Revisiting ‘High Hill’ in West Sumatra is always a pleasure, especially after an absence of nigh on five years.
Within half an hour of my arrival, having discovered that my hosts for Xmas were also in town, I was accosted, politely I must say, by a young man who wanted my thoughts “as a tourist” about Bukittinggi.
He was a first year uni. student on assignment “to make his English well”. Having corrected the intro at the top of his form and quaffed my first swig of Bintang, I decided that the town’s attraction for western tourists is that few concessions are made for them. With its vibrancy as a major market town and distinctive culture it really doesn’t need tourist dollars, welcome though they are. It is sufficient unto itself and is, therefore, a comfortable place to be.
We were sat in my favourite haunt, the Bedudal Cafe, a prospective target for the cell of misguided Muslims from Palembang who’d hatched a plan a few months back to plant a bomb there – until they noticed the preponderance of locals who frequent the place. The manager told me how they’d sat, all rigid in their dress code and piously ate to the strains of Bob Marley’s hits.
Apart from the absolute imbecility of destroying a local business in the name of their insane god, there would have been a sad futility to the enterprise: there are very few tourists. The last time I was in the Kampung Cina part of the town, there was a choice of watering holes where banana pancakes and other westernised victuals were served along with the Bintangs. There was also a thriving tour and trekking sector. But no more.
Most blame the 30-day visa on arrival. The previous 60-day visa enabled backpackers, generally those curious and energetic university students with long breaks between their course studies, to thoroughly explore the archipelago.
I couldn’t track down my old guide, Tonik. Apparently he’s taken to hanging out in Panorama Park which overlooks the Sianok Canyon. A coach load of Indonesians were there when I checked. They left traces of their passage with their discarded litter.
Littering is not just a curse bestowed by itinerants. On my way down to the river at the foot of Sianok Canyon, I saw several slides of plastic and other detritus marring the vegetation down the sides of one of Nature’s wonders. Over the backyard wall and out of sight seems to be the mindset. Do Indonesians really not care about appearances? I’m with Simon Pitchforth on this one.
A Japanese tunnel entrance
As much as I enjoyed my stroll through nature, chatting with the boar hunting owners of snarling dogs, admiring the reliefs of subjugated miners bordering an entrance to the tunnels built for the Japanese invaders, and just chilling with my feet in the river which had, in its coursing through millennia, caused the canyon, I couldn’t help but wonder at how out of touch with the elements most of humanity has become.