Day 208: Danau Toba – Tarutung (905m) 95km. Rolling downhill with 400m total climbing.
Day 209: Tarutung – Padang Sidempuan (300m) 112km. 1270m total climbing, mostly through jungly valleys and villages.
Day 210: Padang Sidempuan – Kota Nopan (400m) 117km. First day on Trans-Sumatra Highway. Traffic moderate though and road narrow. 820m total climbing through jungle valleys and villages.
Day 211: Kota Nopan – Lubuk Sikaping (400m) 107km. 770m total climbing with quiet road and forest reserve.
Day 212: Lubuk Sikaping – Bukittinggi (950m). 77km. Quiet rolling jungle roads, then 700m climb to Bukittinggi.
Day 213 – 214: Rest, day tour and visa renewal in Bukittinggi.
After our brutal day of riding climbing up the side of the volcano that cradles Danau Toba we were happy to be coasting down the other side two days later, headed for the highland city of Bukittinggi – five days’ ride away.
Some towns are places for us to stop and eat or buy water, others are simply places on the map that we pass slowly through; deciphering the signs and dodging motorbikes as we warch out for vital junctions.
When we do stop, curious locals are an inevitability and it’s rare that we stop anywhere without people stopping to chat, sometimes in English and sometimes in Indonesian: ‘What’s your name?’, ‘How old are you?’ ‘Where are you going’? ‘How many children?’ ‘Do you smoke?’
There are three main cash crops in these parts – among the incredible range of plants that flourish in this climate. This one’s cocoa. The beans are fermented and dried before cocoa solids and butter are extracted.
Typical ‘Padang Style’ evening meal – curried fish, dried salty fish, and dried up bits of chicken, with some random vegetables. All served cold and from unrefrigerated cabinets and eaten with the hand. What you don’t eat is returned to the pot.
Our main mission in Bukittinggi was to get our visa extensions sorted out. On our way back from the visa office (it was going to be a 2.5 day wait) we bumped into Kenta – the first cycle tourist we’d seen since saying goodbye to Bex and Ryan in KL. Kenta’s riding from Bali to Istanbul. We hung out and shared stories over pizza and beer in a rare ‘western’ restaurant in town.
Sumatra has incredible biodiversity and one of the more famous members of its plant community is the Rafflesia flower (Rafflesia Arnoldii), which grows up to one metre in diameter. The fly perched on this one might give you a sense of the scale.
We had two days off in the city; one kicking around doing bugger all and the next spent on a very worthwhile day tour, checking out rafflesia flowers and local communities and architecture. We booked the day through the Canyon Cafe in Bukittinggi and the guide we had was excellent.
A local specialty is coffee luwak; roasted with beans that have passed through the digestive tract of the civet cat. The ‘process’ imparts a unique flavour to the beans and seems to strip away some of the bitterness. The beans are ridiculously expensive – even here – so we settled on sampling a cup each and were suitably impressed.
Traditional Minangkabau house, with individual rooms for the women in a family. Their culture is matrilineal, with property and land passing down from mother to daughter, while religious and political affairs are the responsibility of men.