Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by indohoyindohoy on 2 August 2008 • Itinerary
This trip was a little more special than my other experiences in traveling around Indonesia. It was quite personal to me. West Sumatera is where my mom and dad originated. Getting around the province with them as ‘live narrators’ felt like blending in with history, the history of my own roots. And that, my friend, boosted the pride of being a Minangnese in me.
More pictures of West Sumatera here
Awkay, now let me tell you about the present West Sumatera, one of the many provinces you shouldn’t miss when traveling Indonesia, through what I experienced in the 5 days stay.
Malin Kundang is the most notorious man from West Sumatera. No he doesn’t shoot innocent people on the street, he’s not involved in gangs, nor does he work for the government and corrupt. But he disowned his own mother in public after being successful and rich out of his hometown. The mother, being hugely disappointed, then prayed to God to punish his son, thus he turned into stone in the shape of a kowtowing man, which until now can be seen in the Malin Kundang Bay, Air Manis, about an hour drive from Padang. You don’t believe it’s real? You don’t have to.
What you should remember is when you come to the bay, be prepared with the many bends of the road towards the black-sand bay, and unofficial fees that the locals ask you to pay when entering the bay area. No ticket for the fee, so they can charge you as they like, although it would only be in small amount (about IDR 20,000 per vehicle).
Padang is quite known for its cleanliness, which once got them a trophy from Indonesian government. But traffic is such a mess, I’m tellin’ ya! I even saw a police car going in high speed, passing a car in front of it, only a few meters facing towards our car before it quickly went back to its lane! That was so very not cool! As if the weather wasn’t hot enough out there.
Padang has a long shoreline bordering the city to the Indian Ocean. A bay in the city! Now how cool is that? Los Angeles, you’ve got yourself a competitor here! Well.., minus babes in bikinis, six-pack-abs surfers, skaters, and palm trees. But.. a lot of grilled seafood, grilled corn on cobs, and iced coconut booths, not to mention durian (I dare ya to try this strong taste and smell fruit!) when it’s the season of the year! Or, you can just sit and enjoy the ocean view. On Saturday nights, you’ll see lots and lots of young couples or groups hanging out in this bay area.
Padang Panjang is still in the area of Padang, a town that we went by to get to Bukittinggi (tell ya about this city later). This is where we had sate Saiyo after passing by a valley called Lembah Anai. It’s interesting because it’s got a water fall right on the side of the streets where cars and trucks pass by. And it’s always been like that since ages ago, the main road has always been there. This long road connects Padang with the famous Bukittinggi.. Too bad we didn’t stop for any picture except when we were having sate for dinner.
Bukittinggi is one of main destinations in this trip. It is one of the largest cities in West Sumatera, known for its cool air because it is situated on Minangkabau highlands, it is also well known for its “Jam Gadang” (literally means “Big Clock”), a clock tower right in the middle of the city main square. This monument is usually the ‘must take picture with when you visit’ place for visitors. Kinda like the Big Ben when you’re in London.
My family and I got there at about 8pm, passing through the road full of bends with big trucks and containers racing after one another. We went straight to The Hills hotel, where we’ve booked some rooms. It is a beautiful mediterranean-style building, built right on top of one of the hills in the city, with such enchanting lights radiating to every angle.
After settling our bags in our rooms, my parents and I went for a walk to get something to chew on. Oh gawd, was it cold!!! We walk to the street in front of the hotel, Yamin street, and got some food stalls where we had roti cane, about which you can find out more in the ‘eat’ tab.
It’s quite desolated at night, not so many people walk about, and quite dark too. I don’t have any idea about the safety in the city, but I’d recommend you walk about the town with a company, especially if you’re a girl. You just never know.
In the next early morning, my mom and I had a walk around the clock tower which is only 3 – 5 minutes of walk from the hotel. Mom was telling me about the time she spent when living in Bukittinggi some 40 – 50 years ago, about how she’d walk up and down hills just to get to school and that was considered normal back then.
There is a market called Pasa Ateh & Pasa Bawah (it’s more like the Upstairs Market & Downstairs Market), two parts of a traditional market that’s separated by steep stairs called Tangga 40 (40 ladder-steps), with the Pasa Ateh being very close to the clock tower. As a part of the Pasa Ateh, there’s a market hall where people, mostly women, would shop for Moslem clothes, traditional cloths, scarfs, praying apparels, etc.
A set of praying clothes, called mukenah (cloak covering a woman’s head and body worn at prayer, usually in white, but nowadays they come in various colors), that I bought later toward noon, was said to be originally designed and crafted by Padang Pajang craftsmen. Mind you, there are a lot of mukenahs that are originally from Tasikmalaya, a city in West Java. Both come in various and mostly pretty designs, but why would I wanna buy something from Tasik when I’m in Bukittinggi?
Still in the same morning I wanted to have a swim at about 7ish, but of course the cold kept me from doing so. So I went down to the pool at about 8 AM, and could only stand the cold water for about 20 minutes. Now that I thought about it, I think I was quite insane to have swam in Bukittinggi at that early morning just because I just got a new pair of goggles..! Hahaha..
Bukittinggi is very hilly, has a cool weather, hence feels quite peaceful overall – well, at least that’s coming from me who’s been living in crowded and busy city of Jakarta for years. The Hills Hotel actually rent out bicycles for visitors for about Rp 10,000 an hour. I guess it’s a great test for your legs’ endurance, biking on those hilly streets.
On Soekarno Hatta avenue you can visit a historical site, a house that used to be occupied by Mohammad Hatta, Indonesia’s first vice president (August 1945 – December 1956) that served during Soekarno’s presidency, that’s also known as Bung Hatta (‘bung’ is similar to ‘Bro’ in the old times). This house is open for public as a museum, but we didn’t stop by, so I don’t really know what they have inside. (Mumun had the chance to get in the museum in her trip, check it out.)
Then, not far from Bung Hatta house, we stopped and checked out an old house that belongs to my mom’s family (it’s my late great grandpa’s house). Hmm.. a very bright idea comes to mind.. (won’t tell ya just yet.. 😛 )
On our way to Ngarai Sianok, we passed by a town called Koto Gadang (literally means ‘big city’, but it’s actually a small town – I dunno, probably it was a big city compared to the others long time ago). It’s only about an hour from Bukittingi. My dad said this is where a lot of popular intelligent and educated Minangnese come from, such as Sutan Syahrir, the first prime minister of Indonesia.
Everywhere in our trip we see lots and lots of mosque and langgar or surau (langgar or surau are smaller mosques, not used for Friday prayers).
Ngarai Sianok literally means The Silent Canyon. It’s a huge one, I was amazed by the view.. According to this site, this valley is about 100 meters deep, 15 kilometers long.
On two sides of the valley, you can see Mount Merapi and Mount Singgalang. The mounts can also be viewed from Bukittinggi.
Further north, from Ngarai Sianok to Maninjau we passed by an area called Embun Pagi (means Morning Dew; lovely name, innit?). Lots of cinnamon tree I saw on the sides of the road. The road itself is called the 44 Bends (Kelok 44). It’s the most common road to and from Maninjau so it’s a double trip for everyone.
If you get carsick easily, well you better prepare plastic bags.. or some medicine to prevent you from throwing up or simply a nausea. Either that or put a gun to the drivers head and ask him/her politely fo go really slow hehehe…
From these bends, which are going downhill toward the famous lake Maninjau, you can already see the lake from afar, surrounded by mountain sceneries and rays of the sun coming down between clouds.. Oh my god.. such a beautiful beautiful view.. There IS God after all.. 😛
I didn’t expect to see foreign tourists in this kinda remote and hard to access area, but I actually saw some. And the locals said that many of these tourists came by public transportation, following the directions from travel books. Bravo!
Across the lake, there’s this old wooden house where my mom used to live in when she was about 12. We stopped and visited, it’s now occupied by acquaintances of mom’s family.
The fish pond had been there since mom’s childhood, but the windmill is already gone. Hmm.. I tried to feel what Mom must have felt visiting her old house like that.. She did tell me her experience of fishing for small oysters called pensi in the lakeside, lifting fire wood up on her head to bring home that caused pain on her little neck. (I could cry now.. the stories are so touching to me, given that mom has always been this soft, patient, and hardworking woman that I know for my whole life.)
Our next destination was Solok, my dad’s hometown. It’s about 4 hours from Maninjau, going by the 44 Bends again. The monkeys that we saw the other day in the woods by the road weren’t up as early as 6 AM.
Before entering the Solok regency, we passed by Ombilin of the Tanah Datar county, pulled up a while to snap some photos of the Lake Singkarak. This lake is located in both counties, Tanah Datar and Solok. It is the biggest lake in the province, second biggest in Sumatra island after Lake Toba of North Sumatra.
In Selayo village of Solok county, lived my grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins, and nephews whom I rarely see. Grandma, I call her by ‘Anduang’, used to live in the wooden ethnic house (it’s called “rumah panggung”, a house that’s built on a level supported by columns, complete with wooden stairs you have to climb to get to the house). But now they’ve built a modern house with all the concrete walls, bathroom inside the house, and everything, that’s located right behind the wooden house.
We were there to pick up my grandmas (the other one is my grandpa’s sister) to Padang, then fly with them back to Jakarta cos they wanted to visit their daughters in Jakarta.
The ride from Selayo to Padang is passing through downhill turns with pine trees, tropical forests, thorny pandanus, and valleys on the sides. (I love this province.. it’s consisted of diverse kinds of natural forms.. It’s got lakes, beaches, small islands, mountains, valleys, falls, you name it.)
Overall this was a very personal trip for me. I’m so glad I had it because it really opened my eyes and got me closer to my roots. It made me appreciate my parents’ struggle in the past even more, and gave me a bit more of the feeling of belonging. I’ve never really had the feeling of having a real hometown because I’ve lived in a number of places including another country, but this trip gave that feeling a little twist.
Next time I visit West Sumatra, I’ll make sure I’ll spend at least a day in Sikuai island. Those of you who like surfing you might wanna check out Mentawai islands. Both are off the western coast of West Sumatra. And I strongly recommend you to visit West Sumatera at least 5 days in a row.. There are just sooo much to see, guys.. 🙂
More pictures of West Sumatera here
The victory of a buffalo
Minangkabau is the ethnical name for people originated from West Sumatera, which are commonly called as ‘Padang’ by people outside of West Sumatera, because it’s the capital city of the province. On our way between Padang (as in the city) and Bukittingi, my dad told me the origin of the name Minangkabau.
Long long time ago, there was a Javanese king that wanted to invade West Sumatera. When the West Sumatera people found out about this plan, they quickly thought of a way to get out of the war that surely they’d lose because of the lack of force. Known to be skillful in declamation, the West Sumatra natives negotiated with the Javanese, saying that instead of sending people to war which will result in killing men, it’d be wiser if each party send off an animal to fight each other. The winning animal will automatically grant victory to its owner.
A huge, sturdy, courageous bull was brought by the Javanese, ready to win a province for its master. Not having any equal opponent for the scary bull, the West Sumatera people thought of another way. When you’re smart, you can always get away with anything you started. They sent off a nursing little buffalo to fight against the bull. You must think these people are crazy or plain stupid, but they wouldn’t have reputations of being slick and tricky without having a pair of sharp knives strapped to the buffalo’s head, imitating horns just like what the bull has.
When the fight took place, thirsty little buffalo went right off to the bull’s stomach, mistaken it for its mommy. And so the bull got stabbed by the pair of knives, spread out about, and victory went to West Sumatra. Hence the name : minang = win, kabau = buffalo. Minangkabau = winning buffalo.
Listening to this, despite a certainty of it being true or not, I felt proud for my ancestors’ brilliance – as well as a bit of shame – for Minangnese are still widely known as being tricky which can be a bad thing sometimes.
EVEN WEDDINGS COMMEMORATE THE BUFFALO’S VICTORY
My family and I were all in the city to attend one of my cousins’ wedding. Related to the story of winning buffalo above, you can see lots of buildings with roofs in the shape of horn-like. Even the dais on which the bridal couple sits has horn shape decorated roof, and the female traditional dancers sometimes also wear head pieces with similar shape.
In Indonesia, each cultural prestige is usually shown in wedding ceremonies. So what you see at a traditional wedding party is actually a presentation of the culture itself.
When you visit Indonesia, you’ll see Padang restaurants everywhere. It has traveled the whole Indonesia, spread out from the east to west, in any province I bet you there must be restaurants that sell specifically Padangnese food (well it’s Minangnese food actually, but it’s commonly known as padangnese food) in a unique way of serving.
Plates of diverse kinds of food piled up on serving tables and display windows, waiters serve the dishes by piling numbers of plates on each arm without dropping any and without spilling anything! (They should think of starting circus shows someday.)
Minangnese are known to have lots of varieties of good food which most Indonesians like. So here in Padang, dwell in the hot n’ spicy cuisine. As a descent of the natives, I’ve many relatives live in the city, so the delicious main dishes I eat here mostly are homemade. So pardon me for not knowing too many places of good eats. But here are some examples of the food.
As for the eating technique, don’t be surprised when you see people using their bare hands to scoop food into their mouths, that’s very common in Indonesia (although it’s a sight you’d rarely see in malls where people would behave more western by eating with forks and spoons or knives). Especially when eating padangnese food, doesn’t matter if it’s in small cheap diners or the fancy expensive padangnese restaurants, my suggestion is that you try to enjoy the delicious food by eating with your bare hands. Trust me, the enzymes in the tips of your fingers will make the food taste yummier..!! ..or so my dad said.
Okay, if you can’t, as in not being able to although you’ve tried your hardest, go ahead use those forks and spoons (no knives) provided on the tables.
As snack, which is quite the heavy type, Padang has martabak to offer, although some say it’s originally from India. The main ingredients are chicken or duck eggs mixed with leek and seasoned minced beef, wrapped in flour bread. The whole thing is then fried on a flat-surfaced frying pan until it’s crispy. Then you dip slices of it to soup-like sauce made of vinegar, sugar, and water. To make the dish even more tasty and unforgettable, add some pickles and small slices of chili to the sauce. Mammamia!
Another Indian food (or so they say) that’s also been widely known as Padangnese is called Roti Cane or Roti Canai (roti = bread). With main ingredients of wheat, eggs, sugar, and yeast, this bread is also fried on a flat-surfaced frying pan. But this bread doesn’t have any fillings, and you could savor it with goat curry, vinegar sauce, or simply sugar. Up to your liking.
Now, some of you probably have heard of a tropical fruit called durian or duren. It’s as big as, if not bigger than, your head with thorny green or yellow skin. It’s got a very strong smell that would stay for days in your car, and even some locals – not to mention foreigners – cannot put up with the smell. (But Anthony Bourdain loved it! *oops, a bit of name-dropping there*) Well, the padangnese, as if their main dishes’ tastes aren’t strong enough, just have to have durian made as some sort of sundae. It’s called Es Durian or Es Duren (es = ice).
What my family and I had in Padang was es duren at Ganti Nan Lamo (translate: “replacement of the old one”) diner on Pulau Karam street, just across Iko Gantinyo (translate: “this is the replacement”) diner which is obviously the competitor. Funny thing is, I don’t even know what these two diners actually claim to be replacing.. hahaha!
Sate Padang is basically satay which is originally from Padang, Padang Panjang, or Pariaman (these are three of the most known cities in West Sumatera). It’s got beef or tongue on skewers with thick sauce of nuts mixed with chili (again, chili, of course!). Outside of the province, this dish is called Sate Padang, whereas in the province itself it’s named variously, depends on what the owner wants to name the business.
The most famous sate eatery here is Sate Mak Sukur (Uncle Sukur Satay) in Padang Panjang. We were eager to have a taste of sate Mak Sukur on our way from Padang to Bukittingi (Padang Panjang lies between these two cities), unfortunately at around 6 PM they had run out of the sate (I believe that’s because everyone thought the same thing), so we had the sate at Saiyo diner just a few meters from Mak Sukur.
Karupuk Jangek or Kerupuk Kulit (translates to skin crackers, made of cow skin) is one of the top crackers here. It’s best served with sate padang, dipped in the thick sauce until it goes ‘crack crack crack’ and softens, and then just indulge yourself with it…
To complete the padangnese dinner, my dad had teh telur (egg tea) as the beverage. Yes, it’s tea with raw egg added to it. Yucky? I thought so too. But my dad, being the true minangnese man that he is, never pass a chance of gulping teh telur whenever he can. It’s supposed to give you extra energy, so it should be good for your stamina especially when you have to drive long hours.
Last but not least, in fact I’m saving this best one for last, is keripik balado, or also known as keripik sanjay, or fried-chili cassava crackers to you. This is the most popular gift one would bring from a trip to West Sumatera.
Keripik sanjay originated from a village called Sanjay that’s located between Bukittinggi and Padang Panjang, and the original crackers weren’t added with chili.
The most popular food-gift shop in Padang is called Christine Hakim, which is actually the name of an Indonesian A-list actress, although the shop is not really hers. In the shop, you could also find other kinds of crackers, so many of them.
The famous POP CHICKEN
There’s a padangnese cooking that’s been a favorite throughout padangnese restaurants all over the country, it’s called ayam pop (pop chicken). Don’t ask, ‘cos I have no idea.
It’s chicken that’s boiled with coconut water (and not coconut milk) before fried, then dipped shred by shred in cooked chili sauce (sambal) when eating it.
Rumour has it, the original pop chicken is from the city of Bukittinggi, from a simple restaurant called Family. Here it is..
It’s located on the same street where Hotel Benteng, a famous old hotel, is located. So that’s exactly where we had lunch right before another sightseeing.
When in MANINJAU, we stopped by a stall across the lake Maninjau to buy some snack. But it’s none of your regular potato chips nor crackers, we bought a whole bag of pensi (sort of like small oysters) and fried fish called bada masiak. This type of fish is the spiciest when cooked with balado sauce, according to my dad.
There are quite a lot of hotels in Padang as you can see in this link . I myself of course bunked at my aunt’s house, but some of my relatives had a lovely stay at Wisma Mayang Sari (guesthouse) located on Sudirman street, across the Bank of Indonesia.
I remember that my family and I spent a night in this hotel about 20 years ago when I was still so small. I remember not liking the condition of the rundown hotel. And I’m having dejavu in my stay this time.
Well, it might not be fair to expect so much from a room that cost Rp 100,000 per night (if I’m not mistaken). At least our room has the lake view, heavenly view both at night and dawn.
Unfortunately, we only stayed there one night and had to leave at 8 AM the next morning. It’s unfortunate because the hotel staff told me that visitors could take a boat ride for 2 – 3 people around the lake for only Rp 50,000 an hour. If you know how to ride a motorcycle, you could even rent one to ride around the area, I dunno how much it costs, though.
There are actually other hotels on the lakeside, but we were too tired to go choosing hotels, so we just checked right in at this one.
There are quite a lot of big and small hotels or even homestays in Bukittinggi. Where we stayed, The Hills, was quite pricey, about Rp 700,000 a night, and it’s the most popular one, especially because it’s located on a top of a high hill in the center of the city. The name Novotel may still stick to it due to the ownership of Novotel for quite a long time before it’s handed to another management, hence the name changed.
Others, which cost merely half of The Hills, for instance Royal Denai on Jalan Dr. Rivai, Grand Palino on Jalan Panorama, and Pusako on Jalan Soekarno Hatta.
What we did was take the plane from Jakarta right to Minangkabau International Airport, about 23 km northwest of Padang, the capital city. The airport serves flights from and to diverse cities of Sumatera and Java, as well as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia).
West Sumatera is also reachable by land; taking the bus or a private car, it’s a common way to get there by people from other provinces in Sumatera as well as Java.