“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway


9 March 2015

Back on the bike in Bukittinggi

22nd - 25th February 2015

The miss mashed streets of Bukittinggi, West Sumatra
The towns clock tower
Its was the early morning by the time we reached Bukittinggi and our first impressions weren't much improved on Dumai. We really felt as if we had been dropped in at the deep end and that's saying something considering the countries we have already passed through. But our initial fears of limited tourist information turned out to be a flash in the pan.
     We stayed at the Orchid Hotel purely because it was one of the only hotels listed in the lonely planet guide. If you come here looking for hostels your going to be disappointed as there aren't any. The digs at the Orchid were cheap and basic but the staff were helpful, friendly and offered great advice. They even agreed to let us change rooms after we discovered our first room was infested with a backpackers worst nightmare "BED BUGS". The staff even went as far as to remove and incinerate the mattress which is a first for us in Asia. The guys at Orchid are well known in town not just for the accommodation but the tours on offer as well. Roni Putra runs "Ronis Tours" from the hotel lobby who offer trips around the region ranging from treks, motorbike tours and snorkeling trips at real cheap prices.

Baloo's compound is the BARE NECESSITIES
     As tempting as these trips were for our first day we were quite happy with just exploring the sights around town.........well frankly the sights were limited to a clock tower, a zoo, a fort with a funny name and an awesome canyon.
Not really a Disney story for little Dumbo
     The zoo was like the animal version of Auschwitz and sadly we had to witness conditions that would leave the staff no choice but to up sticks and run away to Patagonia if the wider world ever found out. Bit of a dark statement I know but considering the town is lucky to have vast areas of jungle at its doorstep it seems a little strange that elephants, bears and other large animals have to stay in tiny concrete compounds chained to the floor. The only conciliation was that the Tiger compound was empty which either meant that they had already passed away and were now finally at peace or they had managed to escape possibly through a tunnel nicknamed "Harry".

Japanese tunnels under Panoramic Park
Across from Stalag Luft III Safari Park was the towns sentinel "Fort De Kock". Established by the Dutch in 1825 by Captain Bauer and named after Hendrik Merkus de Kock this important strategic point remains as a crumbling shell of its former self. A small entrance fee is required (which includes the zoo) but its only worth visiting to get a good view of town. The fort remains as a sort of public park with a random collection of caged birds ranging from chickens and fighting cocks to a large eagle. Like the zoo the conditions for the larger raptors are extremely poor and will horrify most western tourists.

More Monkeys
Amazing sunset skies near Panoramic Park
By the time we depleted most of the sites in town it was time to check out the sunset and Mr Roni had advised we head to Panorama Park on the edge of town and the reward was staggering. Amazing views of Sianok Canyon, with the rice paddies stretching to the valley floor, boardered by steep bare bedrock buttresses. The views here are so quintessentially Asian images should sit next to the definition in the Oxford Dictionary. Panorama park has another bow in its string to gather visitors in the form of a labyrinth of tunnels built into the bedrock by the Japanese during their occupation of the area in the 1940's. You can arrange for a guide but to be honest it's more fun to explore the Lubang Japang (Japanese Caves) on your own.
This amazing feat of engineering contains living quarters, ammo stores, kitchen and tactical headquarters. A great escape from the intense heat of the day and a reminder of just how far the Japanese Empire stretched.

Sianok Canyon from Panoramic Park
     With the sights of Bukittinggi well and truly ticked off we turned our sights further a field and looked to Mr Roni's Tours for inspiration. Due to the distances we need to travel in two months we decided to skip a four day scuba tour and opted for a one day trip to Lake Maninjau.
A slightly cloudy view of Lake Maninjau
Mr Roni and Jono on an unusually quiet stretch of road
Maninjau is a caldera lake created by volcanic activity 52,00 years ago and is famous in the region for fishing and the surrounding agriculture. The road descending into the caldera is quite dangerous and contains 44 tight bends.
Despite enjoying a great scooter trip in Laos a few months ago we decided that we would travel as passengers this time to get the most out of the day. Mr Roni opted to guide us himself with a colleague and as he grew up on the shores of the lake he was the perfect human encyclopedia. We certainly saw much more than we would have on our own with stops at the home of a family who make brown sugar for a living (not the kind the Rolling Stones sing about) and a village famous for precious rocks and silversmiths. The brown sugar production was particularly interesting and this sweet commodity is an important ingredient in many locals dishes or a tasty snack on its own. Although after two helpings you may contract diabetes.

A landscape very reminiscent of Vietnam
Bruvs with Beards......well kind of
     OK we wimped out of riding bikes ourselves this time but whether your brave enough to ride yourself or hop on as a passenger the motorbike is really the best way to travel in this part of the road and we are quickly become real advocates.

     Despite the initial confusion and despair Bukittinggi  was an important pit stop in Sumatra. It confirmed the reason why we made such an effort to get here in the first place. It wasn't because we had to for transit reasons, it was due to the rumours regarding the outstanding natural beauty and isolation from the well trodden tourist trail.  as it turned a potential bad experience of a country into a good one although maybe I speak too soon as we prepare for a huge jump to the capital of Java, Jakarta.

One last look from Sianok Canyon

Useful Links

Hendrik Merkus de Kock
Lake Maninjau

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