The International Steam Pages

West Sumatra, late 2012

Yuehong had unexpectedly been given a multi-entry visa by the Malaysian High Commission in London, but it allowed only 30 days per entry. As a result, we opted to do the necessary 'visa run' with a visit to West Sumatra for a few days. We had one of those days which started off perfectly and steadily deteriorated. The 101 bus appeared immediately and when we overtook a 102 while it was doing the Straits Quay loop and were able to transfer to it, we were at Penang Airport in just 2 hours from leaving the flat and with plenty of time to spare. Air Asia whisked us to Medan more or less on time and I was pleased to see that Polonia Airport was 'unspoiled by progress' since my last visit in 1993. We got our USD 25 visa on arrival with no queue and outside found an Indomaret with cold beer and a small warung selling nasi soto ayam. From there on things started to unwind with the Sriwijaya Airways flight over an hour late into Padang. As expected, there were fixed price taxis available for the journey up to Sawahlunto. '4 hours' said the driver, but he had reckoned without the indiscipline which lurks just below the surface of every Indonesian driver. There were major roadworks on the climb towards Solok which required an alternating 'convoy' system, roughly at half hour intervals. After waiting nearly an hour without moving, patience snapped and in no time we were a couple of kilometres up the hill but with the traffic piled up three abreast. And of course, the same was true for the traffic coming down. Cue more than an hour of honking before some sanity returned. With a short break for a 'nasi padang' we rolled into Sawahlunto well after midnight, some 6 hours after leaving the airport in Padang.

Our troubles were not over. The first of two hotels in town (the Ombilin, the former Wisma Batu Bara) was completely full and at the second (Parai, City Garden) we got the last room available, but only for one night. As it happened, it was a blessing in disguise as it was basic and dreadfully overpriced. Next day, the tourist office arranged for us to stay with a family up at Talawi some 20km away. It was a perfect arrangement, albeit not very cheap especially once transport was added, plus the petrol which in this area comes in bottles and plastic containers like it used to in Java. Our problems were entirely related to the fact that it was the town's 124th birthday and they were celebrating big time. Of course, we were caught up in the occasion which helped make it all totally memorable.

This is the 'Elvi Sumanti homestay' in Talawi and host family, they are new to the business and up till our arrival had just had a few Malaysian visitors.

In Bukit Tinggi we spent an hour doing the sights like real tourists. First off was the Canyon view - disappointing the touts who loiter near the ticket office after the staff leave at the end of the day, "no tickets, no pay" always sorts them out.

After which we did the Clock Tower (Jam Gadang), Fort De Koek and as local a Nasi Padang as you can get without visiting the provincial capital. It was sad to see the 'Mona Lisa' which used to provide me a Chinese meal when I tired of Nasi Padang was now very much down at heel and maybe not even doing business any more.

We'll be back at some stage no doubt when we have more time to look around the area properly.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson