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Most people just blitzed through Medan. Being Indonesia's third largest city it didnt revel in a good reputation, but then after the Subcontinent it was no great shakes to me. With beer and heat not conducive to early rising, I still managed my first Opelet ride up north to Lapangan Merdeka (Freedom Square) where I found that the former parade ground was now strangled by a ring of upmarket diners (Well, Pizza Hut anyway, its all relative!). Around it lay some colonial art deco remnants such as the Town Hall, what was now a grand Bank of Indonesia branch and the discernibly Dutch influenced post office, and in walking back south I encountered some more neglected relics with Roman columns and domed clocktowers. The train station was not so impressive, it was more just a point of interest that Sumatra had any rail services at all, but unfortunately the routes didnt seem to run anywhere pertinent to my needs. There was a former Chinese merchants mansion, mirroring one in Penang and looking very out of place here, as did the Dutch inspired St. Yosephs Cathedral. To cap it all off I treated myself to a beer in the Tip Top Restaurant, a 50s throwback which had photos of old Medan on the walls and probably featured in them unchanged. I checked that a local War Museum was closed before hoofing it out to the promising Museum of North Sumatra.


The museum transpired to be deserted apart from some crazy guy outside, but the door was open and I just cracked on with it. A map showed the ancient landbridge which had once connected South East Asia to Sumatra, Java and Borneo as one contiguous landmass before sea levels rose. There were skulls of Homo Erectus and then a display of local flora and fauna, most notably the Sumatran Tiger, now reckoned to number only 500-700. Of the Pygmy Elephant there are only around 300 remaining, and the Pygmy Rhino, the worlds smallest species, only a handful. A Great Dane is larger than them both. There was also the Pangolin, an armadillo like anteater, the Civet cat and the Honeybear, again the worlds smallest, but fierce and carniverous despite its penchace for honey. The hornbill is a very large black bird with a massive yellow double chambered beak one on top of the other. Then I encountered a smorgasbord of Buddha statues, buddhism had been big in Sumatra in ancient times, old currency and Islamic texts, traditional costumes looking ridiculous on Western mannequins, and engraved stones in Arab script, probably the ancient Jawi language. There were models of traditional housing styles, all very pointy, and wooden sarcophogi shaped as longhouses with end motifs and facemasks. An unusual Sopo Gunung was a type of sedan chair with a high tiered pagoda on top, it served as a corpse carrier. Given the areas warrior pedigree, the array of weapons included traditional Rencangs and even a contrived armoured vest and helmet. Ploughs and giant rakes testified to the 2 types of agricultre here, dry and wet field, and a fishing display had different types of nets, creels and boats.

I was perplexed that besides most of the labelling being only in Bahasa Indonesia and the odd English translation was poor, the lighting was so bad as to make the collection barely viewable. Upstairs would have been very interesting with a room dedicated to an excellent Thai display, also there was the jackpot discovery of a temporary exhibition on the fascinating indiginous culture of exotic Nias Island. Unfortunately there was no lighting at all upstairs and upon asking for it to be switched on I was told the place was closed not 10 minutes after being chased after for my admittedly paltry entry fee. It always seemed to be the way.

Undeterred however, I used the last of the day to check out the Maimoon Palace, the original seat of the Sultans of Deli since 1632. Its a beautiful building richly adorned inside and out in Islamic style with the gold and lemon coloured throne still in situ in the central chamber. A wooden structure, the exterior is a very pleasing cream and lemon with blue trim, bulbous archways and very distinctive square based pyramidal domes.

Back at Ronna's Guesthouse I met a throng of guys who had arrived here like me by default off the boat, and also a Surfie crowd. And then there was Peter, a Dutch guy who had been on the road for a mindblowing 2 and a half years and whose exploits blew mine away. He had in a somewhat convoluted manner trailed the length of Africa, gone overland across Asia as far as Tibet and China, and was now well into South East Asia for good measure. What a feat. That night in bed I started getting periodic pain in my left kidney and had nightmare visions of needing emergency surgery in Sumatra of all places. Oh dear.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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