What we know about Sumatra
Let’s start with one’s knowledge about Sumatra before ever even thinking about visiting it. Depending on the part of the World we are from we either know that it is an island between Asia and Australia or have no clue. We might even know that it forms part of Indonesia, the same country Bali belongs to. Many people though when they hear „Indonesia” think of it as India.
It is all quite complicated when we have not been there yet. I used to be the same. I had no clue simply because I am from a tiny country called Hungary, and there are enough other tiny countries nearby in Europe to know about (50 specifically).
No surprise then when for the first time I set foot on Sumatra I was thoroughly overwhelmed. From the airplane all I saw was hills and mountains covered by lush green flora. Jungle it turned out later. Arriving to the airport I saw Muslim ladies wearing jilbabs (headscarves), and men wearing tucked in shirts with intricate brown patterns on them. It turned out it is called batik and it is Indonesia’s traditional wear, each pattern corresponding to a region and its peoples. Yes, there are different ethnic groups in Indonesia (about 300) with their own culture and language. Already shocking, isn’t it?
To be more precise, I arrived to Padang in West Sumatra, which is the native land of the minangkabau people. They would describe themselves as very friendly. And indeed, minangs are the most friendly and welcoming people I have ever met. With always a smile on their face, they were helping and caring for me for a year, accepting me as family and teaching me about their ways. During this year I also had the chance to discover the hidden little treasures of this multifaceted corner of our Earth.
Many surfers visit the town of Padang from where a ferry can take you to the Mentawaii islands, a well known surfing Paradise. But this is not what I want to tell you about. I would much prefer to introduce you to the less known area of Bukittinggi.
Bukittinggi, the town of the Sianok Canyon
The town of Bukittinggi (Bukit = Hill, Tinggi = High) sits on the top of the Ngarai Sianok (Sianok Canyon). How amazing is that? Ten minutes walk from downtown takes you to the Taman Panorama (Panorama Park), by the edge of the canyon wall, where there are wild monkeys running around robbing poor unprepared tourists. You can see a little river running 100m under you, unimaginable how it could carve a whole canyon for itself millions of years before. The two rock walls run for 15 kilometers hugging jungle, precious rice fields and little huts. While admiring the view and absorbing the incredible force of nature, a motorbike tour guide might find you and offer a tour of the canyon and the little village of Koto Gadang (Big Town). The more adventurous can hike and hack through the jungle to arrive to the other side. Either way is worth whatever it takes.
Koto Gadang, the silver village
Not long after entering the village the view will knock the wind out of you. The enormous volcano, Gunung Singgalang (2877m) emerges from an endless land of rice fields. Only a volcano can have this effect, with its perfect triangular shape, radiating with all nature’s power and beauty. (It is an active volcano, and is possible to hike it).
Treading through the little streets and paths of Koto Gadang we find homes of silversmiths, jewelry makers, who until today work only with their hands. They grab a piece of raw silver, use an old hand pumped flamethrower, melt and shape. The master makes thin silver wires, then he twists them into thicker, stronger ones. Only after this can he start to make a piece of jewelry by weaving and threading and knotting the silver into something so special and unique. Needless to say, this is one of the best souvenirs you could ever take home, for it is certain everyone would love one. Prices are really low, as is general in West Sumatra.
On the way out of Koto Gadang there are spots where one can peak into the abundant life of the canyon. A creature we often fear seems even more hostile and scary here. Its size is way beyond what we thought was possible. A hairy body of the size of a big cat, with sharp teeth and a wingspan of 2 meters. The largest bats in the World sleep here, thousands of them hanging off trees waiting for sunset to go for their daily hunt. Lucky for us, they do not drink blood, these enormous creatures eat fruit and nectar. When they hear a sudden loud noise (like shouting or clapping) they all wake up and fly around crazily in the canyon until they settle again upside down into a peaceful sleep covering themselves with their thin black cloaks.
The Equator – when a dream comes true
We are only 60 km away from the Equator, why not visit it? It takes a few hours long serpentine ride to arrive to Bonjol. I think many of us has this dream that one day we want to cross the Equator. When we do it on a plane I doubt anyone ever thinks about it. When we do it by car or bus, we still do not realize where we exactly crossed the middle of the globe, entering into a new hemisphere. When we have the chance to do it by foot, that is where a dream comes true. Physically it is only a line with white paint stating “I crossed the Equator”. But we all know it is much more than that. It takes us to a new World, it starts a new chapter in our life, it makes us understand how miraculously great our Earth is.
But more importantly it makes us realize how beautiful our life is to be here and fulfill our dreams.