West Sumatra

The time finally came to say goodbye to Sungai Penuh, after another rest day in which we found our friend Stephen once again and spent some time with him, sharing a pretty good meal. Our next destination was Padang, where we found a CS that would kindly take us in.

The ride was in a mini bus, that was unfortunately a bit too small for our body size, but not terrible all things considered. The landscape was stunning. At the start of the journey, we travelled through a valley with big mountains covered with greenery; some of it being native forest, some rubber and cinnamon plantations. As we got a bit further north, the mountains gave way to smaller slopes, covered with tea plantations as far as the eye could see. Tea grows in funny little bushes, and it was very interesting for me to see how it all happens, as I had no idea. We made it to Padang in the afternoon, and the driver dropped us off at the entrance of Rica’s (our CS host) community. A few locals stopped with their bikes to check what these bule were doing with those big packs in this place, and when we explained, claimed to know her and offered us a ride – only a few hundred metres away from the start.

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Rica was a lovely woman, and she had a 4 year old son, full of energy as kids that age are, and extremely likable. We spent a few days relaxing in this quiet neighbourhood next to a river, visited the local market (which turned out to be one of the best we have ever seen in terms of fresh food and goods in offer) and cooked some delicious meals. We explored the vicinity, but did not venture into the city center, scared by the heavy traffic and the suffocating heat. After a week in the mountains, coming back to sea level made us really tired. Tim started getting something like the flu, and spent most of one day in bed. The next day we packed our stuff and took a taxi to the bus station, where we would take transport to Bukittinggi.

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The ride there was interesting, and we soon started climbing back up and into the mountains, with the considerable drop in temperature that it  entails. At some point the bus turned towards a very small country road, and continued up and down along it for a long time. It was so narrow, that we had to stop multiple times and let another vehicles (headed in the opposite direction) go, as both would not have fit on the road.

From the bus terminal, we took an Angkot to the tourist district of the town, where we needed to find accommodation. It was mid afternoon and raining quite heavily, so I left Tim with our stuff and went to check out the streets around us. From a corner, I spotted a guest house called “Hello” which I had already read good reviews about. I went in, checked the room, which was  reasonable priced, and had a lovely big bed and a hot shower. I was sold immediately, so I ran in the pouring rain to get Tim and checked into our new temporary home.

After we both had long hot showers (by this time it had been two weeks without so much as a cold western shower and I can’t even remember how long it had been without a hot one!) we scouted the main street looking for food options. Soon we discovered, for all its worth, Bukittingi could well be considered the hipster capital of Indonesia. People with crazy hair cuts, lots of hair products, and even some dreads. Their clothes also added to the vibe, with that 90’s revival feeling. To match them, some of the joints were beautifully decorated, and offered all sorts of wonderful food. We splurged and got a calzone, some steak and a tempe burger. I have no regrets, it was sooo fabulous to have those familiar yet forgotten flavours back in my mouth, and I enjoyed every bit of it.

The following day, we decided to take a break from each other. Being with the same person for so long, even if it is the one you love most, can get tiring. While Tim stayed in the hotel, I set out to explore the place. In my backpack, a water bottle, a notebook, the go pro and my kindle. I wandered about without a clear goal, and stumbled upon a recently founded park. From its side, you had a clear view of a deep and gorgeous canyon. I stood around admiring it for a long time, immersed in my own thoughts and happy to have time for myself. After a while I sat at a Pagoda in the same park and continued reading “Children of Dune”, the third book on this epic saga. I was very concentrated on the task in hand, until I suddenly heard a faint noise very close by, about a metre away. I turned around, to find a monkey sitting on the pagoda with me. We locked gazes for a few seconds, I in amazement, he in distrust. No matter how many macaques I have encountered in my trip already, I still get super excited each time and love their sight. He soon jumped away, and I noticed his whole family was walking by a few metres away. I tried to take some pictures, but they were not as thrilled to see me as I was , and fled the scene. A while later a local told me they drop by ever day, searching for scraps and waiting for some charitable soul to feed them.

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My next stop was up a hill and into the old Dutch Fort de Kock (easy jokes aside). Not much remains of the old structures. Instead they have built a pretty awful white building with an observation platform at the top. The grounds themselves are more interesting, as paths go up and down the green area. They also have a bunch of birds in cages, a very sad sight. I spent about 10 minutes staring into an eagle’s eye. I don’t know if you have ever done so to such a bird in captivity, but the sight is heartbreaking. Such majestic creatures unable to spread their wings and fly…

My next dilemma was whether to visit the local zoo. By all foreign accounts, it was a depressing place, dirty, with tiny cages and sad looking animals. I pondered upon it for quite some time. I thought that weathering it would most likely be a wretched experience for me, it was not the animals fault to be confined to such a place, and they deserved to receive a visit from someone that could look at them in the eye and show them some compassion. I don’t know if that was the case or not, but on I went. I took no pictures inside; no point reproducing the scene. It was one of the most miserable experiences of my whole trip (and possibly my life) so I will refrain from publishing anything further… And tell the story only upon request. I made my way back at around six PM with a heavy heart, and a shadow over my being that did not go away for a few days, and is still very alive in me at this moment, almost a month later, when I write about it.

The succeeding morning we got up and enjoyed a great breakfast provided by the hotel. We then set out to explore Panorama Park, which is located right next to the great Sianok Canyon. The park itself was pretty and well maintained, with a few colourful pagodas as rest areas. A lady and her daughter had brought some peanuts and were feeding a family of long tailed macaques. I should say, they were mostly feeding the alpha male, as he kept chasing the rest away from the food and gorging all himself.

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Beyond the park, this astonishing canyon lays as far as the eye can see.  It is hard to describe such a place, and photos barely do it justice, but you will have to settle for them.

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Bellow the park, huge Japanese tunnels lay, built in the midst of WW2. They form a very cool structure, and we were alone the entire time we navigated through the passages. A few windows face the canyon, but have been barred down ever since, and are no longer serviceable as emergency exits. We had a great time wandering around the place.

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Once we emerged on the other side, we headed towards the great wall of Bukittinggi. If you pay close attention to the shot from Panorama Park, you will see the wall on the opposite side of the Canyon. We had to therefore cross the river and climb up endless steps until we regained the altitude we had lost in the caves. We were quite exhausted when we finished the ascend, but happy with a sense of fulfillment.

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We spent a while on the other side and commenced the return, all the way down and back up to get back to town. On the way we found a pedestrian path that led to a tower that magically appeared on the other side of Panorama park. We encountered numerous monkeys on the way, and stopped plenty of times to laugh at/with them. We also found some queer statues, like the one featured below. For lunch, we visited the local market and ate some yummy curries with rice. In the afternoon, we received a visit from our Polish friend Wojtek, and had a great dinner/night talking with him.

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The next morning we woke up, not feeling very flash at all. The cold that had been floating around managed to finally catch up with us and we felt very weak. We stayed another day resting, and finally made our way to Parapat, a town next to Lake Toba. We spent two days there recovering, and received another visit from Wojtek. He let us know that Independence day was coming, and that he was planning to spend it in Medan. We had recently changed our plans after seeing a FB photograph of a traveller fellow hugging an orangutan, and now changed them again to spend this memorable day in a big city with our good Polish mate…

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