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Padang to Bengkulu

sunny

That night I couldnt sleep despite wonder of wonders, a rare plush room with air-con and TV, but I forced myself up for the inclusive brekkie only to be told there was none to be had. I treated myself to a tasty Martabak egg and veg folded pancake then, in compensation for being given the runaround by locals in search of seemingly non-existent bus offices. Then I made a beeline for the museum. It was a typically Maning Kabau stylised affair, mirroring all the modern public buildings which gave the city a refined air, even if the pavements were falling to bits. Though it was a fair sized collection and quite well presented, the standard offerings of the Museum of West Sumatra didnt glean much new spectacle, there was just the habitual array of traditional costumes, household and farming implements, though objects and photos of very traditional living indiginous peoples from around Indonesia were a highlight and made me quietly regret not finding the resolve to visit the Mentawai Islands for which Padang serves as the "mainland" port. It was amazing to consider that some of the local tribes still lived at least partially traditional lifestyles, semi clad and sporting body tattoos, with flower and feather headresses. A nail toothed saw resembling a giant wire brush was another interesting point, used for the dessicating of sago palm in withering down tree trunks. A second outbuilding was dedicated to the very fine local tradition of weaving, and it was a coincidence to have just met 2 rare foreigners in an older Dutch couple who were here to study and perfect that art. Some of the works on display were theirs they said. There was also an underwhelming collection of acceutriments for ceremonies, and perhaps unsurprisingly these closely matched Western culture, with a birth ceremony, a baptism, circumcision, marriage of course, then finally death. The only variable was the pomp associated with the inauguration of village chiefs and I also belatedly learned that the religious ceremony I had touched upon in Bukittingi is known as Khatam Quran. More tantalising were a couple of stoneworks nestling outside, first a stone inscribed with an unspecified script looking more akin to some of the mainland South East Asian styles, and I could only guess that it was an example of the unique writing which had evolved around soon to be visited Bengkulu. Such was Bengkulu's isolation, cut off by the high Bukit Barisan range which squeezed it onto the coast, that a distinct culture had grown unchallenged by outside influence. The second piece was a statue of what I took to be a deity figure, on the face of it appearing to have Hindu or Buddhist influences, and yet pragmatically held aloft by a circle of skulls. Off at a tangent, the only other point of note for me was another Harvard aircraft, this one unusually with wing encased machine guns to complement its underslung rockets. That was it then, having no information to hand about bus departures I had to make an early move back to the hotel to grab my bag and hoof it through the heat to the central Opelet terminal, where none of them seemed to be heading for the bus terminal at Aie Pacah, inexplicably inconveniently situated some 12Ks out of town. Since there were so many incumbents, a friendly Becak driver convinced me that my best option was to charter one, for which the price would have been acceptable had he taken me all the way. Frustratingly now seeing the dedicated purple Opelets on the way, I foolishly allowed myself to be dropped short at a crossroads, which though proferring bus offices did not afford me the choice I yearned. It was a mammoth 16 hour trek down to Bengkulu and I wanted to get this one right. The first office I tried seemed to fit the bill, with a big bus reputedly leaving at 3, though I resisted payment until I saw it for myself. Certainly that didnt stop a rival chancer from using every bare faced lie to try and get me onto a minibus for Mukomuko, a coastal town only half way there. At another time that might have seemed a saner option, but having been in country a month and with only half the length of Sumatra under my belt, I now felt the pressing need to cover some serious mileage fast. It helped that there were not so many obvious distractions in the south of the island, but I had deliberated until the day before as to whether heading for the city of Jambi across the other side near the East coast might have been preferable. Jambi promised access to the most important archaeological site in all Sumatra, a Hindu/Buddhist city known as Muara Jambi testifying to a wholly unexpected history in these parts, but enquiry had revealed that in the absence of a direct cross-island road, the otherwise excusable direct flight to Bengkulu would actually be via Jakarta, and that wasnt overlanding. I could have skipped Bengkulu then, but in it lay the special attraction of being the only site at which the Brits had ever managed to assert a sustained colonial toehold in all Indonesia, it was a must see. The big bus turned up as advertised and I had held back my money until aboard, so it was a stricken split second decision then what to do upon seeing that there wasnt a seat for me. Against my better judgement I made the dubious hardcore decision of just accepting it, with the pressing desire to cover ground winning over the alternative prospect of an unplanned night in Mukomuko. Feeling short changed by first the Opelet driver and then the ticket touts, it was with a grumpy acceptance that I pulled up my hard plastic stool centre aisle, and I knew I was in for a tough ride. The evening meal stop at 8 couldnt come soon enough, already having resorted to alternately standing and sitting, my legs taking the strain when my arse and back could take no more. It didnt help that some with seats had paid less than me, and others by rights should have stood since they didnt have an advanced reservation, but there was no such decorum in these parts. After the stop, where even a cup of tea had been too much to ask due to shitty service, I resorted to sitting on my bag to afford some padding but that was little better, and so a horrendous excruciating night devoid of sleep unfolded, another 9 hours of punishment with inexplicably no more rest stops to puncture it. For good measure the locals started stripping off amongst grumblings of "panas" (hot), the air-con had proved to be exactly that, just one more con.

Dog tired and feeling like the bus had just run over me, upon arrival in Bengkulu at 0530 I mercilessly fell into the throes of a press gang of Becak drivers making a beeline for the lucrative dumb tourist, but my mood helped me in snubbing these guys out of spite as much as anything else. Every 30 seconds the latest of a seemingly endless supply of them would hit on me to wind up the ratchet one more click, and they dont know how to take no for an answer. Incredulous with frustration, this was one of the few occasions when I really lost my rag and gave a wholly unrestrained Reservoir Dogs style rebuke. After that, every last mother fucking one of the people in the bus office new the script, and belayed any further chancers. As the light slowly began to break the night it was another candle in the darkness to learn then that we had terminated uncharacteristically centrally in the city, compounded by the revelation that my den of choice lay only 200 metres away. The tea never tasted so sweet as I waited for the Vista Hotel to open up, and upon learning that only the most expensive rooms were available, my renewed resolve still allowed me to hoof the alternative heavily laden trek to choice number 2, thanking that the city still slumbered to leave me now unmolested. No such problems here, and though a grungy travellers haunt devoid of travellers, the bonus cranky old air-con unit and super cold Mandi in my Dutch period villa still did the trick. What a relief!

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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