Bukit Tinggi, Sumatra

So, the last few days were a bit crazy.  I had been thinking all week in Jakarta that my flight for Kuala Lumpur left at 10:30pm on Wednesday.  Well, it turns out that 20:30, as it said on my itinerary, is actually 8:30pm, not 10:30pm.  Crazy, right?  I suddenly realized what a colossal brain fart I’d been having all week when I casually went to download my boarding pass at 5:30 on Wednesday.  It takes at least an hour to get to the airport from the center of Jakarta, possibly much more if the traffic is bad, so I had to throw all my stuff in a suitcase and get out of there immediately. 

My taxi driver to the airport was a woman, the first female taxi driver I’ve had in Indonesia.  Feeling rushed, I piled into the backseat of the cab and blurted my usual greeting selamat malam, pak, which means ‘Good evening, Mr.’, before looking at her.  So now I had just insulted the driver who was the key to making my plane.  I also found out that this woman had only been driving a Jakarta taxi for two months.  I almost gave up on making my plane.

Luckily, she didn’t hold a grudge and we made it out to the airport in just over an hour.  Her inexperience was definitely a factor when we took several wrong turns in the maze of airport off-ramps on the way to my gate, but in the end I made it through security and even had time to grab a bite to eat before boarding started.

My time in Kuala Lumpur was short. I arrived late Wednesday and my next flight to Padang, West Sumatra, left the following morning.  The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane was a smoothie stand.  Now, I’ve had some really good juice in SE Asia, but it’s hit or miss, and I don’t think I’ve had a great smoothie here yet despite the amazing fresh tropical fruits.  They always add too much water, or too much sugar, or both.  Well, not this place.  The smoothie was $4, a fortune on my travel budget, but totally worth it. 

After the smoothie I crashed in the 24 hour cafeteria at the Kuala Lumpur airport, arranging three plastic chairs into a bed and draping my arms over my bags in an attempt to deter theives.   Apparently it worked.  I woke up and had another smoothie before getting on my plane in the morning.

As soon as I stepped outside the Padang airport I was mobbed by transportation hawkers.  I kept walking for a while to show I wasn’t too desperate, letting them trail on after me shouting “Where to, mister?” before I stopped and told them “Bukit Tinggi.”  “How much?” I asked. My copy of the Lonely Planet Indonesia is from 2003 and all of the prices are way out of date, so I had no idea how much the trip should cost.  I did know that it takes about two hours, and in Java a two hour bus ride is around 20,000 Rp. There was a pause before one of them shouted “250,000!”  and then the others repeated it.  I laughed and said one of my first jokes in Indonesian “By what, airplane?” and kept walking.  Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be any buses available between the airport and Bukit Tinggi, so I kept talking to my crowd of followers until I found a minivan going there for 50,000.

Bukit Tinggi seems like a nice place.  Since I’ll be here for a while, I spent the day scouting.  I’m at the Orchid Hotel now, recommended on some travel forums, but I’m not totally impressed so today I shopped around for other places to stay.  Not sure where I’ll end up yet.  I also found a few cafes with wi-fi.  No more smoky internet cafes with disfunctional keyboards!  This evening I tracked down the local futsal field and joined a game for an hour or so.  Over the next week check back for photos of Bukit Tinggi and the nearby natural beauty: Lake Maninjau, the Harau Valley, and Gunung Merapi (another one!).

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