On Sumatra

When you arrive in Singapore you get a stamp in your passport allowing you to stay for 30 days or if you arrive like me on the train or by boat, you just get 15 days (I guess they don't want any people that can't afford to fly). At the end of that period, you have two choices, you can go down to the ICA on Kalong Road? which is not the Institution of contemporary art (like it's namesake in London) but the Immigration C authority. Here you can wait in line for a while to get an extension of your visit pass, or you can leave the country. I did both several times. At the end of October my time was up again and I rather than going over to Malaysia to get another 15 day stamp I looked into cheap flights. The cheapest by Singapore budget airline Tiger Airways were to Bangkok and Padang on Sumatra in Indonesia. As I've been in Bangkok already, I choose to go to Sumatra for a week.
There are several different greetings in Indonesia depending on the time of day, I remember them from my trip to Java and Bali in June and say 'Salamat siang' to the immigration officer at the airport, as it was later afternoon. He smiles at me and asks me whether I speak Indonesian, which of course I don't. I get on a public bus, old and crowded, typical Indonesian to get to the town of Padang where I will spend the night. By the time we get there, it is dark, and it turns out all the guest houses are fully booked. It is 'Cuti Bersama' a national holiday and it seems the whole country is on the move. Maybe I should have done some research before I came here. After walking around for a while and having some dinner on the street I find two places with rooms and choose one with a big room for 120 rupiahs, much too expensive but it seems they prices are way up during the holidays.
The next morning I get on a mini-bus to a town called ''Bukittinggi' a few hours away further inland. It's a nice ride and we see a cool waterfall on the way. It's the same story here, the city is packed with people and where ever I asked, there are no rooms. It takes me quite a while before I find one not too far from the centre on a hill. Rather than the usual 35 rupiahs, it is150 today. What can I do, I have to pay it. I explore the city which is interesting for a while. I notice many monkeys hanging out on the roofs of buildings, not bothered by people walking by. There is a park with views over a gorge but even though they charge me to get it, there is rubbish everywhere. Another attractions are the Japanese tunnels underneath the city. This is where the Japanese military headquarters for the area was based. It's quite a large complex and you can walk around the different rooms like the cinema and the kitchen. There is also a big market building in the centre of the town and some sort of amusement park. When I researched this trip in Singapore this town seemed to be the most interesting in this part of Sumatra, but there you don't really have to spend more than a day here. The guys at my hostel recommended going to Lake Maninjau for a few days. So the next morning I first get one of the red bemo (even though they don't call them that here) to the bus station quite a bit away from the centre. As usual when you get to a bus station people come up to you and ask 'where you going?' I always asked at least three different people before actually boarding a bus. Great ride through a very green and hilly landscape. After about two house we arrive in the village of Maninjau and the east side of Lake Maninjau. It's a small place between the lake and the mountains, quite beautiful but it seems the local holiday makes don't care because it is empty and it is no problem to get a bungalow right next to the lake. I have a late lunch in a very small eatery. They don't speak English but I manage to get some Nasi Goreng which I haven't had for a while I also get a cheap haircut. I meet a Dutch guy on the main street and after a drink at one place with have dinner together at another one. I order some local dish, as usual I forget the name but it was absolutely delicious, I think the best food I had anywhere in Indonesia. Vegetables (also available with meat) baked in some nice bread.
The next morning I moved to the place where the Dutch guy stayed. It was a little bit further along the lake and a bit nicer with a small beach. The main reason why I moved was that there were actually some other backpackers staying here while at my place I was the only one who spoke English. Five of us ventured out to a trek up the hills to some waterfalls. We booked a guide but after 15 minutes it turned out there was some misunderstand and he would only get us to the first waterfalls rather the the fifth or sixth one further up in the hills. Apparently to get to those you have to stay up there overnight. We've heard that we can go to the first one without a guide and therefore proceed on our own. It was an interesting hike along a small creek up into the hills and sometime a bit challenging. The waterfall was quite nice and being with a group of backpackers once again was good too. Back at our guest house I had another swim in the lake. Pretty much every day on Sumatra it started to rain around 1 in the afternoon, so I tried to do thinks early in the morning. I go to dinner with two Dutch guys and they try the dish I had the day before while I have something else. It must be a local speciality because every 'restaurant' seems to have it. However this time it wasn't nearly as good as yesterday at the other place.
I last full day at the lake and I decide to rent a bike and cycle around it. It a 55 KM ride and it's a really good one. The landscape changes on the different sides of the lake. The first third I ride on a major road with some traffic and loads of buildings, but the rest is on a very quiet road with only small villages every 5 ks. Some local kids on their bikes follow me for a while and practice their English. Im just make it back home before the rain starts.
Before leaving Maninjau I have one more of my new favourite dishes at the original place. The guy who runs it has to call his wife and she first goes to the market to buy some stuff for it. Once again it was wonderful, I have to find out what it's called. Back to Bukittinggi by bus. I check into the same place as before but with the holidays over it's only 20 rupiahs. I visit the Dutch village nearby and walk around the town. Dinner someone on the street. On the last day I have to get back to the airport near Padang to catch my flight at 4 in the afternoon back to Singapore. It took a while to get to the bus station and even longer to find the right bus. It is already 1 when I finally leave Bukittinggi and I am a bit worried to miss my flight. But as the airport is actually on the way to Padang I get there with plenty of time left. Here I meet another Dutch guy who is trying to ride his motorbike through Asia but made the mistake to ship it to Jakarta and now is trying for months to get it out of customs where they want up to $US 4000 in fees. It seems any official business in this country involves some bribery.
Despite the wet season I had a great time on Sumatra and like to go back to see more of it.