Archives for the month of: June, 2012

June 28-30

I decide to go spend 2 nights at Lake Maninjau, it’s not too far from Bukittinggi and I get lucky and score a ride from a guy I meet at Bedudal café who happens to own a guesthouse on the lake. He takes me and my pack for the hour and a half ride which culminates with a series of 44 hairpin curves to finally reach the lake. I get settled in then go for a little wander around the very small town. It’s not really a town even, more just a slightly bigger version of the road that goes all the way around the lake.

I take a motorbike the next day to circumnavigate the lake. It’s simple to drive and I get to say hello to a lot of people. I cruise through rice paddies and past water buffalo and plenty of mosques, through little tiny villages and past lovely lake views. 

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June 26 to 28, 2012.

I decide to spend a day just wandering around the town.. There are horse drawn carriages, not especially for tourists even, the locals use them a lot.

I spy these beautiful classic Indonesian puppets

And a very packed “family” bus.

Bukittinggi s a hilly little place, with streets that don’t make any sense, curving this way and that, no logic to speak of. I tell you the city planners at home spoiled us for SE Asia, there is no grid here. I check out the local market, full of fruits and veg, meats and various weird smells (durian, fresh and old meats, spices, rotting vegetable matter, flowers, and urine, ah yes, the smell of SE Asia). This gentleman asks me if I will take his picture, I happily comply.

I’m fascinated by the traditional Batak buildings, they have large steeply-pitched saddle back roofs, and are usually intricately decorated.  Seeing a large Batak building in the distance I decide to make it my goal and start walking in that direction. I get pretty lost as I lose sight of the building but I do eventually find it, up at the top of a very steep hill. I wander up there and am a little disappointed, it’s not as rustic as I had hoped, it turns out I have found the local government building, aka city hall.

Reality intrudes as I have gotten quite lost and turned around and am really not sure which way to go to get back to town. I see a taxi and ask him how much to take me to the clock tower, a landmark quite near my hotel. He rudely tells me a ridiculously inflated price and I tell him that he has insulted me and that I am not stupid and I walk away from him. Preposterous, but I am lost and now I have to figure out how to get back. I walk down the hill and see a café so I figure I will ask for directions there.  I ask the café proprietress for help and we’re struggling because she doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Indonesian when two young men who have been dining in the café overhear my dilemma and kindly offer to walk me back. One, William, can speak English fairly well, the other, Rahmat, can’t but I think he understands a fair bit. They become my friends for the remainder of the day.

We walk back into town, I buy them juice on the way and we take a rest at the clock tower. It’s really crowded with people, lots of Indonesian tourists and a large contingent of people in stuffed animal suits a la Barney, Sponge Bob, Power Rangers etc. It’s pretty surreal. They also want me to pay them to take pictures so no go. I also notice something odd about the roman numerals on the clock tower, can you spot it?

We decide to head over to Panorama Park to watch the sunset. There are some great views here of 2 of the local volcanoes, Gunung Marapi and Gunung Singgalang though they are usually shrouded in clouds. We can look down from the viewpoint into the valley where a small river wends its way. We stay for the sunset and then the guys walk me home, they insist and I thank them for rescuing my lost self. Lovely.

June 23 to 26, 2012.

I arrive in Bukittinggi after another 5 hour bus ride which turned out to be 8, a harrowing journey where I sat in what I like to call the “kill seat” the front passenger seat.  I find that when put into this position it is best to keep my eyes closed at all times so as to not watch as we overtake massive trucks on curves and/or pass 6 cars at the same time all while staring down oncoming traffic and speed recklessly, really it’s less stressful just to not watch, and sleep which fortunately I usually do quite well when on public transportation. Anyways, we make it and I’m dropped off in the middle of town. I soon discover that it’s a school holiday and the weekend so decent and cheap accommodation is impossible to find. I find cheap but it’s so nasty I’d be scared to catch a social disease from the bed so I go for clean but pricey, at least it’s likely to be virus free.

I find the fantastic Bedudal Café and spend the evening chatting with Dodek (spelling?) who works there. He fills me in on all the local activities I can do and encourages me to go on tours and pay guides etc. He gets it when I say I want to do more by myself though and offers some good advice. I meet 2 sweet French girls, Lucie and Celine and we decide to spend the next day trekking to see the world’s biggest flower, the Rafflesia. The Rafflesia only blooms  for a few days and the bud takes many months to develop, it’s considered a rare flower and may be facing extinction as the forests of Sumatra and Borneo are being systematically decimated.

I meet the ladies in the morning and we are joined by a Spanish man I had met and off we go. We take a local shared taxi (oplet) about 5 kms outside of town, it’s very crowded, we have 15 people jammed in one small minivan with bench seats, it’s crowded, sweaty and great.

We arrive at the small town and find ourselves a local guide to take us to the flower. We hike a trail through a small village and then through the countryside.We see these kids at play, it’s amazing how much fun can be had with a wheelbarrow!

Soon we start up an overgrown path leading into the forest that gets progressively steeper and muddier. I have taken major leech precautions, mosquito repellant, pants tucked into socks and my hiking shoes. In addition I had been given some advice by a local wilderness guide the day before, take a cigarette and break the tobacco into a small amount of water, allow it to stew for a few minutes and then rub the water onto your feet and legs (and any other areas you may be concerned about). All these precautions work and not a leech attached itself to me, though Lucie ends up with 2. After about 45 minutes or so we find the flower, it’s on a pretty steep muddy hill so it’s not a really comfortable place to linger and we have to approach it one by one.  We all smell it, and it’s really rank, kind of fishy/rotten meat smelling. We all have our picture taken with it, to give some idea of the size of thing. It’s pretty neat looking, somewhat alien and if I hadn’t had been told what it was I would assume it was some sort of massive fungus.

We hike back out of the forest and into the village again where we are given the opportunity to try Kopi Lewak. This is coffee made from beans that have been ingested by wild civet cats. The cats eat only the most perfectly ripe berries of the coffee and the bean works its way unharmed through the cats digestive tract, finally being expelled in their poo which the local people collect, once it has dried a bit. They take the poo and clean the beans VERY thoroughly and then roast them. It all adds up to a really delicious cup of coffee, some of the best I’ve had in Sumatra so far.

June 21, 2012

I’m taking a ferry from Melaka to Dumai, on the east coast of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. It’s overcrowded and a little scary as I am sitting on the lowest level (below the waterline) and in the very front. The way out to an exit is up a very narrow staircase and I know if we crash I’m a goner. So, after realizing all these facts I decide not to worry about it, what else can you do? On the ferry I meet a young woman who wants to practice her English with me, this is going to become very familiar over the next few days. She offers me a ride to the bus terminal with her family who will be picking her up from the ferry, what a sweetie. I also meet a man who is traveling with his family, wife and 3 children (aged 17-22), they also offer me a ride and as he will be the one driving I accept because I feel it will inconvenience him less than the young woman.  They wait patiently for me to make it through getting my visa on arrival and going through customs (where for some reason the officer takes a very thorough interest in the padding in the back support of my bag and scans it 3 times before letting me through). The family has a driver and everyone is crammed into the back 2 seats of their suv, they insist I take the front seat, I have no choice but to accept.

We drive to the bus station and the father jumps out of the car and tells me to wait, that he will arrange my ticket for me. When he comes back he gives me the ticket and I try to reimburse him the $9.00 but he won’t take it. I leave the money sitting on the front console of the car, hoping he won’t notice until it’s too late.

They then insist on taking me out for lunch, again, I have no choice and I know better now than to try to pay, I just thank them many times and try to be an interesting eating companion. We are having a “Padang meal”. What this mean is that many, many dishes are placed on the table in front of us and we eat what we want to. When we are finished the server adds up what has been eaten and charges accordingly. It’s a good meal, and while I am trying to make conversation the family is busily and speedily eating away, probably downing about twice as much as I do in the same time period and then waiting for me to finish up. I hadn’t realized eating customs were so different. Perhaps because it’s lunchtime? Maybe because they are Chinese Malays? Maybe they just typically eat really fast as a family? In any case it’s a serious business and quickly finished.

After the meal they invite me back to their house to wait for the bus. I accept happily and we drive to a large 3 storey building that looks more like a warehouse than a home. There is fencing all around and cameras as well. I’m getting the impression that this is a pretty wealthy family my Indonesian standards, and the dad is a bit evasive when I ask him what he does for a living. I am in their home for about 45 minutes, and spend most of it chatting with the 2 older girls. Eventually the bus shows up, it’s actually another suv, it turns out that a lot of the “buses” here are suv’s. I say goodbye to my hosts and settle in for what is supposed to be a 5 hour journey (was actually 7) to Pekanbaru, about halfway across the island heading westward and my stopover for 2 nights.

June, 22 2012

Pekanbaru turns out to be an ugly place, god, I though KL was bad but this is terrible. I can’t think of one redeeming thing to say about the place as there just wasn’t anything to do. It was hot and smelly, really dirty and smoggy. It looked a lot like Dumai and I was starting to wonder what I had gotten myself into coming to Sumatra. All I could do was keep my fingers crossed that my next stop, Bukittinggi, would be better.

June 19 – 21

Melaka is to be my last stop in mainland Malaysia before I head into Sumatra Indonesia. It’s a quaint little town and I enjoy wandering through it. I get my hair cut, desperately needed, and meander into Chinatown.

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While I am walking I meet a trishaw driver who is shining up all the metal he has decorated his ride with, he lets me take his picture, what a smile.

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I find some lunch at a little hole in the wall and watch as 3 Malaysian guys work their way through a bottle of Jack Daniels, then they start on the beer. They start chatting with me and insist I join them, I do and for a while I manage to convince them that I don’t drink before nightfall but eventually they wear me down and I agree to a beer.  I sit with them and chat for a while they are pretty drunk so it’s mildly entertaining when they all ask me the same questions again and again. It turns out that one of them is the manager of a temple just down the road (Richard) and he agrees to give me a tour. One of the guys heads home (to nap I assume) and the other, who has taken a bit of a shine to me, insists on bringing his car down to the temple. He seems to think that I am going to go out for dinner with him, I’m not sure why as I haven’t agreed to it and when I tell him that I won’t get in a car with a drunk person he calls his driver to come and join us, I still have no intention of going anywhere with this guy and start to try to think of the best way to be rid of him. Meanwhile I am getting a personalized tour of the temple from Richard (who insists that he take my picture many times, in front of everything), it’s quite beautiful and the history is interesting but I am a little distracted by the Malaysian guido who’s breathing down my neck.

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Eventually the tour ends and I thank Richard for showing me around, My guido friend is all impatient and says ok we can go now. Finally I just flat out tell him that I’m not joining him but make vague promises to call him later in the evening, so he gives me his phone number. As he drives off, having dismissed his driver, I see two guys (tourists) coming towards me, they hear me laughing so I tell them what’s gone down. They had seen me in the temple and noticed the letch as well and are pretty amused with my story. I join them and we roam through the town for a little longer.

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We meet another girl and I convince everyone to go come out for Indian food with me, it wasn’t hard. We had a delicious feast, happy all round and then headed down riverside for a few beers to cap off the evening. All in all a great last day in Malaysia.

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June 17 – 19

Kuala Lumpur, I don’t plan to stay here long, really I only want to see the Petronas towers (once the tallest buildings in the world). I figure that I will see them in the daytime and then go back at night which is what I do.

In the intervening time I take a taxi out to see the Batu caves. In the taxi I see this sign, so no kissing then I guess?

The cave is pretty but very touristed compared to some other caves I have seen a fair amount of the natural beauty has been spoiled by pouring concrete down to even out the floors and putting in railings to herd people around, moo. There is a Hindu Shrine here and the man offers me a blessing, I make sure I don’t have to pay for it and then allow him to anoint me with ash mixed with water to form a paste which he smears on my forehead and gives me a small rose to tuck in my hair. On the way back down the 272 steps I encounter the bunch of monkeys that live here and I enjoy watching their antics for a bit. I never get tired of monkeys.

I head back into town by train and then MRT (a light rail system) which is a little complicated at first by I get the hang of it, and I love this there is a car set aside for women only, how nice.

Back at Petronas towers for the evening view, all lit up and purdy, I like shiny things.

In all I don’t find KL very compelling, it’s expensive and dirty and so I only spend 2 nights and one full day here, it’s enough in my opinion.

Photos from Singapore, click here for the story.

June 12 to 16

Singapore, what a surprise. I expected another big city but nothing like this. The architecture, the lights, the food, the shopping, what a fun place and so fantastic to photograph. I arrived in the early evening and headed out for dinner and a walk along the waterfront. I anticipated a short stroll and ended up being out until 1am, so exhausted that I took a cab back to my hostel. With a couple hundred photos in my camera.

I’m in Singapore because I’m going to meet up with a friend from home and I get to do that in the afternoon of the next day. We go for a wander through town and stop for a couple beers which whet our appetites so we decide to go find the Newton Hawker Food Court. It turns out to be more touristy then we expected but the food is good and it’s great to be there with Emily, she has a really laid back attitude and approach that is similar to mine plus she can speak Mandarin and Bhasa so we have a good time joking with the touts and deciding what we will eat. We walk back to my neighborhood after and sit for a couple more beers, great to chat with her about her work and life in Indonesia as well to get her impressions and ideas about the people. I loved seeing her and hope to visit her in her town in Borneo once I make it over that way.

I spent the next day wandering through Singapore Botanical Gardens with a guy I met at the hostel, I wasn’t overly impressed, maybe it’s because of where I am from (British Columbia is supernatural after all), it was almost all to manicured for me but it was a nice place to escape a bit of the heat of the day. That evening I met some folks who convinced me to go to the zoo for the night safari. I’m not a fan of zoo’s, I figure no matter how nice the cage it’s still a cage and I don’t like seeing animals behind bars or glass. People always tell me that it’s a way to help preserve endangered wildlife and I suppose that’s true but some idealistic part of me still feels it’s wrong. In any case, it would be a good zoo if you’re into that kind of thing but I didn’t really enjoy it.

I hear about an Andy Warhol exhibit at the ArtScience Museum so I go, it’s great. It’s a retrospective so there is work from his early days as an advertising illustrator as well as some of his later famous works like the Cambell’s Soup Cans, Marilyn Monroe and more. I couldn’t take photos of course but enjoyed myself thoroughly. Next I hit up the Raffles Hotel, a place infamous for hosting authours Somerset Maughum and Ernest Hemmingway and for being the inventors of the Singapore Sling. It’s a gorgeous old building and I poke around trying to stick my nose in places I’m probably not supposed to go, a ballroom, back staircases etc. I partake of the previously mentioned Singapore Sling, it’s stupidly expensive for a drink ($30) but just one of those things I have to do. It’s lovely to sit in the courtyard and the shade, looking at these glamorous old surroundings.

Click here for a link to all my Singapore photos.

May 29 to June 12, 2012

Leo and I part ways, I’m on my own again and I head down the east coast to a tiny little town called Cherating. At first glance it has a fantastic beach, but after sitting on it for an hour I realize I have 3 sandfly bites, done with the beach then. But Cherating grows on me and I have a nice little bungalow to stay in so I rest here for a bit. What did I do there, nothing, except finally start this blog, something I have been meaning to do for a couple years. So I spent about 8 days here backdating all my original Facebook posts and trying to get the blog completely up to date, I didn’t make it though, I had to get down to Singapore to meet up with Emily, a friend from home who I have known since she was born. She is an anthropologist and has been living in Indonesia off and on for the last 8 years or so, I’m looking forward to seeing her. But I’m making a detour on the way to visit Tioman Island, just to get a little island time before the big city.  I stay on Tioman for a few very chill days and then I make the plunge back to big city life.

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