We got up early thanks to jet lag, packed up and headed to Changi Airport to catch our 8am flight to Pekanbaru, in Riau province, central Sumatra. Changi airport has a huge range of restaurants and shops, and so we did not go hungry. A heavy rainstorm delayed the flight a few minutes, but we were soon on our way across the Straits of Malacca to Sumatra.
Pekanbaru is the third largest city in population in Sumatra with just under 1 million people. Initially settled in the middle of the 17th century, it is now the richest city in Indonesia measured by per capita income, as a result of the discovery of oil in the 1930s. Most of the modern wealth can be traced to the oil industry, and its investment in infrastructure for the city and surrounding region.
We were met at the airport in Pekabaru by Raida and her niece Lisa. Raida was a colleague of Marg’s in Canada World Youth from 1977. They reconnected in Bali last year at the CWY reunion, which lead us to take this trip to Sumatra this year.
We had a small snack and then headed to Riau University, where Riada is the head of the English Department, for a discussion with their students studying English, about Canada and UBC. The discussion went well, with us showing 4 videos about Canada and university life. We were treated like minor celebrities with students wanting our pictures taken with them. This continued outside when we were taking some photos for our own record keeping – other students came and took our photos. I am sure we are all over Facebook in Indonesia.
The other theme for the day was eating. We were joined by Raida’s colleague for the afternoon, which started off with a lunch at a set menu restaurant. This consisted of at least 20 small dishes of food that was already prepared being placed on our table. You paid for what you ate, and then the dishes were taken back and presented to another customer. We ate this way a lot on the trip, and miraculously, never got sick.
We were joined by two other colleague and had a good discussion about Canada, Vancouver and university programs. Some of the colleagues had been with Raida to SFU for a teacher training seminar held almost 10 years ago.
We then drove around Pekanbaru, visiting two craft stores, and a clothing store where Peter bought a shirt. The shirts were pricey even by Canadian standards, but were very well made and an unusual type of batik. As there were very few tourists in this oil town, we were not sure who the target demographic was to buy these shirts.
We checked into the hotel, ate some of the cake bought on the side of the street, and then visited Raida’s home. Her extended family of seven siblings live within 15 minutes of each other. She shares her home with one brother and his family and her mother. There is always someone around to take care of whatever needed to be attended to in the house.
We joined her brother and wife at a baked fish restaurant for dinner, the fish was very tasty. Stopped at the supermarket, bought some water and fruit and then returned to the hotel for the night.
The hotel was next to a Mosque. Normally this would result in a 4:30am or 5am wake up call with the call to prayer. However, as we still had not adjusted to the local time, we were awake when the call to prayer started.
We packed up and ate some fruit. Went for a walk to the Catholic Church, which was on one of the main roads. Turns out that Tuesday was market day along the sidewalks. Police were telling people to get their goods off the road and back onto the sidewalks. The sidewalks were not too consistent along the route, and so this made it a difficult proposition for most people to comply.
We returned to the hotel, finished packing, drank some tea and then headed for breakfast at a Longton restaurant.
This was a type of soup with rice cakes in it. The soup was tasty and rather spicy, especially if you swallowed the chili peppers like Peter did. We cooled our mouths down with coconut rice and fried banana.
We dropped off Raida’s brother and then picked up another sister and her husband who were coming with us to Bukittinggi several hours to the southwest, and a cultural highlight of central Sumatra.
We left Pekanbaru around 9am and headed west. We stopped to get some pineapple and then stopped for lunch at about 1pm at another restaurant that served the set menu lunches.
One of the more anticipated stops of the trip was coming up in a few hours – the crossing of the Equator. A few years ago when we were in Ecuador we went to the park devoted to the Equator. This was a major tourist attraction in Quito, and we were expecting something similar in Sumatra.
However, when we got to he Equator, we almost missed it. There was a very nondescript marker – a globe on the side of the road, which marked the location of the Equator.
We arrived in Bukittinggi around 3pm. Bukkittinggi (high hills) was a picturesque town at an elevation of 930m, flanked on two sides by the volcanoes of Mt. Singgalang and Mt Merapi. One interesting fact discovered on Wikipedia is that the town government has banned Valentines Day and New Year’s celebration as they claim that these can lead to immoral acts, especially by young people.
Raida had booked us into a government guesthouse near the center of town. This was a step up from camping, and proved to be adequate.
We headed to Fort DeKock, an old Dutch fort that was now in a state of disrepair, but which now had an elaborate museum of the area and a zoo. The zoo was in a sorry state and was more like a concrete prison for the animals, which included the Asian bear, Sumatran tiger, and Asian elephant, as well as some parrots, camel and wallabies.
The museum building was built in the traditional Minangkabau style with the water buffalo shaped roof line, similar to what we had seen in Sulawesi last year.
After the relative calm of the museum area we explored the central market near the clock tower. This gift from the Dutch had been modified with a local building added to the top to keep the roof line consistent with the buildings in the area.
We enjoyed some boiled corn as a pre-dinner snack, and then browsed the stores looking for a blouse for Marg or a pillow case to add to our collection at home.
All of this walking around meant that we would be getting hungry. So far we had eaten at the same type of restaurant for all of our meals. We looked for something different but that meant Western food, which we were trying to avoid. We then returned to the local favorite for Raida, and ate more of the same type of food we had been having. There was enough variety in this to keep us from getting bored, but we had hoped for something a bit different.
One thing that we had not expected was that people would be eating with their hands at these type of restaurants. They did have utensils which we used, but we were the only ones using them most of the time. It is also frowned upon to eat with your left hand, but using your left hand to use a utensil is acceptable. We were aware of this left hand rule from previous trips, but seemed like an outdated rule as we hadn’t seen people eating directly with their hands in other parts of Indonesia that we had been to previously.
We turned in for the night relatively early, as we knew there would be a wake call from the nearby mosque earlier than we would like.