A Travellerspoint blog

Bengkulu

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I crashed out until 11 that morning but that was OK, since though I would only have one day to appreciate Bengkulu, its sights were all easily reachable in a convenient loop. A short stroll down to a headland revealed what little remained of Fort York, the first British stronghold here dating back to 1685, of which nothing is now left save the foundations which now serve as a picnic area cum viewpoint, staring out across a bay with a fine sandy beach. Much more extant is the nearby Fort Marlborough, an impressive and largely intact supercession constructed with very strong walls and a moat 1714-19. I crossed the drawbridge past heavily studded wooden doors into the entrance portal to immediately discover that 4 unfortunate colonials had unusually been buried under the entry ramp, including one which was related to be a "Henry Stirling of the Kingdom of Scotland and who departed this life on the first day of April 1744 aged 25 years".

The British garrison at "Bencoolen" as it was known wasnt exactly a roaring success. With many such incumbents succumbing to disease at an early age, its raison d'etre the quest for pepper only became belatedly profitable after 1816 with the arrival here of Raffles of Singapore fame. The fort was taken twice, once by local raiders immediately upon its completion in 1719, and then by the French in 1760. The colony's eventual success was then destined to be short lived, with the Brits ceding it to the Dutch in 1824 in exchange for Melaka. The sole snippet of new information I managed to glean from the few paltry storyboards around, written only in Bahasa, was that this deal was known as the Treaty of London. A chronology of the fort's history was also the first reference I had come across to what the Indonesian's referred to as "Agressi II", the Second Aggression. I would only discover later what that meant. A few rusty cannon still lay around, one still betraying a crown and what appeared to be FR, though I could not think to which British monarch that might relate. Another stood unusually on a wheeled trestle, dated 1868 and so probably Dutch, and there were also large turntables on the corner embattlements, the guns long gone. The arsenal was now but a black hole, and the barracks though still in good condition were absent of any interest. That was with the exception of the knowledge that the Dutch had held future president Soekarno here in exile for 4 years until the Japanese arrived in 1942. Not much of a salvation!

It was just amazing to find an outpost of British legacy in these parts, and the theme continued with another short stroll up to a small town centre park where lay ensconced the small whitewashed dome which was the Thomas Parr Monument. It was unmiraculous in itself and sat in memorial to a British governor who did not endear himself to the locals, they revolted and beheaded him in 1806. Within sight stood an all together much more grand monument, a very tall pinnacle in white marble which centred Lapangan Merdeka (Freedom Square). Upon one side a relief carving depicted Soekarno declaring the Proclamation of Independence, the other side showing what I initially took to be a celebration of the victory over communist insurgents in 1968, though it might have been the Japs. Opposite it lay a fine whitewashed palace with deer shading in its garden, the local governors house. From here I was let down by an inaccuracy of my map, but with a long sweltery hunt back and forth I finally managed to track down my next goal, the European cemetery. Here lay memories of British and Dutch unfortunates who had succumbed to the privations of hardship in tropical climes, there was a mausoleum to infant deaths and typically a sizeable plinth to a Dutch boy who had not yet turned 20. Some inscriptions told of military commanders whose lives had been cut short, and another very humble plaque only just discernible listed local names above one described as a Scots engineer. Even though its pedigree stretched into the twentieth century, the oldest name recorded had reached only 51 years. Though Fort Marlborough got a mention on some, palpably more inscriptions referred mystifyingly to Fort St. George, and there was even a Dutchman who had served at Fort de Koch, Bukittingi. The most striking revelation for me though was the discovery of a stone plinth mounted with a sadly eroded sculpture of Greyfriars Bobby, in precise copy of the original at Tollcross. There was unfortunately no inscription to bely its significance and it had rather insensitively been hidden behind a large block boasting of the cemetery's dubious renovation in modernity, but bloody hell what a discovery in these parts.

In searching out the cemetery I had also made a foray down to the nearby ocean, finding a very long fine beach which was unusual in not having been encroached upon by the city. Continuing my tour, a small traffic roundabout encircled the next point of note, a disappointingly small white obelisk known as the English Monument, which stood over the remains of a Captain Robert Hamilton, who died aged 38 in 1793 "in command of the troops, second member of the government". My sweltery trek continued past a very fine and large whitewashed angular mosque, and then past a Dutch villa which had also been used by Soekarno in exile. I resisted the doubtless underwhelming museum inside and so found myself in Bengkulu's main shopping street, where I promptly ODed on well earned isotonic drinks and local speciality Bakso, a meatball and noodle soup. With Bengkulu now superefficiently in the bag, I then excelled myself with 4 hours at a remarkably passable net cafe, by now weary of the thousandth "Hello mister' of the day on my traipse back to bed. I got some important catching up done with my writing for good measure that night, yet Bengkulu did not have the decency to reward me with a beer.

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Padang to Bengkulu

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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!

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Bukittingi to Padang

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I'd left myself a couple of hours that morning before hitting the road again, which I invested in banging my head inexorably against infernally poor internet provision, I waited a full 20 minutes at the first joint without even getting a connection, and then the second one finally hooked up only for the pages to scroll excruciatingly slowly. I somehow managed to read my emails but could not even contemplate replies or other important work. I'd opted for the convenience of a swarthy overpriced minivan for the convenience of door to door service, tempered by the 2 hour trip stretching to 3 by the time I got dropped off last. The guidebook had singularly ommitted the cheapie hotels in Padang such was their reputedly grim nature, and so I paid a few quid more for a more homely option, a grand villa all plastic flowers and ostentatious colonial furniture. Just around the corner I found the beach, with the palm trees and a jungly headland trying their best to offset the less than perfect litter strewn black sand. From there I rounded a headland towards the local river, with some very picturesque vistas of colourful boats dotted around and very rudimentary dug out canoes being hewn from logs out of a dilapidated quayside colonial relic. Other Dutch architectural vestiges were more noteworthy, mainly having served as warehouses, though another surprise all together was unbetold by the guidebook, a Chinese community boasting many clan houses, a typically garish temple and many 2 story merchant houses reminiscent of Georgetown on Penang.

With the light fading I wrapped off a blazing day with a super spicy Nasi Goreng, washed down by my first 2 Anker beers. Ensconced by the riverside where competing stalls variously blared out either passable Indonesian ballads or caustic karaoke, basket proferring beggar kids were no match for local babes more interested in photo opportunities with the big white weirdo. Understandable I suppose!

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Bukittingi again

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It had been my intention to leave for big city Padang today, but besides having a couple of important attractions to try to squeeze into the morning, other considerations served to delay my departure. I had realised a little late that I would hit Padang on the one day the local museum, seemingly the cities sole redemption, would be closed. I'd also sussed that the French Grand Prix was on that night and skeptical as to the chances of catching it in Padang, touristy Bukittingi would cater better I chanced. I tackled a few morning chores such as another infernal laundry routine, as well as taping up one of the shoulder straps of my now weary looking bag which had begun to fray badly. I also managed to fashion myself a second standby miniature torch, salvaged from a fangled defunct lighter, it was the size of an almond and worked well. During all this I'd been "entertained" by a cacophany of sound emanating from the town, with a drum band seemingly competing against the mosques for supremacy. Its as well to note here that in all my Islamic wanderings I had never had to endure such a constant litany as was pumped out here in Bukittingi. Besides the predictable 5 times daily dirge which was the painful sounding muezzins call, the main mosque in town here continued unabated with an all day diatribe of brainwashing bullshit, liberally peppered with references to Allah and Mohammed, even broadcasting perceptibly sycophantic conversations of mutual affirmation. If these guys were trying to buy themselves into paradise then Allah would certainly have to afford them a few brownie points for effort. It was then over breakfast that the local boys at the hotel explained the juxtaposed jungle beat. It transpired to be in celebration of the graduation of the local Islamic students for christsake, whereupon today there would be Koranic recital competitions, tempered by a festival of indiginous Maning Kabau culture in costume, music and dance. One of the guys even offered me the chance of suiting up in local moslem garb for it, doubtless for a price. It would clash with the Grand Prix but I would think about it, I was Mashti Andy after all!

I hoofed it over a brow of hilly Bukittingi headed back to the local panorama park, a viewpoint which afforded a fine vista over Sianok Canyon with Mt. Singgalang serving as a fantastic backdrop. Upon entry to the park I hadnt yet had a chance to notice the resident monkey brigade here until it was too late, parked on a bench sorting myself out, a cheeky macaque sneaked up behind me and nabbed my can of juice. I saw the funny side and was just glad it hadnt been my camera. The offendor sat proud as punch on a fencepost swigging away before a vicious squabble ensued for a share of the loot! It was from here that I went out in search of the Gua Jepang, the Japanese Caves. The Japs had dug in here using forced local labour during World War II in no uncertain fashion, to create a veritable rabbits warren inside one wall of the gorge face. A false start down chunky stairs into the valley floor only revealed sealed off tunnel mouths, but I re-ascended to find the entrance next to a memorial statue of Japanese soldiers, or perhaps it was intended to be in denigration of them. Surprisingly the guides left me to descend again unmolested, to find a grid of long grey bores, some of which must have been a kilometre or more in length. Rather disappointingly there were no lingering vestiges of their occupation, and even the many labelled cross shafts signed variously as Geology Museum, Theatre and Cafe were now defunct. That was in contrast to the complete absence of directional signs, you could have got lost with little difficulty. Fortunately no one had had the sick sense of humour of moving the vacant custodians chair which pinpointed the only way out!

The theme was continued in part across the road at the local War Museum, and from a small collection of arms and black and white photos I tried to piece together Sumatra's seemingly constant legacy of occupation and insurrection. Traditional swords and machetes on display had been used in the mysterious Paderi, Kamang and Manggopoh campaigns. I was then left a little puzzled by the Sitiyuh Batur incident of January 1949 whereupon the KLIN, the Dutch colonial army had been tipped off about guerrillas fighting for Sumatran independence and wiped them out to a man. Indonesia had shirked off the Dutch immediately after World War II so I believed, but the chronology was subsequently qualified by the revelation of a storyboard, explaining that under the premise of Allied Forces who had accepted the Japanese surrender and stayed to oversee prisoner processing, the Dutch had incredibly pursued ambitions to re-colonise the country. It seemed that there had been a mini insurrection in Surabaya (Java) in late 1945 for unfathomable reasons and I could only guess that the Dutch had tried to maintain a toehold there. I later learned that in fact it was local opposition to the Allied demands to surrender captured Japanese and Dutch weapons, they surely new that they would need them. Another rare and legible caption in English spilled the beans again in relating how the Dutch had subsequently gone against the 1947 Linggarjati Agreement and overtly attacked Indonesia, eventually resulting in a ceasefire being signed aboard a US warship in late 1948, known as the Renville Accord. One photo had shown the Proclamation of Independence by Sukarno on 17th August 1945, and there were subsequent comparable declarations and ceremonies to finalise the protracted path to freedom 4 and 5 years later to the day once the Dutch had been forced out once and for all. Other depictions of ceremonial troops and fighters in the field allowed me to appreciate just how bumpy the road to Indonesia's independence had been, and why their colonial masters had been so deeply resented. This had been achieved with the help of captured Japanese and Dutch weapons, and there was also a veritable arsenal on display of home made revolvers, British Tommy guns, Bren guns of varying nationality, even a German Schmeiser. Mortars, both contrived home grown models and captured ones were represented, and they had even made use of machine guns and cannons retrieved from downed aircraft. There were photos of abandoned Japanese aircraft being put to use too. I was then reminded of the 1964 "Konfrontasi" movement against Malaysia, and then the September 1965 Communist Revolt in Jakarta which was crushed by General Suharto. This I later learned to be a sham of staggering proportions, it was Suharto himself who had instigated the coup to glean power, simultaneously using the premise to crush the Communist movement and his fellow generals. As if to remind me that this country had just seen one war after another, there was also a cabinet full of captured weapons and artifacts from "Fretelin" East Timorese freedom fighters seized during "Operation Seroja" 1977-79. It was rather poignant to see a local banknote written in Portugese and a bracelet once worn by a guy called Jesus. No resurrection for this one though.

On the way back around town I caught the Hatta Monument, a statue of the Bukittingi born boy made good, who had risen to become Indonesia's first vice president. I resisted the drudgery of traipsing out to his doubtless underwhelming birthplace museum, but it served to point out that Sumatra had seemingly held a surprisingly important role in the country's history. It had been remarked between other travellers that of Sumatra one expected only rainforest and little else, yet it wasnt like that at all. Pretty bushed after another hot one, I had done service to all that Bukittingi boasted and so invested the rest of the day in writing, before catching the Grand Prix over a few beers. The muslims could keep their prayer parade.

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Motorbiking around Maning Kabau country

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Shunning the prospect of what would have been a convoluted, hassle loaded day aboard Opelet minibuses, life on the edge seemed to make more sense, and so I resolved to hire myself another bike. The cheerfully cheap Yamaha 125 from the hotel soon landed me in the deep end negotiating a nightmare of heavy unpredictable partisan town traffic, but somewhat surprisingly I managed to track down the right road out of Bukittingi for the small market town of Baso, before thankfully turning right and leaving the frenzy behind on a twisty country road. The scenery had opened up to reveal the volcanoes like never before, and rural scenes of endless rice fields dotted with charismatic architecture found me appreciating the freedom a bike afforded. It had been a major blow upon hiring it that in contemplating my itinerary, the guy at the hotel had shown me a paper headline from 4 months previous, the major drawcard of the "Kings Palace" in a village called Pagaruyung was shown to be engulfed in flames, reputedly struck by lightning. It was a serious loss to local tourism and was being rebuilt, but that was small compensation to me. I retained my thoughts in that direction however, with other villages boasting waterwheels and other old houses, and though they eluded me in the main, finally it was a beautiful varying trip out to the hub town of Batu Sangkar. It was not without its charms and even the unusual request for my passport from a friendly local cop was obviously done more out of curiosity. I wasnt dumb though, he made do with a photocopy. It was a point of note that perhaps unexpectedly, there had been a singular lack of the meddling I had sometimes had to endure from the authorities elsewhere, Sumatra was much too friendly and relaxed for that. There was a fine large Maning Kabau longhouse in the town centre, exquisitely carved and painted as ever, and a flit around the main street revealed shopping centres which had been considerately built in harmony with the local architectural style. The boys at an unusually inviting restaurant struggled to understand "the gula" (sugar tea) and I could only guess that they werent even used to speaking Bahasa Indonesia, certainly not with tourists. It was here that I had my first full encounter with the local Padang cuisine, very popular and destined to become a default favourite, and it was similar in its presentation to the fare of Kurdish Iraq. There was no menu to consult, they simply covered the table to groaning point with a myriad of portion sized diverse offerings, you just took your pick and paid accordingly. Variously fried, dried or curried fish and chicken were the staples, though other delights included chili paste coated shrimps, chili and curry laced vegetables and even eggs which they managed to spice still within the shell.

Through necessity I'd had to break out my long broken sunspecs for the bike ride, but a chance opticians here had them fixed in no time, and the "Hello misters" here were toned with an air of surprise. I resisted the temptation of the 16K round trip out to the village of Belimbing which purportedly boasted a particularly noteworthy house, but managed to ask and understand alternative directions for the nearby hamlet of Limo Kaum, which promised more of the same. Approaching round the other side of Mt. Merapi now, my loop revealed rice paddies of super fluorescent green in terraces now, with farm folk tending them in conical pointy reed hats and men ploughing with buffalo. In an undisclosed subsequent hamlet a very large and old looking multi-tiered building too large to be a house was an unexpected marvel, and after a quick tea stop where the wifey wanted to take me home to a party, I bypassed the large town of Padang Pajang, noting some very grand contemporary architecture in traditional style. I'd been short changed with the amount of fuel I had on board, but it was only about 30p a litre here and you just bought it from any ordinary grocers or dedicated roadside stall out of a plastic bottle. The completion of the loop back to Bukittingi revealed an excellent vista of a very contrasting mosque and Maning Kabau house against the habitual rice and volcano backdrop.

With frequent stops for photos, fuel and lunch I'd still managed a loop of maybe 100Ks by 1pm, and so with plenty daylight left it was almost on a whim that I turned left just short of Bukittingi and headed for Danau Minanjau. Lake Minanjau was a side trip well represented in the guidebook but it was one detour I had initially resisted with little concern, I reasoned that after Lake Toba it couldnt possibly bear me much new fruit. How wrong I was. Looking at the map, it was a fair old jaunt to get out there but with the road initially proving straight and flat I hammered on at up to 80KPH, no longer wary of overtaking the locals. It was an abrupt change then as I descended switchbacks into a canyon, with the road being cut sheer through towering rock faces at some points, before grinding up another series of twists into the village of Murat. Nothing too exciting spare the views, I pressed on, occasionally getting caught out by the bad local habit of digging out potholes but not immediately filling them back in. When you ever saw roadworks in these parts the sites chosen often seemed arbitrary, the methods rudimentary. After a quick Pocari Sweat pit stop providing more stunning views of mountains and lurid green carpet far below, I started to both twist and descend more radically now, until I spied a telltale sign proclaiming "Kelok 44". Kelok meant turn, and the guidebook had foretold of a mammoth switchback section with the turns counting down to 1. Handy for pinpointing if you had a breakdown, but you wouldnt want one out here. The turns proved to be very steep and abrupt, with hard won control over rutted sections making it tricky to avoid traffic under the squeal of gear assisted braking. Soon though, a blowaway image of a shiny blue lake marooned by a towering cauldron of topography stole the horizon. Amazing. In between the turns I had to dodge the monkies as they chased after tit bits thrown from preceding cars. Negotiating turn 1 finally presented me with a straight in descent into Maninjau village, and I turned right along the one shoreline road, passing more extremely charming houses devoid of the habitual pointy gables in the main. They were still aesthetic wonders nonetheless of carved and painted motifs, ornate shutterboards and occasionally plaited whickerwork walls. The few Ks hence mustered overtly more touristy developments devoid of tourists save a lone couple, and I used the excuse of fuel and then a tea stop to search out some prime viewpoints. A magic moment materialised as a dugout canoe paddled underneath an overhanging palm tree, backgrounded by shack wielding fish farms and dark looming 500 metre high escarpments. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been. With the tourist cafes singularly dead, I plumped for tea at the one happening place in town, a 3 table shack where the locals played an untold game of miniature cards and irritatingly slapped down dice. Life was so comatosed here that casual enquiries and smiling ogles were deemed more important than service, but I got my tea in the end. I loaded up on water too since the Bukittingi region had been consistently cloud free and blazing, and I marvelled at the now deep brown hue of my Factor 30 arms too. It was the same rollercoaster road back up into Bukittingi, with the steep turns proving even more of a challenge uphill, complicated by stark contrasts of light and the maniac driving of others. By the time I reached the junction and made enquiries about the left turn into town, the light had begun to fade and it got cold negotiating the heavy free-for-all rush hour traffic which thought nothing of abruptly shutting you out or blocking the road if it suited them. And you were a mug if you respected the traffic lights. Thankfully my previous wanderings around town enabled me to identify the way home with little difficulty and it was with a certain incredulous relief that I managed to park up at the comfy Orchid Hotel without having bent the bike or myself. I'd been glad to have a crash helmet that day, certainly the adventure had warranted it, and it was one final surprise to note that I'd travelled almost 300Ks. Quite a trip. Pretty shattered with all that sun, fresh air and concentration, I stole myself into the freezing shower to see that my now bordering on black tinge was due to being caked in pollution. After briefly flaking out, beer was the order of the day, which doesnt explain how I managed ending up talking to the locals about entry fees for Telford College, UK immigration policy, and fucksake, how wonderful Islam was.

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