Indonesia: Sumatra

Sumatra Epilogue: "Photo Stitch"

July 7, 2008

Dear Friends and Photography Fiends,

Before I left Bangkok for Sumatra , I decided to take a peek, finally, at the Advanced User Guide to my digital camera.

I leafed through the pages and lit upon "Photo Stitch."

I focused on the directions but with only modest comprehension. I also needed to find the disk that came with the camera, two years ago! I found the disk. I loaded the program.

Here's the way it works: you shoot a series of photos of the same wide subject with each shot slightly overlapping the previous shot. Then you import the shots into your computer and the Photo Stitch program performs as you would expect. Your shots are stitched together, seamlessly.

It's a miracle.

Medan: "The Grand Mosque"

The Grand Mosque
North Sumatra
Republic of Indonesia
June 25, 2008

Dear Family and Friends,

Salamat Pagi. Good Morning.

The Mesjid Raya or Grand Mosque in Medan is truly a grand structure. Commissioned by the sultan in 1908, the Moroccan style building has ornate carvings, Italian marble, and stained glass from China.

Since Islam prohibits the artistic depiction of any living creature, Muslim artists and artisans must use their talents to create unusual geometric shapes and forms. Although this mosque is one of the largest in Indonesia, the pastel green and white Italian marble lends a feeling of lightness and delicacy. The enormous black domes are unique and add a feeling of great power to the surrounding buildings and grounds, and to the mosque itself.

Bukit Lawang: "The Great Ape of Sumatra"

Bukit Lawang
North Sumatra
June 27, 2008

Dear Family and Friends,

The Rindu Alam Hotel sits along the banks of the Bohorok River, a rocky, mountain stream that runs into the Batang Sarangan, a river that flows northeast into the Selat Melaka, the Straits of Malacca and the Andaman Sea.

The Bohorok is what you would expect from a jungle-mountain stream -- rough, cold water, lush green hills nearby and a blue-gray sunset that consumes the batteries in my camera.

A victim of the flash flood that tore through here five years ago, the Rindu Alam has newly furnished rooms and many young trees and flowers. But I didn't come here to see the flora. I came for the fauna.


Berastagi: "Kukh-aleyns”

North Sumatra
Republic of Indonesia

June 29, 2008

Meine Kinderlein,

In the summertime, when I was a young boy, my parents scooped me off the streets of New York and carted me and my sister Paula up to "the mountains." "The mountains" is how we New Yorkers refer to the Catskill Mountains, a cool two-hour drive north of the hot City.

The mothers and children usually stayed all summer. The women played mahjong and canasta and tended to their family. We children swam, played ball and took short hikes. We put on shows. The big event every day was when the bundle of mail was delivered to the RFD mailbox on the main road. We argued over who would sort the letters and bring them to the families. And once a week, the Krug's Bakery truck showed up. They had the best powdered donuts and crusty blueberry pies you ever tasted. With home made ice cream on top.

The fathers came up from The City on Friday night. Mom was cooking happily and we anxiously-awaiting kids always sang, "Daddy, what did you bring me?" Daddy drove back to work early Monday morning. Much later I learned that the round-trip weekend drive was known affectionately as "the bull run."

In "the mountains" there was a well-established institution known as the "Kukh-aleyns”.  "Kukh-aleyns” literally means to cook alone or to cook for yourself. Here's the way it worked: in a large boarding house, several families had a bedroom room or two upstairs. On the main floor was a spacious, open area with ten or fifteen small kitchens, side by side. Each kitchen had a stove, sink, a refrigerator, some cabinets and a dinette set. Every mother cooked alone for her children, and each family ate separately, but all at the same time in the large and noisy dining room.

I thought that the"Kukh-aleyns”was indigenous and unique to The Catskills. Turns out that the idea is centuries old and practiced until this very day in the Batak villages in the Karo Highlands of North Sumatra.

Danau Toba: "Captain Jack"


Pulau Samosir
Danau Toba
Sumatra Utara
Republik Indonesia

June 30, 2008

Dear Jack,

(cc: Friends and Family)

Seven years ago, when I began writing my Travel Letters, I only considered three "E's." I thought I could Entertain my readers with stories from my destinations. I also wanted to Educate myself and others just a little. Finally, I hoped that I would Encourage my family and cautious friends to be more adventurous as they made their own travel plans.

One of the unexpected and wholly positive unintended consequences of my letters is that they have reminded other travelers of their own adventures to exotic and remote locations.

Your response to my Sumatra "Islands and Lakes" letter is the most recent example:

Lake Toba, (Caldera-Crater Lake), Samosir Island, Sumatra

Samosir Island
Lake Toba
North Sumatra

July 1, 2008

To the Editor

Condé Nast Traveler
New York, New York

Dear Editor,

(cc: Family and Friends)

I have attached my photographic submissions for the "Room with a View" section of your magazine, Condé Nast Traveler.

The view is from Room 50 on the second floor of the comfortable Toledo Hotel on Samosir Island on Lake Toba, the second largest lake in Southeast Asia.


Samosir Island is almost as large as Singapore but there are no high-rise office buildings or traffic signals here. Small Batak villages, hotels, restaurants and shops are sprinkled around the landscape. The friendly people live in traditional homes. They cook great food.

Up the road from the Toledo Hotel we found the Horas Restaurant. (In Batak, horas means hello and welcome.) For dinner we enjoyed a clear soup with fresh, crunchy local vegetables along with juicy grilled fish from the lake. Hot chili sauce is served on request.