Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Indonesia - On the Shore of Lake Maninjau

Traditional Batak longhouse
To start out with: we didn't climb the KERINCI volcano. Not that our muscles were suffering from the trek up to DANAU GUNUNG TUJUH. But it was pouring every afternoon and the trails became mudslides, and after our mud surf down from TUJUH, we had to cleanse our clothes, skin, and hair. We figured that this had been enough mud-trekking for a while and chose to go for plan "lazy bum" which was the Hot Springs.

Hot they were! The water bubbled out of the ground with 100°C. The locals actually use the water to boil eggs. Fortunately the had built a long zigzagging canal to a little bathing house at which the water had cooled down to a comfortable 40°.

While waking back, a young boy invited us to come to his school. Then whole bunch of school kids surrounded us as we entered the schoolyard. Eventually we ended up in a classroom with three teachers and 90 or so pupils and after a few hesitant moments the kids, started to practice their English on us:  "what your name? Where you from? This your wife? You have baby?...."

The teachers were equally excited and decided to close the school for the afternoon, so that they could invite us to the English teacher’s home for coffee. Imagine how happy the kids were about a half-day off!
After being spoiled with coffee and snacks we were introduced to half of the village and finally even interviewed by the local journalist.

Next we headed to the port town of PADANG, sadly leaving the wonderful people and landscape of KERINCHI behind us. Now we entered tourist territory. The good news: there was now a welcome alternative to the cramped 'sardine can' busses. The marginally more expensive "Turis Bis" offered some more leg and shoulder space. The luxurious faux leather upholstery made it a true splurge!
Coffee bean roadside drying
Sitting comfortably, for once, we actually had a chance to enjoy the views and scenery. Quite often the bus had to slow down because one side of the road was "blocked" with coffee beans and cinnamon bark laid out to dry on the hot pavement. Interesting: In the west you can buy coffee flavored with "hazelnut" or "French vanilla". In Indonesia they must have choices like "Pirelli" or "Firestone" flavors.

We intended not to stop in PADANG and continue straight on to the tourist Mecca of BUKITTINGGI. Unfortunately we needed to change some money, since the banks close at 3pm we had to stay for the night. Next morning, to our surprise we found the bank lobby was converted in to a Ping-Pong arena. The security guards were looking up from their Ping-Pong match, saying with a huge simile over their faces, that the bank was closed for a holiday!
Curious to know whether it was the annual worship of the "holy Ping Pong God" they replied: "Today is Godfriday!" Of course! How could we forget, that Easter is also being celebrated in the largest Islamic country in the world! Even if they don't usually care much about the Christian religion, they would not want to miss out on an extra day off! Fortunately, we discovered one of the few working ATM's in Padan and it was  so generous to work even on a public holiday... I wish we thought of an ATM before staying the night. We had truly returned to modern civilization.

After an unnecessary night in the rather repulsive PADANG we headed full of expectations to BUKITTINGGI. By the way, the only two "Moonies" that we met in PADANG were also not too psyched by the town’s hospitality. One of them found a scorpion in the shower, while he was still recovering from his malaria.

"Downtown" Bukittinggi
BUKITTINGGI is one of Sumatra’s most popular tourist destinations. not surprisingly we were put off by moneymaking attitude of the locals. There wasn't much left of the hospitality that we had so far been experiencing in southern Sumatra. We were continuously approach by touts... bad memories of JAMBI coming back!
They were trying to get us on overprized tours and excursions through rice paddies, cinnamon plantations... As if we hadn't seen tons of these on the past weeks down south, and who needs a guide for a rice field anyway?

Ngarai Sianok Canyon
We tackled the (supposedly) very rough trek through the NGARAI SIANOK canyon without a guide. No problem! Even the descend and accent through the jungle was not really tough. Unfortunately it started to pour down towards the end of the trek and our afternoon exercise had once more turned into a muddy one. But we were well trained from TUJUH a week back.

Once back in town, we even came across a group of Dutch and French package tour tourists. (They were dressed in shorts and skimpy tank tops, which is not quite the appropriate dress code in a Muslim country, especially for the over 60 age group!) This was the last sign that it was time for us to leave BUKITTINGGI.

Lake Maninjau
Just 15km west of BUKITTINGGI lies the 8 x 17km  large crater lake DANAU MANINJAU. Squeezed in-between the overgrown crater walls and the shore is the sleepy village MANINJAU. This place ought to be a tourist Mecca. The lake and the surrounding tropical forest on the crater walls are amazing. Yet apart from a few simple homestays and caf├ęs there is not much catering for the tourist. Neither lots of souvenir shops nor 5-star hotels (unlike B'TTINGI)

Here I am, sitting on our bungalows veranda, the lakeshore is 9 feet off the doorstep and the nearest building a 5 minutes walk through rice paddies. No people, not touts, just a gorgeous lake and a friendly cat wanting some attention.. Simply a small paradise on earth!!!
Where's the catch?  There's none, if one doesn't mind the daily downpour that is about to start.

... more later...
 NOTE: we left our camera in Singapore, 
all  Sumatra pictures are from the Web