Tuesday, December 22, 2009
At Lake Maninjau our bus dropped us off about 5km from our guesthouse—and it was raining. A local police officer waived down a couple of guys with motorbikes to take us there. The guesthouse we stayed at, Arlens, is interestingly located about a quarter of a mile from the road on the lake, down a narrow, muddy path. Arlens is run by a very accommodative family who keep the business well maintained. It has pretty flowers and vegetation with a nice gravel path leading to the beach. It also has a pleasant lounge and dining area where one can enjoy the view of the lake. Oh yes, Arlens had the laid back atmosphere that I desperately needed.
We met a real nice Dutch (the Netherlands) couple that evening while we were eating. They were on a RTW trip as well. They had just come from northern Sumatra and very graciously tore that section out of their Lonely Planet Guide book for me. They were able to give me some great information, which was great for me, as I intended to head in that direction next. One of the employees at Arlens asked if we would enjoy a campfire on the beach. Sounded great! So we all moved and continued our pleasant conversations to the beach, where we talked for hours. Very good night.
The next morning after breakfast—I always have the same thing here in Indonesia: banana pancakes—we decided to rent a motorbike and cruise around the lake. This was my first time on a motorbike and, I must say, I had a blast. I let Marc do most of the driving as I almost wrecked when I drove. Hey, it was my first time!
When we returned, Marc and I edited some videos of our travels before eating dinner. You canview them here: http://vimeo.com/user2544346/videos. The sunset was gorgeous that evening and we chilled out on the beach and spoke with some locals from Bukittinggi. One of them, Muhammad Ali, who actually prefers to go by Ali—he says Muhammad is not a popular name with westerners—was quite interested in NGOs. I told him about HODR and he seemed extremely eager to learn more. After he expressed interest in volunteering for the organization, we went to a local internet café where I wrote a few emails to HODR notifying them of his interests, allowing him to volunteer by the end of the week. Ali was very appreciative. Marc and I went to bed fairly early that night as we were tired from the night before. The next morning after another delicious breakfast, Marc and I decided to head back to Bukittinggi. The previous night I expressed interests of climbing volcano Merapi to some of the locals from Bukittinggi. The locals said they would be leaving for Bukittinggi the next morning as well and suggested we stop by their café, Café Bedual, where they would set us up with a guide for the volcano trek.
It began to rain as we walked back to the road from our guesthouse. This wasn’t good as the guesthouse staff said it could take nearly an hour before a bus would arrive. However, within five minutes, a truck pulled up. ‘Bukittinggi, Bukittinggi?’ The driver hollered. After I managed to understand his going rate, which was only 30 cents more than the bus, we threw our bags in and left. Instead of going into detail about our ride back, it’s safe to assume that every ride, to anywhere, there’s white knuckles involved. We had the driver drop us off at the café the locals recommended. Ali greeted us upon arriving, ‘You made it!’ he said. ‘Come in, sit, sit.’ Marc left for the nearest internet café as I negotiated our arrangements for the volcano trek. I managed to get Marc and I a bit of a discount and scheduled our trek for that night at 11 p.m. in order to see the sunrise. With a few hours to kill Marc and I went to the grocery store to buy some snacks and water for our upcoming adventure. Afterwards, we ate our last meal of the day at a Pizza Hut. I couldn’t afford to risk not enjoying my last meal before our long trek, and Pizza Hut was a guarantee good meal.
We met our guide, Ryod, back at the café at 10 p.m. before leaving for the volcano by motorbike. It looked liked we chose to climb Merapi on a good night as there were stars in the sky. With our day bags latched around us and our flashlights in hand, we headed up the dark volcano—and I do mean up. Within a few minutes I realized that there was not going to be many areas of the trek that would be level. My lunges quickly began to feel heavy. This was not a good sign, as we still had 6.5 hours before reaching the summit. I managed to hear something
off to the side of us as my body loudly gasped for oxygen. We all stopped. The three of us shined our flashlights into the thick vegetation, slowly panning right to left. Complete silence. I then
heard the most terrifying sound one could hear while in the dark, on a volcano, and away from any form of civilization for miles: the sound of an unidentified animal growling at you.
‘What the hell is that?’ I asked.
‘Um…it is a pig,’ our guide responded. Not sounding too sure of himself.
‘A pig? I’ve never heard a pig sound like that!’
‘Okay. Let’s keep going,’ he said.
And just like that—snap!—my body was flowing with adrenaline. Having enough energy would not be a problem for the next few hours. I was recharged.
It was amazing how the weather conditions on the volcano changed. It went from clear skies to a thundering rainstorm within moments. While waiting the rain out under some thick trees, my body began to experience such changes as well. I went from being hot and sweating profusely one moment, to being wet and cold, to the point of shivering the next. I also got to the point where I didn’t enjoy our breaks because my body would cool down too fast; I had to keep moving to stay warm.
There were many times throughout the trek that I questioned whether I could continue on or not. I felt as if my body was shutting down again. Despite how tired and slow I thought I was moving, our guide said that we had actually gotten ahead of schedule as we made it to the edge of the summit about an hour early. He told us that we needed to wait an hour before continuing any further because of the weather conditions at the top. It was beginning to rain again and there were not any trees present at the top that would be able to protect s from elements such as wind and rain.
Finally, after about seven hours of trekking we made it to the top. We journeyed from hell to seeing a glimpse of heaven. And it really was heavenly at the top. The view was spectacular. No picture or video I took could capture the pure beauty or ethereal atmosphere we witnessed. The three of us chilled out for an hour at what appeared to be the highest peak of the volcano, with our feet hanging off the edge. It was a great moment to sit back, eat some cookies, and just bliss out.
After twelve hours of trekking we finally made it back to town and decided to splurge a bit and get a room with hot water and power outlets to recharge our electronics. The hot shower was glorious too. Marc and I lounged around for the remaining of the day and prepared for our departure the following day. This was our final day together as Marc would be heading off to Australia in a few days, while I would be heading north to explore the rest of northern Sumatra.
It was really strange when the moment came for Marc and I to part ways. The bus honked and the driver opened the doors for Marc to put in his luggage. We looked at each other like, wow, this is really it.
‘Well, Broski,’ Marc said.
‘Alright, man,’ I responded.
‘You too, man.’
We proceeded to tell one another what an amazing six weeks we’ve just had and how we loved one another. And off he went…
A new chapter of my trip was about to begin. I was about to vagabond solo, and as I turned around and began walking up the street, I began to experience something new for the first time on this trip: butterflies.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
It was nearly past 1 a.m. before we ventured off through the deserted, sleepy streets of Bukittinggi desperately trying to find a hotel with vacancy. We finally found a hotel, Hotel Orchid, which had a few rooms left and snatched them immediately. After we were shown to our room we were awaited by some creepy crawlers in our beds—ants. Now after Marc’s bedbug incident in Bangkok, he wasn’t about to take any chances and requested that we get another room. Unfortunately, there were not any rooms left. However, the man from the hotel staff was very apologetic and changed our sheets and swept our floors for us. That said and done, Marc and I were still skeptical and decided to sleep on top of the sheets and covers—with our clothes on too. We awoke the next morning pleasantly to find ourselves bedbug bite free (tongue twister).
In the hotel lobby Gioele, Marc and I decided that we would see the rafflesia sanctuary, about 16km north of Bukittinggi. The rafflesia is the world’s biggest flower. Our hotel staff told us it would be the last day the flower would be in bloom, so we hurried to find the bus station. Once we finally found the “bus station” we found that a minivan, already about fourteen people deep inside, awaited us. “In. In!,” said the bus driver. Gioele, Marc and I looked at each other like he couldn’t honestly think we could fit inside. Again, bear in mind, the minivan was already fourteen people deep and the three of us are tall, big guys. “Maybe we should just go to the zoo,” Gioele said, with a disgruntled look on his face. “No, No. In. In!” After which the driver began yelling at the women in the vehicle to make room for us, but to no avail. Somehow the three of us defied the laws of physics that early afternoon and managed to squeeze in enough to have the door slam shut. Now packed in the vehicle like a jar of sardines, we all couldn’t help to laugh at the situation. Let’s just say we got to know the people sitting next to us fairly well.
When we made it to the sanctuary, we were immediately greeted by our guide. He led us through a small, charming neighborhood before entering the jungle. The beginning of the trek was beautiful but quickly turned treacherous. Thoughts of our trek in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia came to mind. “Oh, great. Not again.” I thought. After many slips and falls in the wet, muddy jungle we found the flower. “Is this it?” I thought. We all looked at each other in somewhat disappointment. Apparently we were one day late, as the flower was closing and beginning to darken. Oh well. It was still pretty neat to see, though.
As we trekked our way back I found myself, again, praying for dear life. It was amazing to see our guide just trek with ease, as the three of us looked like a bunch of uncoordinated cavemen. Seriously, it was amazing to watch. Our guide was trekking in sandals, shorts, and with his hands behind his back. Not exaggerating. We made it back to town safe and sound, but, again, we managed to have another packed bus shuttle us back.
After the three of us regained feelings in our legs and bums we ventured off to explore the town. When we were walking we were approached by a few school girls who inquired if they could practice their English with us. We said it was not a problem and they tagged along, as we strolled through town answering whatever questions were thrown at us. Not before long, we were approached by the students’ teacher and their classmates. The next thing we knew we were surrounded by students bombarding us with a million questions. At one point a student requested to see American currency, and as Marc began to hand out some coins, he was nearly stampeded by the children (see Bukittinggi video). All good fun.
We finally managed to make it to Sianok Canyon View; however, again, we were approached by a teacher and his students who were on a field trip. We spoke to the teacher for sometime before being invited to where he lives, in the Harau Valley. He said he would love to show us around the area for a few days. We told him we were indeed interested, and he gave us his number.
After a long, fun, and eventful day we decided it was time for bed. Earlier we decided that we all would share one room, pushing the two beds together and sleep on it sideways. Yes, it must have looked absurd to see three grown men sharing two beds, but these are the kinds of sacrifices you make during long-term travel in order to save money.
The next day, sadly, the three amigos parted ways. Gioele took a bus back to HODR base camp where he would volunteer for another week before traveling back to Montreal, Canada, and Marc and I decided to take a local bus to Lake Maninjau.
Next stop: Lake Mininjau.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
My first night I would meet up with a friend, Gioele, I met while volunteering with the HODR project that Adam has recently written about. Gioele was leaving from Padang to go home to Canada and he let me stay in his room for his last night there. Thank you Gioele for the accommodations! That night we went walking around the town and were watching locals play football (not American), when a girl approached us. She told us she was studying to be an English teacher and invited us to sit with her and friends so they could practice their English. Now a lot of people have come up to us on this trip and some on kind of shady so we told her we could sit and talk for only five minutes. We ended up going to dinner with them and ended the night with ice cream. Since Gioele was leaving the next day they asked me if I had any plans for my time in Padang. I told them I had nothing planned and they invited me to hang out with them for the weekend.
The next morning they picked me up from Gioele’s hotel and helped me find a hotel of my own. I then hopped on one of their motorbikes to have lunch at one of their houses. They cooked me authentic Indonesian food and we ate sitting Indian style with our hands. You wouldn’t think it, but there really is an art to eating with your hands. Lets just say I wasn’t the best at it. After lunch it was off to a scenic river where the water was rushing passed us. There was also a waterfall and a cliff where a bunch of locals were jumping off. I of course couldn’t pass the chance to jump off something high into water. I was the only westerner there so I was getting a lot of attention. People would look at me with such curiosity. Especially since I had my shirt off and if you don’t know, I’m definitely not the darkest person in the world. Sometimes people would get too close for comfort but my new crew was very protective of me.
The next morning I was picked up again and we headed to a really nice beach. There was an island within sight and we were able to walked through the water to it. It was a very relaxing part of the day. We then hopped back on those motorbikes and headed for a secluded waterfall. It was quite the journey to get there but definitely well worth the trek. I met lots of locals along the way and was glad to have an interpreter, my new friends. We ended the day with coffee from a local woman’s home. My last morning I was picked up by Sabtu and he took me to the airport. After these couple of days here in Padang I know what it feels like to be a celebrity with all the staring and attention. I am extremely fortunate to have met my new Indonesian friends and learned so much from them. My last two and half days in Indonesia were the most unique and educational since being here. Thanks to Facebook I will be able to keep in touch if none of us can make it to each other’s home countries in the future. Thank you Novie, Nadia, Asang, Sabtu, and Aroon for such a wonderful weekend.
Next Stop: Malaysia → Australia!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Our flight for Padang, Indonesia was scheduled to leave early, early in the morning. So Marc and I decided to take a bus—conveniently located across the street from our hostel, Pudu—the night before our flight. We figured this would save us money, as we wouldn’t have to pay for another night at our hotel, and just sleep at the airport. Save money, we did; however, I didn’t get any sleep. Marc, on the other hand, had no problem getting some shuteye. Shocker. I swear he can fall asleep anywhere. All he needed was a clear spot in order to lie down on the cold, hard airport floor. And he was out cold, too. I think I kicked him at least three times before he woke up.
Anyways, the flight to Padang was quick and painless, as we arrived in about an hour or so. Our descent was quite beautiful, as well. Indonesia looked like an amazing, scenic country. I was eager to see it. After we successfully made it through Customs and Immigration we were greeted by our driver, hired by HODR. HODR base camp is actually located about an hour and a half north of Padang, in Sungai Geringging. Once we arrived we were given a tour of the house, the rules of the house, as well as all the rudimentary procedures we were to follow in order to keep the house somewhat functional. Oh, it was also explained to us that the night we arrived would be the last night the men would be able to sleep inside the house. Apparently, the local Muslim police felt that it was improper for unmarried men and women to sleep under the same roof, regardless if they are sharing a bed or not. When in Rome, right? So the next night an enormous tent was constructed where tents and bunk beds were placed. However, the heat made it nearly impossible to get any sleep during the day. And at night, because of the humidity, the tent would trap the moisture. And it didn’t help that it was the wet season. Thus, my mattress and clothes were wet the entire night. Also, my lunges in the morning felt as if there had been a gallon of water poured into it. As one can imagine, the sleeping arrangements were not too conducive for a good night’s sleep.
Our daily itinerary at the project looked like this:
• wake up at 6:30 a.m.
• eat breakfast
• leave at 7:30 a.m. for job site
• work from 7:30-11:30
• lunch break for 2 hours
• work from 1:30-4:30
• nightly meeting at 6 p.m.
• free for the rest of the night
The people at camp told us that there had been a case of pink eye going around. Also, there had been some stomach virus going around, as well. Within three days, unfortunately, I ended up getting sick too. I decided I couldn’t make it through our second shift one day and walked back to base camp, where I threw up violently for a half hour. One of the women who worked there came outside to check on me but to find me along side the house hovering over the drainage system.
“Adam, is it bad?” she asked.
“Blaahhhh!” I responded.
“Oh, okay. It’s bad.”
I never did recover from getting ill while I was at camp.
The work we did was definitely not a cake walk. You were either sledging, chinking bricks, wheel barreling heavy rubble, etc, for seven hours a day. However, hard work is nothing new to me as I’ve been doing hard labor for nine years at UPS. That said, after I got sick, I could not perform the job to my fullest ability. And I never enjoy doing any kind of work half-ass.
The locals were really wonderful people. They seemed to be quite appreciative that we were there. Everywhere you went they shouted, “Hello, Mister!” “How are you?!” “What’s your name?!” “Where you from!?” The children especially were a joy to be around. Everyday as we rode on the back of the truck to our job sites, the children would run outside towards us in groups, waiving and shouting, “Hello, Hello!”
The people volunteering for HODR consisted mainly of people from the US and Europe, with a few from Canada and Australia. Oh, there was one girl from Lebanon as well. After conversing with many of the volunteers, I found myself amongst a group of avid travelers. As I think I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, I was turned on to HODR by my friend, Suzi, after stumbling across one of her blogs last year. You can find her blog here: http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/travlinfool/. She has been traveling for three years now. Geesh! There were many other people there who have experienced a lifetime of traveling already—at least by American standards. I think I can listen to stories of people’s travels for hours. I just love it. It’s inspiring, I think. And everyone has their own unique way as to how they fund their travels.
Marc had an unfortunate accident while out in the field (job site). He was sledging some concrete walls—which, very frequently, turn into flying shrapnel—and cut his foot. It was pretty ugly, I must say. Not only was it a long cut, it was pretty deep as well. After much debate, he opted not to go to the doctor to receive stitches. This incident also debilitated Marc from working.
Marc expressed his wishes to see more of the island of Sumatra, as he felt that his chances of traveling here again were slim to none. And because he would be leaving for Australia in a week, plus, the fact that his foot had debilitated him from working, it seemed like good timing. So in the end, with much discussion, Marc and I decided to leave the project early.
Despite leaving earlier than planned, volunteering for HODR was a great experience. It is an excellent organization that does a lot of good for a lot of people. I hope to volunteer with them again. For more information, check out the website at: http://hodr.org/.