Bukittinggi Travel Blog› entry 51 of 115 › view all entries
"Is this Bukittinggi?" I ask the bus driver when he returns from his coffee break. "We are at Bukittingi, yes?"
He glances at me uncertainly then looks away, the international sign language for: "I don't speak English, please leave me alone before you embarrass us both." I take the hint and peer again at a small sign in the wooden cafe, outside which the bus has been standing for the last ten minutes. The sign mentions Bukittinggi, but not in enormous letters, so this place could just be in Bukittinggi province, miles away from the town itself. Sumatra is a large place.
It's 5.00am and pitch black. There are no giveaway signs of a major town in close proximity like, for example, street lights lining the road ahead. I definitely need a second opinion on whether Alex and I should retrieve our luggage and jump off here or stay on and trust that we will pass through the centre of the town itself at some point.
"Is this Bukittinggi?" I ask the Indonesian man standing behind the counter in the cafe. He nods and smiles affably and I am uncertain whether he has understood me or is simply nodding because he doesn't want to appear rude or ignorant. "So this is definitely Bukittinggi, yes?" The man nods and smiles some more. This is not reassuring.
"Sir, Bukittinggi yes, you get off here. Bus does not go closer to town." A greying, bespectacled local man appears at my side and finally delivers the required confirmation of where we are. "You stay here sir and at 6.00 cars come here take you to Bukittinggi."
I'm still a little unconvinced that we aren't being fleeced by a taxi tout. However, with a lack of anyone else who speaks any English to ask, we go with it. Alex and I liberate our packs from under the bus and watch as it disappears off into the pre-dawn gloom. We sit at a long wooden table and wait for the sun, nursing too-hot glasses of bitter, grainy coffee and rifling through our packs for warmer clothing. After half an hour, I wander over to our English speaking friend and ask how far down the road it is to Bukittinggi. He assures me that it is only 3km. We decide to forsake waiting for a car and just walk it as soon as it's light enough.
An hour later and we are still trekking through the outskirts of Bukittinggi. 3km my arse. We trundle along the road, schlepping our packs along like alcoholic snails. The locals, going about their morning business, are out in force to welcome us into town. We are clearly an attraction in our own right, drawing curious stares from all. Children pee themselves with glee at the sight of our flushed faces, yelling: "Hello mister!" at us over and over again, then laughing with delight when they receive even the most half-hearted of responses from us.
Eventually, after a good couple of hours, we find a mosque marked on the Lonely Planet map and, using it as a landmark, navigate slowly uphill to the tourist district. There are hardly any tourists. We find a past-its-best hotel with an acceptable room, ignoring the fact that the manual-flushing bog smells like Ronnie Corbett's corpse might be putrifying somewhere in the pipes below. After a brief breakfast, I crash, Alex crashes. And we sleep.