Trans-Sumatran Express

The Trans-Sumatran highway by name may sound like a modern day road you’d expect to find in the West, don’t be fooled, it should really be named the ‘Trans-Sumatran dirt track, whiplash inducing, wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy passage’. The Indonesian busses are cramped, smokey, loud and the air-con is either on full or off, truly living up to the ‘no logic’ zone tag. The 17 hours overnight from Toba to Bukittinggi is not a nice experience but is essential, never before have my eyes been so dry that a thin layer of crust has formed over the cornea. For anyone planning to do this trip be prepared to be ill for at least 24 hours.

Bukittinggi is the main town within the Minangkabau highlands, and was once a Dutch hill station. You won’t hear anyone speaking like they have a mouthful of peas nowadays, but the centre piece of the town is the Jam Ganang clock tower which was built in the 1920’s as a gift from the Dutch queen. A stone in place claims that the clock’s faces are unique because the Roman numeral for four is displayed ‘IIII’ and not ‘IV’. I find it hard to believe that this was intentional and not just another typical Indonesian clock-up, no logic zone!

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Bukittinggi has a zoo, and like all other zoos in Asia, it’s depressing. Underweight camels, three legged tigers and one armed monkeys, maybe this was some kind of zoo for land-mine victim animals. Seeing the caged orangutans was very different from seeing them in the national park, the male had a broken finger and the female was a little overweight like she’d got settled in a comfortable relationship and ordered too many Chinese takeaways, in all honestly they didn’t seem at all bothered by being locked up all day. The highlight for me was the baby gibbon, which isn’t even in a cage, this is the first zoo that I’ve ever visited where you can freely grapple with the animals…

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We didn’t waste too much time in Bukittinggi as we wanted to check out the surrounding areas. We opted to rent a room, pardon, a shed in Lake Maninjau for a total of £2.50 a night. Like Lake Toba, Maninjau was also a volcano, but that’s where the similarities end. Maninjau has more of a local feel to it, in fact we were the only white people there. Fish farming is the main source of income for the people and it was nice to live a ‘back to basics’ lifestyle of washing in the lake and shitting in the woods. Here the locals use old school buffalo ploughs in the crop fields and have a genius idea of using trained baboons to climb trees to fetch coconuts…

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One man and his baboon

The Harau Valley (pronounced like how a Chinese man would say hello…harrow) was a three hour drive away from Maninjau but we decided to jump on the bike and go anyway. We arrived at the valley just in time to spend a few minutes admiring the sheer cliff faces and see some paddy pickers before the heavens opened, for all the valley was beautiful it turned out to be too much of a literal pain the backside after six hours worth of driving…

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What a pair of helmets

Our time in Sumatra has ended too soon. Sadly Indonesian visa regulations and the massive distances have restricted us from seeing any more of this enormous island. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s the gentle, charming people or the amazing and interesting landscapes, but Sumatra has ticked all the right boxes for me. I believe I’ll be back one day to explore some more and to see if Indonesians can ever find some logic for their zone, although, then things just wouldn’t be the same. As usual I found an international Toon fan just as we were leaving for the airport, even though this one thought he was wearing a Juventus shirt…

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Have you ever seen a Mackem in Maninjau? Not likely!

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Categories: Indonesia | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Trans-Sumatran Express

  1. a good story..
    like this 😀

  2. did you sleep in harau valley? 🙂

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