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Published: December 3rd 2012
It took lots of attempts to get this photo - the little blighter wouldn't stay still
Our next destination was the Harau Valley, and getting there was the longest, most complicated journey I have ever undertaken. It involved the following: a shared taxi, a ferry, two aeroplanes, two buses, a minibus and a motorbike taxi. We had a small break in the middle of this journey for an emergency trip to the hospital for Zena. She had a high fever, aching muscles, headache, fatigue and vomiting. Classic symptoms of malaria. If untreated, some cases of malaria can be fatal. So we headed to Medan hospital with the greatest of speed. The hospital was clean and surprisingly efficient. We were attended to immediately, assigned a bed and blood samples were taken faster than you can say "antiprophylaxis". Within two hours Zena was diagnosed with a "miscellaneous viral infection", thankfully not malaria. The fever had broken, so she was discharged with a cheerful wave and a bill of ten dollars.
Eventually we entered the Harau Valley at impressive speed on the back of motorbikes, wearing our raincoats and rucksacks. We were immediately blown away by the spectacular scenery. The sides of the valley were sheer faces of rock topped with lush vegetation, and it almost felt like we'd
The view from our room
Each morning we awoke to this stunning view
entered some vast prehistoric kingdom. Our accommodation was called "Abdi's Homestay", and consisted of four wooden huts at the base of a waterfall. It was based at the entrance to the valley, so behind us were the sweeping valley walls, and in front were rice paddy fields and distant mountains. We had found paradise.
Our days were spent exploring the area on bike or by foot. The "bike rental" entailed going round to local people's houses with our host Iqbal, and asking if we would borrow their bikes. The first house had two bikes covered in cobwebs; one was missing a pedal and the other had a flat tyre and buckled wheel. We came up trumps at our third house, and got offered two very different specimens. The first was a shiny new mountain bike which showed promise. It's frame proudly proclaimed "As used by the Canadian Police". I doubt it. Unless the Canadian Police like to chase their criminals on bikes with dubious brakes and gears that don't work properly (three out of the fifteen gears were good). The second bike was an ancient "sit up and beg" style with no brakes and no gears! The lack of
brakes wasn't a problem, because I couldn't pick up enough speed to need them. We took both bikes and trundled off into the valley at low speed.
Whilst cycling around we found a stash of abandoned pedaloes at the side of the road. There were half a dozen of them, covered in dirt and mould with their once colourful plastic faded from the sun. We were miles away from the sea or any lake, so no idea what they were doing here. We also saw a shop selling Marlboro branded hair gel. Whatever next, Marlboro branded boxer shorts, Marboro branded energy drinks? Smoking is HUGE business in Indonesia. Everyone smokes. It's practically the national hobby. People smoke everywhere - in restaurants, on buses. I was stuck on the back of a motorbike recently where the guy was smoking. The smoke was blowing in my face, but instead of complaining I was actually thinking "two hands on the bike please, TWO hands on the bike!"
We cycled through one village where there was a poor woman who was literally bent over double as she walked along, head down almost to her knees. Her spine was most likely weak and
The Harau Valley part 1
Stunning limestone karsts
crumbling due to lack of calcium. There is practically no dairy in the Indonesia diet. So far I hadn't seen any milk, cheese or yoghurt. Calcium deficiency is a huge problem in Indonesia. Milk is available, but is very expensive. It's given to infants and children, but adults don't feel the need to look after their calcium levels. You can get calcium from non-dairy sources such as green vegetables, certain fish and some pulses, but unless you plan your diet carefully, you won't reach the recommended daily amount. Calcium is needed for certain body functions, and if it isn't available in the diet, your body will start extracting it from your bones....
Cycling was hungry work. I'm like a hummingbird, and need to consume my own body weight in food each day. Combine this fact with my ongoing quest to discover new food, and you have a situation where every meal is an adventure. Today's discovery was Karupuak Laweh. Imagine a giant prawn cracker about the size of your head, made out of cassava. Cover it with a layer of rice noodles, and then drizzle with curry sauce and chilli oil. Voila, a crunchy, spicy, savoury lip-smacking treat. Munch
from the outside to the centre, and prepare to get a messy face.
I loved the back-to-basics nature of our accommodation. Our bathroom had a large concrete tub which was constantly overflowing with fresh mountain water. To shower, you threw it over you with a giant ladle. It was refreshingly cold after a hot sweaty day, but the first ladle over the head made you swear and do a little jig which I call the "bloody-hell-it's-cold dance". There was no electricity whatsoever, and our evenings were spent playing cards by kerosine lamp. We were dive-bombed each evening by a multitude of insects who were attracted by the light. Some of them were immediately roasted by the kerosine lamp, whereas others were eaten by a small gang of geckos who patrolled our walls. The geckos provided much entertainment. One of them managed to chomp on a dragonfly, and had literally bitten off more than he could chew. The dragonfly was easily the same size as the gecko, and the gecko had it halfway down its throat but then was unsure what to do with it. I always have a policy not to eat anything bigger than my head. Perhaps the
His shell was freshly polished with turtlewax for the ladies
gecko should take a leaf from my book. The gecko got up to further mischief, and I found him asleep in my coffee cup with his mate the next morning, half submerged in cold coffee. We were also entertained by the Harau Valley Orchestra, which consisted of crickets, cicadas and frogs making a symphony of assorted noises. Shortly after dark, an extra level of harmony was added by the Call to Prayer from a distant mosque, drifting down the valley. So, the Call to Prayer is exactly as it says. A loud reminder to find your prayer mat and pray in the direction of Mecca. When in your home town, you'll know which direction Mecca is. But if you're on holiday or away for the weekend, how do you know? Do you need to carry a compass? Perhaps an edition of the Koran could be released with a compass built into the cover.
The next day we set out on a trek through the rice fields with Ricky, the brother of our host. This was a very fertile area filled with papaya, jackfruit, durian and mango trees. There were also several fish farms. I asked Ricky what type of
Geckos Love Coffee
We found this pair asleep in the remains of our coffee
fish they kept, he just said "local fish", as if this explained it. After four hours of walking, we needed to get a tuk-tuk back to the homestay. We were waiting in the hot sun at the side of the road, but no-one was going past. A local family took mercy on us and took us in while we waited. They gave us a delicious dish to eat called Rojak. It's a fruit salad, but given a spicy Asian twist with chillies, crushed peanuts and palm sugar. It was lovely to be welcomed by this family. We eventually hailed a motorbike-and-sidecar, and on our way back we saw a gibbon in a small cage, trying to swing back and forth. It was heartbreaking to see. Ricky told us that the gibbon kept coming down from the forest and eating the mangoes off their trees. Of course it did, that's what gibbons do!! No need to imprison the poor fella.
(More photos at the bottom of the page)
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