15 February 2010
Malacca (Malaysia) – Dumai (Indonesia)
By ferry (plus some cycling)
Malacca was rather slow to wake from the Chinese New Year celebrations, and we weren’t sure if the ferry was even running. Time to move on however and we packed up early and cycled down to the ferry jetty. We were advised to take the second ferry as the first one was choc and block full, whilst the second one wasn’t even half full. The ferry ride took about 2.5 hours and walla, there we were in a new country again – Sumatra Island, Indonesia.
Indonesia appeared to be halfway between India and Africa, hot, humid, crazy traffic and potholed roads, this is more my kind of country (opposed to more organized SE-Asian countries like Malaysia). Don’t get me wrong; I loved Malaysia, but feel very at home in more chaotic countries. I think I’m going to like Indonesia! So here we are back in dirty rooms with peeling paper-thin walls, shared toilets, and bucket showers - what more can I say.
16 February 2010
Dumai – Duri
We followed the busy, potholed road south in blistering heat; I somehow think that this is going to be our lot for the next few months.
I haven’t worked out the money thing yet, the local currency is Rupiah which seems to be about 1 000 Rupiah to one SA Rand. Here we are in a conservative Moslem country again and being stared at yet again (especially in shorts and T Shirt). They will just have to stare as it is far too hot to cycle in long pants and sleeves.
The people seem very friendly and everyone wants to be your friend, we are constantly being invited to stay at their homes. “Hello, how are you?, Where you go? and Welcome to Indonesia” is constantly being shouted from the side of the road. They seem to get the Miss and Mister thing a bit wrong as I’m often called Mister. (A reminder of the “Good morning teacher” in Africa, is the regular “Good morning Mister”, even in the afternoon).
My heat rash was so bad that I opted for an air-con room, but accommodation seems rather expensive in Indonesia and we cycled around for a long time in order to find a reasonably priced room. In general the quality of the rooms are similar to some of the Arabic countries and Pakistan, not to clean, curtains hanging from washing pegs, mouldy peeling walls, and a bit smelly.
17 February 2010
Duri – Minas
The map that I bought in Dumai was rather useless as it showed no km and was a very small print but at least it was better than nothing. We headed for Pekanbaru on the narrow potholed road and I was amazed that the truck drivers were so courteous, sitting behind us until they had space to overtake. This is not a road for listening to the i-pod, we had to be very aware of vehicles on the road. Not only was the road narrow but came with lots of steep little ups and downs.
We could tell that we reaching the equator as it was not only hot and humid but rain came down in buckets every now and again. So we took shelter with the local motorcycles waiting for the worst to pass and then continued along the road. I spotted a sign for a hotel, and we went to enquire even although Ernest said it would be far too expensive as they had security guards at the gate (a sure sign that it is out of our price range). The place turned out to be a resort type of hotel with tennis court, swimming pool, etc. The price list scared us, but after chatting to the management for a while they gave us a decent room for 100 000 Rp, not only with air-con and hot shower, but with dinner and breakfast included - now that’s what I call a good deal.
18 February 2010
Minas – Bangkinang
We were rather slow to leave our luxury accommodation but eventually got underway, and I was pleased that the road leveled out a bit. So we cycled past rice paddies and the ever present timber stalls on stilts under rusted corrugated iron roofs, selling everything imaginable from cigarettes to petrol by the liter. There were Mosques aplenty, some quite impressive and some looking a bit worse for wear.
Although this is a Moslem country they do not seem to be as conservative as some other countries. There appears to be many Girl Schools and women are quite independent, schooting around on their motorbikes, and very much doing their own thing.
We’re becoming really lazy, and by the time we reached Bangkinang we called it a day and found a room for the night.
9 February 2010
Bangkinang - Pankanang
We left at around 10h00 after looking for a cap for myself, (I once again lost my old one). It was by far the best day on the road since we arrived in Indonesia, although hot, humid and hilly it was very scenic past small villages, dense forests thick with ferns, and a large lake where the river was dammed up, probably to feed the hydroelectric plant that we saw earlier.
We crossed a few very large rivers complete with fish farms but had no idea of where we were as our map is not very accurate and the sign boards indicated places not mentioned on the map. The final stretch leveled out and we cycled along a river which, had it been anywhere else, would have been jam packed with holiday resorts. Eventually we spotted a petrol station where we were offered a room to sleep on the floor. As there was a restaurant, showers and toilets we settled in for the night with hordes of people staring and watching our every move. When we sat down to eat our table was shared with curious onlookers. Ha, ha our room was invaded every now and again by people coming to have a look at us. As this is a public room they proceeded to sit down on one of the mats and just look at us. I’m putting the laptop away now as they sitting right on top of me to see what I’m doing. There’s nooo private space here, what a disaster, should have pitched the tent next to the river instead.
During the night the room filled up with other people sleeping over, and I woke in the night to find a local man lying next to me with his hand on my leg; I couldn’t wait for the morning to get out of that room.
20 February 2010
Pankanang – Bukittinggi
I was up at first light, but we still didn’t get away until 9h00. We expected to climb all the way up the mountain to Bukittinggi, which I’ve read is on top of a mountain. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the climb up the pass was only 20km. In the process we crossed the equator but missed the sign somewhere along the way (must have had my head down huffing and puffing up the hill).
On top of the mountain we stopped for a bite to eat and marvel at the view of the surrounding mountains, then it was on the bike again and we flew down the mountain on a very steep winding downhill. The road continued to be busy, especially in the villages, where the main road was packed with busses, trucks, cars, horse drawn carts, motorbike taxis with sidecars and of cause us on our bikes. This part of Sumatra is home to the Minangkabau. With the Minangkabau society being matrilineal, the houses are owned by the women of the family and ownership is passed from mother to daughter. The houses are mostly of timber and have dramatic buffelo-horne like curved roof structures.
Soon we were caught in the tropical rains again. We quickly found shelter and waited for the worst to pass so it was after dark when we arrived in Bukittinggi.
21/22 February 2010
Two days spent doing very little, although we did walk to Panorama Park which has views over the gorge, and we even went down and explored the WWII Japanese tunnels. I still want to know how dog owners manage to sleep with their dogs barking all night long! Just as the dogs went to sleep the mosques started up! At least their purpose is to wake the whole community. This is a Muslim country so there’s no getting away from it, but the dogs??? How can the owners not wake up from that constant barking?
23 February 2010
Bukittingkki – Padang
This must surely rate of one of the best cycling days for a very long time! 95km of downhill past small villages, raging waterfalls, over rivers and through lush and green forests with volcanoes as a backdrop! Oh yes this is volcano county and there are hundreds if not thousands of volcanoes in Indonesia. It’s also a country which has experienced various natural disasters recently, such as the tsunami and a succession of earthquakes.
Early on in the day Ernest and I lost each other somewhere along the way. When I arrived in Padang and was shocked to see the full extent of the devastating earthquake of a few months ago. See and hearing it on TV never seems to be very real. Many buildings have collapsed and are now in ruins, hotels have been destroyed and the few remaining ones, now charge exorbitant rates.
Early on in the day Ernest and I had somehow lost each other along the way. However, just after I pulled into one known cheap hotel, Ernest pulled in there as well - ha, ha there’s just no getting rid of this man! I was however quite relieved to see him, as I was getting a bit worried after I saw a bicycle flatted by a truck along the way and it made me realize how quickly an accident can happen.
Padang remains a busy coastal town with a very scenic beachfront packed with stalls offering crab and prawn meals. We watched the sun set and what a display of color that was.