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I'd slept like a log that night after 2 tough restless days, despite the interruption of the habitually superloud 5am prayer call. One thing which had become readily apparent on the way down from Sibolga had been the Christianity of the Batak country giving up its gentle grip, to be replaced by mosques and an army of headscarves and skullcaps. A terrific sunny day got me up early enough though, another surprise after a fortnight of stormy overcast frustration in the main, especially unexpected here at an altitude of 930 metres. The bugs had relented for good measure too. I used the blazing morning to good effect with a deep clean laundry, appreciating fantastic views from my high verandah in the process of nearby mighty Mt. Merapi, a 9000 foot volcanic cone. It had been one of my tentative intentions to climb it, either that or neighbouring Mt. Singgalang, but it was almost fortunate in talking with a passing Swiss guy to be warned of the lengthy difficult ascent. Devoid of a climbing mate, and baulking at the idea of a "tour", with everyone else here seeming to be more mainstream holidaymakers, I let that one go then, excused in the knowledge that Mt. Bromo on Java would serve as a "must do" alternative. Besides, Merapi had erupted as recently as 1979 and nature here had to be respected. I didnt normally bother with tourist offices but the one here proved to be useful in checking out numerous local offerings, first of all confirming despite misleadings from the guidebook that no, I was not to be fortunate in catching a bulfight, these were reserved either for weddings or arranged clandestinely with gambling in mind. It was actually buffalos which were used, a tradition of locking horns which had evolved to encourage good breeding, and the animals werent harmed in the process. I was made aware of other interests however, such as a coalmining industry which with its serviant railway infrastructure had both been preserved as museums.

I settled for a casual day checking out the sights around town then, with first tick off the list being Fort de Kock. This was an 1825 construction built in defence of Bukittingi against local insurrection, serving as a command centre during the Parsi Wars, when the Dutch had sidled with local chiefs against Islamic extremists. It also functioned to contend against Japanese threats during World war I. There was little left besides a few scattered cannon to bely its history however, and the fort merely resembled a square stilt elevated block centering a picnic park with caged birds dotted around. Across the very colourful footbridge straddling one of the towns main streets from here, the animal menagerie crescendoed into a full blown zoo. I didnt normally do zoos and this place reminded me why, with a male elephant tethered by a chain around its foot, tigers, camels and bears kept in oversmall unstimulating enclosures, and I didnt even dare invesigate the primate section after a distant orang utan clutching at its cage told me all I needed to know. Having seen them in the wild at Bukit Lawang, I could appreciate just how much of a crime that was.

There was a museum here too though which I checked out, a large fantastic example of Maning Kabau architecture, all red and yellow painted exterior carvings and pointy gables, betraying similar yet distinct characteristics akin to Batak or Nias culture. The interior collection was underwhelming on the whole, but introduced me to local costumary such as the red and gold extravaganza once worn by the defunct local Sultanate, also the typical country garb of notably women porting a "bullhorn" cloth headwrap making their heads an inverted triangle. The heat caught up with me after that, though I did manage a belated sunset stroll out to a panorama viewpoint overlooking a nearby canyon, with Mt. Singgalang acting as a fine backdrop, whereupon I also unexpectedly chanced upon the nearby Army Museum with an unusually rocket armed Harvard trainer aircraft acting as a guardian. That would have to wait for another day, and I tried and failed to invest the evening in a net session, failing to even get a connection during 12 minutes of waiting. Thats Sumatra for you!

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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