A thirteen hour hop, skip and leap past Parapat, Medan and Padang
and we’re back at my favorite altitude- 900 meters above the sweltering Sumatran lowlands, in Bukit Tinggi- that’s high hill in Bahasa Indonesia. It’s a small mosque-studded city, (pop. 200’000)
in a wide landscape, spread between three volcanos, one of which we were told, is “still a smoker”! We’re all set to discover the matriarchal Minangkabau culture, the region’s natural wonders, and people and their stories.
What we discover first though, is that Bukit Tinggi reverberates with unavoidable Islamic chanting at all hours, for hours. Our room, high above the city, enjoys the best view in town- and a direct vocal line to the Prophet via two of the city’s biggest mosques. Oh. Right. We signed up for this….
Our well laid motorbike tour plans lost steam when M. sprained his ankle badly, (Mohammed’s revenge?), while leaving said room with a view. So we spent some time checking out local attractions, like the Fort de Kock, a concrete remnant from the days of Dutch colonization, and the slightly rundown Panorama Park with its famed view down into the Sianok Canyon. Even with M’s hobbling, our sightseeing tour only took a few hours…. The Bukit Tinggi Zoo, which we had decided to skip, is connected to the Fort by a pretty pedestrian bridge. We drifted across and found ourselves staring at a mangy camel in a bleak and dusty paddock. The zoo is truly a sad sight, which many will want to avoid.
So strolling and people watching quickly became our favourite pastime. Bukit Tinggi boasts a comparatively green city center and even offers a few lively traffic-free squares and colourful no-brand malls. We dive into mysterious, bountiful, labyrinth-like wet markets
and let ourselves be strong-armed into trying local treats by no-nonsense Bukit Tinggi women. I wonder if it’s the matriarchy that bolsters up the ladies’ self-confidence? The whole alley screamed with laughter when I said I didn’t like what was on offer….
We’re smitten with Minangkabau architecture too. Roofs soar skyward to dizzying heights. We counted up to twelve buffalo horn shaped tips on the biggest buildings, which are usually the Rumah Gadang– the meeting houses
The roofs are traditionally made from palm fiber, but due to high maintenance, (replacement every 6 years), more mundane materials are used now. They’re still trimmed with silver though, and sometimes the whole building is intricately painted.
Rumah Gadangs still play an important role in village life. Adolescent boys can sleep there, to avoid “imposing” on female family members, and weddings are usually held here. Interesting to note that marriage between couples from the same village is strictly prohibited by custom. Luckily we’re from Albligen and Signau in Bern and weren’t banned from the wedding throne. Still, definitely no funny stuff allowed here!
Just when we realized that M’s foot wasn’t going to stand up to the multi-day motorcycle tour we’d planned, the heavens sent us Eric, driver and guide par excellence.
And we set off to have some fun…..