Crater Lakes and Earthquakes.

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Flag of Indonesia  , Sumatra,
Monday, April 19, 2010

After climbing Mount Marapi, we felt that we had spent enough time and seen enough of Bukittinggi. After a couple of days our legs were strong enough again to carry our packs down the stairs of our hotel and we left. We'd read in our guide book about a place called Danau (Lake) Manninjau. It was a crater lake, like Danau Toba, and like Toba it sounded quite, relaxing and secluded. It was in fact all of those, to the extreme.

  We were the only people staying at our guesthouse, which was a lovely set of 6 bungalows a few k's out of town. The 2 guys who ran the place were really really nice, but there was not much to do except swim and read. So the second day we headed into the town of Maninjau, not much action, although a lot of attention from the locals, giving us that "what are those white people doing here" look which we had become accustomed to in parts of Indonesia. We managed to find an internet place in order to do a quick email check, then headed back to the guesthouse. The next day we thought it was time to leave, there was a guided walk that the guest house offered to the top of the crater for a fantastic view, but our Mt. Marapi legs had only just recovered. So we jumped on a bus to Padang, our final destination in Indonesia. We had booked flights on the 20th of March to K.L. in order to organise our Indian Visas.

The bus ride was the worst one in Indonesian history. Small, hot, overcrowded, slow, constantly stopping for no apparent reason and with the worst 90's techno blaring from the twin sub woofers nailed to the roof at the back. What was supposed to be a 3 hour  bus trip took over 5 hours, and as the bus left until much later than planned, instead of arriving in Padang at lunch time, we arrived in the late afternoon. Most of the passengers seemed to get off the bus on the outskirts of Padang, and before long we were the only passengers left. We assumed that the bus was taking us to the bus station in the middle of town (at least that's where it appeared to be on the Lonely Planet map). But eventually the curious stares from the conductor turned to questions. The very little Indonesian I remember from years of messing about in Indonesian class didn't help and neither of us nor the conductor knew what each other were saying. It became obvious though that we were not headed to the bus station, and we were expected to get off the bus soon. So we did. Using the lonely planet map, and a little luck, we figured out where we were and headed towards a hotel it recommended, on the beach with a nice balcony to watch the sunset. The bus ride had been stressful, we felt dirty and  tired but the idea of this hotel kept us plodding along in the hot afternoon sun. It was taking a lot longer to reach our destination than expected, and we hadn't spotted any of the landmarks on the map. Starving, having not eaten since breakfast after an hour of walking with heavy packs, we stopped at a small street-stall eatery and had fried noodles. After that the plan was for me to leave Penny with the bags as I ran up the street in search of our hotel. Just as I was about to leave I thought to ask the stall owner in broken Indonesian/English how far it was. With the aid of a few fellow customers, we were informed that the nice balconies we had been sweating it out for had fallen down with the rest of that hotel (and many others) in last September's earthquake. Bugger. We got directions to the nearest hotel, and stumbled there to check in.

The earthquake must have really devastated Padang. All through the city there are empty blocks filled with rubble, most buildings still standing have huge cracks in them. On the positive side i guess for local workers, every block has at least one construction site. We met an Irish guy in Peuleu Weh and again in Bukittinggi who told us "there was nothing to do in Padang before the earthquake, now there's even less than nothing". He wasn't entirely right, but nearly. For a city where there's nothing to do, it's bloody expensive. We'd heard about the same thing happening in Banda Aceh after the Tsunami, where international aid workers come in to the few hotels remaining with their big fat expense cards and push up the price of everything for foreigners from cabs to bottled water.

Just about all the international aid workers have left now, and Padang is used mainly as a place to pass through. Surfers have to pass through to get to the Mentawi Islands (we really wanted to go here to see the native people with there all-over body tatoos and filled teeth but ran out of time) or by travels using it's international airport. Locals seemed genuinely interested in the foreigners who were obviously here to check out there town. We spent half a day walking the city, heralded every few meters with the cries of all the English phrases each local could pull out on short notice in one sentence: "Hello mister, where you from, good morning!" or "Hello Madam! Good night! where you going?" After the novelty of answering these questions wore thin and the sunsets over the beach were watched, we were glad to jump in a cab at 5 this morning to the airport for our flight back to Malaysia.

Indonesia was fantastic. In one month we only really scratched the surface of Sumatra, and there's 17,000 islands and 300 ethnic groups in Indonesia! We are going to have to come back with more time and money on our side. But for now we are staying in K.L. until we get our Indian Visas, then we'll fly into whatever city of India it is cheapest to fly into!
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