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Takengon to Blangkejeren

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It turned out that the only transport headed my way was another Colt, a bit pricey but then it would at least be a bit faster, and I was fortunate in that it was already filled up. So on I hopped and off we went. Soon the road began to immediately climb out of Takengon which surprised me, the cool climes meant that we must have already been pretty high. It quickly became apparent why buses didnt service this route as the narrow tortuous road twisted its way up around an endless succession of blind corners bordered with precipitous drops, punctuated periodically by badly eroded sections and landslips. It became positively cold at times as we traversed ridges, the subtropical flora giving way to alpine forest in parts, with dramatic views down steep valleys towards more impressive mountains beyond. At one point it almost seemed like I had joined an expedition, with a convoy of Colts having opportunely huddled together for safety in numbers it seemed as they negotiated monster potholes and steep slippy descents, the engines then having to scream up the next inordinate incline. Fortunately there was little oncoming traffic to squeeze precariously past, but we did encounter herds of buffalo being shepherded, a hallmark of the Gayo region, until eventually one final rollercoaster descent delivered us into a wide river valleyfull of more rice paddies. The buildings had all been of latticed timber construction with corrugated tin roofs, and many small scattered thatched shelters were dotted around so that the field workers might periodically escape from the sun. I still wasnt in good enough form to indulge in the mid-trip lunchstop, but forced a little spicy potato down my neck for the sake of having to cushion the ironic nauseating effect of my mandatory anti-malarial pill. I wasnt sure spices were the right treatment for my condition but I couldnt even face a plate of plain rice. Blangkejeren turned out to be a small rural town not without its charms, and I was lucky in that after searching out a guesthouse without success, a refreshingly amiable Becak driver with remarkably passable English helped me out. I was running low on cash and even in Takengon I had failed to find an international standard ATM, but the small sweet hotel was cheap enough. The Colt crew had wondered why I was stopping here and not going the considerable distance further on to Kutacane, a point to which I questioned myself upon arrival, but Blangkejeren was considered the "capital" of the remote southern highlands and was far enough for one day. The fact that it also got a vague mention in the guidebook made the decision really, I was well and trully into pretty uncharted territory now with the central highlands road having been off limits to foreigners for donkeys. It was refreshing too in that having played the sick man poor man routine in hope of a lighter reception, the hotel matron came back to me shortly and proferred half of my money back in exchange for moving into a smaller, less salubrious room. Not only did it prove quieter but it was much handier for the ablutions, no small thing in my current state. It made it my cheapest sleep in Indonesia so far, but it was the honesty and courtesy which really counted. There was little to see around town bar the atmospheric vistas of clouds rolling across dark forested mountains beyond paddies and palm trees, but more than ever before the people were extremely friendly, with barely a soul allowing me to stroll past without engaging me with "Hello mister, how are you!?" etc. Even motorbike riders would slow down in order to join in the fun and as ever there were hundreds of them. A couple of itinerants even proved to have excellent English and for once I found the resolve to engage with them willingly, clearly there was no ulterior motive. Though one said he had been a guide before the tourists dried up, it was just pleasing to know that there had ever been any. Half the reason for coming this way had been because of its virgin nature and it certainly was an uncorrupted destination. I related to the guide that besides the tsunami and periodic earthquakes, GAM had been another detraction to visitors and half jokingly said that maybe we hadnt seen the last of them. I got the impression that he almost agreed. I managed some fried noodles that night in a local grungy slophouse, spicy as ever despite my protestations, these were the Spice Islands after all, and I chanced another fine coffee on top of it, even managing to secure it in the local lingo for once. I felt hopeless in the absence of a phrasebook but a smiley game of charades was always an entertaining alternative! Charming people. My only real problem besides the enduring lack of a useable ATM was how to make further progress. I had a choice to make whether I should aim for Berestagi, a renowned travellers haunt offering hikes up 2 nearby volcanoes, or whether to forget that and just make a beeline for Danau Toba, a gargantuan volcanic lake the shape of a doughnut populated by Batak tribespeople. The easy way out to avoid numerous pricey and time consuming connections was just to head back to mammoth Medan and reach either from there direct, but the big city wasnt something to savour. I managed to beat the rain that night, but the slow rhythmic tapping of the tin roof contracting with the night chill was soon joined by a pitter patter above my head, building into a crescendo like a drummer doing a solo. It rained every night in this party of the world, and this was supposedly the dry season. It was the longest drum roll ever.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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