Saturday, 27 June 2009

blue waters

After spending 1.5 million on Batik paintings, Jake from Café Bagoes said he would drive me to the bus depot in Bukittinggi. Following lunch (I had fried buffalo jerky and rice…nice!) he dropped me of at 4pm. Three hours later the bus finally turned up.
I had an isle seat, a very special isle seat. The thing that kept the reclining seat in a certain position was broken. Whenever the bus accelerated or went up a hill the seat would lean backwards. Therefore whenever the bus went downhill or braked, yep that’s right, the seat went forward! The narrow roads in west Sumatra are a slave to the terrain. Lots of steep hills and narrow valleys. After two hours of going forwards and backwards in the chair the guy behind me “finally realised” that I wasn’t doing it for his amusement or mine and so stopped forcibly pushing my chair upright every time it went back. I could have told him it was broken but this was much more fun! At 5am, ten hours into the journey we stopped for breakfast (three fags and a yawn!) and it took a few minutes for my legs to remember how to operate.

Arriving at 10am in a deserted bus yard in the town of Parapat on the shores of Lake Toba, a mini van appeared and took me to the ferry 2kms away. Once on board the ferry the whiteys were me, two German lads and a young English couple. Jake from Maninjau had already recommended a place to stay (Samosir Cottages) so I just chatted to the guy from there who was touting for business. He got the Germans to come along but the English couple made it quite clear that they weren’t getting involved with touts and would find there own place to stay thank you very much!

The place to stay on the (almost) island of Samosir is Tuk Tuk, a small village completely covering a kidney shaped piece of land protruding out into the waters of Lake Toba. All the hotels on the shore have their own jetties so it was 45 minutes till I reached my destination.

After being shown the nicest room available (100,000 rupiahs or £5.88) we slowly got down to my price per night, which is 50,000 (that evening I was starting to wonder if “saving” 90p a night by not having hot water was worth it!) I dropped the bags on the floor and made my way to the “shrine of coffee” that was the restaurant.

Back in my room I made use of the solitary plug socket (the place in Maninjau didn’t have one) and with my laptop on, music playing I lied down on the bed and dozed the rest of the day away. Come the evening, came my appetite and I had a few beers as well.

The next morning I woke up, yawned whilst looking at my watch and said to myself “7am is far too early to get out of bed” so I went back to sleep. A couple of hours later it was 9am, now that is a better time for breakfast.

An hour later I was on a scooter heading up the slope to take off. No, I wasn’t flying but I wanted to check it out. That and check out places to land as well. Turns out its sweet, lots of places to land along the length of the ridge even during the rice growing season. Now all I needed was the wind to arrive…

As I had the scooter for the entire day I decided to ride around the island. I made my way upwards along the road passing the work crew and the last of the freshly laid tarmac! The road leading to the end of the island was a good lesson in road construction. After the tarmac came compacted hardcore followed by compacted soil. This was followed by un-compacted or loose hardcore…that bit was fun! All the while as I travelled along the “road” if I looked to my left I would see the blue waters of Lake Toba and to my right paddy fields, open pasture and woodland. Several kilometres later I was back on tarmac, well kind of. Imagine a road of potholes linked together by slivers of tarmac! Eventually I reached the end of the road and the southernmost point of the island. The high ridge had given way to flat land.

Continuing on my circular route I slowly passed people “dressed to the nines”. I was wondering why this was until I passed a church and remembered it was a Sunday morning. It also explains why I was able to have fried pig for breakfast. Now, you can say what you like about the Christian faith but at least they let you have bacon with your fried eggs!

As I turned right and headed up the west coast, the road became more tarmac than pothole. Passing through small villages with traditional style houses (although nearly all of them had an extension built onto the back), lazy dogs and suicidal chickens. The softly sloping landscape was in complete contrast to the east coast and the dominating high ridge.

The north of the island has the best road, it is also twisty…

When I got back to the hotel I was chatting away to one of the staff about flying. For some reason the take off site I saw didn’t look like the one on the internet. Turns out there are two take off sites…Doh!


Two coffees and four fags! Now that’s a breakfast for the legally dependant drug addict!

For the third day the weather was no good for flying, you do need some wind to take off. Instead I decided that I would once again hire a scooter and go up to take off, this time the one on top of the ridge! Once on the ridge I was trying to find the right road, you would think that with only two roads to choose from and the fact that I was on one of them it would be easy. Turns out the dirt track I had gone passed was the “road”! Going along the track the dirt soon gave way to misplaced cobbles and mud. Juggling speed, sideways movement and puddles of unknown depth I came to a fork in the road, I went left (in hindsight going right may of taken me to the take off site…Doh!). Passing through woodland the road condition unbelievably deteriorated! Several kilometres later the wonder of tarmac appeared around a corner and I was able to stop the bike and get off without getting my feet stuck in the mud. The once clean bike wasn’t anymore, the exhaust was covered in mud and the frame hinted at the colour it was.

In the middle of the island is a small lake. I saw three of them…???

Somewhere in the middle of the island on a once tarmac covered road I stopped and watched a raptor circling in an impossibly small thermal only metres wide. By the time I had taken my camera out it had plummeted to the ground hidden by the long grass before taking off again with a small mammal in its claws.

A couple of hours later I had traversed the interior of the island and had made it to the other side. Crossing over the bridge I left the island behind and travelled a few miles to the hot springs…why?

Back on the island I opened up the throttle and sped along the road I had already travelled the day before. This time I knew what was around the corners! Coming around the northern shore I noticed that not only was the wind blowing a gale it was also coming from the north. NO, NO, NO!!! I want a medium strength consistent wind coming from the east, is that too much to ask for!


Woke up and accepted the fact that there wasn’t a breath in the sky…




Throughout the night it rained whilst lightening streaked across the dark sky. As I drifted off to sleep I dreamt of taking off

I awoke to clear blue skies and once again no wind. After a long and lazy break of fast the wind picked up, perfect conditions for flying but only if the wind would stop blowing from the north and move around by 90 degrees and come from the east…it never did!

Following yesterday’s lounge act I thought that once again I would do “something”. So once again I was back on a scooter (75000 rupiahs with a full tank of gas) and headed north to the other side of the island. I went over the bridge and headed south leaving the island of Samosir behind. Riding along the headland the road turned inland. Five or six kilometres later I had a choice. Carry on with the main road and the dirt or turn right and go uphill on tarmac. Tough choice….not!

The smaller side road wound its way uphill passing through a few small villages until I came to a stop. The road was blocked by a small landslide and a JCB that was removing it. After a 15 minute wait chatting with the locals the build up of traffic was finally allowed to pass. Over the rise I saw an even smaller road leading off upwards, sweet!

This road was narrow and under used. It was also a very long time ago that it had been tarmaced. Around several corners the bike was screaming in 1st gear as I bounced off rocks and rubble, the back tyre jumping around as I weaved a course that was the least damaging to the bike and me! (My ribs no longer hurt but I am still getting painful muscle spasms in between the ribs on occasion. A lesser man would be in hospital to recover but I try to be brave and not go on and on about it)The road became narrower and narrower as the plants on either side encroached. The views, however, were wide and majestic.

An hour later I was back in the valley, riding along paddy fields and through hamlets and villages with the usual shouts of “hello mister” as I passed by.


I brought a bus ticket to somewhere else and I’m leaving Tuk Tuk in the morning. Hopefully I will be able to sit on the roof!

Sunday, 14 June 2009

In a hole

I arrived at Lake Maninjau on a Sunday. For 3 days it rained! My day was spent thus: wake up and walk to café bagoes at around 10am. Sit, read, eat and then leave at around 10pm. Lazy days and lounging nights. I was averaging around 3 books a day.
Lake Maninjau is found near the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Many years ago the volcano blew up leaving a large caldera. This filled with water and thus Lake Maninjau was formed. It is 17kms long, 8 kms wide and the road that circuits it is 70kms long.

The main reason I came here was to fly. The take off site was 1250 metres above sea level perched on the crater rim 5 kilometres from the small village of Lawang Top. To get to take off 1st you took a local bus to Mantur. This involved 44 hairpin corners on the road up the side of the crater rim. Once at Mantur I took a mini van the few kilometres to Lawang top. After that it was a 5 kilometre walk or on the second occasion a quick pillion ride on the back of a small scooter to the edge of the crater.

The views were just beautiful, the lake shimmering in the sunshine as the clouds were reflected of the surface. In the distance through a small gap in the crater wall you could see the Indian Ocean.

At take off I was all by myself as long as I didn’t include the 30 or so teenage school boys who kept on giving me helpful shouts of encouragement like “go on mister” and “don’t crash mister” and the 15 or so adults looking on with cameras ready. This was the 1st time that I had flown anywhere new by myself. Nervous…you bet! At take off the edge of the lake was 800m down and 3 kilometres away. Looking across the view I was trying to find somewhere suitable to land. June is in the middle of the rice growing season so there wasn’t a great deal of choice. I spotted two landing areas that “looked” okay and then I took off…

The take off was good and I turned to the left, if I had turned right I might not have enough height to clear the electrical wires going from pylon to pylon down the side of the crater. The views were great and the flying was smooth, enjoyable and I had the sky to myself. After a while I decided to head out towards the lake and land. Going across the two “landing sites” I decided that maybe I should have looked at bit closer before I leaped…

I was about 400m above the fields when I found myself a landing site that didn’t have wires going across it. It did however have trees at either end and 30m behind it electrical cables strung out between the pylons. So it looked like I would have to lose the height above the landing site…time to concentrate!

My last turn was a little tight and so I came in a little faster than I would of liked but being a lazy bastard I couldn’t be arsed to run off the speed so I rolled instead. Trust me it’s a lot safer!

The following day I needed to go to Bukittinggi and the atm (there isn’t one here in Maninjau). I spent 4 hours walking around the town and I didn’t feel the urge to get my camera out once. I did however buy a very nice shirt! For the 1st time in my life I am a multi millionaire. Walking around with a 1000000 in your wallet is great, even if it is less than £100.

The next day was the day that had to happen sooner or later…I smacked!

I was at launch for about two hours trying to take off. Each time the wing came up it just didn’t feel right, or the wing wasn’t really inflated properly. In the end I did manage to take off. After 30 seconds I knew that my head wasn’t “right” and so I decided to come into land. The approach was fine and I made my final turn, about 10m off the ground when a gust of wind picked me up 20m and held me there (well it has got 8km journey over the water to get here). Damn…I knew that I would have to turn to lose the height or crash into the trees at the end of the LZ. So I made a tight 90 degree turn to the left, quickly followed by an even tighter 120 degree turn to the right. Heading downwind I made a very tight turn to get back over the LZ and come into land. I came in very fast, flaring as hard as I could. It wasn’t enough! I hit the ground hard and rolled 3 or 4 times. On the 1st roll my right kidney and ribcage got close and personal with a pointy rock peaking up through the grass. I came to a halt, on all fours with my mouth open gasping for air. When I finally stood up wincing in pain I noticed that the wind had whipped up the water and now the entire lake was covered in whitecaps…word to the wise, landing in a force 3 wind isn’t good.

It was 6km back to the guest house and no way was I walking there. Instead I got a life on the back of a motor bike. Every time we hit a bump I winced in pain. This is Indonesia so there were many bumps on the road.

Five days later and all is nearly well. I haven’t flown since partly because I’m not fully fit, the weather has been overdeveloping early on in the day but most importantly there is a small part of me that is a little bit scared to land!

In two days time I am leaving Lake Maninjau and spending 15 hours on overnight bus to Lake Toba. Hope the landing sites are better there than here!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Crossing the line

The ferry from Melaka left on time and within two hour it was halfway across the straits of Malacca. As it approached the Indonesian island of Sumatra the once blue sky turned hazy and slightly brown. (At this time of year forest fires “happen” reducing the visibility and the air quality)
Nearing the industrial city port of Dumai, oil tankers plied their trade in the swirling muddy waters whilst the lone old styled fishing vessel bobbed and heaved in the various wakes.

Custom clearance was easy and the $25 30 day visa on arrival was a simple purchase. Outside a small group of bus touts asked where I wanted to go. Not really feeling a need to spend a night in Dumai (who would!) I instead arranged a bus to Bukittinggi. The tout said it would leave at 4pm and arrived at 11pm. A small voice in the back of my head said “yeah right!”

After hanging around for 3 hours it was on the bus, glad that my legs are only 30 inches in length on a tall day. I tilted the chair back and relaxed, well as much as possible! Over 13 hours, countless potholes and with a large bump on the side of my head later I was dropped off on a deserted street corner that I assumed was Bukittinggi! It was and I was knackered…it was 5:30am the next day!

At some point during the early morning I had crossed the line and was now south of the equator!

90 minutes later after many, many, many hairpin turns I was next to Lake Maninjau in café bagoes having a very strong coffee. I booked myself into a nearby guest house on the edge of the lake and went to sleep three times during the day.

Maninjau used to be busy with tourist, its not anymore which is a shame. A bigger shame was the low cloud obscuring the rim of this caldera…no flying today.

Come the evening and I (once again) felt like a beer and as it turned out the Spanish round of the Moto gp was on….

Question: my bag weighs 20 kilos, it is heavy! Just over two years ago I used to weigh 20 kilos more than I do now. Therefore why is my bag heavy?

Monday, 1 June 2009

On the road to Melaka

After 17 nights I finally managed to “escape” the Shirin guest house, the red tomato café and Debbie’s bar at Cenang beach, Langkawi.
For the expense of RM125 (£22.30) I flew to Kuala Lumpur and back to the same guest house I had previously stayed in. For 3 days and nights I lounged…it was good!

On the 4th day I walked the 500m to the mono rail (with my way too heavy bag on my back) and climbed on board. After 2 stops I changed my carriage and went by train for two stops, then changed again for one more stop, got out and walked out of the station across the road to the bus station, twenty minutes later I was on my way to Banting.

The non- descript town of Banting isn’t found in any tourist guide, the reason being that there is absolutely nothing tourist here worth seeing. However it is the closest town to the launch site at Jugra Hill. Getting off at the bus station I had the choice of two hotels nearby. One was Hotel City and the other was Comfort Hotel ( The Comfort Hotel was nearer and as it had just opened it had a special offer, a standard room for only RM60 (£10.70) per night…bargain. In the evening once it had cooled down a little bit I went for a walk around the main part of town, 20 minutes later I was finished!

The next morning, with my glider on my back, I went to the bus station to get a local bus to near take off. Unfortunately there are no local buses to take off but a man with a car (notice how I didn’t use the word taxi) offered to drive the 15kms for only RM20, this price was reached after haggling!

The take off at Jugra hill is a bumpy steep but grassed and it stands 125m above sea level. It has a row of covered benches that shield you from the sun whilst the views stretch out to the sea some 10kms away. I arrived there at 10am and by 2pm I had had enough of “parawaiting” for the wind to die down. Walking down the hill I was looking forward to the 15km walk back to Banting under the hot afternoon malaysian sun. after 7kms I had stopped “looking forward” to the walk and was just trudging along one foot in front of the other when a car pulled up and offered my a lift back into town…yippee!!!!!!!

The next morning I was outside the hotel, breakfast in hand, looking at the clouds speeding across the sky…bugger! It was then I decide to cut my losses and get a bus to Melaka…I took the long way!

At the bus station in Banting I found out that I would have to travel Melaka via an interesting route.

Take the bus to the kuala lumpur international airport

As the bus approached the airport terminal an inviting image flashed across my mind…it was me standing at an airline ticket office asking for a flight to somewhere that was at least 15 degrees colder

Take the bus Nilai

No, I have no idea where this town was but it went around some interesting houses

Take the train to Seremban

It was only 3 stops on the commuter train and it took about 30 minutes. Inside the carriages the humans were packed like sardines in a tin

Take the bus to Tampin

It was a long 5 minute walk from the train station to the bus station. The only bus that went direct to Melaka wasn’t leaving for another 3 hours…so it was on the local bus to someplace nearer.

Take the bus to Melaka

Arriving at Tampin there was just enough time to have a fag before getting on another local bus to Melaka; it went the long way round via the traffic jams!

Take a taxi to the hotel

I finally arrived at the travellers lodge several hours after leaving Banting. I was tired but the cold shower was the refreshment I needed!

The town of Melaka, in the international language of trade, has been a complete whore! She has been used by the Chinese, the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British and various others. She sits at the narrowest point in the straits of Melaka and has a sheltered port. So now you know why!

Like Georgetown on the island of Penang Melaka is a world heritage listed town. Unlike Georgetown, I can see why. The centre of the old town is called the Dutch square. It’s not a square but there is a little windmill! Nearby is china town, little India and on the seafront just outside of the old town is Portuguese square.

In the evening I went for a walk down by the river and ended up in a little bar near the bridge. The rickshaw drivers were out in force peddling along the streets, their draped disco lights blinking on and off but never in time with the cheesy pop music that blared out of small tinny battery powered speakers.

The next morning (Sunday the 7th of June) I explored china town, the air conditioned shopping malls and then the cinema where I watched the latest terminator movie. During the heat of the late afternoon I relaxed in the “sitting room” of the hostel reading a book. Around 8pm, after a siesta, I was online via my laptop checking out the football result from the day before (nice one En-ger-land) and wondering what time the f1 race started. Leaning over the balcony I got my answer….about 10 minutes ago!! I rushed out of the hostel and headed to the street restaurant across the road.

Now its Monday and when I leave here I should be going by ferry…but as to when I leave, who knows?