We have said of Java that it was very binary, either amazing or ugly, with little space in between. Today, once again we have found such a dichotomy about Indonesia. Sumatran roads, and I am talking mostly about the condition of the road surface, are either amazing or abysmal. The good ones have no traffic, a smooth layer of new tarmac and mostly stunning view. But from one meter to the next, this can all change and you end up with a torn up, truck infested nightmare rivalled by and sometimes on par with East Timorese roads. As a bonus, now that the rainy season has started, every bit where the seal is missing turns into a soapy quagmire of slippery doom.
This said, we loved today’s ride. There were good sections and bad, but the landscape made up for most hardship. The rest was covered by the heart-warming and friendly Sumatrans we continue to encounter. The road roughly followed the coastline up to a town called Muko-Muko. Most of it through palm oil plantations, and a couple of villages. The rest of the way the road was right up the shore, with plantations and further on the horizon the peaks of Bukit Barisan covered with the rainforests of the national parks.
A word on palm plantations, rainforest and morals. Sumatra’s rainforests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Both international resource giants as well as internal population pressure play their part. Personally, it saddens me to see the incursions humans make into these beautiful habitats. But as a westerner, I have not an inch of high ground to preach from. First, because we buy the exported goods that are produced on these soils. But more importantly, because neither of my homes has much to show for with regards to conservation. Europe plain and simple has done it all already. There are no native oak forests to speak of. On the other side is a country that lost 2/3 of its remaining bush in only 100 years, with it all having been converted to monocultures to produce an exportable product. Sounds familiar? Only that we think sheep farming looks cute and palm plantations are disgusting. Cutting your own little farm into rainforest is backbreaking work. No one who is offered a better alternative will ever do so. I can only hope with education and international pressure, Sumatrans manage to stop at a point similar to New Zealand.
After leaving the coast, we cut across a “tertiary road” trough a national park into the highlands ending in Sungaipenuh. The road was fantastic, the air got cooler and we thoroughly enjoyed the lush bush in this narrow gorge in the national park. Well, until the brand new seal ended and turned into 10 km of mud and broken bits of tarmac. This did not actually reduce our good mood though. We had plenty of time and really liked the bush.
About half way through, we got rewarded with another cool little encounter. Three young guys were standing next to their Hillux in the middle of the road, staring up. One held a remote control with a smartphone strapped to it. I was intrigued, so we stopped. It turned out they were mapping the area with a FX drone and a self-mounted digital camera to plan the roadworks to upgrade this road to a highway. Apparently this is an order of magnitude cheaper than any western measurement equipment and still precise enough for the job. Cool stuff.
Our GPS, although told to avoid unsealed roads, tried to lead us down a shortcut around Sungaipenuh that was just a little bit too optimistic to take us to the valley. The road turned from single track to gravel to mud before I turned the bike around. No drop this time though.
With plenty of time still we arrived in Sungaipenuh and decide to push on 40 km more to reach the next accommodation, a homestay at the foot of Mount Kerinci. Once again we were glad to have made the call. The homestay was in a quiet little village just at the southern slope of Mount Kerinici surrounded by green tea plantations. The owner was extremely nice. We sat on the porch for a while for a chat, even though he spoke not a word of English. Google Translate did its thing where my Bahasa Indonesia and sign language ended.