Sumatra: Padang

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To get from Lake Maninjau to Padang the only direct bus leaves at 6am. Not wanting to get up that early I decided to take two buses. First I got a minibus to Lubuk Basung (Rp.10000, 30mins) and the driver dropped me off on a large road where I immediately got on the bus to Padang (Rp.15000, 3 hours plus). The journey was pleasant though slow, with frequent glimpses of the sea as the road followed the coast to the south.

The bus terminated before Padang city centre and I hopped in an angkot (minibus) to get to my hotel. According to what I had found out online, Hotel Tiga Tiga seemed cheap. The hotel receptionist showed me an expensive-looking price list, over twice as much as the prices I had seen online, then taking the price of the cheapest room, she added tax, then gave me a 50% discount. In the end the price was Rp.77000 for a single room, private bathroom, cold water only and no breakfast. When I tried to haggle a discount for a 3-night stay she told me that because I was a foreigner I should not expect her to lower the price any more. I was quite shocked by the outward “foreigner” treatment and checked in for just one night. The room was large with an oversized bathroom, and although it wasn’t exactly dirty, it seemed old and shabby, not in good condition at all. Never mind, I thought, just for one night, and I quickly looked for alternative accommodation online. I came upon the website for Brigitte’s House, a guesthouse that opened just four months ago. By phone I was able to book a dorm bed with breakfast for Rp.75000 per night. Since this would save me the cost of a meal each day it seemed worthwhile. So I spent my first night in Padang at Hotel Tiga Tiga.

In the evening I went out for dinner and walked along the road next to the beach. I liked that this large city was right on the coast, giving it a relaxed seaside town feel. Looking out across the ocean several small islands were clearly visible on the horizon. I ate satay and drank coconut juice straight from a coconut as I watched the sun set over the ocean.

sunset over the ocean

sunset over the ocean

The next morning I moved hotels. Brigitte’s House was so much nicer, set in a quiet neighbourhood in the south of the city. It is in fact Brigitte’s house where she and her family live, and she has made it into a guesthouse with just a few rooms. I rented a dorm bed in a room with three beds for Rp.75000 including free wifi and breakfast. The room was lovely and clean and the bed exceptionally comfy. The shared bathroom, also very clean, had a shower but only cold water. Given the hot weather in Padang a cold shower was actually very refreshing. I checked in and then headed straight out to explore.

I was curious to see the hill known as Gunung Padang (Padang Mountain), right where the river meets the sea. So I set off walking, crossing the river at Siti Nurbaya Bridge and headed for the hill. Unfortunately during this short walk I heard more calls of “hello mister” and similar irritating white foreigner attention than I had heard anywhere else on my entire trip. Nevertheless I continued my walk and followed a small footpath around the base of the hill. The scenery quickly changed from village to jungle and the views out to sea and back to the shore were fantastic.

buildings on the river edge

buildings on the river edge

A couple of young men decided to pester me, the lone white woman, and insisted on firstly following me, then when I stopped, chatting to me. After a while a group of teenagers passed on the footpath, and I decided to start walking again so I could walk close behind them and hopefully lose my stalkers. This tactic was successful and I followed the path with many many steps as it rose up to the peak of the hill. From the top the view was spectacular. On one side it was possible to see the whole city of Padang spread out along the coast with the beach and then the huge expanse of ocean dotted with tiny islands. The other side of the hill looked out to Pantai Air Manis (Air Manis Beach) and many more small islands. At low tide it is possible to walk from Pantai Air Manis to the nearest island.

I sat on one of the many benches and rested, sweating profusely after the long uphill slog in the heat. I was glad I’d brought some water with me because there were no stalls or shops at the peak, just a toilet and places to sit.

The two men who had followed me earlier showed up at the top of the hill and I did my best to ignore them and hoped that they were harmless. Also enjoying the view was a family and when they were about to descend to the bottom of the hill, one of them came over and said that she was concerned about the two men and suggested it would be safer for me to go with them. I agreed and so we made our way slowly back down, chatting along the way. We stopped and looked at the grave of Siti Nurbaya, hidden behind a large rock down some steep steps. She was a local heroine or literary figure whom the parkland of the hill is named after, Taman Siti Nurbaya. As the story goes, Siti Nurbaya was at the centre of a complex love triangle. Ultimately she was poisoned to death and this hill became her grave.

view of the city from Gunung Padang

view of the city from Gunung Padang

From Gunung Padang and Taman Siti Nurbaya I walked back across the bridge and into the city centre. I wanted to find out if there would be any music performances at the Taman Budaya during my stay, which there weren’t, and I found myself at the Adityawarman Museum (Rp.1500). The museum is set in a park-like area and is built in the shape of a traditional Minangkabau house. Inside were many exhibitions – it is much bigger than it looks from outside. There were displays of model Minangkabau houses, weapons, household items, and information about the Minangkabau matrilineal system. Downstairs there was a room of displays about the people of Mentawai, with examples of hunting equipment, jewellery and black-and-white photographs showing Mentawaian people. There was then a larger room devoted to Minangkabau wedding costume, which varies from between regions. Further rooms displayed traditional musical instruments, information about flora and fauna, and much more. It was generally very interesting. Forced out by closing time (3.30pm), having underestimated the size of the place, I strolled back to my homestay, pleased to have seen and done so much in a day, but looking forward to some peace and quiet from the men shouting at me in the street.

The next day, my last in Sumatra, I had a more relaxing time and focussed on buying souvenirs. Padang is famous for two types of snackfood: kripik balado and karak kaliang. I found the shop Christine Hakim very near my homestay with a huge range of local and regional snackfoods. Taking snacks as “oleh-oleh” or gifts for friends and family back home is big business in Indonesia and many people were buying box-loads. I bought some kripik balado and some karak kaliang to take back to Java.

In the evening I once again went to the beach and watched an even more fantastic sunset. The sky was fairly clear and, as I ate my soto (rice soup) and drank iced tea, the sun very quickly dipped down behind the horizon leaving a brilliance of orange and red in the sky.

a beautiful sunset

a beautiful sunset

Resting up at my homestay and preparing for my journey home the following day, I felt like I had been away for longer than two weeks, with so many kilometres covered, places seen and people met. I had spent no more than three nights in one place and more often just one or two. My whirlwind tour of Sumatra had been a success. I was happy to have seen a great deal in a short time and have had a taster of this diverse island.

Sumatra: Lake Maninjau

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Lake Maninjau is a fairly short bus ride from Bukittinggi. I took an angkot (minibus) to the bus terminal (Rp.2000) and from there caught the bus to Maninjau (Rp.15000), or rather I boarded the bus and then waited for an hour while it filled up with passengers before departing. Lake Maninjau is, like Lake Toba, the result of a volcanic eruption, a lake in a crater. The last part of the journey took us straight down into the crater via a series of 44 numbered hairpin bends on the narrow road. Having picked a seat near the front so I didn’t feel sick, it was terrifying watching the bus so nearly going off the side of the road as it slowly turned the tight corners. I was glad I wasn’t driving!

Alighting in the town named after the lake, Maninjau, I walked down the main road and out of the town towards the area with homestays. Maninjau itself seemed a fairly unremarkable small town, with some traditional Minangkabau shaped rooftops. Many of the houses were built from wooden planks, with little window panes, and the typical corrugated metal roofs. I liked seeing these quaint houses.

Houses near the lake

Houses near the lake

After looking at two homestays which did not impress me, I saw the turning to Cafe and Homestay 44, a small path leading down from the main road to the edge of the lake. I followed the path and came to a series of wooden bungalows and a cafe. The beach area was kept as a grassy garden with palm trees and some steps leading down to the water’s edge. This was a beautiful peaceful setting. I got a simple but nice wooden bungalow for Rp.40000 per night. The bathroom was shared with two other rooms but there were no other guests while I was there.

The woman who ran Homestay 44, named after those hairpin bends, was very friendly. She and her husband, who had since passed away, set up the cafe and homestay in the early 1990s. They were always busy with guests. Then, in 1998, Krismon, the massive economic crisis, hit Indonesia, and their business and others in the area suffered terribly. Since then the local tourism industry has never fully recovered. Now the homestay is run by her grown-up children as well. I ate meals at the cafe and found them always delicious, with ample portions. Whether Indonesian or Western food, the flavour was just right. One of the sons told me he had spent a month learning to cook Western food from a Dutch man. It was also wonderful for me to stay in a place where I could relax without people trying to sell me things. I hope places like Homestay 44 manage to survive.

Lake Maninjau is much smaller than Lake Toba, but still impressively large, and having seen Lake Toba just a few days before, Maninjau is the second largest lake I’ve ever seen. Lake Maninjau is also more peaceful than Lake Toba. The only boats I saw were fishermans’ canoes, and down at the edge of the lake there was hardly anyone around. I spent time just watching the clouds move up and down over the hills on the opposite side of the lake, about 8km away. Sometimes it was possibly to clearly make out houses over there, and at other times it was like looking out to sea, with everything completely hidden by cloud. I paddled and looked at the pebbles on the lake floor. I had been told that the water is not so clean these days, and there were a few pieces of rubbish floating in it, so I declined to swim.

fisherman on the lake shrouded in clouds

fisherman on the lake shrouded in clouds

Unfortunately I could only spend two nights in this beautiful place, and even worse, it rained almost all the time. When it rained heavily on my first night I was told that it hadn’t rained for weeks before that. The next day I had a little walk around the area, still admiring the quaint wooden houses. Yose, one of the sons who runs the homestay, told me that some of these houses were around a hundred years old. He pointed to one large metal-roofed house in particular and explained that it was so big because in the past it would have been the home for several families, as in traditional Minangkabau houses. In this area the Minangkabau shaped roofs are rare but the traditional lifestyle did exist. Nowadays that house is inhabited by just one family, and people no longer live such a communal lifestyle as in the past.

Then the rain started again, and it rained for the rest of the day and nearly all night. What with the clouds and the rain I didn’t do various things that I might have, like climbing Lawang Top, the hill from which you can see a full view of the lake on a clear day, or going to the hot spring nearby. But I enjoyed spending time at Lake Maninjau and getting to know people there. The next day, still raining lightly, I left for Padang, the final stop on my Sumatra trip.

looking across the lake

looking across the lake