Back to the airport again for our next flight to Padang, Sumatra, Indonesia. Padang, at first, in our minds was brutal. A completely overpopulated sprawling, dirty metropolis. We finally found our Lonely planet recommended hotel after trudging the maze of identical looking streets for a while until breaking down and paying a cab to take us directly there. Covered in sweat from lugging around our packs we entered the Hotel Immanuel. Sounds nice right? Wrong! Well, I guess if was ok if you don't mind the smell of piss while you sleep. I knew it was a classy place when the guy showing us our room came with a can of air freshener and sprayed it into the air conditioner to give the room a lovely fragrance of jasmine and piss..... Mmmmm! Well, what can I say about Padang? Erin and I came up with a list of emotions that one might feel when first arriving in Padang; If you feel the urge to top yourself........... this is completely normal
. If you are wondering if you made the biggest mistake in the world by coming to this shit hole............ this is completely normal. If you feel the urge to start throwing fists and tell everyone that is following you and staring at you in awe as you walk by..........this is totally normal. And the list goes on. But we eventually did find a sanctuary. A nice little café situated just off the dirty needle littered beach where all of our prayers were answered. We spotted two non-Asian tourists heading down the beach towards the café. Pretty hard to miss in Padang as I initially thought we were the only white people in the entire city. So Joel and Alex walked in a sat at the table beside us. They were very friendly and could sense our frustration and sympathized with us. They gave us some great insight into the city and some ideas of what to do. Joel had been living in Indonesia in a town called Bukittinggi for three months now. He was great! We had already made up our mind about getting the hell out of the city as soon as possible. He mentioned that if we came to Bukittinggi (which was going to our next stop anyway) that we should come by the hotel that he worked at and he would see if he could get us a discount. That, among other great info they shared was such a great help and finally made us feel a little more at ease in Padang. Patience is not one of my best virtues, but without it here you would go insane. So we both numbed our senses with alcohol and headed out to brave the market
. It was actually pretty cool. Tonnes of stalls all crammed into a very small area selling everything under the sun. We haggled with a few guys over some bootleg DVD's and toured the market streets for a while. I must say that I don't think I every felt so white! But everyone was super friendly and big smiling faces at every turn. I think we were a novelty that the locals don't often see, so they made every effort to say hello, shake our hands and practice some of their English on us. It was actually really funny once I broke out of my North American shell. We ate dinner in a seafood restaurant that night. We had freshly caught Jack fish that we hand picked from a cart that was wheeled up to our table with all of the catches of the day. It was a great meal, with drinks and a fresh fruit platter for desert, all for about $18. Not bad at all!
Although we were getting somewhat accustomed to the big city, deep down we are really not "big-city folks", so we made an executive decision to get the hell out of dodge. We used the Lonely planet guide book map to try and get us to the express bus terminal to catch at bus to Bukittinggi. What a nightmare! With both of us carrying 80lbs backpacks, 40˚C heat and a maze of garbage ridden streets we were about to loose it completely. We walked around in circles for about an hour until finally we asked a security guard that pointed us in the right direction
. So now we were finally getting out of the city on a mini bus packed full with 9 people! Erin and I were dripping with sweat and the locals didn't seem to eager to be packed into the seats next to us. Can't blame them at all. But it wasn't so bad. We only had a two hour drive along pot-hole ridden roads to go with me half sitting on the metal diving bar between the seats and half sitting on Erin's lap, while messaging my ears with my knees due to the ample leg room in front of me. Man, I sure bitch a lot don't I? But every cloud has a silver lining. After a couple of bus transfers and a taxi ride later, we made it the Joel's hotel, Hotel Campago. The front desk staff called Joel down to meet us in the lobby and he was definitely surprised to see us so soon. Turns out he is the only 23 and is the hotel assistant manager and speaks Indonesian very well........... I think? So he grabbed a room key from behind the desk and lead us to our room......... or villa more like it........ YES! So he showed us around the Anggrek cottage and said we could stay as long as we need. When I asked how much it was going to cost us, he said "don't worry about it"..... ??? Free? Unbelievable! The cost per night would've been 3,000,000 Rp (which is about $333 / night). Joel is God! Erin and I were floored! All of a sudden we went from wondering what the hell we had done leaving home, to a state of Nirvana! Finally, this was starting to feel like the vacation we were hoping for. Joel (from Phoenix Arizona ) and Alex (from New Zealand) met us later on in the lobby to show us around
. Bukittinggi is a beautiful little town set high up in the mountains (about 930 meters above sea level), surrounded by three volcanoes, two of which are still active (Merapi, Singgalang and Sago, the dormant one). We took a hike through the local national park (Sianok Canyon). Saw some beautiful panoramas of the volcanoes and other surrounding mountains. A walk way guides you around the cliff edge with monkeys climbing all over the railings as you go. During the Japanese invasion of Indonesia during the Dutch rule of Bukittinggi, they built a labyrinth of tunnels under the mountains to store all of their munitions and set-up a military headquarter. We were able to walk through the tunnels and have a glimpse into what life must've been like for a Japanese soldier in Indonesia. We met a local souvenir stall owner named Coin (Cowen
). He does tours up to the summit of mount Merapi for $35 / person. He picks you up at midnight and you start on a six hour trek to the volcano's peak. You reach the summit around sunrise at which time he makes fresh coffee and cooks up some snake for breakfast............ Mmmmm! Sold! So this is definitely on our list of things to do here. After walking around the park for a couple of hours we went to Texas chicken for dinner. Pretty traditional fare I know. We ordered our food at 6pm but were not allowed to eat until 6:30pm as we are here during the month of Ramadan. Bukittinggi is predominantly Muslim and during Ramadan all of the locals fast from 7am until 6:30pm
. They are required to attend prayer sessions six times a day during which time prayers are sung through loud speakers from all of the mosques in the surrounding area. The music sounds very interesting, but as the sounds mesh together from prayers being sung from 5 or so mosques, the atmosphere becomes very eerie. At 6:30pm a load alarm rings across the town signifying that the daily fast is over. After we ate dinner we did some grocery shopping for supplies to sustain us back at the villa........ Beer, candy, chips, coffee and fruit for breakfast. All the essentials. We came back to Hotel Campago and Joel brought over a DVD player to our room to watch one of the bootleg DVD's we bought, Batman, The Dark Knight. Pretty good flick.
This is our chill out day. We are doing absolutely nothing........... Brilliant! Journal writing and book reading and hanging out in the villa is just what the doctor ordered! After lazing around all day we hooked up with Joel and Alex and went out for dinner in town. Afterwards, we came back to the hotel and met in Joel's office and did some internet surfing till 2am.
We went into town as our grocery supply was running thin. We got to one of the only restaurants that were open in town (due to Ramadan), the Apache café
. The sign out front read "Only for tourists..... Breakfast, lunch and dinner). Had a great toasted egg and cheese sandwich there and drinks for only $2.50. On our way back to the hotel we bumped into Joel and Alex. Joel let me use his cell phone to call Coin about the trek. I hooked it up for that night. He was coming to get us at 10pm for the 10 hour hike up the mountain. Erin and I decided that it would be a good idea to go back to our room and try and get some sleep and conserve energy for the trek. We both had around a 4 hour sleep. Erin called Joel and Alex over and cut their hair as a token of our appreciation for all of their hospitality. Then Joel asked the hotel chef to make us a meal on the house, so he one upped us again..... J . Coin was actually early to pick us up which was a good sign. We headed off to the base of the mountain. It was about a ˝ hour drive away. We started off the trek at a telecommunications tower after a pretty hairy drive up a pothole laden road that twisted up the base of the volcano with at least a 60˚ incline. It was pitch black so we all had flash lights. As we started to enter into to the jungle at the base we noticed what looked to be eyes glowing in the dark in the trees. They turned out to be tiny mushrooms and they were everywhere. They were called ``Chunky``. The hike through the jungle was gruelling. The terrain was uneven, tree roots jutting out everywhere with slippery mud banks. Thank goodness it was not raining
. The initial hour of hiking really got our legs burning. The steady climb started from around 900 meters above sea level and the summit of the volcano was 2600 meters. So in six hours we had 1700 vertical meters to climb. This meant that there was a constant incline of at least 65˚. Pretty hard work! And to top it off, Erin was feeling ill from the dinner we ate back at the hotel. She had heartburn from the spice and her stomach was not doing too well either. Not a good combination for climbing a mountain. She braved through it though. After around 4 hours of climbing we cleared the forest.
The next leg of the climb was on the rock laden part of the mountain. This was actually more difficult to climb as the small rocks would give way under your feet. At this point it was in the early hours of the morning and our legs were like jelly. The rest times became more frequent and sweat was just pouring off us. We reached the summit around 5am. It was still pitch black so Coin set-up a fire and cooked up some noodles for us and hot chocolate....Mmmm. We sure needed it! It was absolutely freezing at the summit. Had to be 0˚C and because we had been sweating so much it felt even colder. We snuggled next to each other for warmth and fell asleep behind a big rock we were using for shelter from the wind. When the sun started to rise, the wind died down a little and it started to warm slightly
. We made our last climb up to the very peak of the summit. Beautiful vistas opened up as the clouds began to dissipate. We then went to look into the crater of the volcano. Tonnes of white sulphurous smoke plumed out. The smell was horrible! We wore scarves over our faces so as not to breathe in the fumes. The crater seemed to be a bottomless pit. We threw rocks into its mouth and didn't ever hear them hit bottom. I guess it could've gone down the entire 2600 meter to the lava pool at ocean level. Who knows? After hanging out at the summit for a couple of hours we began our arduous journey back down the mountain. Going down was not as physically demanding, but it definitely took its toll more on our legs. The impact of jumping off of ledges and constantly having your toes pushed into the front of your boots made it a very long 4.5 hour hike back down. But we made it. Coin's brother was not waiting for us at the bottom, so we had to flag down a guy on a scooter to carpool us all to the bottom of the hill where the main road ran and we could catch the public transport to take us back into town. We got back to the hotel around 12:30pm and were absolutely exhausted! We went to bed and didn't get up until 6pm. We painfully walked into town to get some dinner back at the Apache café. We met a French couple there that wanted to hike up Mt. Merapi as well. It was hard to offer them positive advice at this point, but I think they got the idea that they had their work cut out for them it they wanted to go through with it. One of the locals at the bar was very friendly. Goatti (or something like that), was a big Victor Wooten fan, which surprised me as he is very underground. Anyway, he brought a guitar over to play us a tune and he was really good! Erin was singing with him as he played all of the music that we are into. Really great guy! Talked with a few other locals but had to cut the night short as we were fading fast. We got a cab back to the hotel as the thought of walking back sounded too painful. As soon as my head hit the pillow I was out!