The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

A Familiar Place

Sumatra travel

Though I have been on aeroplanes quite a few times in the last few years it has more or less always been to somewhere familar: England or Japan. A couple of shuttles back and forth for family and competitions and then back to work in Tokyo, with the holiday unremembered due to no really new experiences. The thing is I love travelling, I love going to a place I’ve never been before and finding my feet there. Which is why last week I took the family off to Italy for a short explore, but more about that later.

Of course new places quickly become familiar and some become second homes. Japan has become like that for me, but it took a while to get used to the place. The same could be said of the place pictured above. This is Mr. Anas who owns and runs Anas Homestay in the jungles above Lake Maninjau in Sumatra. It is not the easiest place to find and when you do this collection of wooden huts in a rough jungle clearing doesn’t look like much: there is no electricity or water or anything much at all really. In fact my first night there was one of worrying darkness; the hug of black, harsh leaves not exactly comforting; the sounds of the forest frighteningly carniverous. Jungle, real deep, tropical jungle can be scary on its first aquaintance and that is all there is at Anas Homestay…Jungle. But after a day or two there is also a familiar, homely feel to the place which after many months on the (hard Asian) road begins to feel wonderful. I had planned to stay there for a night before heading out to the Siberut Islands to photograph the Mentawai people but that night turned into three and when I came back to the Sumatran mainland I headed straight for the homestay again. New experiences are always a good thing but after two weeks of waist deep mud and more malarial nightmares in even more quintessential Jungle on Siberut all I wanted was a quiet place to relax and get my breath back. I ended up spending about ten days as the guest of Mr Anas. It was a special time: all there was to do all day was watch the jungle and the lake far below, play board games, whose names I forget, with Eric the Frenchman and help John the young kitchen boy practice his guitar. Occasionally other adventerous travellers came through and one Intrepid Tours group used the place for a lunch stop but mostly we were alone listening to the jungle and watching the fiery sunsets the like of which I have never seen before or since.

Most memorable was the evenings we got to feed the monkeys. Mr Anas had spent years getting the local Thomas Leaf monkeys accustomed to him and his lodges and a couple of the braver ones would come down sometimes to sit on the window sills and eat bananas and rice from our hands. The strength in those tiny fingers is something I’ll never forget and something that still makes me smile. These were not pets or trained animals, they were wild monkeys that had grown used to us apes feeding them. Mr. Anas had been offered a lot of money by a lodge owner in Maninjau Town below to capture one and give it to the cruel zoo he kept in his garden to entice tourists but Mr. Anas had refused, he liked them wild and in Indonesia that is quite a rare way of thinking. Indeed it was Mr. Anas, who did not look his 67 years of age and used to walk up over 500 metres everyday to deliver the evening meal with his wife, who made the place special. The monkeys loved him and he loved them; he loved us guests and we loved him back. Everyone who stayed there knew it was a delicate, unique place, this was not a place for the usual complainers and those wanting comforts like showers (there was a waterfall a few hundred metres down a track) or big menus (we all ate the same meal that had been carried up on Mr. Anas’s back and were thankful for it).

Although new places will always be interesting to me, sometime I’d like to go back to Anas Homestay and meet Mr. Anas and the monkeys again. I don’t know if I ever will but in that big, wild island of Sumatra there will always be a place familiar to me; a place that really was home for a week or two and where I really felt it too. And a place that I hope will always stay a little difficult to find and a little basic and unacceptable to the tourist masses where people can go and feel relaxed and loved.



5 responses

  1. Great post Damon. Thanks for sharing with us the memories of one of your special places. There are one or two destinations that I have vowed never to go back to, simply because they were so special that were I to return and find them changed (for the worse) the memory would become tainted.

    June 14, 2008 at 3:27 pm

  2. That is always the risk isn’t Paul? Maybe I’ll never go back, and I doubt Mr Anas will live forever. But without him it would not be the same and I am tempted to return sooner rather than later for that reason. But it is a special memory now and maybe best to leave it that way. I wonder where special places you mentioned are? Nicobar and Shrinigar? The summit of Everest?
    Thanks for dropping by, will talk to you soon.

    June 14, 2008 at 7:42 pm

  3. Andy

    Oh no! Perhaps I shouldn’t be going to Portugal next week……..I’m guessing it will have changed but it’s also a different trip to the one we embarked on. As for the memories of it……..well, it’s a shame you guys can’t make it

    June 14, 2008 at 7:53 pm

  4. Wish we could Andy, the memories may even be better this time around wouldn’t you say?

    June 15, 2008 at 9:19 am

  5. Portugal is a place that I would love to go back to as well.

    And Everest? Well, maybe not to the top again. That said, returning to Base Camp last year was enjoyable, humbling and a little startling. (“Did I really go all the way up there?” I asked myself as I watched the summit from Kalar Pattar.) I certainly hope to return to the Everest region again soon.

    One place that is on my “don’t go back” list is the Zaalayskiy Khrebet in the Pamirs. It’s rare to be granted the privilege of being with the first group of people to visit anywhere on this planet: that’s one memory I don’t want to risk spoiling.

    June 17, 2008 at 1:17 am

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