About fifteen volunteers from the project planned to leave together for Bukittinggi the very night Marc and I had decided to leave, so we decided to pitch in and joined them. A girl from the project arranged for three trucks to escort us there. The ride is normally supposed to take about two hours, however, it ended up taking nearly 4 as the drivers got their directions confused. The ride, to say the least, was quite frightful. Marc commented to me that it was the most horrific ride he’s ever taken. Marc had every reason to feel this way, as the driver speed racered his way in and out of traffic without touching his break often. I think the scariest moment for me was when we were driving up the mountain from Lake Maninjau, zigzagging around cars and sharp turns while it began to rain. The slightest mistake from the driver would have, without any doubt, sent us into a dark abyss off the mountain. As one can imagine, we were quite relieved when we arrived.
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.