Chasing mountains


Today was an absolutely gorgeous day. It was still so nice after I left English club in the late afternoon that I decided to take a longcut home. I chose some rice paddies and sugarcane fields that wouldn’t take me too far out of my way, but as soon as I reached them, I knew I’d have to stretch my ride home a little more. Rising up from behind the rice fields was Mt. Semeru, the king of Javan mountains, clearer than I had ever seen it before, its volcanic ridges glowing in the sinking sun.


I whipped out my phone and started shooting. I stopped every few minutes to get a different angle. I was mesmerized. Instead of turning left to go home when I reached the end of the stretch of fields, I turned right to chase my mountain. The air was crisp, the breeze balmy. I wished I could ride my bike for another few hours.


When I reached the next green expanse of rice, I took a few pictures, but I didn’t stay long. I knew the prime place for mountain gazing was still to come, and I was running out of time. I rode my bike along a road that I usually run. I rolled into a river valley, climbed back out, and there it was again. My mountain. My phone wasn’t doing the views justice, but I tried to get a few angles anyway. Finally, I stopped and just looked.


My time in Indonesia is coming to an end, and I’m glad it’s stopped raining. The fact that my last few weeks will be beautiful and dry won’t make it easier to say goodbye, but it will make me want to come back all the more.


Family visit

When I wheeled my bike out of the garage a few days ago, the tires were a little flat. No problem. I grabbed the pump and pumped away. Except that the valve kept retreating. Unable to lock the head of the pump to the valve, I ended up letting all the air out of one tire.

Their Indo senses tingling, it didn’t take long for my host uncles to come over to see what the trouble was and how they could help. I explained the situation with my broken Indonesian. In a minute, I had a fully pumped tire. Then my uncles asked some clarifying questions, but my answers only seemed to confuse matters. Suddenly, one uncle was letting the air out of the tire we had just pumped together. I was frustrated, but I’m getting better at laughing in situations like that. It’s what you have to do. I was confused as to what was so confusing, but then again, I wasn’t listening to my attempts at explanations.

I’m actually relatively good at paraphrasing. It’s something I pride myself on. I might not know the correct word or phrase, but quite often, I can get the point across anyway. Throughout my years of language teaching, I’ve noticed that it’s not really a skill that is actively taught or practiced. Most of my students get hung up on the translation of a word, forgetting that they know so many other related words. Sure, paraphrasing is hard when your vocabulary is minimal, but it’s always worth a try. I must admit that my confidence in paraphrasing makes me a little lazy when it comes to learning vocabulary. Paraphrasing is a useful skill, but there’s something to be said for accuracy as well.

(not that Bali)

(not that Bali)

Back to my bike. Eventually, I had two full tires and I was ready to pedal the 33 km (20 mi) to my extended host family’s house in Jabung. As bike rides go, this one was pretty easy. The road climbed steadily the whole way, but I was only following one road for about 20 km. There were a few more ups, downs and turns for the last 13 km, but nothing too crazy. I found the street where my family lives relatively easily; I just had to find the house. This also turned out to be quite easy. Pak Mul was standing outside, keeping an eye out for me.

I heaved myself off my bike, followed Pak Mul into the house and sat down. A steaming glass of coffee appeared before me, and just a few sips in, I was asked if I wanted to freshen up. I did. Fresh out of the shower, I was told it was time to eat. Watered, fed and clean, I could finally give my attention to Fito, the four-year-old who hadn’t stopped talking since I got there. It’s funny: he had been to my house several times but had never given me the time of day before. Now he had a million questions. He wanted to learn English, he said. We tried to practice a few color words, but there was too much excitement. His attention span was shorter than the word attention. When his dad came home, the three of us went for a bike ride. Fito rode on the back of my bike. We went to a military base to watch a high school marching band practice, which was very cool to see. It definitely brought back memories of my marching band days.

IMG_5151When the band stopped for a break, Fito and I took over the field. We ran to one side to see a sculpture of a scorpion, then to the other side, where Fito showed me a decommissioned jet. Anytime we weren’t running, I served as a jungle gym. Fito was quite the little acrobat.

When we finally got home, we snacked on some grapes. Then Fito took me to his friend’s house a few blocks away. The idea was that he would ride his training bike, but the chain kept popping off, so I carried it. At the friend’s house, I was brought coffee and fruit. Meanwhile, Fito zoomed around like he owned the place. I finished the coffee and realized it was getting quite late. I still had to ride my bike home. I had to exert a little pressure to get Fito to leave, and I was a little nervous that there might be a tantrum brewing. Luckily, his general excitement still outweighed impending exhaustion, and any potential tantrum was averted.

Fito wasn’t done showing me around though. We took the long way home, and I got a little lost. I couldn’t tell if Fito was lost or not, but I figured I might as well trust him. At one point, we ended up at a main road, and I knew where we were again. The words come stand next to me had barely left my mouth when Fito booked it across the busy road. The heart attack I nearly had probably would have been worse if I didn’t know how traffic-savvy Indonesian four-year-olds are.

It turned out he had seen someone he knew. I followed him across the road to bring him back to the other side. There had been no reason to cross. Safe and sound, he booked it again, this time in the direction of home, staying 15 feet ahead of me but always turning back to make sure I was still behind him. When we got home, dinner was already on the table. Everyone laughed when he told them about taking me the long way home and running across the busy road.

Finally, fed and rested, it was time for me to ride the 33 km back to my house. It took me a few “tries” before I could actually leave, however. First I had to try some fresh cow’s milk from up the road. It was definitely fresher than any other milk I’ve had in Indonesia, but it was sweetened with sugar and flavored (and colored light green!) with pandan leaf. I casually mentioned that I had heard they also make yogurt in Jabung. “They do! Do you want some? I’ll go get some. What flavor do you want?” Cousin Luthfie ran out and came back with two bottles of plain yogurt. Finally, stocked up with dairy, I rode my bike home.

TESOL | Creating activities, now…

One of my weekly activities is my school’s English Club. It existed before I came, and it’s quite popular among students, so getting and keeping people interested has been easy. Generally, between 40 and 50 participants show up every week. Planning activities for English Club, however, has been difficult. Start and end times will change or a session will be canceled last minute; even when everyone knows what time we’ll be starting, that’s not when everyone will show up. Students usually trickle in the whole time. Of course flexibility is also something that should be built into lessons; if your big-group activity can’t be done with a small group (or vice versa), have a plan B.

At last Friday’s English Club, my counterpart reviewed present and past continuous with the students and had them write sentences. Useful, but not super stimulating. Then, with about 30 minutes left, she handed the session over to me. I’ve been shaking activities out of my sleeves for a long time, so I don’t panic when I’m put on the spot. I don’t love it, but I can deal with it. Writing today, I thought I’d do a little stream-of-consciousness post. How do I make up a game or activity on the spot? What goes through my head?

Just a few things to remember: What I’m posting obviously isn’t a finished product; I’ll definitely tweak some things if I do the activity again. Feel free to let me know what you’d change or add! Also, what I’m writing here is a stylized version of what happened in the classroom; some is more, some is less accurate. The way I actually explain things to my students would make for even more boring reading.

Okay. How many students do I have? 42.

That’s divisible by seven. Six groups of seven or seven groups of six? We’ll do more groups.

How can I keep them busy while I figure out what we’re doing? We just did present and past continuous.

“All right everyone! I want each group to write a list of 10 verbs. Use the -ing form.”

But wait: they’re all going write the same verbs. How can I prevent that? Alphabetically. We’ll do it alphabetically. Group 1 will do ABC. Just have to make sure Group 7 doesn’t end up with XYZ. I’ll write the groups and their letters on the board.

“Listen up! Each group will write only verbs that begin with their letters. And please include the Indonesian translation on your lists!”

Okay, now what can we do with these verbs? Charades? I need as many active students as possible though.

“Everybody finished? If you only have 7 verbs, that’s okay. Now each student gets one verb. That’s your verb. One student, one verb. Group 1, everybody come to the front. The other groups, please send only one student from your group to the front. That’s Groups 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, please send one student each.”

Is this going to work? We’ll find out in a minute!

“Group 1, you will all perform your actions at the same time. Students from the other groups, watch Group 1. You’re going to guess their actions. When you see an action and you think you know what it is, grab that actor. If two or more people grab the same actor, that actor belongs to the fastest guesser. I will be keeping track of time. When I say ‘Time’s up!’, I will ask each guesser to tell me what they think the actor was doing. If you correctly guess the action of the actor you claimed, your team gets a point. Give me your answers in a complete sentence. What was she doing? She was jumping.”

It actually worked!

“Okay, everyone! Good job!”

If I do the activity again, I’ll be specific about the time limit. I never told the actors how long they had to perform, but I kept it pretty consistent at around half a minute. I might also give points to the actors whose actions are guessed correctly. That way they have an incentive to perform well.

Sometimes I worry too much about doing new things with my students. I might be tired of an activity because I’ve done it multiple times with 30 different classes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the students are bored of it yet. They’ve only done said activity once or twice. Still, I like trying new things. Ideally, I plan new activities in advance, but as you can see, it’s okay to fly by the seat of your pants sometimes (and it’s a skill that can be honed!). Happy planning!


I’ve written about visiting other volunteers’ sites before. I recently had another opportunity to visit a doozy of a Peace Corps site. Forty kilometers from my own town, it’s not what we would call ‘around the corner’. It’s around many, many corners. The village is nestled in a valley surrounded by steep mountains on all sides. When you mention the name of the village to people from the area, they all begin waving their arms around as if describing a rollercoaster. “Ah, yes, where the roads go like this.”

IMG_5087You might assume traffic would be light on these steep, narrow, winding roads. You’d be wrong. Fleets of giant trucks come and go every day, carrying all sorts of products: animal, vegetable and mineral. These trucks are also a typical way to get in and out of the valley if you’re not allowed to ride a motorcycle. To get there, I rode a bus as far as I could, with the instruction to “get off at the statue”. I did that. Then I walked to “the bamboo hut down the road” where I was able to flag down a truck driver. I asked if he was going my way and climbed into the cab. We chatted for a good while about different things, mostly about here (Indonesia) and there (USA). The driver honked merrily at every curve, drop and climb to let everyone know we were coming. As the driver’s focus shifted to the increasingly difficult roads and the honking drowned out every other sound, we chatted less. I sat back and enjoyed the stunning views all around me.

IMG_5093We stopped at the edge of the village, which is where the driver lived, and I wrote my friend Patrick that I was walking the last little bit. He found me and we made our way to his house. I had made excellent time. It was still morning, so we went on a bike tour of the area. We borrowed a bike for me. It was a little small, but I made it work. That first bike ride was pretty difficult, as I was getting to know new terrain and a new bicycle at the same time. I huffed and puffed behind Patrick, but both the bike and I stayed in one piece. I was tired, but not too tired to appreciate the stunning natural beauty of the place.

IMG_5099Eventually, we made it to a crystal clear, spring-fed sort of pool. Locals looked up from washing their clothes or washing themselves as we got off our bikes. We jumped in. It was that particular sort of refreshing that you only feel after strenuous physical activity. It was glorious. Aqueous refreshment completed, we got out and walked to a small food stall for some oleaginous refreshment, aka fried stuff. We chatted and dried off before we hopped back on our bikes and headed home.

As late afternoon progressed, some neighborhood kids came by. I taught them (and my friend) a new game to practice 1 through 10 in English, and we had a blast.

IMG_5109The next day, Patrick and I hopped on our trusty bikes again and sought more adventure. The hills from the day before weren’t nearly as daunting, and I was relieved that I already felt more comfortable on the borrowed bike in foreign terrain. The plan was to visit a particular beach, but the bridge to get there had been washed out. Plan B: other beach. We rode a good while along very sandy paths, took a cable ferry, which was really more like a rope raft, and finally made it to the beach. Then we climbed up a hill to a small Hindu temple and a spectacular view, one of the best I’ve had in Indonesia, let alone Java.

IMG_5107We trekked a bit farther and came to a few food stalls, frequented primarily by the local famers. We were disappointed to hear that that morning’s ice hadn’t arrived yet, but it didn’t take long before we could enjoy some ice-cold beverages. We also ordered two generous plates of fried noodles.

IMG_5103On our way back, we stopped at the pool from the day before and had a soak before we biked, hiked and climbed up to a waterfall. More exercise, more views.

When we got home, the neighbor came over with two coconuts. They weren’t the greenest anymore, but the water inside was delicious, just starting to ferment and slightly carbonated. Patrick told the kids he was too tired to play, but I gave in to a few rounds of the numbers game.

IMG_5117A different world from my much flatter, much more crowded town, and I’m grateful I got to experience it.

Lucky duck

My extended host family has two ducklings that waddle around the backyard every day with their mom. I love watching them explore and peck at specks of edibles on the ground. The adult specimens of the species (Muscovy ducks) aren’t real lookers in my opinion, but the babies are fluffy and adorable.

The other day, I took my journal outside and sat down on the stone bench out back. I watched the ducklings waddle around and explore. Two weeks ago, it was the mom who led the babies around the yard, but yesterday it was the babies who led the mom. Once in a while, she would walk away, not far, to inspect something or other on the ground, but she always had her eye on her ducklings. Twice the babies curled up for a three-minute nap, and mom stood guard nearby until they woke up.

The scene wasn’t all fluffy cuteness though. One duckling had a small plastic bag tangled around its middle. The bag still had some bits of food in it, which dragged behind the duckling as it waddled. I wanted to set the baby free, but I didn’t want to upset it or the mom. I waited and watched. Stuckling waddled around just as happily as its sibling despite the bag, only pecking at it once in a while. I started thinking that the situation was quite metaphoric.

surprisingly difficult to photograph as a family

from several weeks before this post

I wanted to help, but I’d have to wait for the opportune moment. Given some time, the situation might even resolve itself. Despite my good intentions, trying to help might escalate the situation and make things worse. The burden, though presently a mere annoyance, might cause serious problems in the future. Perhaps if I had more experience, I’d feel more comfortable diving in. Just watching and waiting, though, I might also learn a thing or two.

The metaphor is definitely applicable to my time in Indonesia, with me playing both the roles of Stuckling and the Onlooker. Really, both are roles I’ve played all my life. It’s the scenery and ensemble that have been so starkly different in Indonesia. Whatever else my Peace Corps service has been, it’s definitely been an invaluable opportunity to explore these two roles in particular.

At one point, the ducks wondered off, and I focused on my journal again. Later, I looked up, and I saw that Stuckling had come unstuck.


Deus ex machina

It’s that time again: time for national exams. The 12th graders are apprehensive to say the least. As their high school careers come to a close, they’re covering all their bases, not just the scholastic ones.

The other day, late in the afternoon, when many teachers had already abdicated their teaching responsibilities, I happened to see a tension of 12th graders (that’s the official collective noun) going around from class to class. I approached one classroom to see what was going on and found the seniors asking their juniors for forgiveness for any misdeeds they may have been the authors of. Better to go into exam week with a clean conscience. I watched the proceedings from just outside. When the 12th graders came out and saw me, they made sure to ask my forgiveness as well, just for good measure. As they walked by in a line, I solemnly said Te absolvo to each one. I don’t think anyone got it, but they were happy.

Yesterday, my school hosted a prayer gathering in advance of exam week. Students, parents of students, faculty and religious leaders crowded into the gym and prayed for success. I should specify that it was the Muslim community that gathered in the gym. The vast majority of my students are Muslim, but there are a few Christians in almost every class.

student-designed, student-made batik

a work in progress

Having poured my spiritual energy into the more temporal activity of teaching for the last two years, I decided I was exempt from praying, so I walked around the school and enjoyed the quiet. On my walk, I asked myself where the Christian students might be. I doubted that they were allowed to stay home, and I was right. I followed the sound of church hymns upstairs and found that two classrooms had been combined to accommodate my school’s Christian community.

I hope the ceremony brought the students (and their families) some peace of mind. They deserve that much. However, if the school took even half the time and resources that it spends on symbolic ceremonies and applied those to academics, I believe the students would be significantly better prepared for their exams. Even without divine intervention.

Semester break, part 2: the jungle

at our final camp


My friend and I invited our new English acquaintance on the next leg of our trip. We were going to the jungle to see orangutans. The other friends we met up with on Samosir had just come back from their jungle trek and highly recommended the company and the guides. We decided to take the recommendation to heart and booked 3 days in the jungle.

We took a shared taxi to Bukit Lawang, a town close to the jungle, and the starting point and for our trek. We stayed one night in very simple accommodations before heading into the jungle the next day. Our guides were very friendly and professional. The trek included breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Breakfast and dinner we had at camp. Lunch and a fruit break we enjoyed on our way through the lush green trees.

tree hugOverall, I enjoyed the trek a lot, but my feelings are a bit mixed. I relished slipping through the muddy rainforest. Some parts were particularly challenging and required a lot of focus—especially when it rained, which it did a lot—but it was the fun kind of focus. The most challenging trails led us up and down, and then up and down again. The tree roots that kept the soil from washing away also created stairs for us to climb. When there were no stairs, strong vines or branches helped us ease our way down the steep, slippery hillsides.

I also loved seeing the jungle wildlife. Everywhere we looked, there were giant ants and other crawling things. I didn’t love the leeches, but what doesn’t kill you… During one lunch break, a butterfly joined us and wouldn’t leave us alone. It kept landing on us and showering our hands with some liquid. I’m going to pretend it was magical fairy water. We saw monkeys and birds and heard many more animals than we saw.

IMG_4365Of course the stars of the show were the orangutans. Orang means person in Malay/Indonesian, and they really are like people. Unfortunately, they lack a few advantages that humans have. They’re outnumbered, and their homes (the utan part, or hutan: forest) are disappearing. All over North Sumatra we saw enormous, water-guzzling oil palms. They covered giant swaths of land that used to be home to many animals. Farmers—not just oil palm farmers—see orangutans as pests, and so they have no problems dealing with them in their own, not always humane way.

Being among the most charismatic endangered species, orangutans are also tourist attractions. All year long, our guides bring tourists into the jungle to see the great apes. Some of the orangutans around Bukit Lawang in particular are semi-wild and quite used to humans, having a long history with them. In fact, they get fed by the guides, thus almost guaranteeing sightings for tourists. Here’s where the mixed feelings come in. I loved seeing the orangutans. As a mother and baby walked past us, the baby reached out and grabbed my arm. I don’t think these semi-wild animals should stop getting fed. For them it’s too late. They almost rely on tidbits from tour guides, but the practice could stop with animals who aren’t so reliant.

Version 2

Orangutans don’t usually come down from their trees or seek out rivers, but we had something she wanted.

It’s well known that wild animals’ behavior changes when they get fed, and almost never for the better. Two of the orangutans that we met were particularly comfortable around people. They both had names—and reputations. One called Jackie was known to be very gentle, the other, Mina, quite unpredictable and aggressive. We met both on our trek, several times each. Jackie was happy to pose for photos while she ate her snacks, but Mina wanted everything we had. She attacked and bit one of our guides, who protected us from her. (Happily, he was fine. The bite was not nothing, but also, thankfully, not gravely serious.)

No one can blame Mina. Humans have an even worse reputation than she does. On the one hand, feeding is better than massacring entire forests full, as has happened before, but orangutans need room to do their own thing. Much easier said than done, I know. Farmers, though they receive a pittance, have also come to rely on palm oil, and so have consumers. It’s in everything. As with so many difficult issues, this situation requires critical thinking, education and investment in sustainable alternatives. Development shouldn’t mean expanding the world we have, but rather building the world we want.

a bit of sun

It didn’t rain the whole time, just a lot of the time.


I’ll be including a few other anecdotes among the photos I’ve posted to flickr. Don’t miss the descriptions!


One morning in November, my ibu pointed to a bowl of freshly prepared veggies and tempeh and said, “Don’t eat that. It’s called [I don’t remember what it’s called].” I was a little confused, but that wasn’t the strangest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say. Had it gone bad already? I took a sniff. It smelled perfectly fine.

Then the coffee started kicking in, and I realized that my ibu had been speaking Javanese. The Indonesian word for don’t happens to be the same as the Javanese word for vegetable.

I’ve been in Indonesia for nearly two years now. My Indonesian has improved and my Javanese, while minimal, is extant; but language isn’t enough. I’ve asked myself why communicating can be so hard sometimes, and I’ve come up with a few answers.

like a fish out of water

like a fish out of water

Firstly, while I’ve gotten better at learning from context alone, context is in part based on expectations, and it’s hard to understand something you weren’t expecting to hear. I don’t talk about the weather much here—it’s either wet or it’s dry—but if someone did start talking to me about the weather, my brain would automatically start prepping all my weather vocab, just in case. If I were then suddenly asked about train schedules (something I also haven’t had much occasion to discuss), I might not understand the question right away, even if I knew the vocab. My brain just wouldn’t be ready.

Another aspect of trying to communicate in East Java is the skill of reading between the lines, or rather, listening between the words. This isn’t unique to Indonesian. Even in English, if I said, “Brr, It’s chilly in here!” you might understand that as a prompt to close the window, turn up the heat, etc. Here, it’s ‘appropriate’ to analyze every utterance. Nothing is safe. Anything could mean anything. Yes might mean maybe or even no. When I say I don’t want something, people immediately assume I don’t like it. Why would I not want something I liked? Most of my colleagues probably think I don’t like coffee. Even if I tell them I drink coffee at home every single morning, they never see me do it, so I must not like it. I’ve found much simpler to say yes and deal with the consequences of not following through later, but I haven’t found it easy. It’s what everyone else does, but it’s not how I like to communicate.

Even gestures aren’t safe from analysis. You have to look between the signs. The other day I raised my glasses, closed my eyes and rubbed my nose. My immediate neighbors thought I must have a splitting headache and be moments away from collapsing, and it’s no use explaining that I just felt like rubbing my nose. Honesty just isn’t the best policy, and that can be exhausting. The fact that everyone else will be analyzing everything I say (and do) means I really need to think about how I phrase it so as to communicate what I mean. It’s not enough—it can even be too much—to just say what I mean.

I’ve already mentioned expectations, and one of my biggest difficulties is that I simply defy all of them. People are expected to want the same things at the same time, and if by chance they don’t, to be as inconspicuous about not wanting those things as possible. I can’t be inconspicuous; physically I’m not able, and as an object of curiosity, I’m showered with attention.

Another expectation is to not be quiet. Quiet means depressed. Not all of my colleagues talk all the time, but since I’m special, I am judged based on different, to me unknown standards. The other day, some of the teachers at my school asked why I was being so quiet that day. I returned, “What do you want me to say?” Half kidding, but half serious, Bu Ida said, “You could say Bu L is fat or Bu E is pretty.” If you have nothing to say, just state the obvious or say something nice. That’s something I’m still not comfortable with, not just those two examples, but filling silence for the sake of filling it. I know it’s important, and I join conversations when prompted. I start conversations and tell people what they want to hear, too, for that matter, but not all the time. I especially refrain from calling female colleagues fat or beautiful (except special occasions), but that’s a topic for another post.

Fortune tellers

My students are creative, but they’re not accustomed to showing it in class. That means I’m always looking for ways to get them to put a little more of themselves into their work. Last week we made paper fortune tellers, which were a hit. Everyone wanted their fortunes to get the best reactions, so they tried to make them good.


Most students did not know how to make a fortune teller, so the first part of the lesson involved listening to and following instructions in English. I won’t include the folding instructions here, but they’re easy to find elsewhere. There are different ways to label a fortune teller, but we used colors and numbers: colors on the four outer surfaces and numbers on the eight inner surfaces. Part of the fortune telling involved spelling the colors and counting up to each number.

For the fortunes, I told the students to write sentences using the future tense with ‘will’. For example, You will pass all of your exams. These went underneath each of the eight numbered surfaces. When everyone was finished making their fortune tellers, I asked them to go around the room telling fortunes and having their fortunes told. They were to write down the fortunes they received. At the end of class, I asked everyone what their best and worst predictions were.

In place of future, fortune tellers could also be used to practice imperatives or even vocab and spelling.

Each step takes time, but with clear directions and demonstrations, students quickly grasp the idea.

Semester break, part 1: the lake


It’s the beginning of the end. I’m not necessarily one to count off the ‘lasts’, but they’re happening, whether I count them or not. I’m back from my last semester break and I’ve started my last semester.

My break started with a luncheon hosted by the American consul general in Surabaya. All volunteers from East Java and NTT were invited to come and enjoy some typical American food. Both this year and last it was a great opportunity to get together and chat. We also had the chance to say goodbye to our country director, who we were sad to see leave. I’m very curious to meet the new one.

IMG_4254The day after the luncheon I flew to Sumatra with a friend. We opted for an early flight in hopes of being able to skip the city of Medan and going straight to our first destination, Lake Toba. The flight was uneventful, the airport in Medan surprisingly nice. Navigating the public transportation options was a little confusing, but we ended up taking a shared taxi to Parapat, a port town at the edge of the lake. From there, we hopped on a ferry, which took us very close to our hostel on Samosir Island.

The lake and the island are both beautiful. I wish I had time to go back and explore the area more deeply, but we were able to see and do a lot while we were there. We often met up with mutual friends, who were also on the island, for dinner or drinks. The very first night, they introduced us to a young Englishwoman, who was traveling by herself and happened to be staying at our hostel. The three of us ended up spending the rest of our time on Sumatra together.

IMG_4294On our last full day, however, we each did our own thing. I went in search of a waterfall, which according to some, was very easy to get to, and according to others, nearly impossible to find. I ended up finding it; I just couldn’t get there. An older man who lived near the base of the mountain offered to lead me there, but I wanted to try on my own. The first trail was easy to follow, but at some point the path forked, and it wasn’t even clear how many times. I tried the first path and ended up stuck. I crossed the river at one point, hoping to find another trail. No luck—except that I didn’t get washed away. I had to scramble back across the way I had come. I tried a second path. No luck. And a third and a fourth. I had no idea where to go. Finally, a little scraped up and bruised, I gave up.

Rather than go straight back to the hostel though, I decided to walk through some of the small villages off the main road. Some young boys stopped me on the way; one wanted his portrait taken. Some even younger boys with runny noses stopped me farther down the road and wanted money. “I don’t have any money.” — “Do you have candy?” — “No, I don’t have any candy, but I have tissues…” I had only mentioned the tissues to be funny, but the boys, without giving it much thought, decided they did in fact want tissues. They wiped their runny noses, and one boy exclaimed about his tissue, “It’s scented!” and gave me a big smile. I hadn’t realized my tissues were scented. In fact, I don’t think they were. They just smelled like something nice they had been near. I kept going.

IMG_4306The next person to flag me down was a middle-aged man. He was excited to find out I spoke Indonesian and invited me on to his patio for a cup of coffee. Most foreign tourists that pass that way, which I can’t imagine is many to begin with, probably don’t speak Indonesian. He had to take advantage of that. I don’t remember how we started talking about music, but soon, my host was showing me his collection of flutes and other local instruments. I got to try a few while we sipped our coffee, which was fun. Out of breath and out of coffee, I took my leave.

I haven’t described the whole trip here, but I’ve posted some more photos to flickr. A few include notes and anecdotes I haven’t mentioned here, so don’t skip the descriptions.