Thursday, October 20, 2011

A week in Jakarta

I went to Jakarta to quickly sort out my multiple re-entry permit, but ended up extending and spending almost a week there. It was a dramatic change of pace from the daily routine in Padang.

 Armed with an address for a vegetarian restaurant, I headed towards Central Park without knowing exactly what I was looking for. I ended up in a huge mall. This is not a comfy mall where you might expect a Walmart or a Target and you can loaf around in your pajamas. This is the type of mall where I wander around terrified I’m going to knock something over and break it because my lifetime salary would not pay for it. There were French brands that I previously thought only had one store in New York and one store in Paris. Apparently they also have one in Jakarta?!?

This got me thinking. Development doesn’t exactly stand out when you are wandering around in Padang -I have caught myself wondering who exactly classified this is a rapidly emerging economy! My shock at seeing Central Park caused me to go on a grand tour of Jakarta’s mall scene and I have to say that it blew me away. Suddenly I could understand all the talk about Asia rising. There isn’t just one large mall. There are 10s (or maybe 100s) of huge shopping malls that each seem to have more land area and a bigger economy than the state of Delaware. I had to take notes to find my way around!

But in between these great malls I saw something else.  I saw open sewage and overcrowded transportation systems.  I saw homeless people sleeping under the freeways.  I saw a man who needed mental help and woman who clearly was living a life of abuse.

I’m not writing this because I came up with some grand solution or I have some great philosophy to espouse.  I don’t know all the answers.  I just spent a week bouncing between excitement at seeing development in this country and sadness at seeing how many people seem to be left behind.  It is obviously hard to photograph the richest and poorest people in the city so these photos should give you an idea of the types of things I was seeing.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bung Hatta Nature Reserve

Saturday was a pretty crazy day. I finally made it to Bung Hatta nature reserve. I've been trying to get there for ages, but every time I went to what I thought was it, it was locked. So I connived some couchsurfers to go with me. It turns out I was right about the location, but the place is just always locked. However, they managed to get us in anyway.

They had been rather disappointed with my eagerness to see plants. "Boring...." Well when we got in, we discovered the place was full of little paths to go wander around and everyone started to think this might be fun. We found one in particular that just seemed to disappear down. Of course, we have to find out where that one goes, right?

So we start down the path. Slowly the way got more and more difficult. First the neat path got a little broken, then it got a lot broken. Then we reached a few points where trees have grown up and thrown the path off a cliff. We started to wonder how long it had been since someone else took this path.

Eventually the stones disappeared and we were on a trail. But the trail itself got less and less obvious and eventually we were just bushwhacking through the jungle headed down. There were definitely some parts that qualified more as "sliding" or "mountain climbing" than "hiking." We all agreed that we were not going to make it back up so we needed to find a better way to come back.

At the bottom we found an adorable little river. Unfortunately we also discovered a lot of leaches -or rather they discovered us. So we went from excitement at finding the bottom of the park (who knows if we were still in the park?) to paranoia as we started jumping at every little itch, staring intently at ants walking past and so on.

Unfortunately we also realized that there was no other way out of this little area other than down the river (and the leaches put paid to that idea) or back where we came from. So we started back up, terrified we were going to be lost in the jungle after dark and/or never find the "path" again.

It turned out to be easy to find the path. The minute we started back up, it started to rain.
Not a little drizzle, but a real rainforest downpour. And it became clear than the path we were using was not a path for people, but a tributary of the river. So all we had to do was hike up a few miles through a waterfall (while checking each tingle to see if it was a leach).

We fortunately made it up before dark, exhausted and drenched, but alive. The couchsurfers seem to have decided that Susan's suggestions are never boring -no matter how boring they initially sound.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Another West Sumatra road trip

People kept talking about all the lakes in West Sumatra and I knew Solok was supposed to be a decent sized town. So I took off last weekend without much of a plan and figured I would go exploring.

I drove through Solok and quickly decided it didn’t really deserve any time and headed to lake Singkarat. I checked into a hotel and headed out to find Balimbing village. This is a village where they have preserved their old traditional Minangkabau houses. It took a few wrong turns and ignoring the assurances of Indonesians who believe the answer is always keep going, but I found the village. It really was fascinating. The roof style has been replicated throughout the province, but I fell in love with the beautiful weaved wooden walls which must have gone out of style a few hundred years ago. ;)

Lake Singkarat wasn’t that exciting so I decided to go find these other lakes that I had heard about. The maps I had with me didn’t refer to any “twin lakes,” but they did have danau diatas and danau dibahwa which when I thought about it, referred to a higher and lower lake and they did look approximately similar so I took off in that direction hoping I had figured it out.

The twin lakes are gorgeous. They are set high up in the hills amongst tea plantations and vegetable farms. I happily spent some time just sitting in the panorama admiring the lakes and eating fresh locally grown passionfruit.

In the morning I enjoyed a beautiful walk through the vegetable gardens along the side of lake diatas.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Road trip through West Sumatra

This weekend I took off driving. I didn't exactly know where I was going, but I packed a weekend bag and figured I would end up wherever I ended up.

I drove north toward Bukittinggi because I knew the road there was beautiful, but I didn't know how far it was and whether I would make it all the way. It actually wasn't a bad drive. About 2 hours later I was checked into a cute little hotel (with hot water!) and ready to see this city that everyone had been raving about. Bukittinggi is on a hill so it is temperate and has wonderful views. So I checked out the panorama and wandered through the town.The hotel travel agency tried to get me to hire their guides, but I just got their advice and took off the next day. I went to Palupuh to see the world's largest (and smelliest) flower. It is hidden very very (very…) far in the jungle. I was led to believe it was a hike. More like rappelling down mud slides hanging onto vines and using those same vines to slide back up. Definitely an adventure. In contrast to the fun getting there, all I can say about the flower is that it is, um, big…

On the way back I got to try a real treat. Civit coffee is made using the following process:
1. Grow coffee
2. Allow civets to eat the coffee beans
3. collect poop
4. Wash poop to get the beans out
5. Dry beans
6. Roast beans
7. Make coffee and serve

It is apparently the most expensive coffee on earth because the civets are choosy about getting the best beans and doing fun fermentation processes in their stomach. I have been told that Oprah raves about the stuff. I have to say it is pretty good coffee. I bought some to take home (Even with the local prices it is still pretty expensive!) so anyone who comes to visit me can try it out! :)

After my jungle "hike," I went to Harau valley which consists of large cliffs boxing in a little valley.

On Sunday I woke up with every intention to go home. But then I had breakfast and ran into an Australian guy who talked about how great this place called Maninjau was supposed to be. He also pointed out that the 44 hairpin turns would be awfully fun on a motorcycle. And there went the best laid plans.
Maninjau is so beautiful. The bends take you down the mountain into a valley surrounded on all sides by hills and with a huge volcanic lake in the middle. The area is covered with fish farms and rice paddies with buffalo wandering through. I ended up driving 60 km around the lake on this gorgeous road just built to provide beautiful views of the lake and an obstacle course to keep it interesting (logs laid over rivers rather than bridges, trees in the road, various animals wandering through the road, people playing sports in the road…).

I was very sad to come back to school on Monday. I didn't even get a chance to swim in the hot springs. But I know where I am going to relax next time I want a break! Lake Maninjau is definitely the most beautiful place in West Sumatra (and after my little tour I speak with authority!).

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Indonesians like their holidays. Every religion gets to give all Indonesians a few days off. So, thanks Allah for Wednesday.

Because the entire plan was made in Indonesian I had no idea when we were going, where we were going or what we were going to do. But the Padang couchsurfers are pretty awesome so I said I was going without having any idea what the plan was.

So Tuesday one of the organizers asks me whether I want to take public transportation or try to drive. Of course you know what I said.... I made sure she was willing to drive if I got scared, and we took off. We drive south along a road that curves along the coast and the mountains -a really beautiful view for two hours down to Tarusan.

I ended up staying at her workplace and getting an introduction to how development works in rural West Sumatra. And then Wednesday a ton of couchsurfers showed up (there were 12 of us altogether) and the party got started. First we had some amazing fresh caught fish for lunch.

Then we drove to the top of a hill. The road was theoretically paved, but in reality coated with clay that was freshly wet. This did a great job of caking onto tires and terrifying poor Susan who apparently missed the lesson on how to off-road on a scooter. Once we got to the top, we enjoyed the view and took a ton of photos. I noticed the trees looked good for climbing and started up. At first everyone was a little suspicious of me, but fairly soon I had 12 people in 3 trees. The kids particularly enjoyed being light enough to get much higher than us old folks.

Then we went down to the beach. There was a little boat you could take out to a cute little island. We swam and played there. We only made it back to Tarusan at 10pm! So we turned it into one large sleepover and went home in the morning.

I had a great time celebrating Muhhamed's birthday!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Adventures in Padang

My first few weeks in Padang have been a whirlwind of getting settled in, starting to try to understand Padang's earthquake risk and development and a lot of fun adventures. I'm adding a few cool photos of things I've done.

The professor at Bung Hatta, Hendri, took me to Payakumbu where he teaches a weekend course. I observed a little bit, but then went wandering around. This area is famous for being beautiful and green. You know me, I can't help but try things when I see them. Thrashing rice is actually not as hard as I had expected and it is done communally by the women so everyone was having fun. The farmers were thrilled that I could speak a little Indonesian and were excited to show me how to do it.

Another interesting thing I've tried is cutting up logs with a machete. This is not a normal log, but a type of log called sagu that is used for food for humans in Papua and cows in Sumatera. It is spongy and doesn't taste very good. But it was a fun experience to make food from logs. ;)

So far I have done a list of crazy interesting things with Nanda, Hendri and some new friends I have made. I fed fish at a fish farm, learned to tell men to leave me alone in Indonesian, went to a traditional wedding party, got peed on by a bunny, got a lesson in Palestinian history, learned to play a traditional game, bribed some police officers, learned to drive a scooter in Indonesian traffic and so so much more.

This weekend one of the nicest things I did was meet a really cool couchsurfer and her friend who showed me a beautiful waterfall. We spent the morning swimming and playing in the water. Nanda was a little less afraid than I was of diving into the shallow water (thats him jumping from the rocks)!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

First days in Padang

I've been in Padang for about a week now. It has been quite an adventure settling in, finishing the visa process and getting back into research mode. I have done a little exploring, although there is still so much to see.

One of the most interesting things I have done so far is to climb to the top of Gunung Padang (Padang Mountain -although it is really just a small hill). This is a wonderful little island, right off the beach, perfectly positioned to let you get great views of the city. So Rinanda (a student who has been helping me to settle into the city) took me to the top and we spent some time comparing a map to the view. It was a great way to get a better idea of the layout of the city!
In addition to a great view of the city, the mountain also has monkeys on the top! Indonesian monkeys are a lot more polite than Indian monkeys. Here they sit there and cry until you go buy them peanuts. Then you feed them and they start crying for more. It was quite difficult to stop feeding them since they have learned to make the saddest faces!

One of the best things I have done is sample the food. Padang is famous all over Indonesia for its spicy food. So Rinanda has taken me to try all the best stuff. I am sad to report that I agree with the tourists on Durian (that stuff really smells bad!), but I won't be too embarrassed about being an ordinary tourist since I have fallen in love with some other crazy food. Soto Padang is a soup that has a lot of ingredients. The only one that has been explained is some part of a cow, cooked in some sort of way that made me think it was bone the first time I tried it. I had to be convinced to stop taking it out of the soup! And one of my favorite drinks resembles sewer water -complete with worms! :)