Sunday, 7 March 2010
From the higland town of Bukittinggi it was a steep downhill run to Padang city, on the West coast of Sumatra. Our route took us past volcanic peaks and lush forest, and in the traffic somehow Leana and I managed to lose each other. Once in Padang I was amazed at the devastation caused by the September earthquake, and many buildings (especially in the quaint old riverside district) had been damaged or destroyed. As a result of the earthquake there were a limited number of budget hotels still operating, and Leana and I happened to meet up again at one of these. The road South from Padang was a scenic ride along the coast at first, but the trip soon turned into a never-ending steep roller-coaster struggle through the oil palm plantations. (When first cycling amongst the oil palms about a year ago in Thailand we thought it to be a nice ride, but since then I've certainly had my fill of that "roadside wallpaper". Incidently, palm oil is not only used in the manufacture of soap and cosmetics, but is also often an ingredient in foods such as biscuits, noodles, and even ice-cream). Trucks carting the clusters of palm kernels to processing plants also damage the road - of course most of the road damage is in the dips at the bottom of the hills, preventing cyclists from building up any sort of momentum with which to tackle the uphill. The disastrous 2004 tsunami was caused by an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, and low-lying coastal towns have signs indicating evacuation routes in the event of a recurrence (photo). Another disaster during this time was the fact that I picked up a bug which caused a bad case of conjunctivitis in both my eyes. However, the "show" had to go on as we'd run out of cash and the couple of ATM's along the way were always off-line. I discovered that it is not so easy to cycle in traffic on bad roads with eyelids glued together and covered by sweat-streaked sunglasses (I would have lost Leana numerous times if she hadn't literally jumped into the road in front of me where she'd been waiting for the "invalid" to catch up). Fortunately the only mishap after 4 days of "blind cycling" was a flat tyre caused by one of the many potholes I'd been happily flying through. In Benkulu, we found a very nice affordable ground floor room where, after another 4 days, I've almost recovered from the eye ailment. At the interesting local market I've also managed to have my shoes repaired, camping chair sewn up, and tent zip replaced. I've also cleaned and serviced the bicycles (the "ass-washer" in the open-plan bathroom is very effective for spraying the bike down - although the hotel management would certainly view such activity as a disaster). We haven't spotted any other foreigners in Bengkulu, so our hotel probably doesn't know what to make of these 2 crazy cyclists who string washing lines outside the room door, and who literally "clean up" the breakfast buffet (included in the room price!). And then, 2 nights ago, the big thing happened - a 6.5 earthquake 160 km out to sea - and we didn't even know about it until the following morning (fortunately for the locals, no damage or injury). So, tomorrow we'll move on from Bengkulu, and perhaps unfortunately I'll be able to see the oil palms and the continuation of the steep hills and broken road. Daily distances cycled since Bukittinggi were:- Padang 99 km; Painan 95 km; Balai Selasa 77 km; Tapan 65 km; Pasar Bantal 125 km; Ipuh 53 km; Ketahun 82 km; and Bengkulu 91 km. Total distance cycled on this journey so far is 55 988 km.