Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Danau Toba to Bukittingi via Medan

The flight Medan to Padang. Danau Toba lake from where we came is near Medan

We had a final full day at the fabulous Tabo Cottages resort on Samosir island and, as Jackie was feeling better (antibiotics working very quickly even though they were out of date), we rented a couple of bicycles to see some local sights. The Kings Tomb and the Stone Chairs are things most visitors are pointed to so we thought we'd better go and have a look. Other sights were further away (22km) but we didn't fancy anything that long in the heat so settled for a 16km circuit.
Padang airport to Bukittinggi. The lake to the left is a volcano that we hope to visit, below and left is Mount Singgalang and below right is Mount Marapi that we hope to climb
Out on the bikes on Samosir island
After rejecting two mountain bikes they offered they wheeled out a really nice one in exasperation which we think was someones personal bike, but anyway I was a happy bunny and Jackie had a nice, fully working bike as well, so off we went. Saw the Kings Temple, don't know who he was as the guide only spoke Indonesian, but he was Christian and he died 360 years ago. 

At the Kings Tomb
Followed a track through rice paddies past some houses and a church and onto the stone chairs, which are just that. They were used by tribal chiefs for important meetings apparently. I read somewhere that they used to be cannibals, cutting the skin of their victims before rubbing salt and chilli in and then beheading them - nice! I believe the Dutch talked them out of it and converted them to Christianity (thankfully). There were some older statues that predated Christianity and looked more animalistic, but the locals forgot about them after their conversion, so we visited those as well and found some locals who hadn't forgotten about them and wanted 20,000Rp (£1) each to see them.

Anyway, the following day we sadly said goodbye, got on the ferry at the jetty by the swimming pool of the resort and headed back to Parapat on the mainland to get our pre-booked shared taxi back to Medan for our flight to Padang in West Sumatra and then on to Bukittingi.

A Protestant church, the majority religion amongst the Batak people in Danau Toba
The Stone Chairs on Samosir Island
Now here was our dilemma, we could have taken a bus straight to Bukittingi from Parapat, it takes 15 hours, its through the night leaving at 4:00pm, arriving at 7:00am, the road is not very good and its a 'sitting only' bus not reclining into a bed. People smoke and often people throw up we heard. The alternative, a 5 hour shared taxi back to Medan, night in a hotel there, a 1 hour flight to Padang then a 2 hour shared taxi ride to Bukittingi. The flight was only £48 for us both including luggage, but its not environmentally friendly, the taxi journey starts off going in the wrong direction to a city we don't like and we have to spend a night there. Tricky, but we went for the flight option.

The older animalistic statues that predated the Batak peoples conversion to Christianity
A final photo of the pool and lake at Tabo Cottages. I call this art!
Back in Parapat, the shared taxi at 11:00am we had booked had only us waiting. I appreciate its not economic to take just us at 90,000Rp each, but after we'd waited until 11:30 I was getting fed up so started to put pressure on the guy at the desk. Understanding his problem of economics I told him we're not prepared to wait all day for other people to turn up, they offered the price at 11:00am so they'll have to take the loss. 
The twee clocktower at Bukittinggi
He made phone calls, wandered around then a minivan turned up and we got in. Then a local couple with three small children got into the back seat built for 3, then the lady we knew from the bookstall on the island got in the front, then after 5 minutes driving it stopped again to pick up three teenagers, one on our middle row with us, one in the back with the family of five and the other on the front seat with the lady! Crazy! The girl in between Jackie and me fell asleep and had her head on my shoulder and it was all a bit cramped. Jackie said its because I got grumpy with the guy, maybe it was, but we got back to Medan by 4:30'ish and checked into the D'Primo hotel which is right above the railway station, making it easy to get the train back to the airport.

The green drink is an avocaodo shake (have you tried one of these Robyn and Murray?), quite nice. The white building behind is our Grand Kartini hotel and the green building next to our hotel is the mosque with very loud 'call to prayers' chanting and praying 5 times a day, starting at 04:30am! The 'Hello' Hotel on the left is the hotel we're going back to when we return, it's nicer and cheaper, but it's still close to the mosque!
Friendly Ginger with a badly healed broken leg. Wanted lots of fuss!
We booked our flight with Lion Air, a budget carrier that only operates in and around Sumatra as they are forbidden to fly elsewhere due to their poor safety record. We looked at their statistics and they haven't killed anyone in the last few years but they have had an instance of a plane overshooting the runway and injuring people! It'll be fine! The flight was booked for 13:00 the next day so we planned a late rise, late easy breakfast that was included in our room rate and then off to the airport. That was not to be! Went to check in online to find our flight had been changed to 06:00am, which was confirmed when we phoned them. Our plane was broken they told us, so we could have a refund, go the next day or take the flight they offered. Another day in Medan? No! We'll take the 06:00am flight, get up at 03:00am to catch the 04:00am train (have to on the platform 20 minutes before the train they told us), miss breakfast and feel tired all day! Perhaps we should have taken the 15 hour bus from Parapat after all!

The main entrance to the Japanese wartime tunnels
In the tunnels. They were quite extensive, we got lost at one point!
We got there OK on a very nice new plane and there were no problems other than a slightly bumpy landing. Was pleased to see it slow down before the end of the runway and taxi slowly in though! Found a shared taxi outside and, once again it was only us, so I saw the same problem over again, trying not to show my grumpiness and leaving negotiations to Jackie. To our relief we set off with just one other passenger and plenty of space to stretch out for the 2 hour journey up into the mountains.

There were quite a few of these about, some not very friendly!
Padang is on the western shores of Sumatra, not far from where the 2004 tsunami occurred and they have had several other quite large earthquakes since that haven't made the headlines, but still caused quite a bit of damage. It sits right on the fault line between the Indo-Australian plate and the Eurasian plate, so its constantly grumbling.

Nice family photo with Sianok canyon behind
Bukittingi is inland and north and is in amongst several volcano's one of which, Mount Marapi, is constantly grumbling, but is open for hikers. We may do it, haven't decided yet. In getting here we've crossed the equator, but only just, we're just over a quarter of a degree (18' to be precise) into the southern hemisphere so, with the spring equinox only a few days away the midday sun is directly overhead. We're up at 1000m above sea level here so its a bearable temperature (mid to high twenties C) but the sun is very strong so we have to be careful not to get too sunburnt. Our room at the Grand Kartini has no air-con or fan and last night it was slightly warm but we did sleep OK.

The Dutch built Fort du Kock. we climbed to the top of it!
Actually we slept until about 04:30am, that's when the loud speakers in the mosque next door came to life with very loud wailing, followed by a voice talking very earnestly for half an hour. Its all very Muslim here and there are mosques everywhere and they do this 'call to prayers' 5 times a day! Last nights meal at a nice Muslim restaurant served no alcohol (almost not available anywhere here) and during our meal another 'call to prayer' chant started. There was some nice music playing in the restaurant at the time and when I saw our man go over to the stereo I assumed he was going to turn it up to drown it out - not a bit, off went the music and although they didn't get their prayer mats out they were very respectful. I suppose church bells in the UK ring out early on Sunday morning so we can't complain (but it is only 1 day a week, not every day like it is here).

The bridge connecting Fort do Kock to the zoo
Bukittingi is a pleasant enough town set high on a hill with views of the surrounding volcano's (when we can see them) and the climate is typical of the mountains, bright clear start with blue sky, until early afternoon when the clouds roll in and, on the two afternoons we've been here, thunderstorms. There's Dutch colonial buildings here including a very twee clock tower built in 1920 when the Queen of Holland gifted a clock to the town and they needed a tower to put it in. When the Japanese took over in WW2 they took off the weather vane and dome and put a Japanese roof on, but that was replaced by a typical sweeping pointed Indonesian roof after independence in 1945. There's some underground tunnels built for the Japanese by slave labour nearby, an impressive canyon, a Dutch fort atop a hill and a depressing zoo to visit. Not as depressing as the zoo we visited in Kuala Lipis in Malaysia last year it has to be said, but still not very good.

Another view of the bridge from the road below. as usual, not many 'rules of the road' on display!
Jackie finds another kitten - one of about 4 I think!
Tomorrow we go further north, virtually onto the equator, to the Harau Valley which reads as an impressive valley surrounded by sheer granite cliffs and jungle. There is rock climbing apparently and Ikbal at Andy Home stay, where we've booked, is apparently the man to see (although we probably won't as we don't like to trust other peoples equipment and we've heard he only has size 41 climbing shoes!). We've booked 2 nights only with an option to extend if we like it. We're not sure as its very rustic, bucket cold showers and non-flushing western toilets that you have to throw a bucket of water down afterwards. There is electricity some of the time apparently but no WiFi, so its going to be really 'back to nature'! All TripAdvisor reports give it 'excellent' or 'very good' and their meals apparently are fabulous so we may love it, but we'll see! Spoke to him on the phone yesterday, his English was very good and he fully understood our reticence. He's taking people back to Padang tomorrow so I asked if he would pick us up on his way back through Bukittingi to save us two busses and an ojek mototorbike ride, which he thinks he can do. We hope we'll enjoy it, but no report until we get back to civilisation!

BMW2002, or should it be the other BMW2000? Who knows?
We've also been planning our exit from Bukittingi at the end of our stay in preparation of our flight home from KL on 31st March. We could return to Padang and get a flight to KL, OR... We could get an overnight 10 hour sitting only bus across Sumatra to Dumai, then a ferry over to Melaka in Malaysia and finally a bus back to KL for our flight home. We fancy the bus ride - its more authentic - stupid or what? Our Lonely Planet guide says the tour company BMW2002 is the place to go to book this, but in their usual inaccurate way the place we found from their book description was BMW2000, a different company. We spoke to them, we spoke to another company and, today we found BMW2002 in an entirely different place. Thank heavens for Google Translate otherwise we couldn't have understood each other. Were thinking of buying three seats on the bus for a bit more comfort, but the whole thing is probably going to be horrendous! However, it'll be an adventure and that's what we're all about. Watch this space!

No comments:

Post a Comment