On Sumatra, the small town of Padang and its surrounding region is home of the Minangkabau people, an ethnic group of muslims in which the mother is head of the family. Their culture is easily recognisable, not just by their brightly coloured traditional clothing, but by the pointed roofs of many houses, resembling the horns of a buffalo.
After arriving, I headed up to the nice little town of Bukittinggi, two hours north-east of Padang, up in the hills and therefor pleasantly cool. Traffic is slow-paced, many houses have the huge peaked Minangkabau roofs, and just about everything is within walking distance. It features a traditional Dutch bell tower, completely intact except for the peaked roof that was installed a couple of decades ago. To the southwest, the town is flanked by a deep canyon, providing a gorgeous view of green hills and ricefields next to small farms, deep down.
As my remaining time in Indonesia was short, I decided to stay the days I had left in Bukittinggi, to explore the town and its surroundings, and then head back to Padang, where I would take a flight to Singapore. Visiting other parts of Sumatra would involve very long bus rides, as this is a huge island, and most parts are only accessible by bus (there is no rail network to speak of).
The Merdeka guesthouse I stayed at was housed in a traditional Dutch villa, with high ceilings and long corridors, and it was with the friendly staff that I arranged a rental motorbike. I drove on winding roads with 180 degree turns, towards the enormous Maninjau crater lake, underway stopping frequently to look at the beautiful scenery. Small villages in lush valleys usually had one or more mosques, with brightly coloured roofs, adjacent to green patches of ricefields lined by palm trees. Thick forests would surround the villages, the typical leaves of banana trees were the most visible from the distance.
I went over several peaks of hills before I got to the highest one, enclosing Lake Maninjau, and I gazed in awe at the gorgeous view of the deep blue lake, in stark contrast with the green hills and mountains surrounding it. The road that led down to the lake provided even more stunning views, and in the unlikely case I got tired of looking at this beautiful display, there were the monkeys again, dozens by the side of the road. I spent some time driving around the lake, taking in the scenery, having lunch at a waterside restaurant, before I headed back.
Back in Bukittinggi, more news reached me of the devastating floods in the Philippines, which worried me as this would be my next destination. On my last evening in this lovely town, I spent quite some time in an Internet cafe with the slowest connection imaginable, to check for travel advisory and weather forecasts for the Philippines.
Sumatra was a fitting end for my travels through Indonesia, and although I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in this beautiful province, I thoroughly enjoyed its natural beauty and the very friendly people. But after nearly two months in Indonesia, it was time to move on. This nation is still struggling with its relatively new democracy, violent uprisings and their ruthless supression in parts of its vast territory, enormous corruption that is crippling the already sour economy, and the influence of the military in politics. Only a couple of months ago, Munir, one of Indonesia’s most prominent human rights activists, died of arsenic poisoning on board a flight to The Netherlands, with many suspecting the Indonesian military’s hand in his death. Fortunately, there are many Indonesians who try to turn this country around.
Despite all the negative issues, it is quite easy to fall in love with this beautiful country, its intruiging culture and its very friendly and charming people, not to mention the food which makes your mouth water just thinking about it (except curried cow brains or satay of cow’s tongue - no, I will not get used to that).
I was quite sad to leave Indonesia, and I quietly said goodbye as I boarded my Garuda Indonesia flight to Singapore, where I would, after a bit of trouble, continue my journey to the Philippines.
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