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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

October 12th: Nias, Sumatra

On 12th October 1981 I was on Nias, an island off Sumatra, taking a long walk through the hill villages in the south.

An Italian in Bukittingi had said in passing that I should go and see Nias, that I'd find it interesting. I didn't know what to expect or how easy it would be to get there. I spent time stocking up on fruit and one or two other things in the market in Sibolga which in the event there was little need for. The overnight boat to Gunung Sitola was quite bearable, sharing company with NZ surfer Craig and I even slept a little. It rained twice during the night and I got a bit flooded the second time but nothing too serious. It turned out to be a Muslim holiday in Gunung Sitola, the main town of the island, the whole Muslim population out in the square for an imam's lecture, and no boats leaving for anywhere. I stayed in a modern hotel on a boulevard overlooking a beach - very Mediterranean. In the afternoon we went with English Andy for a walk to the village of Shiwahili, a group of 5 adat (traditional) houses, built picturesquely up a stone staircase on top of a hill. At first our reception was a little chilly from women and children, but a man came eventually and showed us his spacious and solidly built house with some nice carving and other features, some very old wood. This was probably the finest traditional house I saw in Asia, or anywhere, an oval shape and upstairs a huge semi-circular room, open across a huge balcony, airy and spacious.

The next day I took a boat to Teluk Dalam in the south of the island, with a reputation for its surfing and for its adat villages. The coast always looked green and attractive, especially just before the bay of Teluk Dalam with caves and strange plants and bare rocks instead of the usual coconuts, and behind some barer green hills. Teluk Dalam was a lively evening town where we found a basic but perfectly adequate Chinese losmen and some food. The morning was market day with pigs and chillies, sweet potatoes, little fruit - it was better in the shops. I had a pork and vegetable breakfast at the Chinese place and then coffee and a kind of pancake and felt well fed. I travelled on to the little Muslim village of Lagundri, near the surfing point. Lagundri was livelier than I might have imagined, with food and music blaring, I suppose for the festival. The losmen had good fresh fruit and some other food was available in the village. I could hear the breakers on the beach, which had soft brown sand in a deep horseshoe, with big breakers, but not as big as at the point where the surfers stayed.

Stone Staircase to Village: My picture
I went with Andy for a tour of the hill villages, on a cloudy sweaty day with thunder around. We took a bus to Hilosmaetano and looked around the adat part of the town, including the stone for ceremonial jumping, then set out along a jungle path, which was covered with stone, as far as Babogasali, finding a shop for tea at the top of a hill. We sat for a while at the church end of Babogasali and then walked past the school, along a little ridge and across a small stream and a bigger river to Hilinawalo, which was the most picturesque of the villages, with a big chief's house and fewer modern additions. Then we climbed up a steep hill for a brief look at Orohando, past a church dated I think 1918, and quickly to Siwalawa which was more spread out with less adat centre. Finally there was a longer walk up hill and down dale to Bawomataluo which was larger, a town rather than a village, nearly in a cross shape with some impressive houses. People were very reserved at first, running away, I felt tourist hostility, but we found somewhere good for tea and cakes and were shown inside one of the typical houses, quite small, by a guy who wanted to sell us things and arranged a bike-ride home. Bawamataluo of course is close to Teluk Dalam and connected by road, and so gets a lot of tourists, but it is picturesque and has fine views from the hill toward the sea and nice stone steps leading up the hill, as is very characteristic in all the villages here.

The next day out walking I found a stone staircase to another village, not much visited. On the way back I admired the view of the bay from a church and some crimson sunbirds. The journey back was delayed because of storms, then I went on the little boat Restu Bersama back to Sibolga. Once out on truly open sea it became unpleasantly rough, throwing us about with water rushing across the deck, luckily not a real storm as boats do go down in these seas. Three or four very big waves left the hull to come down with a mighty thwack, and the only comfortable position in the cramped cabin was to lie down. I took a bus back to Medan called Makmur with the motto "We never turn down a passenger", predictably cramped at first, but thinning out later.

There's a map of Nias here.

Children in Nias Village.  My Picture
Adat House on Nias:  My Picture

Nias village.  My Picture
Nias Jumping Stone.  My Picture

View Nias in a larger map

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