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June 21st 2008
Published: July 1st 2008
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Friday June 20, 2008 - I originally decided to come to Lake Maninjou because yesterday when I left Malaysia I felt a cold coming on, and I thought it would be a good place to recooperate. I thought it was a terrible sign that I had a cold coming on, as i was still taking antibiotics for the tonsilitis I developed just before my trip started. But the whole bus journey to Bukittinggi I was sick and really needed some time to rest and sleep. I had had no quality sleep since leaving the states. So Lake Maninjou it was. It was an ok ride to the lake, except for all the smoking. Every man in Sumatra has a lit cigarette with him at all times, especially on buses with no aircon it seems. Air con usually means no smoking, but that is hardly accepted by everyone. Smoking drives me crazy. The most exciting part of the ride was a flat tire. Not unusual here. They fixed it within 10 minutes and we were back on the road. The ride is very scenic, as there are 44 hairpin turns that overlook the lake as you come down the mountain. Very nice. And they have to drive slow. They just have to. Ha! And there are monkeys around most of the bends, just sitting there looking at the bus go by from little posts they are sitting on. Quite hilarious.

I decided to stop in a little town called Bayur, where more backpackers go than the to town of Maninjou. The bus let me off on the side of the road, just where there is a little footpath described in my book that leads to a few guesthouses. And there were signs too, so I was in the right place. It was a pretty walk through rice fields to get to the lake, and I stopped at the first guesthouse I came to, Lilly's. The guy working there showed me to a bungalow on stilts, but with no real windows and no mosquito nets. So I opted for a small bungalow on ground level, right in front of the beach and with windows that closed. Before you get carried away with romantic notions, it was not a beautiful bungalow and there were ants everywhere and no bathroom. The bathroom was a squat toilet a walk away and there were no showers. Here, in Sumatra, there are few hot water showers. But this had a mandi instead - a mandi is like a bathtub you can't get in. It's full of water and there is a plastic scooper to dump the water over yourself. Cold water. And incidentally, this is the same scooper you use to flush the toilet you can't sit on and wash your bum if you're Indonesian, becuase you don't use toilet paper. I have never been ok with the idea of just using my left hand and copious amounts of water instead of toilet paper. And then wouldn't you just walk around all day with a wet crotch? And I am not a very good squatter as it is - I think you have to be born into it, and then it is really quite comfortable. People sit this way for hours, whether in the toilet or on the street waiting for a bus. I just can't.

Um, but I think the point is that for me, the room, though expensive at $5 a night, was good enough. So I took it. I unpacked enough to wash my face and relax. I met my neighbors. Very cool Australian couple who had three weeks to go on their TWO YEAR trip around the world. All I'm saying is where's mine? After a brief hello and where have you been, etc, I walked around a little to look at the lake before going to my room to take a nap. The lake is beautiful. It's a crater lake, about 450m deep, and the water is cool but pleasant. There are mountains all around, and low clouds that hang over the mountains but still allow the blue sky to shine in over the water. There are palm trees around and it is hard to remember that this is not the ocean. It has a tropical beach feeling. It is higher elevation here, and not quite so warm, which was nice. I did sleep for a few hours and then got up for lunch. But the guesthouse guy, Yok, forgot he was going to make me lunch and at 2pm I was dying since i hadn't eaten since the dinner the night before, so I asked and he made me some soup. Afterwards I thought about taking a walk but it got cloudy and I didn't want to get caught in the rain with my cold, so I decided to stay in. Just then, Yok came and asked me if I wanted to take a "walk" on his motorbike. He said he could take me up for a better view of the lake and he could practice his English. Usually I would say no, because it seems sketchy, but he worked there and I felt like I could trust him. And it was fine. We drove up and looked down on the lake from a bunch of rice fields. It would have been more beautiful if it wasn't so cloudy, but it was quite nice. We chatted for a while, and then we stopped at a school area where all the kids were very excited to have their pictures taken. (This may be a good time to mention that in my first attempt at traveling with a digital camera, it seems something has happened to my card and I may now have nothing left from my entire visit to Sumatra. If they are recoverable, I'll post them here later.) They just kept posing and giggling every time they saw their new picture.

Eventually we headed back to Lilly's and I met Jerry, an anthropologist from California who was in Sumatra doing research on fossil orangutans. Turns out there were more species and they used to have a range that encompassed more than just Borneo and Sumatra, and he is studying reasons for their extinctions. Cool stuff. And he knows a LOT. We talked for hours, through dinner, until I was too tired and went to sleep. I did go to sleep relatively early and had my first truly good rest since I began traveling.

I woke up on Saturday feeling better, so I decided it was time to try my hand at the mandi bathing thing. It was 7am and a little cold and slow going, but eventually I figured it out enough to wash my hair. I think a mandi would be much easier if you had someone else to help you with the water part. But I managed. Afterwards I had some breakfast, chatted with the folks who were there and about to leave for a new adventure, and then had a relaxing day. Relaxing is not an easy thing for me, but I was trying hard since I had to get over the cold before my next bus journey the following day. I took the time to repack my bag, read a book, spent some time talking to Jerry, played with the cats - there is an adorable kitten here. In many Muslim countries you don't see street dogs much, since dogs are considered unclean, but you do see a lot of cats wandering around. Fine by me, as no one ever gets attacked by street cats, but I've been bitten by a street dog before. This place was slightly different - still Muslim but also kept dogs to hunt the wild pig population. Pigs are not eatable since they are also considered unclean, so they dogs get all the rewards of such a hunt. Instead of making me lunch, Yok brought me back some traditional food when he went to food shop in Maninjou. It was fried rice wrapped in a take out container of a banana leaf wrapped in a brown paper. Traditionally people here eat with their hands. Their right hand, as the other is reserved for bathroom things. I ate the rice with my hands but I have a hard time with it. I'm sloppy. And it's hard to clean up. Yet people do this in the bus. I just need more practice. Spent the rest of the day relaxing and reading and planning, and then having dinner with Jerry, the only other guest that night. Sumatra, and Indonesia in general, have been suffering lately in tourism, as not nearly as many people are visiting as they have done in the past.

That night I went to sleep feeling tired, but didn't sleep well at all. I woke up to use the bathroom in the night - a squat toilet covered in ants - and heard a strange sound on my bungalow. It turns out there was a fruit bat gnawing away on the side of it. Kind of funny. It flew off after I held the light on it for a while. Good sighting though. I didn't get much sleep that night - illness or still jetlag, I wasn't sure - and got up early to have breakfast and leave for a new adventure.

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11th February 2009

Loved your blog. I too have stayed at Lili's back in 2004. You were brave staying by yourself in one of those huts. Luckily I had an Indonesian woman to share the room with- she is like my family and comes from Padang. There were 5 of us,, the boys in one hut and Elvy and I in the other. Magic location. Can't wait to get back to Indonesia in 2010 for a 6 month trip this time. Pamela

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