My own new destination would be the land of the Minangs in Central Sumatera, known as the Sumbar region. A week of cycling, from the lowland of Padang to the highland of Bukit Tinggi. The plan was to ride to Bukit Tinggi via one route, overnighting in Danau Singkarak. Next day, I would ride to Batusangkar/Pagaruyung and Baso to Bkt Tinggi, my furthest point. From there, I would rolled down back to Padang, via another route, overnighting in Danau Maninjau and Pariaman on the way.
The route planning was greatly assisted by 2 cycling friends from Indonesia - Pak Eka & Pak Ardiman. I knew Pak Eka & Pak Ardiman through Bapak Ali Imam, whom I contacted via e-mail through and address in an Indonesian cycling magazine. All three of them had been of great help. All I have never met! We are, at this moment, cyber cycling buddies!
In my childhood, I sang the Minang song "Ayam Den Lopeh" which means AYAM SAYA LEPAS. Half a century later, I'm going to catch this ayam, cooked in Minang style (of-course) and enjoy it....NASI PADANG style. I know I would have to pedal hard everyday, or else I'd come home a few kgs heavier.
At 0630 in the morning, LCCT was full, full of people, hence full of activities. The check-in counter for Padang was not busy though. Good for me, no jostling for seats but not good for Air Asia, yet. The bike cost me an extra RM30, classified as sporting goods.
Everything was smooth and unhurried. Seated besides me at the waiting lounge was a gentleman also heading for Padang. He had an Indonesian passport but spoke fluent BM. Had been in Malaysia since childhood but never applied for Malaysian citizenship. Such rare patriotism on his part.
Borrowing the jargon from the current space travel interest, we have "lift-off" at 0815. Within a minute we were over Bagan Lalang and into the Straits of Malacca. I settled in to read Richard Branson's latest book "Screw It. Let's Do It". Sounds just like what I'll be doing for the next 7 days, minus the screwing.
In 5 minutes we were over Sumatera and I put Richard Branson away. I noted a huge river below. This must be the river which the ferries plied from Dumai to Malacca / Tg Balai to Port Klang. The Air Asia Nasi Lemak next got my attention since I didn't have breakfast. I had to leave early for the airport and didn't want to bother my maid, after all I was going to her country.
Within 1 hour, the plane landed. Helped 1 elderly couple to complete their embarkation forms. Husband a Minangkabau Malaysian but wife still holds an Indonesian passport. One customs officer insisted to have a look at my huge bag. "Speda Pak" I said. "Mau kemana?" he asked. "Pusing-pusing Padang sampai Bkt Tinggi Pak" I replied. "Seorang aja?" I nodded and I quickly looked for an isolated spot to assemble my bike.
I can't help noticing some huge congratulatory messages elegantly displayed. It's probably the rich who wanted to make themselves known, loud and clear.
While doing the photoshoot, I need not worry over my bike. I had good security coverage
The traffic grew heavier as I left the wedding and took a wrong turn into the market area. Traffic was at a standstill, choked up by the minivans picking and dropping passengers. I dismounted and pushed the bike. As I turned a corner, I chanced upon a hotel. Just my good luck. Checked with the receptionist. "Bisa Pak. 115,000 untuk standard" said the lady. "Saya mahu kamar yang dibawah" in my best Indonesian slang. "Bisa Pak". Woo...everything here is "poison". So, Hotel Garuda became my abode for my first day, and also became my abode on the last day. I had the bike parked just outside my room and in no time I was fully settled.
After a short rest, and refreshed after a good cold shower, it was off for a late lunch. Where else if not for Nasi Padang. Rup 30,000 got me fully satiated. Walked back to the hotel and when the sun had dropped over the horizon, I moved around the market place, which were only a minute walk from the hotel. Like any Pasar Malam, it was chaotic, and also disorganisedly organised. I mean it's jammed with vans, mini lorries, speda moto (motorcycles), horse-carriages and people with all kinds of activities. "Macet Pak, Macet" Yet, inspite of that everything moved, albeit slowly. VCD peddlars compete with one another with huge bass sounds that you could feel in your heart. Fruit sellers (mango was in season) were shouting for attention. Clothes sellers were not to be outdone, offering the usual 2 for 1 or 3 for 1 package. Horns from spedamoto offering transport service continously attracted your attention. Gave sign language with my head - no tq.
So, Day 1 cycling was easy. I rode a distance of 24km from the airport to Hotel Garuda, at an average speed of 16kph, arriving at noon.
AT 0630, saw a restaurant at Marapalam and decided that breakfast was now a necessity. Their version of Nasi Lemak was very tasty and I got a call from Pak Eka. Pak Eka reminded me that very few stalls can be found 30kms before reaching Solok and therefore I should stock up for the ride. I actually had. I had carried with me a packet of biscuit, a bun purchased the night before and 3 bottles of water.
Fully satisfied with my breakfast I moved on. Noticed a big signage for dental services. No thank you at this moment. I'm still OK. Don't think I need to be a member too. I'm just passing through.
As I continued on, the gradient got steeper and steeper. Up ahead, I saw a steep incline and I was already down on my granny, i.e. the lightest gears on my bike and I made a quick decision to dismount. The heart rate was up again to 165 bpm. At this juncture, even pushing the bike was a challenge. There were loose stones on the road edges and I was losing grip on my cycling shoes and the tyres were slipping. The additional load of my luggage on the bike made the effort tougher. At the steep slope where it was also a sharp corner, a young man was directing traffic both ways - an unofficial traffic police who got paid for his services by the lorry and truck drivers.
After about 15 mins, I saw an almost empty pick-up and waved. It stopped. "Mau kemana?" "Tumpang ke puncak Pak" in my best Indonesian slang. Some young boys were occupying the rear and they were more than happy to make space for a bike and for myself. It was the right decision. The slope never relent. This place is called SITINJAU LAUIK. I believed it meant "Meninjau Laut" because from the summit, one could see Padang and the Indian Ocean. One can't get good pictures shooting from a moving pick-up. At the peak, the driver didn't stop for me to disembark. He probably didn't hear that I only needed the lift to the top. Neither did I made any strong effort to stop him!
All in, I probably gained about 10kms from the ride on the pick-up but more importantly I saved about 2 1/2 hours of time. Now I understood why a pick-up is called a "pick-up". Gave the driver Rup50,000 for his help. He seemed very happy with the generous tip. He didn't realize I was happier!
I cycled on towards Solok though I would turn-off before Solok for my final destination to Danau Singkarak. I was now on gentle rolling road and it was a pleasant ride. Then, I was in KOTO BARU. Yes, I was in KOTO BARU. But the populace here spoke Minang, not Kelantanese dialect!
Here I chanced upon a traditional Minangkabau house, my first encounter. I stopped to ask a gentleman for permission to capture the house. "Ya, bisa Pak". "Ada kenduri kahwin Pak?" I asked noting the activities and people around the house. "Ngak. Ada kematian seminggu lalu. Ini hari ke 7 dan keluarga semua datang untuk majlis doa selamat". "Oh maaf, kalau gitu ngak apa Pak" I said apologetically. "Ngak apa-apa" and he literally escorted me into the house. He obliged and showed me a piece of cloth hang along the interior wall as a sign of mourning. Food were lavishly spread out and the aroma was tantalising and he offered me to eat. I refused profusely, noting the occassion but his offer for me to eat was very genuine and he probably would feel disappointed if I didn't. So, we did not disappoint each other! I got more than I bargained. I had memorable photos and memorable digestion. Terima kasih Bapak YOS LADIMIR and Bapak TOSKANINI.
I cycled on and then stopped at a sundry shop to replenish my water. By now I had chalked 57 kms and time was 1450 hrs. I was advised by Pak Eka, my cycling cyber friend to use the village road to reach Hotel Sumpur on Danau Singkarak, my night stop. The lady manning the shop told me I should branch off from the main road at Sumani. At Sumani, I branched off into the villages and Pak Eka was right. I was into padi-filed country, as far as the eye can see.
Danau Singkarak was on my right and it was harvest time. The smell of burnt husks filled the air and I inhaled some as the smoke crosses the road blown by the wind.
I could not have found a better season to come here. Harvest time would mean money time. Money time would mean good time. Good time would mean happy time. Happy time would mean celebrations. Now I know why there were so many wedding functions along the route
As I cycled on, this picture postcard subject caught my eyes.
While it was harvesting time, it was also planting time. I didn't ask but I suppose planting must be an all year affair.
A lone sampan made its way from the shore to pick up the catch, the net left the night before.
I left Hotel Sumpur at 0745 heading towards OMBILIN. Pak Eka suggested this route. It would take me back to the main road which I had avoided yesterday. At Ombilin, I took the turn that will lead me to Batusangkar. There were some fishing activities, notably the famous Ikan Bilih catch.
The sun was beating hot and I was perspiring heavily. Again the road began to climb. Sweat was trickling down my face and the heart rate was on the higher side. My progress was slow. 8kph was the max I could do. I labored on for a few more kilometres. At this rate, and the uncertainty of the terrain, it could take me about 4 hours to arrive Baso. Yesterday's ride had drained some energy off the body. While it was hot, there were dark clouds in the sky ahead, probably 10 kms away. I stopped at a Police beat base in Kg Sungai Leman for a rest and for a decision. By the way, there is also a Kg Sg Leman in Tanjung Karang. There is also Tg. Karang here. And there are Minangs in Tg Karang, Selangor. See the connection?
It was a right decision to take the mini-van. The road continued to incline over a considerable distance. Reaching Baso, I got out, gladly paid Rup10,000 and cycled on to Bkt Tinggi, 7kms away. Stopped for Nasi Kapau along the way. I don't know the difference between Nasi Kapau and Nasi Padang. I doubt my stomach knew the difference either.
MUSEUM BAPAK HAMKA
We parted company and I promised to write to Pak Hanif upon my return. The rain got heavier after I left the musuem and I was soaked by the time I returned to the hotel. Had a warm shower. Refreshed, I was back at the terrace overlooking the lake. The gentle breeze from the lake was welcoming. Come evening and after the prayers, I dozed off real quick, without dinner. Another fulfilling day.
Till we meet again. Bye
- The itinerary was perfect. Tackling the hills to Bkt Tinggi on the way there was right as one will be rewarded with a downhill on the return journey.
- Expect to hitch rides on lorries or pickup to clear the steep hills on the way to Solok
- Hotel rates are cheap. Under RM50-60 will get you a decent room with air-cond
- Food (Nasi Padang) found everywhere
- People on the road are VERY FRIENDLY
- Milestones are rare and far apart.
- Road signage not very good but seeking directions from people on the road was never a problem
- Great view - lakes and country side, especially since it was during the harvesting season
- See the Minangkabau life up close, including Minang heritage buildings
- Taxi to airport from Padang - Rup 60,000
- AirAsia had different policies from Padang for sports good. I was charged extra RM200 for excess baggage, in addition to extra charge for sports good item. From LCCT, I was charged RM30 for sports good item with NO EXCESS BAGGAGE. I plan to complain to AirAsia of this differing policies