SYNOPSIS:  About an excursion West of Bukittingi, picking up a new guide and making two new friends.  About paragliding at Lake Maninjau almost.  About Dutch houses, silversmithing, and  about a world-guinness record experience.

I had put the deposit down, I was ready to go.  Yumat showed up right on time and turned out to be a two-step-up guide from Billy.  He is a licensed and experienced paraglider with his own business and many years of experience as a senior guide. I was about to check off one thing on my life’s bucket list:  paragliding.  Really, I wanted to try parachuting someday, but the opportunity of paragliding fell into my lap last night at the De Kock Cafe and I thought it might be a good first step easing into any sky adventures.

If you are ever thinking about paragliding and are in the area, here is Yumat’s contact information:  Joe Mairi, Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, Indonesia

Website www.sumatra-paragliding.id.or.id   Mobile : +62 812 673 81 52 Email joe_king76@yahoo.com & joecking@hotmail.com  

But… the weather did not look promising.  Yumat suggested a day tour circling around the area near take off and checking the weather as we went.  If the weather would clear up, we would take off.  If it did not — safety first — we would just do the tour.  Sounded better than nothing and so we were off.

The landscape around here is topped only by the scenery I have seen in Tana Toraja, but it really comes close:  rice fields and terraces, valleys, mountains, view points.  This area of West Sumatra is nothing short of stunning.

Not far from Bukittingi the unique village of Koto Gadang sits atop a mountain plateau.  Even if you don’t know anything about Dutch Colonialism, the houses in this village look like little Holland (except for the notorious rusty metal roofs).  Window shutters, truncated gables, wood carvings and the use of single colors speak of Dutch influence.  Indeed, the Dutch had trained the locals particularly in silver smithing, a craft that is still practiced today.  The villagers will not allow any outsiders (that means anyone not somehow related to a seed family of this village) to move in.  To this day, they guard their craft and pass it on to the next generation. 

Some women were introduced to the art of Kloeppeln / Bobbin, a unique Dutch form of lace making.  I watched one of the women moving around about 10 wooden sticks at lightning speed to create an intricate lace design.  In Holland, these things are used as little table decorations (doilies) or fancy handkerchiefs.  Here, they are more commonly stitched onto a piece of fabric and sold at high prices to be worn at special occasions. 

We passed sugar cane plantations, which provided income to entire villages that developed sugar producing home industries.  But the buffalos tied to wooden poles, who go around in circles crushing the cane all day, were resting.   And the people who strip the cane in preparation for processing were at lunch.  I would have enjoyed watching this operation.

We passed cashew nut trees and sure enough along the way you could observe people roasting peanuts and selling them right out of the hot pots.

Bukittingi is already high up in the mountains, but we wound our way up even higher.

At one turn we reached the top and without warning suddenly looked down at the huge Crater Lake Maninjau.  Despite the fact that the clouds were hanging low and there was no chance of paragliding; just looking at this lake was worth the entire trip.  It was spectacular!  None of my single photos turned out to capture its visual impact.  The richly turquoise blue of the water  hemmed by the dark mountains on three sides and gently hugged by a patchwork of fields of various greens and yellows, and villages with dots of red and white on the fourth side, seemed to be taken right out of a fairy tale.

As paragliding was out of the question, we soon started our descent by car, down to the lake shore  for a lunch break.  44 actually marked, sharply angled curves zigzag down the steep road to the bottom of the valley.  The lake down there is not nearly as spectacular as the view from the top, but we stopped at a pleasant restaurant/guesthouse The Bagues Cafe, for a good meal and a tranquil view.  Perhaps, some people swim in this lake, I most likely would not.  Being spoiled by the pristine lakes in Michigan, a lake mainly used for fish farming by the locals is not that appealing; not to mention the various forms of sewage disposal common around here…  Both leave too much of a question mark.  But with a shower nearby, one could probably chance swimming in it. 

A Swiss couple had just finished lunch and was looking for a ride back to Bukittingi.  And so we picked up Chilli and Roman for the ride back.  All three of us had heard about the Bunga Raflesia, a unique flower in this area — botanists come from all over to witness its short-lived bloom (4-9 days) if they can catch it.  5-7 blooms occur on average over the course of an entire year.  For us to be here  on day 6 of a reported bloom, was a rare chance to see the flower, considered the largest flower blooming in the world!   

Would Yumat take us there?

He added 2.5 hours to his day and indeed, took us to a village where you have to hire a local guide for a 30-50 minute jungle trek.  It was late in the day.  That is bad on two accounts.  One  you want to be out of the jungle before dark; we likely would make that just in time.  Two  the flower opens up to its maximum size mid-day and likely would be on its way to closing down for the night.  Oh well.  Better see the flower a bit smaller than not seeing it at all. 

Across muddy puddles, over broken trees and up and down very slippery slopes we made it, holding on to lianas, tree trunks and each other in support.  We passed a few tiny black knots which our guide pointed out to be future blooms.  If I got him right, it takes 1.5 years for a flower to reach full maturity to bloom.  The more rain, the bigger the flower.  This is dry season and despite all the rain, any flower that blooms during this time of the year will only bloom at about 1/2 to 2/3 of the size that flowers will reach during the wet season.  To increase the size of this last one (and by extension most likely the size of his income), our guide admitted to watering it daily for several weeks.  It was about 50 cm in diameter, down from the about 70 it reached during midday.  Some of these “flower dishes” make it to over one meter in diameter.  Truly amazing! 

So, two uniquely Indonesian natural phenomena can be crossed off on this trip:  The Komodo Dragons and the  Raflesia Flower.  Not bad.

5 comments so far

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  1. I just saw it on the web camera. I found out to late, but was reminded of you seeing a Rafflesia. Did it really smell this bad?

    • It did not smell bad; perhaps, because it was “done” for the day.

  2. Persecution of Christians in Indonesia:
    An Islamist group vandalized a new church in Bekasi and demanded that the local mayor cancel its permit. The Santa Clara Church had received its permit in July 2015 and opened this year on March 7. The Islamic Forum Community and other Muslim leaders accused church leaders of acquiring the permit through false means. The mayor of Bekasi denied the allegation and refused to annul the church’s permit. He said it had fulfilled all the legal requirements necessary for construction. “Despite this,” explained the Asian Human Rights Commission, “law enforcement agencies have failed to protect the Santa Clara Church congregants; in fact, it seems the agencies have no will or policy to enforce the law against vigilantes. As a result, the church congregation lives under pressure and intimidation.” The rights group further called upon the local police to “take a strong stance” against the Islamic Forum Community and “ensure that the government guarantees protection to the Santa Clara congregation to practice their religion.”

  3. Interesting that you saw a Rafflesia in bloom.
    This weekend in the New York Botanical Garden an
    Amorphophallus titanum bloomed after 80 years.
    It also lasts only for 24-36 hours.
    Here the link to a video and website:

    • AMAZING. Did you get to see it?