moonwire

bukittinggi

Posted in bukittinggi, indonesia, sumatra by moonwire on August 1, 2009

Time to leave Padang. At around 9 AM I caught a public minivan (the kind with the sliding door taken out and benches put on both sides)  to the North of the city. Rap music was blasting from the speaker in the back but so far so good. I’ve been in one with packed to the max but this time there were only a few people on board.

When I got to where I said I needed to go, there were ‘guides’ already waiting with other minivans. I was quite happy to have found my way out so quickly and easily. I paid my 20k rupiah (about 2 dollars) and was quickly whisked to a minivan. I sat and waited for about an hour til the van was full and off we went. I felt all smug for being able to do all this so easily.

Well, while we drove through the North end of town, the driver kept on stopping to pick up more people. The van had 7 passenger seats, but quickly there were 12 passengers sharing those 7 seats.

As if being crushed wasn’t bad enough, the driver was an absolute maniac. Speeding like no tomorrow (soon enough there won’t be a tomorrow for him), and zigzagging through traffic. I honestly felt very scared during this trip. Then when we got to the South of Bukittinggi, everybody got off and I was the only passenger who needed to go to the centre, ‘Kampung China’. The maniac driver then proceeded to tell me he wanted another 20K rupiah for the last part of the trip. I had had enough of that asshole so I said no and I got out. He then lowered his price to 15, still no. Then 10. Still no. I had had it with the ripping off. He told me a taxi would cost me at least 25K rupiah. I thought, but didn’t say it out loud, ‘I’ll pay 100K for a taxi rather than you trying to rip me off.’

I said I’d walk the last 2 kilometres, but I ended up taking a public minibus and I was charged 2K, just like the locals. How nice, for a change. I have spent 2 months in Indonesia and I’ve watched and talked to enough locals to have an idea how much things cost. I am seriously sick of getting ripped off or them trying to rip me off. I know that as a tourist I can expect to pay a little more, and I don’t even mind; we’re talking about a few cents here and there but don’t do it blatantly. Not putting up with it; ma’af, ya?

So I told the minibus driver to drop me off at Singgala hotel. I had read a nice review of it in the Lonely Planet guide and as I knew I’d get to Bukittinggi early in the day, I hadn’t booked a room in advance.  So I get there. I had to pee really bad, so I decided to take the room after I had given it a quick glance. I walked into the bathroom… revolting. I got out of the bathroom and saw that there was a colony of mozzies in the room. After having gotten over 70 bites those 2 nights in Padang, I had enough of that, too. I grabbed my bag and walked to the reception where I told the man, his name was ‘Fonzie’, a big lie and that I had to leave as I was supposed to meet friends at another hotel. He then proceeded to tell me he had already booked the room for me and I had to stay. I wasn’t in the mood to be f***ed with, said sorry, smiled and walked out. Now what?

I decided to walk around the neighbourhood to see if there was something better. Most places I saw were disgusting, but eventually I did. I found the Orchid hotel. My first room, with a shared, rather disgusting bathroom, wasn’t so great, but after a little accident with a broken key I was moved into a lovely room with a private balcony. The bathroom was smelly and it had a squat toilet and a barely there shower, but at least this room had a good vibe, and I didn’t need to share a disgusting bathroom anymore.

I didn’t do much there. I felt really bummed out and tired. I walked around town a few times and there wasn’t much going on. Yeah, it’s pretty there. Great views of Mt. Merapi, an active vulcano, it’s very green and not so hot as it’s high in the mountains, but I just wasn’t feeling the place. Great and cheap food, though. That was the highlight of my day. I spent a lot of time reading in my room and I quite enjoyed that, but three days was  enough for me there. The weather was bad, too. Lots of rain. Lots.

Another thing that got to me there were the mosques. Sure, I had heard them in Java and Lombok and even in Lovina. Yogya had its fair share but it wasn’t anything like in Bukittinggi. In Bukittinggi, there are a lot of mosques, all very close together. And the chatter would start just after 4 AM and it would be loud and continous for several hours. Bukittinggi is supposed to be ‘relaxed’. Well, I was so sleep deprived that I didn’t find it exactly relaxing to be woken up that early and then not being able to sleep anymore (and ear plugs are not sufficient). Forget about naps, too. No chance.

View of Mt. Merapi, as seen from the rooftop of the Orchid Hotel.

However, after my drive to Bukittinggi, I knew I wasn’t going to be in the same position for at least 15 hours (instead of 12) in order to get to Lake Toba, my original Sumatran destination. I started to feel burnt out from being on the move (after I left Lovina, I did 1 night Sanur, 4 nights Kuala Lumpur, 6 nights Yogyakarta, 2 nights Jakarta, 2 nights Padang, and then 3 nights Bukittinggi) plus, I didn’t realize it then but I do now, I was coming down with something.

Enough of the hassles. I went online and I booked a ticket with Air Asia from Padang to Kuala Lumpur (only international destination I could find with a direct flight from Padang). I booked a nice room at the Tune Hotel in downtown KL as I had heard their rooms are comfy and their HOT showers are fabulous, then fly to Phuket, Thailand for some much needed chilling out. I’ve had enough of cramped, hot, sweaty, smoggy, crazy cities for now.

One thing I’ve learnt is not to listen to other people when it comes to ‘cool places’. Yogyakarta didn’t really do it for me, neither did the Borobudur, and definitely not Bukittinggi. On the other hand, places like Padang and Jakarta, which aren’t usually favourably talked about, I liked a lot. Those are real places with real people and not overrun with tourists. With the exception of the beaches, I hate tourist attractions. I don’t care what anybody says, when I do visit Cambodia, you won’t be seeing me at Angkor Wat.

The next installment will be a more cheerful one. I’m in Hat Kata, Phuket now. Getting over my exhaustion and cold by indulging in some sunshine, beach and reading. Nothing going on here.  Not too many tourists. Lovely.

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padang

Posted in indonesia, padang, sumatra by moonwire on July 31, 2009

My flight to Padang was delayed by almost 6 hours, so I basically spent most of my day at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport. There wasn’t all that much to do but there was a Starbucks and a good food place.

The flight itself was fine. It didn’t even take 2 hours to get there. Once the plane doors were open, I was out of the airport in 5 minutes (gotta love having only a carry on bag), and I found myself submerged in rain of biblical proportions. It was actually pretty cold, too. I expected it to be much hotter, being that close to the equator.

I got to my hotel in about 30 minutes. The hotel was okay. I did have to change rooms, from a double to 2x twin beds, but my second room was a lot nicer. Nice hardwood floors and a big wooden wardrobe (with no hangers – oh so Indonesian).

The big white building was my hotel; Hotel Nuansa.

My first night I didn’t do all that much. It was very rainy and windy so I ate at a little warung (tiny restaurant). The lady whipped up some fantastic nasi goreng (fried rice with a fried egg and prawn crackers). Padang food is supposed to be spicy and it definitely was. And cheap, too. My meal, with a drink, cost me 50 cents. Happy. After dinner I went back to my room as it was very stormy. I slept really well and woke up very early.

After brekkie, I decided to make a loop through the whole downtown core of Padang. I also wanted to check out the Batang Arau hotel. I had read that this hotel was situated near the harbour, in the old quarter of town. It used to be a bank, then converted into a very quirky hotel with four rooms. I had tried calling them from Jakarta but as my phone service died there, I didn’t think much of it when I was unable to reach them.

Lovely body art on display in the Old Quarter. Cantik!

My first mission however, was trying to find the Bukittinggi Wisata Express travel agent to book my ticket to Bukittinngi, a small town 2 hours north of Padang with stunning views of Mount Merapi (an active vulcano). I couldn’t find the agency for the life of me, but I did find a big mall with a lot of tiny little clothing stores selling loud t-shirts while blasting very loud, mostly cheesy punk rock music, from every corner.

As I couldn’t find the agency, I continued my walk into the old quarter. I did not encounter a single Westerner that day, but I felt like a celebrity. Everywhere I walked I heard ‘hellooo, misss’ and the occasional ‘hellooo, misterrr’. English sure isn’t widely spoken there.

Typical Indonesian street scene; dudes smoking and drinking at little roadside ‘restaurants’.

When I reached the Batang Arau hotel, it became clear why I hadn’t been able to reach them. They were closed. I peeked through the fence and it looked like it had been an amazing place. Too bad it’s no longer in business.

The now closed Batang Arau Hotel, which used to be an old (Dutch) bank building; ‘de Padangsche Spaarkas’.

Having said that, I could also understand why. Though personally, I enjoy just walking through towns, observing real life as opposed to touristy things, there isn’t all that much to draw the tourists in. Padang has gorgeous beaches surrounded by beautiful palm trees and there’s a promenade all along the beach with little outdoor restaurants. The only thing lacking is the customers. Just empty seats and tables. I also understand why. Though the beach has gorgeous sand and the water is warm, and there are great waves for surfing, there is so much litter on and around the beach, it’s shameful. No tourist wants to lie down between piles of empty cans and bottles and broken slippers. That’s one thing the people in Kuta/Legian (Bali) understand. Keep the beaches clean and the tourists will come.

Padang Beach; it must have been really nice many moons ago.

Kid at the one of many empty sea side restaurants.

I had a great day in Padang, though. I really enjoyed it. However, the issue of the travel agency was bothering me, so I called them. Out of business. No surprise, really.

Alley in the Old Quarter with the typical Padang ‘Minangkabau’ style pointy roofs.

Minangkabau style roofs are also used for modern buildings.

Having said that, I still had to get to Bukittinggi the next day, so I found the tourist office. Surprisingly, that hadn’t closed yet (still a matter of time). The man told me there are no more tourist buses to Bukittinggi. I would have to take local transport. He explained to me how to go about it and though it seemed a bit scary, I had no choice but to just do it. And I did. Sumatra style!

Padang’s old harbour. Despite the many wrecks and the shallow water, it is apparently still used.

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