Thankfully I woke up the morning of my flight to Nias feeling MUCH better than the day before. I still had lingering effects of the food poisoning, but I am able to eat a little food and don’t have the constant feeling like I am on the verge of puking. Getting from my hotel in Medan to the airport is one of the easiest sections of transport I will likely find anywhere during my stay in Indonesia. The train station is in the same building as my hotel, so all I have to do is walk downstairs and board a train that runs directly to the airport in 30 minutes.
As soon as I get to the airport, the fact that Nias is frequented mostly by surfers is made immediately clear. In line to check in are a bunch of locals and then several groups of guys with their huge surfboard bags. One duo (from Brazil) is having some issue with check in. I couldn’t hear the actual conversation, but based on what was happening it seemed like an argument over the cost of checking their massive board bags. The locals chat me up as per usual. One of the kids said “you are very handsome,” which is either becoming a common courtesy or I am truly an attractive male to these Indos.
The plane turned out to be dual propeller and fairly small, so extra bag fees made sense on this puddle jumper. Along with me on the plane were a few Germans, a trio of Aussies, and the two Brazilians having issues with check in earlier to go with the rest of the plane filled with Indonesians. There were only two seats on each side of the aisle, and as luck would have it I got a window. Being able to see Sumatra from the air was going to be a treat.
The window seat ended up being a bigger treat than I could have anticipated. The plane flew almost directly over an active volcano- Mount Cinabung (no relation to Cinabun that I am aware of). It is not a “spewing hot, red lava” type active volcano. There was a huge amount of steam and smoke coming out of the top, which was amazing to see from the air. I tried my best to get some pictures, but the condensation on the airplane windows blocked any attempts to get a good shot.
The 50 minute flight was over in a flash. After getting used to 5 hour drives, an hour flight is nothing. The Gunung Stoli airport in Nias is tiny- just a single room. I meet the driver who was going to take me to the home stay I had booked in Sorake Beach. Little did I know that this would be a $40 cab ride- another one of those “nothing is ever explained” issues of the third world. It was booked from my home stay in Nias, and I thought they had arranged for my ride as part of staying there. Turns out that was definitely not the case. $40 is definitely a heavily tourist taxed price, since I could have paid $25 for the 6 hour drive from Medan to Lake Toba. If I would have known the entire fare would be on my tab, I would have at least tried to split the car with more people. Oh well- what was I going to do. The $40 is annoying, but hardly bank breaking. I just know it is hugely inflated for MR TOURIST MAN. There is NO WAY any locals would even pay one quarter of that for the same ride.
The highlight of the car ride was after we picked up another passenger. In what has become standard over here, the driver takes about 10 phone calls and can’t find the person he is supposed to pick up. At one point my driver put the car in reverse and just went backwards down the road for at least a half mile. I had no fucking clue what was going on, besides the fact that we were just backing up on the wrong side of the road. No big whoop over here- just slam the car in reverse until you get to where you want. We finally found our fellow passengers- a woman and her 15 month old baby girl.
Roughly half way into the drive to my home stay, the I hear the woman say “Mister, mister” and handing her baby to me. I thought maybe the kid wanted to sit in the front seat with me? Uh, no. The mom was giving me her sleeping child because the mom had to puke. The woman had gotten car sick, unbeknownst to me, and needed to hand off her child ASAP. Thankfully the kid was sleeping because I don’t know how jazzed she would be sitting in the front seat with MR TOURIST MAN. So there I was- holding a random sleeping baby in my arms while the mom pukes in the back as we bounce down a two lane road in Nias. This was an hour after flying in a dual prop plane over an active volcano. At a minimum, adventure for the day has been accomplished.
My home stay/ “surf camp” is by far the most basic (read: shitty) place I have stayed in during my trip. It is $35 a night which also includes 3 meals a day, coffee and water, which is far from expensive but not cheap for this part of the world either. The room has AC, but the amenities end there. There is a bed, a desk and bathroom but the bathroom doesn’t even have a proper sink and the toilet doesn’t actually flush. It has what I would call an Asian sink- a huge bucket with a faucet and a small pail to dump water. For anyone who has visited this part of the world, this would be a familiar sight. To “flush” you fill up the pail of water and pour it into the toilet until whatever contents you want flushed are gone. To shave, I held the pail in my hand to clean off the razor. The bed doesn’t have anything but a bottom sheet and two pillows. As basic as it gets, but that’s ok. On the plus side, the food has been great. Often the meals are WAY too big for me to finish. Last night’s dinner was an entire BBQ fish, salad and huge portion of rice. I ate about half of it. Having food poisoning a few days ago probably doesn’t help my with appetite. The location is also amazing- directly on the beach overlooking the ocean. There are far worse places to enjoy breakfast than a balcony with nothing to see but the ocean and waves.
The home stay is also the first place on this trip without any internet whatsoever. Which means I had the privilege of going to an internet cafe for the first time since… 1999? I wanted to catch the end of the Heat/ Pacers game, so I borrowed a scooter from the owner of the home stay and made my way in the rain to the local internet cafe. Of course I got a bit lost, so I showed up soaking wet to internet land. I did in fact get to watch the end of the Heat game (they crushed the Pacers to go to their 4th NBA Finals in 4 years). It was very weird to be in an internet cafe to browse the world wide internet tubes, but it fits well with the vibe of Nias which feels like 1999.
I have the entire home stay to myself- at least the portion sectioned off for tourists. The owner and his family live in a separate (and much nicer) house about 30 yards away. My first night the trio of Aussies who were on my flight stayed here, but ultimately decided to be closer to the surf break. That was a great decision for me, as having three loud 23 year old Australians around every night was not ideal. Now I get my own personal fortress of solitude. Anyone that knows surfers knows that pretty much all they talk about is surfing. 99% of the conversation involves surfing- how the surf was that day, what tomorrow’s swell should be like, what time they are going to go out, more talk about the surf today, some talk about the other surfers in the water, comparing this break to other places they have been, and so on. I understand being so passionate about something, but I don’t share the same passion for surfing so I don’t like to talk about it ALL THE TIME.
The locals in Nias, while still friendly, definitely don’t have the same attitude as the people in Lake Toba. I am not sure if the people in Nias have gotten jaded by all of the surfer tourists coming and visiting them, or if they naturally aren’t as friendly. While in Toba, I can’t remember any local asking me for a thing. They just smiled, waved, said hello, and laughed. Here, people openly ask for money. Today alone, at least 4 kids have asked me “you give me money?” After the kids ask for money they say “Please. Pleeease. Please, mister!” EVERYONE is trying to sell something. The kids are selling fruit and the adults are selling T-shirts or other tourist crap (statues and bracelets). It is clear that most of the locals aren’t wealthy, but no one seems to be starving either. It makes sense that they would see MR TOURIST MAN as MR ATM MAN, but being straight up asked for money after a “hello” isn’t a fun interaction to have dozens of times a day. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of the surfer tourists that come to Nias are here for a week and don’t mind throwing some extra dollars at the locals which would lead to the attitude they all have.
The island itself is beautiful. I have gone on several long walks along the beach where I hardly saw any other people. Most of the tourists spend the day surfing, so the rest of the area of Nias I am staying at is pretty much empty. I walked way out into the ocean since there is about a quarter mile of volcanic tide pools. I have never seen anything like it- there is shallow volcanic rock for a LONG way into the ocean. As soon as the tide pools end there are HUGE waves breaking right onto the shelf. I went out as far as I felt comfortable to get some photos, and I was still legitimately terrified. 90% of the time it is calm and the water barely goes above my feet. But every so often the ocean gets angry and the waves come up to above my knees. This is when I get scared as shit, get into a squat for balance, and hold my camera bag over my head. Getting taken out on the volcanic rock would NOT feel good, and my camera would get destroyed. After this happened a few times, I cautiously moved back a hundred yards.
Last night was Saturday, so there was a big local party right next to my home stay. All of the partiers were up late singing what sounded like the worst karaoke ever imaginable. I don’t even think it was karaoke, as it was the same few singers over and over. I can say without any reservation that the music was horrible. No wonder they normally play Creedence and the Stones at the local bars.
My total stay here in Nias will be 7 nights, which should be super relaxing. Lots of writing, napping, and photography. The view from the home stay balcony is great- I can watch the big waves crash all day long. The sharp rocks are a bit much for me to try surfing here, which is blasphemous to any real surfer. “You went to Nias and didn’t even surf??” Even without surfing, I promise to have an amazing week.