Situated on the edge of Ngarai Sianok Canyon and with the mountains of Merapi rising in the south, the small town of Bukittinggi is surrounded by beautiful tropical natures and friendly people. In Panorama Park of the small town, the friendly monkeys might pose for a double selfie with you, if you share some food with them
My transportation matter from Padang to Bukittinggi has quickly been solved when I asked for directions a random person in the street. He pointed at me the spot where to take a bus ride to the main bus station. From there, mini vans were leaving to the nearby villages and towns, including Bukittinggi. An hour and a half ride through the jungle, greenery and bumpy roads just reinforce you the idea that tourism is not frequent here and should be a good chance to make new friends among locals. These mini vans, very lively decorated which tunes loud music from the driver’s favorites CD’s, are the easiest and faster way to travel in Padang and the surroundings.
In terms of accommodation Bukittinggi doesn’t offer much. However, after an half hour of strolling down the streets, I managed to find a nice place. This was Minang International Hotel and its view over Marapi mountains was superb. The old style decorated room with balcony, was huge. The noisy motorcycle traffic broke its large windows, but the 130.000 ruphia was a good price for this. Every morning at 9 am the 15 years old non-English-at-all speaker boy, was putting a smile on his face and was showing up at the door with my breakfast. It was just a basic one, with eggs, toast bread, fresh vegetables and fruits but very nicely prepared by the boy’s mother.
3. Food and drinks
I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular in terms of culinary experiences in the small town of Bukittinggi, but the reality was way beyond my expectations. In this part of Sumatra, the fatty, spicy and hot Minangkabau cuisine is quite famous. On the roadside stalls I could easily get a traditional Nasi Kapau, a more fatty and spicy version of Nasi Padang. This is steamed rice prepared on a plate with cubadak (unripe jackfruit gulai) and boiled cassava leaf and a chilli pepper souce called sambal, aside. It is topped with various choices of dishes like Rendang ( chunks of beef stewed in spicy coconut milk and chili gravy), Gulai Ayam (chicken gulai – sort of curry chicken) Daun ubi tumbuk (cassava leaves in coconut milk). It’s one of the best Indonesian dishes I had, better than the Balinese or Javanese ones.
Ayam Pop, a chicken boiled and then fried, it is less spicy and hot, but also a traditional food in this area. It’s usually eaten with sambal and boiled cassava leaves. But a classic Nasi Goreng (fried rice), or a Mie Rebus (boiled noodles) were always a proper choice, if I wasn’t sure what else to try. With so many souces aside, is no wonder that, in Minang food establishments, it is common to eat with one’s hands. They usually provide kobokan, a bowl of tap water with a slice of lime, for washing the hands before and after eating. The most common beverage in Sumatra are teh (tea) and andkopi (coffee). When I was invited in someone’s house in a village near Bukittinggi, I was served with a teh manis (sweet tea) as well as a mango fruit juice (jus). Their delicate taste was, probably, coming from the soul of the person who made them…
Besides the charming villages of Minangkabau, the beautiful waterfalls in the surroundings and the Ngarai Sianok canyon, there is another nature attraction in this part of central Sumatra.
Just outside Bukittinggi, there is Sumatra’s most active volcano – Gunung Marapi (“Mountain of Fire”). This 2891 metres elevation mountain is one of the most popular hikes in Indonesia and it’s easily reached from the main road south of Bukittinggi. While in Bukittinggi, I encounter Farel, a local guide. I told him I wasn’t prepared to do the hiking (due a heavy flu), but the guy was nice enough to talk to me about the hike.
Apparently the journey, which across a tropical rainforest, requires proper hiking gears, though Ahmed just go up there in flip-flops. From the main road where the bus stops, to the entrance in the mountain area, it’s a 20 minutes walking, he said. There is a base camp where it seems to better spend the night, than in Bukittinggi. Once you start the hike, the trail is easy to follow. And if you’re a strong hiker, it would not take more than 4 hours to reach the crater. It is wise to start at 1-1.30 in the morning. This is the right time to leave in order to catch the sunrise at the top, without arriving too early and freeze in the darkness until the sun comes up. It takes around 3 hours to come down.
The view from Marapi crater is staggering, I was told, with a great view over Lake Siangkarak and Padang city. There have been more than 50 eruption recorded in the last 200 years, but without any lava flows outside the summit craters. The most recent eruptions have been small though and locals continue to climb to the summit in spite of the volcano’s current “Level II” status.