Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sumatra Day One: Look For Bombs

Our most recent adventure started before we even left Singapore. Bryan and I were all set for our long-awaited trip to Sumatra. We’d chosen our destinations, booked the hotels, and booked a guide for going into Taman Nasional Gunung Leuseur. When we emailed the guy coordinating our guide with the name of our hotel so we could get picked up, he replied that the Madani Hotel was a Muslim hotel that might not allow Bryan and me to share a room, as we are not married. We emailed the hotel and they informed us that they do not, in fact, allow unmarried couples to share rooms. Normally we could have just found a hotel on the fly, but since we needed a concrete destination for our driver to meet us, we scrambled to find a place where we could book quickly (a lot of places in Indonesia don’t have online booking systems, and it requires some email exchanges to get it all worked out). Anyway, we decided to go with the Marriott- although it was nicer than what we would usually shoot for, they didn’t object to our marital status and we could book online immediately. (By the way, if you are married or traveling on your own, I still recommend checking out the Madani Hotel- it looked like a nice place, and it had a good location right near the Grand Mosque and the National Palace).

With hotel arrangements all straightened around, we joined the mass exodus leaving Singapore for the Chinese New Year holiday weekend. Even though we had an evening flight and only had to work half-days at work, we decided to take our bags to work and then just head to the airport straight from there so we could avoid extra traveling in the holiday traffic. This led to us arriving at the airport hours early and spending the afternoon exploring and drinking beer at Ruuyi and Harry’s. While admiring the CNY decorations, we also met a very bizarre American guy who babbled to us for a few minutes about how he almost married the queen of Indonesia. It seems that you can travel all the way around the world and still not get escape the reaches of some of the U.S.’s more colorful characters!

Once we were finished rubbing elbows with the would-be royalty, we boarded our JetStar flight to Medan. An uneventful hour and a half later, we were touching down and making our way through immigration. Although we had canceled our reservations at the Madani Hotel, there was someone waiting there, holding a sign with Bryan’s name emblazoned under the Madani logo. We spent an awkward couple of minutes explaining, then got a taxi to the Marriott. Driving through the streets was interesting- like some of the other Asian cities we’ve been to, chaos reigned supreme as motorbikes whizzed by, cars weaved in and out of lanes, and pedestrians strolled along the shoulder. It was nowhere near the frenetic insanity of Saigon, but it was no orderly Canton, Ohio either.

As soon as I saw the Marriott I felt a little awkward about staying there- it was a tall, majestic building, noticeably more glamorous than its surroundings. It seemed strange to be staying somewhere so chic while the rest of the city was substantially more dingy. The sense of unease deepened when we pulled up outside the hotel’s formidable gate and stopped. Five or six guards surrounded the car, opened the doors, looked in the trunk, and peered under the car, all while chattering away in Bahasa. Bryan and I were totally confused and looked quizzically at the driver, who said simply “Look for bomb.” As I looked up at the Marriott looming over us, it became apparent that, what with its clientele of westerners and its showy glam, it just might make an obvious terrorist target. The search was over quickly and we drove in through the gate. Before entering the hotel, our bags were X-rayed and Bryan and I had to pass through a metal detector just like the one at the airport. It was definitely the beefiest security I’ve ever seen at a hotel, but I wasn’t honestly worried about terrorism (might as well worry about being struck by lightning), and I decided to let go of my misgivings about the hotel and just enjoy staying in such a posh place for the night.

The hotel was magnificent. It was all decked out for the holiday, and everything was beautiful (well...almost everything.  Some of the decorations were kind of creepy). The lobby was spacious and flanked by two elaborate spiral staircases. Glittery chandeliers hung from the ceilings, and music played softly in the background. It was all pretty impressive.
This mannequin looks all ready to rob a bank.
Pretty Chinese New Year decorations!

Up on the 21st floor, our room was even better! After doing the usual checking-out-the-room stuff (bouncing on the bed, poking around in the mini-bar, scoping out the stellar view), we decided to get some dinner. It was kind of late by then, and we had an early morning ahead of us, so we just went for the restaurant in the hotel lobby, where Bryan got some satay and I had the first of many plates of nasi goreng, which was a staple of my diet in Sumatra. The nasi goreng was really good- it had a nice spicy kick to it. By the time I was done, my eyes were watering and I’d downed a whole glass of mango juice!
Even the elevator was fancy!
In the mini-bar.  Mmmm...sweat.
In the nightstand- the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Qur'an
Big window to the bathroom!
Our room

We went to sleep pretty early that night, in preparation for our early morning departure for Bukit Lawang. We were both really excited about heading out into the jungle!

1 comment:

  1. There was absolutely no holiday traffic when we headed to the airport at 5:30pm which on a regular day is absolutely the worst time. We were quite surprised to find the streets totally empty, and asked the taxi driver. He told that everyone's at home preparing for the reunion dinner. The ride to the airport was a breeze.

    Looking forward to the rest of the Sumatra story :)