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Written by Peter Smith   
Monday, 20 April 2009 19:38
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Island of Sumatra
Bukkitingi - Yogyakarta
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Day 63: Friday 23rd November -  Pekanbaru to Bukkitingi


We were glad to get away from the dive and all the conversation on the bus was about it and the two back in London who'd booked it and none of it was complimentary.

The journey was through some beautiful scenery with hills, rivers and dense jungle everywhere. Interspersed between were traditional wooden houses with their upward curved corrugated roofs supposedly to stop devils from landing on them.

We stopped for lunch and our first taste of Indonesian food. It was ok. Once again dried up chicken and sludgy rice. There were some complaints but nothing to the ones coming. We were all aware that we were crossing the Equator today but when it was mentioned and the guide announced 'sorry we've passed it' people were not well pleased. So not only had Ozbus booked us into a terrible hotel but had also employed a guide who didn't see the point of standing on the Equator. If the hotel tonight is bad we could see fireworks.

The Hotel Mitre Arena Gemini was not a great deal better and Sue and Co upgraded to the recommended Novotel for 650,000 rm or £35 a room before we even came down from our room. Our room had a shower and mandi but no air con or fan. We agreed to stay because Bukkitingi at 900 metres above sea level should be reasonably cool at night.

After booking in we set off into town with John to find somewhere to eat. The very first place we came to on the main street was an internet café with little signs of food other than a menu. As we were reading the menu the owner came up to us introduced herself as Anita and very quickly sold the place to us. The Turret Café turned out to be a gem of a place, the food was excellent, the surroundings comfortable and calming, except for the odd noisy bike passing and the broadband link was ok.

After the Indonesian food, so far, I decided to go European and have stake and french fries. The stake was very good as was the fries and they came with an accompaniment of tomato etc salad which was the first since leaving
Europe. John's Nasi Gorem, a popular Javan dish of rice, chicken, prawns etc was excellent. A kind of dish of left overs but fresh and tasty. We also had sweets which was rare. I had a bowl of delicious rice pudding with lots of cinnamin and bananas. The beer was ice cold and only 1500 rm the cheapest so far. The local brew is called Bintang and is very good but like all bottle ales gassy.

As we sat waiting for the food we were approached by a local man purporting to be a guide. He quickly brought out two photo albums of groups living as indians on one of the islands of the west coast and said he could arrange it for us. The tour was a minimum of 4 days and so was out of the question. He then presented us with a leaflet of different day tours. Eventually we settled on a half day tour to see the world's largest flower, a canyon he called grand and
LakeManga ( I think). For this we had to pay 500,000rm for three of us and I, always trusting, left a 100.000rm deposit. We left the café content, tired and tipsey agreeing to see our new friend and guide Awanga at 11.00am in the morning.



 Day 64: Saturday 24th November: -  Bukittinggi, Hotel Mitre Arena Gemini

 Didn't get out of bed until 10.00am, had a leisurely mandi and breakfast and set off to meet Awanga our new friend and guide for the day. He approached us well before we reached the café and even though I told him we were coming he didn't seem to trust us. I explained I was trying to find a sim for my phone and he organised it immediately. Down at the Turret Anne and Ted were having drinks when we joined them. By the time we all jumped into his minibus we now numbered six. This included Noreen, Ted, John, Mac, Anne and myself of course.

The tour to see the flower started with a drive through beautiful countryside and well kept little hamlets with tidy gardens and immaculately manicured paddy fields. Awang had told us he was not allowed to take us to see the flower and must hand us over to a local guide. The walk with our new guide to the flower started easy enough down into a series of paddy fields which in itself was a revelation and an education. What looks so natural from above consists of carefully manmade and maintained mounds and water courses. As we made our way carefully walking on the top of the mounds we passed smiling workers, ankle deep maintaining the structures. One old man who was very willing to have his photo taken as he used a rotavator to turn the soil whilst others were attending to the mounds gave us a large smile and welcoming wave. Peacefully grazing by the side of the field was a very large oxen who looked as though he could do some serious damage with his large horns.

As we made our way to the top of the fields we dropped into the stream which was the life source of the system. Things now began to get a little more demanding as we negotiated swamps, fallen trees and bushes and leaches. As I was stood with the new guide (forgot his name) he folded his leg behind him, pointed to a very small black strip and said 'Leach'. He then pulled it off, grabbed a large leaf, placed the mite on it, took out his lighter and began to burn both until it was dead. I was surprised he'd killed it but I understood him to say that it takes his blood and he takes its' life. A kind of fair swap. We had now been walking steadily upwards for half an hour and the humidity (70%) was causing me some distress. Things gradually got better as the stream now entered a very narrow gorge, one person wide, with the walls rising 10 to 15 feet above us. At least it gave some shade and the air was cool but damp. This did not last long and once again we were crossing the stream from side to side and rising steeply. The last few hundred yards took us up the side of the valley with only the exposed tree roots as help.

By the time we got our first glimpse of the flower my clothes were drenched in sweat. I actually physically shook my head and the sweat sprayed off like water off a dog's back after having a swim. I was actually feeling a little sick and dizzy from the heat and humidity and had to take a little time to compose myself. A few minutes early the new guide asked me if I play sports and when I said many years ago he replied you still have stamina which I thought was a strange word for him to use with his very limited vocabulary. Only twenty minutes later and my stamina had left me as I hung on to the tree roots on a 60 degree incline staring at what looked like a very big plastic flower some 60 cm across. We were informed that this is not the biggest they grow, quite often they pass 100 cms. The flower only blooms for seven days and was surrounded by black looking cow pats which we were told were dead rotting ones. The flower is a parasite that lives off the tree roots. It took a good hour, of some difficult walking at times, but it was a magical moment for all six of us and one we will remember. We actually felt as though we'd achieved something. Sitting on a bus for ten weeks is not the best way to train for a jungle trek, all be it, a very small one. I will remember for the rest of my life the heat and sweat and John doing a very good Tarzan impression that really echoed up the narrow gorge and made the guide laugh and Anne shouting ,getting me out of here', etc. If you've got a couple of thousand pounds to spare and time on your hands you to can see the world's largest flower. If not go to
KewGardens, they've got one to.

Our next call was to the so called
Grand Canyon which was little more than a river gorge. Although it was disappointing we didn't care we'd done enough seeing the flower to warrant the 150,000 rm a piece. As we sat looking up the gorge from a drink stall we got our first view of an Indonesian fighting cock caged by the roadside. His proud chest was bare and he looked very much worse for wear. John remarked you should see the other one. I also made another interesting observation, at least to me, when we asked for ice cold drinks at the stall the lad serving said he hadn't a fridge but took our money and went across the road to another stall and came back with them. Not something that would happen in the UK. The same thing happened in Varanasi in India when the photo shop sent out a runner to get me the right card reader for my camera. Strange that in small communities outsourcing should exist.

The last part of our tour led us up the beautiful hillside past more well manicured hamlets and gardens to overlook the lake. The lake looked beautiful and remind me of Crater Lake in
Southern OregonUSA: it also being a very large volcano. All that was missing was the snow.

It's strange how things turn out, just twenty four hours earlier I was handing over a deposit to a complete stranger with little expectation of a good outcome and now we have had the pleasure and satisfaction of the flower walk, the scenic drive through the area with our very own private chauffeur who also bought us little treats of the area to try, the stunning views over the lake and most important of all the company of a very interesting guide and new friend. We all agreed we'd just had one of the best days so far of the whole trip.

The days was not over yet by a long way. In our conversation with Anita the night before she'd promised to prepare us a local traditional meal. When we arrived at the Turret the table was beautifully laid out with tablecloth, serviettes and a central revolving china food server. The food came very fast and consisted of a very tasty soup of chicken, noodles, vegetables and prawns; fish steamed and served in palm leaves and then the selection of dishes placed in the revolving serving dishes. To finish we had a kind of mango paste pressed and served once again in palm leaves. There were a selection of chicken, beef and vegetables and fried rice. The total bill for six people including the beers and fruit juices came to 500,000 rm just over £30. Our guide Awang who sat on the next table kindly refused my invitation to eat with us as though it was not the done thing.

After our excellent meal we crossed the road to another bar to celebrate Mary's birthday. As we set off Awang leapt onto his motorbike to find a birthday cake and Anita found a single candle. Things in the other bar was far from jovial. Sue and Mary and a few others who'd ignored our comments about the excellent food and service at the Turret had now sat for over an hour for food. Mary was arguing with a young barman come waiter about her stake meal which had just arrived. 'She asked him what is it?' He said 'stake'. She replied 'show me'. This was repeated with the waiter looking more embarrassed. Eventually Mary grabbed the folk and slid it across the centre of the plate saying 'where's the stake'. Sue and Mary walked out after a round of happy birthday.

We spent the last part of the evening checking our mail and trying to delete the junk mail. All in all an excellent day with a very good tour with a lovely man as a guide, great food cooked by a very charming woman, plenty of cold cheap beer and a bit of fun to finish off with.



 Day 65: Sunday 25th November - Bukkitingi  (Pedang Airport) - Yogyakarta

The dreaded day had arrived, time to get on yet another plane. As we set out Leighton informed us that we were not driving from Jakarta as previously told but doing two flights. The first as previously stated a one and a half hour flight to the capital but now followed by another one and half hours later to Yogatarka. Although the second flight was only an hour I was not well pleased. This is now making a mockery of the idea of an overland trip to OZ. If all goes to plan we will have caught four planes. Mac announced in the café yesterday before our guided tour that he was taking public transport and not flying. The journey time is 29 hours down to the ferry to Java. I would have gone with him but for the logistics of our luggage. He's the only one staying true to the original ideal. We calculated in the café that only six of us have stayed with the coach all the way. The list consists of Fe, Viv, Claire, Zoe, Anne and myself. All the rest have left to do other things. At the moment we are 18 and it will be interesting to see who turns up in Bali for the last flight.

The drive to the airport was interesting with beautiful views of a valley and its' river, a 75 metre high waterfall and a single rail line which looked disused but added romance to the scene. After a few miles Kate announced she'd left her passport back at the hotel. After a phone call the hotel agreed to send it to the airport by car.

PedangAirport looked very pleasant from the outside with low buildings roughly based on traditional wooden structures. The inside was just a large hall to hold people with very few shops, bars etc and no sign of alcohol. From my point of view it was just another nervous environment to sit around waiting in. It became very clear that the plane was late and this could well jepordise catching our connection. A thirty minute delay became an hour. There was no sign of any planes carrying the Adamair logo. Eventually an orange 737, looking for all the world like Easyjet, landed and quickly taxied into place and shed its' passengers. Within minutes we were boarding and taking off. The 90 minute flight was okay but would have been better if they'd handed out cold alcoholic drinks instead of cartons of warm water. Very lucky Anne had found me cold cans of beer in the airport. The connecting flight took off over 90 minutes late and did provide Anne with beautiful sunset on her side of the plane. I sat quietly watching a cloud storm in the distance and found the landing at Yogyakarta smoother than at Jakarta.

The journey from the airport to the hotel scheduled for an hour took about 15 minutes. The hotel was yet again a basic affair with a money grabbing owner. Our room had an air con blower which only worked once we'd paid the manager 50,000 rm a day. When I pointed out we had no hot water and would he reduce the price accordingly he said no. I replied he could bollocks for the money. The breakfasts were very poor consisting of half toasted sweat bread, a strange tasting butter which I compared to Kerrygold and almost started a war between the Irish and myself. There was no fruit juice to drink just green tea or cups of sludgy coffee. The only thing that saved this place was the swimming pool which was clean and the area around it. Had it not been for this I think there would have been a mass walkout.

The area surrounding the hotel was a backpackers' haven with lots of cheap bars, cafes, restaurants, internet cafes etc, etc. The little restaurant/ bar next door was buzzing by the time we'd checked in and walked the twenty five yards from our room to its front door. A group of teenagers playing guitar, fiddle, bass, percussion and mandelin had many of the bus singing along with old time favourites: Beatles, Stones, Bob Marley and Everly Bros numbers etc. The food was very good to. The band played for an hour or so and then left to carry on a few doors down at the Ragae Bar.

The reggae bar was a dissapointment, the lads were now amplified but still good but the beer was dearer and and there was nothing else alcoholic to satisfy Anne and John.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 April 2009 19:17