I read that Buket Tinggi was on a ridge, odd then that as I left I had a 6km climb, pretty gentle admittedly, but uphill none the less. I would have said it was in a valley, though I suppose the centre, which wasn't very big was on a little hill. Still, I reached 1100m and with a return to sea level ahead of me and a new road surface it was just a little bit of fun. The only problem was the traffic, it was busy. I could whizz past the trucks with the cars and vans but when I was in a steady flow the driver behind always wanted to fill the gap I had created for safely braking, so I had to make myself big and fill the road, sounds like an excuse for another breakfast doesn't it? Once down it was a fairly flat run into Padang on the coast, then I wasted about an hour trying to find a room that was reasonably priced and not a flea pit or a cell. Once checked in I went for a walk along the prom. There was a pretty serious football match taking place on the pitch, so I became a spectator. It was only a narrow strip of beach so waterlogging was a bit of a problem, one minute they were playing on a good surface, well reasonable anyway, 5 seconds later they were knee deep in water and the goal posts had been washed away. You don't get entertainment like that in the Premiership. Actually I was desperate to join in, a game of football was just what I needed, but I can't swim!
The brief description I gave the Indonesian people in the previous post was wrong. I wrote that the night I arrived from Singapore, I didn't really want to be there, so I made my judgement way too early, I was wrong. The people here are lovely, all too willing to smile, wave or call out "Hello Mister", or "Hello my friend". When I stop they are always interested in me, happy for a chat, wanting to know where I am from, where I am going, though with my map most of the time I haven't got a clue.
I stopped a second day in Padang, another day of chores, mainly lots of phone calls, so it was just a bit of a nuisance that I couldn't find anywhere to make any. I also had more bike maintenance. The cyclists among you will know that when you change the chain you sometimes have to also change the cassette and the chainrings, well I had changed the cassette as the gears were jumping, but the middle chain ring sounded and felt really rough, so I have changed that as well. Once my other jobs were done too I took another walk along the prom. I was somewhat surprised to find a muslim girl beside me, she was dressed very conservatively and asked if she could walk with me. It's an example of just how relaxed and friendly it is here. She spoke a little English so the conversation was a tad slow, but we had a coffee together before going our separate ways. I got a bit distracted when another game of beach football started in front of us, technically much better than yesterdays. The rules were slightly different, if the ball went into the sea it was a throw in. I think I would find that very frustrating if somebody kept moving the touch line, but it would keep the linesman on his toes.
I want to talk about something I don't normally talk about, a photo, by pure coincidence it's the one here of the mother and child. I want to talk about it because it has become one of my favourites. I keep going back to it to have another look. It's not a very good photo to be honest, but I just love what it portrays to me. The observant will realise it is actually from the previous post, it's the mother and girl from the restaurant that I stayed at in the mountains. We were sat there at the table having breakfast, the boy was beside me and I really liked the side light on their faces, so I went and got my camera. As soon as I took it out the little girl got up and put her arms around her mother and I took the photos. To me it is a lovely image of harmony between two human beings, I see love in the little girl towards her mother, the way she instinctively posed and the way they are cheek to cheek. The mother doesn't appear to be showing the same affection, but would the little girl feel so loving towards her mother if her mother did not show love to her, probably not. I love the photo, it's a picture portraying love and companionship, it makes me feel good every time I look at it.
I set off from Padang along the west coast of Sumatra, it looked a tricky route out of town so I asked in the hotel which was the best way, I was told to follow the green taxis, so I knew that would be easy as I hadn't seen any yet, so when I picked them up I would definately know I was on the right road, until he said "this green", picking up a blue chair, I had seen that type of green taxi everywhere! It was through the hills to start with but the scenery was great, beside a picturesque fast river to start with. The weather looked as though it was closing in, so I chose to stop in a little town rather than camp in the rain. I was given the best room, still grubby and very basic, but he showed my that the water was running, it wasn't in the others. I turned the tap on for a shower, 10 seconds later the water stopped flowing, you have to shower quick here. As I walked around town I was clearly a novelty, a few stares but everybody else was very friendly. The power went off early, so I decided on an early night, the mosquitos decided on an early dinner! They went for my feet, I covered them, they went for my legs, I covered them, they went for my chest and sides, I covered them, they went for my hands and arms, I covered them too, but they went for my face and ears, it was hellishly hot covered in a sheet. I gave them a stern talking to but they ignored me, I threatened them but they ignored me so I carried out my threat and killed them, but reinforcements arrived almost immediately. I had had enough, there was no way I would sleep so I went in search of some mossie spray, but I couldn't find anybody despite my loud knocks on the doors, they probably didn't want to let the mosquitos in! I went for the last resort and got out the insect repellant I have been carrying for the last year, it's useless so I have never used it. I didn't so much roll it on as roll in it, but it was brilliant, they never bothered me again, well one buzzed my ear but I am sure I heard it say "Whoooa, YUK" as it flew away. Now the only think stopping me sleeping was a strange smell.
The following morning dawned, at least I think I did, but I had been right about the weather, it rained during the night and it was raining and dark as I was about to leave. Experience told me the rain would be over in 10 minutes, two hours later the rain was still pouring off me, my skills at weather prediction are sadly lacking. I stopped for breakfast, all that was on offer was chicken and rice. I was shown the chicken, it had clearly been eaten by somebody else, what he was showing me was a pile of bones that he had forgotten to throw away long ago, I moved on. It rained on and off all day, but ended as it started with heavy persistant rain. I stopped at Tapan, there was only one place to stay, but I couldn't get anybody to answer, I was getting very cold and shivering, I need to get out of these wet clothes. I resorted to going around the back, sticking my head through an open window into a very dark room and shouting "HELLO" at the top of my voice. At about the 5th attempt a door opened and at last I could go in. After pouring cold water from a bucket over me for a shower I was even colder. Having been so hot the previous night, now I was wrapping myself in a blanket and was still cold. I began to feel ill so lay down. It was still raining hard, but at least I wasn't in it. I went without dinner, I would have got drenched just crossing the road.
It was still raining the following morning which made it oh so hard to get up. By the time I was ready to leave it had all but stopped. My legs were heavy, I had little desire, I needed a nice flat easy run today, it wasn't. It was hilly, I wasn't enjoying it and I still had no energy, so I stopped early and rested for the afternoon.
Now I can't deny that from then onwards it hasn't been going well. My mind and body take it in turns to have bad days, so the going is tough, really tough. In reality I think I have chosen the wrong route for what I need at the moment. When I first looked at the map there were 3 obvious routes south on Sumatra down towards Java. The first looked the flattest, and the shortest, but looked uninspiring. The second ran along the eastern edge of the mountains but was a main road. The third road required crossing the mountains, but then it runs all the way along the west coast, a small road with hardly any towns and the mountains to the east. As soon as I saw it I knew it was for me, I loved it. Well hindsight is a wonderful thing as now I hate it, hate it with a passion. But I am staying positive, I am positive I hate it that is for sure. As I started the next day the legs were heavy, but the mind pushed them onwards, easy going at first, but then it became hilly, not what I needed. I made an early stop for the night and rested in the afternoon. Looking at the map the next 2 or 3 days were just what I needed, the road was right next to the sea, dead straight and dead flat. Was it hell! The first 20k was flat and near the sea true, and for 2k just a bit to close to the sea, a larger wave the normal and I would have been in it. In fact the sea was washing the road away and defences were being put in place. Then for about 10k the road went directly away from the sea until it found some hills, then for the next 150k that is where it stayed. I would never have believed that I could do so much climbing and go more than 70m above sea level. Most of the ascents were only 10-25m height gain, but it was tough, really tough, Thankfully my body was up for it but my mind wasn't. I lost count of the amount of times I said "Oh dear, what a shame, another hill", "Oh joy, the roads goes up again" or "Oh no, another hill, never mind", but "Oh BOLLOCKS, when will these bloody hills come to an end?" won hands down. Despite the small hills they were very steep and often required 100% effort to get up them, I whizzed through the gears in the blink of an eye, a turn of the legs. I was changing gear constantly, there was never a chance to get a rhythm going, it was relentless and I hated every minute of it. There were lots of gravel patches too with a drop between the two and to make things even worse there was often flat ground to the sides. On the few occasions I got a glimpse of the sea on the horizon the road turned inland again as if to say "Oops, you weren't supposed to see that, have a few more hills for punishment". I don't know if I told you but I hated it, I still do.
For dinner one night I looked at all of the food on offer in a restaurant and chose the chicken dish. When it arrived I was delighted to find that it had no bones, that was a first, but closer inspection revealed that there was in fact no chicken either. I complained and asked for some chicken, but obviously the chicken had passed it's "Use 3 times before..." date, as the only thing he could bring me was a chunk of fish.
Today was a bit easier, the hills more gradual, I was oh so thankful for that, but my body still wasn't up for it. When both body and mind decide on the same day that they aren't interested I am in big trouble. From here I have a choice of roads. This is the only point that I can cross the mountains and join the main road, but it's much further and who is to say that it isn't going to be just as tough. No, I shall stick with it for the next 600k, but I am honestly not looking forward to it, I am not enjoying it one bit, every kilometer is hard fought for and all I want at the moment is the easy life. I just want to be in Jakarta, but that is still about 800k away and I suspect when I get there I wont want to be there either. It doesn't help that communications are so bad here either. Internet cafes are few and far between, there are a few here, but the first ones I tried had lost connection to the internet, the next ones had no power. I eventually found one with both, but it might as well had neither as it was so painfully slow.
Well it was very good to see a comment from Aoiffe on the prvious post, she sounds her old self doesn't she, but that's the problem with email and blogs etc, it hides voice tones and might give the wrong impression. I am sure it came across exactly how she intended, but it doesn't mean to say that she is fit and well yet. After a few complications she has had the bone marrow transplant and the doctors are happy with her progress, but she is still very ill at times, there is a long way to go yet and your prayers are still needed, so don't forget about her, keep them coming. Thanks.
Despite me sounding jovial I am finding it tough at the moment and I hate the thought of what's ahead of me for the next week or so, but I got myself into this place, I have to get myself out, and I will. Hopefully I will feel stronger after a days rest, hopefully I can begin to enjoy it again. The people here are a saving grace, that's for sure.