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.