Travelblog#31: Journey through the Gayo Highlands – Sumatra, Indonesia

12th-13th December, 2014

I had just returned from a trek which had been organised through Johan from Wisma Cinta Alam guest house, so it was there that I spent the rest of the day relaxing upon my return to Ketambe village. My guide had suddenly turned ill four days in, so the trek had been cut short. They offered to take me out the next day or for another night walk, but I declined, deciding that there didn’t seem much point in venturing back to the jungle just for a mere few hours: I was back in civilisation now, and the spell had been somewhat broken. I began to make preparations for the next stages of my journey through Sumatra.

Shaved and showered, I put on a clean set of clothes and sat by the river for most of the day while going through all the photos I had taken. Johan came and sat with me for a while and we chatted. His brother and neighbour, Sam – a local ranger whom I met before the trek – also came over to say hello. They seemed to be a very nice family.

I left the following morning on a minibus heading north, along a road which cut through the middle of Gunung Leuser National Park. It passed through lots of small villages, and the mountain views were incredible at times.

I was heading deeper into the Aceh province, which is Sharia Law territory. Well, technically, anything north of Kutacane (a town I stayed in on my way to Ketambe) is governed by Aceh and under Sharia Law, but these people, who have lived for generations in the forested highlands, were Gayo long before they were Aceh and are a little harder to tame. They all call themselves ‘Muslim’ now, if asked, but many of them drink beer, pray very little, and are far from devout.

A bus change in Blankenjeren, and then it was a further six hours of winding mountain roads until I reached Takengon; a charming little highland town nestled by the side of Laut Tawar Lake.

I had four hours to wait until my sleeper bus to Banda Aceh, so I went for a walk. This was obviously not a place very used to seeing foreigners: wherever I walked children (and even some adults) ran out of their houses to yell random, nonsensical phrases at me, like; “Good morning” (it was evening), “Thank you” (what for?), “Wasyur name?” (“Tej”), “Where you going?” (I don’t know, I’m just walking…), and, of course, the usual; “Hey meister!”

I eventually spotted another Caucasian person; a girl whose name I have forgotten but she was very nice, and she seemed quite excited to see another foreigner. I was on my way back to the bus station at the time, but we quickly ate nasi goreng together while she told me how she had been living there for over six months while working on a project to teach the locals to make bricks which are more earthquake proof.

And then I went back to catch my bus. ‘Sleeper’ wasn’t quite a fitting description, as it was actually a minibus and the seats didn’t recline. I closed my eyes thought hopefully of sleep.

Published by Tej Turner

Tej Turner is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. His debut novel The Janus Cycle was published by Elsewhen Press in 2015 and its sequel Dinnusos Rises was released in 2017. Both of them were described as ‘gritty and surreal urban fantasy’. He has also had short stories published in various anthologies. He has since branched off into writing epic fantasy with a novel called Bloodsworn published in early 2021. The first in his ‘Avatars of Ruin’ series. Tej Turner has spent much of his life on the move and does not have any particular place he calls ‘home’. For a large period of his childhood, he dwelt within the Westcountry of England, and he then moved to rural Wales to study Creative Writing and Film at Trinity College in Carmarthen, followed by a master’s degree at The University of Wales Lampeter. After completing his studies, he moved to Cardiff, where he works as a chef by day and writes by moonlight. He is also an intermittent traveller who every now and then straps on a backpack and flies off to another part of the world to go on an adventure. So far, he has clocked two years in Asia and a year in South America. He hopes to go on more and has his sights set on Central America next. When he travels, he takes a particular interest in historic sites, jungles, wildlife, native cultures, and mountains. He also spent some time volunteering at the Merazonia Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Ecuador, a place he hopes to return to someday.

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