Archives for posts with tag: Bukittinggi

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.

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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.