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Published: February 5th 2011
Sumatera is getting louder everyday, sometimes every hour it seems. We were just in a small village high up in the mountains where the major passtime is making small motor bikes very loud by cutting off the mufflers and racing them back and forth all day on the only good strip of road for 50 km (which happened to be in front of our homestay). The area surrounding the village was stunningly beautiful so as long as we were hiking it was pleasant.
A recap of the last week or so:
Bukittinggi had many wonderful warung (food stalls) but had many more loud mosques so the theme there was day trips. The villages and forests in the surrounding area were a great escape from the noise of civilization. One day we took a train through the mountains and around a lake to an ex-coal-mining-turned-tourist-town. The train ride was wonderful and in the town we went to a mining museum and went down into the original mine for a tour. Most of the mine is now flooded but the upper levels are cramped, dank, wet and make for a neat trip. Our guide even gave us some coal for a souvenir! It was sort of an odd town that seemed very overbuilt and under populated but the surrounding vistas and cute shops made for a nice day. The train ride was 3 hours there and back but we love trains so it was perfect. Another day we walked for 8 km along abandoned train tracks snaking through the jungle mountains. The rails have suffered many landslides and are quite impassible. The tracks have several highlevel bridges over rivers and highways which made for a more exciting stroll. When we reached a small village we jumped down to the highway and flagged an empty bus. The guys didn't want any money and the bus wasn't technically active but they were delivering it to bukitinggi, where we were headed, and wanted to chat to practice their english. (a national hobby)
Our final day trip was stellar. Two major attractions in Bukitinggi are the rare and gigantic raffleasia arnoldi flower as well as the most rare and expensive coffee on earth, kopi lewak, or civet(wild cat) coffee. The day began with a short jungle hike into the hills to view the rare raffleasia. The flowers are parasitic, growing on the roots of large trees and bloom for only 7 days. Individual flowers bloom all year round but there aren't large fields full of the things. We were lucky to even find out about the one flower that bloomed because our server told us as we ate dinner and had we chosen somewhere else to eat we would not have known. The flower is simply amazing. It radiates oddness with sharp red and white markings, gelatinous spikes clustered in the centre where a stamin would normally be, and the smell is reminiscent of rotting flesh. The buds of the flower look like something from the movie cocoon and are covered in glossy slime. When the bloom dies and decomposes a week after blooming giant millipedes come out of the forest and consume the goo left from the flower. Truth is stranger than fiction truly. Kopi Lewak is the coffee that gets eaten by wild jungle cats, passed through their digestive system, and then collected in the stools by locals. The coffee is unique in that it gets fermented in the stomach with all the other food the cats eat ergo it has flavours that cannot be produced by other methods. There are villages that keep the civets in cages and force feed them picked beans but the place we visited is organic and only uses wild civet poop. The civets themselves are connoisseurs of ripe coffee and instead of eating any old bean, only pick and choose the absolute ripest beans. We visited the house where all the production takes place using traditional methods (i.e. no giant coffee roaster) and chatted with the company owner about the kopi lewak process over cups of said coffee. In indo a cuppa joe will set you back a cool 3000 rupiah, 30 cents. Kopi lewak is 20000rp or 20 bucks which is nothing compared to the 20 bucks it'll cost you in a trendy new york cafe. The beans are quite expensive at 200$ a kilo! We purchased a small bag of the coffee for 200000Rp, 20$ which is a bunch of money here but we will not have the opportunity to buy it any time soon and on the whole it was a unique experience. Our hosts really went out of their way to make sure we had fun. They grabbed a ripe cocao pod, fresh from a tree and we feasted on the gooey, sweet and bitter seeds that chocolate is made from. It was a truly tropical taste-a-thon.
All jazzed up on several kinds of caffeine we headed back to bukitinggi to pack up and head for Padang, the capital of west Sumatera. This was a 2 hour ride so nothing compared to some of the epic trips we've had in Sumatera so far. Padang was a necessary stopover and didn't have much to offer us except even higher levels of noise and traffic, and wonderful seaside warung dining. We spent a day there to stock up on necessities form the city then headed off to the Kerinci valley for quiet and mountains (the quiet didn't really exist). Though it's Sumatera's highest peak, we never saw Kerinci as it was shrouded in clouds the entire time we were there. You can climb Kerinci but the weather has been rainy and it makes for a tough slog so we opted for the less high but also beautiful Danau Gunung Tujuh (lake mountain seven). Tujuh is a 7 pointed mountian that surrounds south east asia's highest lake. In contrast to the village, there was no people or motors at all on the mountain. This was simply divine! The hike was a somewhat challenging muddy root staircase that was quite steep at points. We started at 1500m elevation and were climbing up over 2200m so needed a bunch of breaks to get used to the thinner air. The whole climb we were not totally sure had been going the right direction and from the summit of the mountain we climbed you actually cannot see any distance. With a quick jaunt down far side of the summit i could clearly see the pristine lake and with that in sights our spirits were high and we bounded, carefully, down the steep trail to a small beach.
Danau (lake) Tujuh is surprisingly large. It is hard to believe that a lake could even be up here at all, let alone a lake more than 2km across. Near where our path brought us down to the lake was a wide waterfall fed by the lake itself. Were the collection basin of this lake not so large there would be no waterfall at all as the level of the lake would drop and shut off the flow. Lucky for the waterfall that it rains a lot in this area and seems to always rain atop the mountain. We didn't feel like heading back down to town but it was raining heavily and getting colder as the day proceeded. As well we were without camping gear or any food for the night but oh did we want to be away from the constant village noise! The air was clean and moist, clouds shrouded all the surrounding hills to the point they were almost not visible despite close proximity, and the water was cool and clean. Charged up with nature's glory we made our way back to town. The ascent took 3 hours and our decent took only 1... not too far away but just far enough to be alone with nature.
The next morning we awoke to an abnormally high volume of motorbikes (at 7am) but didn't think much of it because its always busy. We were informed by the proprietor of the homestay, Subandi, that there was a motorbike race competition in the village today. Fortunately we had planned already to leave and were off before they really geared into noisy noisy action. We are currently in a transit city, meaning lots of people and vehicles come here to go somewhere else. It's busy and messy and loud. Also there are many many horse drawn carts trotting around. I don't know why there are so many and suspect i will never know but i can live with that. We are making good time across Sumatera so far and should be in Java and Bali with plenty of time to have fun without rushing around too much. I keep mentioning the noise and sorry if it gets old fast but as i type there is a mosque blaring across the street and i find myself with a diminished ability to think clearly as a result. There is much much more noise in the future as all of asia is loud, or so it seems. Perhaps in australia we can find some non-high-altitude quiet. For now i am going to go nurse my aching ears. We will upload photos of the giant flower and cat shit coffee when we are in a more modern location.
Cheers and best wishes to you all!
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