I am sitting in a hotel lobby in the mountain city of Takengon, Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia in the heart of Sumatran coffee country. After a 14 hour marathon van ride to get here from Medan and a blissful exhausted slumber, I am feeling semi-refreshed and ready to attend the 2014 annual general membership meeting of the Permata Gayo coffee co-op. Sumatra is nothing much like Latin America. This is a great experience for me as many of my assumptions about traveling in coffee country have– by and large– gone out the window.
Sumatra is an interesting blend of indigenous, Indian, and Chinese cultures with a heavy Islamic flavor.
Aceh recently extended Sharia law to all who live in the province– even those who are not muslim. It was and still is not clear if this means that foreigners need to follow the mandates, but so far we have not been scolded for our gringo ways. Being in a mostly islamic country is incredibly interesting and new for me. The call to prayer starts at 4am with one voice and slowly is joined by voices all over the city. The result is haunting and strangely beautiful.
The drive to Takengon from Medan was brutal. There is no other fair way to put it. Our 14 hour journey took us from the lowlands near the coast with their sugar and palm refineries through decent sized cities on the coastal planes. Everywhere people were attending rallies for their favorite political parties getting pumped up for the upcoming national and provincial elections. There seemed to be about a dozen major political parties all with a color or combination of colors that made them easy to recognize.
When we finally turned off of the road and headed up into coffee country things started to feel more familiar. The sun was quickly enveloped by a low hanging mist that hung over the tops of the hills. The houses entering into coffee country were different than many in Latin America. They consist largely of decent looking wood or brick with metal roofs on concrete foundations and more than one room. Also, many have glass windows and roofed porch areas. Overall it seems like the general standard of living is higher here than in Central America or Southern Mexico.
When we finally arrived at our hotel I stumbled into my room and collapsed into sleep missing out on dinner and exploration with the others. As I write my roasting companions are filtering into the lobby. We are preparing to head out to the meeting. The sun is out and the temperature is approaching the low 70s– a welcome change form the humid 90 degrees of Medan and the frigid winter of Madison.
More about the meeting and the Permata co-op tomorrow, so please check back.