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Asian buses are for the birds

Special to the Daily/Luc Pols
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Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of travel stories from local resident Luc Pols, who is traveling through Southeast Asia.

I rented a moped to explore Sasomir Island in Lake Toba. Toba is a beautiful crater lake and quite tranquil. There are but a few tourists ” and so far I have not yet encountered a single American, so the time is divided between exploring the island, and swimming and relaxing at the lake. The hotel consists of cottages right at the lake and it is OK, or better yet “great,” especially if you take the $5/day price tag into account!

Next it was off to my next stop, Bukittinggi. A 13-hour overnight bus ride is the only way to get there and while definitely not my favorite, I had little choice. I took the “Executive Bus,” hoping it would be better than my last experience.



My prayers were not answered.

The bus, scheduled to leave at 4:30 p.m., showed up at 6:15 p.m.; I was the only non-Asian on the bus, so the conversation was nil. My seat was broken so I had to either put it all the way back, to the great annoyance of the mother and child behind me, or stay upright. At one time during the night I was sitting straight up, and quite sleepy, when the briver hit the brakes hard, which resulted in a bloody nose (for a moment I thought it was broken). The child behind me and her brother took turns screaming and the trip took an additional four hours ” 17 in total. The only highlight was that early in the morning we passed over the Equator. It was indicated by a monument and this was the first time I passed it over land.



I had reserved a hotel, which turned out to be not very good, but I needed a shower after the bus, so I was stuck. This bus trip and the hotel won’t make my highlight list, but I lived.

Today I hired a guide and rented a moped to explore the surroundings. There is a gorgeous canyon and on our way to another, smaller crater lake, Maninjau, we drove amongst hundreds of terraced rice paddies. The last six or so kilometers down to the lake had magnificent views and the hairpin curves were numbered 1 through 44.

Quite a trip.



Bukitinggi itself is loud, from the mosque which starts blasting at 4:30 a.m. to the mopeds and cars, half of which seem to have lost their mufflers. The noise makes conversations and sleeping a bit difficult at times, but the location is breathtaking. It is surrounded on three sides by volcanoes ” Merapi, Singgalang and Sago. In the town itself, the old Dutch fort is nothing, the “zoo” is a disgrace, but the market is fun.

I explored some of the other surroundings. Because of the past volcanic activity, the earth is very fertile and it shows. I traveled between coffee and tapioca trees, rice paddies, cinnamon trees, corn and sugarcane and of course countless banana palms … a veritable vegetable paradise.

Another very interesting phenomena are the thousands of “flying dogs” or “flying foxes” (I have heard them called both names). These are bats about two or three times the size of normal bats and they hang in trees all day before they start chasing food in the late afternoon. The wingspan of these animals is between 3 and 4 feet! Quite a sight.

I am changing my plans around somewhat, so I have to wait to take my flight (yes you read right, no bus but plane) to get to Lombok, with a stop to change planes in Jakarta. I have decided to travel to my furthest point and then make my way back by as many boats and trains as I can and to minimize the buses! I am taking the Indonesian CME to the airport in Padang and on to Lombok. See you next week.

Have a travel essay you’d like to share with Vail Daily readers? E-mail High Life Editor Caramie Schnell at cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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