3rd day riding, 160kms that feels like 400km such is the stress of dodging everything on the road. Two great road stops though, the first for morning tea in a shed roadside in the jungle where the offering was hot water and a packet of biscuits.
As is the protocol during Ramadan, we knew it had some food available because the curtains were drawn across the glass-less windows. So poking our heads through the curtain we could ascertain that a least some hot water for us to break our 3 in 1 coffee sachets into. The few men hanging around were just smoking – also a bit of a no no during Ramadan although behind the curtain seems to be okay.
There’s a bit of geothermal construction going on here so that seems to be providing a lot of jobs – going by the motorscooter count at various construction sites along the way. Apart from that special project work for the locals seems to be farming and retailing in the main. For sure people in the jungle villages seem to be significantly poorer than those in the towns where the cash economy is thriving, but this area is clearly an economy with few middle class participants – most are doing manual work either for cash or subsistence.
By 1 pm it’s time for lunch and there sure is no surplus of food stops apparent. So as we pass through a town we spot a few cafes with curtains closed and sure enough on closer inspection they’re able to turn out some food. It’s chilli-intense which keeps the appetite down and the bowels lively, but the flavours are great and while the portions are modest, too much more of that fire in the belly could have very serious ramifications a kilometre or two down the road from the lunch stop. Memories of the “Silk Road Squirts” which afflicted us all during the traverse of Central Asia in 2005 come flooding back so we’re careful not to indulge too heartily in the local fare. A little and often seems to be the gastric optimal – which during Ramadan is a challenge.
Our stop tonight is in a Muslim town with few redeeming features. Panyabungan has 2 hotels on the GPS, one refuses us and the other we are the only guests but the hotel is clean and at $48 a little over the odds. The town lines the highway and life is dominated by a couple of mosques. Knowing it will be a beer-free night we settle in to a likely looking restaurant opposite the main mosque and wait for the siren that indicates food can be eaten. 6.15pm on the dot it’s all on and everybody hoes in to their first feed since dawn – except us of course, who managed a couple along the way at cafes behind curtains.
Sunday June 19th – Short day today despite better road conditions on the Trans Sumatera. Reason is Joanne’s gut which has been playing up for 12 hours now and she needs off the bike and into a sleep. So we’ve found a nice little Hotel, the Hotel Hamco in a village that we think is called Lubik Sikaping, just 0.3 of a degree north of the Equator and 100km north of the major town of Bukittinggi, which was our destination but we will pass through tomorrow. Still, for a sick day, 130kms was a great effort by the one who feels poorly.
The road has been running along the foot of an escarpment and our hotel is pretty much at the foot of it tonight. Right through the day though we’ve been passing very productive paddyfield activity with thousands out in the fields clearing and planting. It is hugely picturesque. Certainly there are no woes of unemployment here, everyone seems to be very busily employed creating their own tucker. Housing is very rudimentary but given the volume of rain that falls here, it’s clearly adequate – of course it’s warm all year round so no need for glass in the windows.
Monday June 20th – We’ve arrived at the Hotel Taufina in Solok, only 150 kms south of Lubik Sikaping where we were last night. It’s only 2pm but hot as and despite riding for some time around the lakeshores of Danau Singarak where there was a breeze, it was a hot breeze and as soon as we stopped on the lakeshore to carve up a paw paw we started to overheat.
Despite our 7.45am start to today’s ride (Joanne feeling a whole lot better) progress has again been slow – the road’s fine now, traffic is quite a bit heavier though and we had one city to navigate – Bukittinggi – where the traffic was really snarled, we become separated and had to resort to sending each other texts with our coordinates in order to finally regroup. I’d got separated when filtering through miles of gridlocked vehicles, Dave had cried off for an emergency toilet stop to relieve himself of his brunch, and Joanne had managed to find his bike at least – abandoned on the roadside, while he was gone yonder attending to urgent toilet issues. That episode must have cost us an hour by the time we resumed.
So looking at our schedule we’ve only done 907kms in 5 days of riding and have 1,175 to do before we get the ferry from Sumatra to Java. At this rate that’s another 6 days – I’ve only allowed for a further 4 to 5. If we step it up to 250kms per day, that’s 5 days. This is what we have to do if we’re to keep the goal of Timor Leste possible within our allotted time. So tomorrow we start riding at 6.30am latest.
Notwithstanding the above, the day’s ride was enjoyable with plenty of twisties and switchbacks through the jungled hills to the north of Bukittinggi, and then we crossed the Equator – I think that is the 6th time we have done that on motorcycles – once in Uganda, twice in Kenya, in Ecuador, in Brazil and now here. We stopped to take the obligatory photo of the sign but then moved on a further hundred metres until the GPS read 0.000 degrees.
Lunch was the, by now standard nasi gorang, although that particular dish is starting to get the reputation of Nasty Goring, given the number of times it’s after effects include stomach-to-bowel eruptions.
By the time the signal came for the end of the day’s fasting we were already seated in the “Resto Umi”, having ordered and just awaiting the gong. It’s been 3 days now since we tasted beer and we’re all really missing it, it is the requisite freshner after a day’s toil in the dust and the heat. A Mango milkshake doesn’t quite compete – and after 3 of them one feels ill.