the busy Sumatran roads at night, an experience I would gladly never do again, even at 10pm the road was full of trucks and busses, all diving like maniacs, I made it safely but had a few very close calls. They way back to Java took us through some beautiful towns and some amazing roads, most memorable was Kelok44, just out of Padang, which was a steep road with 44 sharp, switch back corners overlooking glassy maninjau lake. We had been on the road for 24 days and covered approximately 7000 km when we returned to Java, we were almost home but we had one last obstacle to conquer, possibly the hardest yet….. riding through Jakarta in the middle of the day. Jakarta is one of the worlds most populated and most traffic congested cities, the experience was a nightmare, especially on an air cooled Beemer that was hating the traffic even more than me, I had to stop regularly to let the bike cool down. We made it through and I chalked it up to another experience, glad I had done it but also happy not to have to do it again.