Diana -my sis should be graduated this month but on my surprise she decided to pursue bigger dream. Landed a project for two month in Nias -a tiny island off Sumatra. From her story everything sounded serendipity. Read the ads in Kompas, applying in person, did few tests and here she's go.
Not attending graduation day might a choice for her, but she said, "graduation only once but this job might one in a life time".
Three years ago I was there. A beautiful place, serene, peaceful with so much things to do. I love the people, landscape, seafood, even ammonia smell from rubber. Diana might be goes to different side of Nias. I was in Sirombu, east part the island while she might goes to Lahewa.
This is my survival guide tips for her :
Only ferry and flight from Merpati that connect this island to Sumatra. Binaka is the small airport about 20 minutes drive from Gunung Sitoli -the biggest town. It takes about 40minutes or less fly the straits from Polonia Medan to Binaka. Ferry links to Sibolga which run every night except Sunday. Road is badly damaged by earthquake, and the contour of this island make the journey quite bumpy. Angkot and small bus were common. From Gunung Sitoli to Sirombu cost around Rp 50,000 for 4 hours, similar if taking minibus to Teluk Dalam or Lagundri. I don't know about Lahewa but I'm sure there would be services there. The Bus Terminal not really descriptive, just go to main road and ask people.
Weather and temperature
Mainly humid and extremely hot during the day. It can reach 40C on the shore area. Drink plenty water, keep in a shade, use suncream if you want.
Money, wartel or warnet and stuff
There's ATM machine in Gunung Sitoli but not in other places. So get the cash as many as you want (not too much), buy some noddle sarimi or any food for pleasure. Prices can be quite expensive compared to Medan. Wartel (phone booth) and warnet (internet cafe) were not many. Mobilephone (hape) are everywhere, so get prepaid Medan number to call home. Internet not really sure. When I was there barely go this connection, hopefully you've got better services.
Bank : Bank Sumut (Jl Hatta) , BRI (Jl Imam Bonjol)
Post Office : (Jl Gomo & Jl Hatta)
Hospital (Jl Cipto M Kusumo)
Water and Food
Water is a major problem in Nias. The water table was really low in the shore but can be really deep in the hills area. To find drinking water is a challenge. I suggest to boil water first, make a cup of tea of coffee or just pop in warung to buy teh botol or fanta. Don't drink ice cube because it can be from raw water. Water bottle is OK but it can be expensive there.
Most of restaurant serving Padang food with options on the table. I think you have enough training Padang food since I always brought my lunch package when home from work. Seafood is the easiest source of food. Try to get fresh and ask people to cook for you. It can be very good value as the fish really cheap. Salted fish mainly sold in the local market along with other vegetables. If you want experience basic cooking, try them. I love ikan asin!
Others food is local fruit. It can be durian (yeeeeah!), really cheap and meaty. Also jambu air or anything you grab from. The soil in this area not really well developed. Most of trees grow smaller than in the lands. I found choco, paddy, rubber tree and Cassava (ketela pohon) including ketela rambat. Not many kinds vegetables but enough for daily intake.
People and what they're doing
Most of people really friendly. Mainly they are came from Medan while the native Nias lives on the North side of island (I thought you will get closer with them since you will in Lahewa territory). They are farmer, teacher, self employed mainly on industry or agriculture.
Tourism only thrive in Teluk Dalam area (South) due the surfers hunting the massive wave from Indian Ocean. If you got time, just pop there. But the best is visiting traditional house in Gomo area (Tundrumbaho, Lahusa Idanotae, and Tetegewo village). Access to these place can be difficult so ask someone you know (locally) to take you with motorcycle.
The famous village is Bawomataluo where the tradition of lompat batu (stone jumping) existed. The location is 15km from Teluk Dalam. Another is Hilisimaetano where 100 more traditional house and lompat batu. I did not have a chance to see the house, that's why I am so envious if you will able to reach them. Please..
Religions and Cultures
This island divided by two religions : Islam and Christian. The native Nias mostly Christian since they were been reached first time by misionary in early Dutch colonialism in Sumatra. People in there really tolerant and respect you whatever you're religion is.
The only cultures remains might be in the traditional villages. Some house build in compound made from wood and roof from coconut leaves. While in Gunung Sitoli mostly concrete building (most been destroyed by earthquake but in the remote area still really traditional). The Nias languange is different with Sumatran. Try to learn local language, that's can be useful if you lost or getting know with Nias people.
As I said, some area still have strong believe in myth and even paranormal world. Respect anything they suggest such as don't go alone at night or brought something during travel. People in Nias always want their friend comfortable. Be nice and be local.
One of Niasan said that this Island seemed forgotten. So remote, so difficult to reach. But believe me you will missed Nias lots. It's always a beauty in anywhere we lives.