On the road to Lake Toba, I met a local priest with whom I had a long and interesting discussion about Indonesia and its different religions. He opened my eyes to the difficulty for Christians to stand out against the Muslims, and the extremism of some parties in the North of the island, and particularly in the very conservative city of Aceh. We took some pictures, and I left to reach the city of Parapat to try and get a ferry to Samosir Island.
With my priest friend
2-3 kilometers away from the place, a vision in front of me surprised me : another biker! A real one, with a big motorbike, all the equipment and everything! Very curious, I got closer and saw that the plate was European. Excitement was building up, and I finally discovered that not only was it European, but it was a French one too! I beeped my horn, waved my hands in the air, and stopped next to the biker, who to my great surprise was a woman.
Another French bike !
Mélusine is an adventurer, a real one. After her journey on a 125cc from France to Russia, her adventures through Africa and Central Asia with bigger bikes, she was just starting her new trip, which was just the same as mine but the other way around! Sponsored by Triumph, Touratech and other big names of the motorbike world, she had her bike sent from Paris to Jakarta and was planning on driving it back, under the eyes of her cameras for one of our national TV channels. She is full of life, and it was a real pleasure to meet her. I learned a lot from her about certain aspects of the journey that I had never thought about. We took the ferry together and rode to find a place to sleep.
Follow Mélusine’s trip on HER WEBSITE (only in French)
The lake was beautiful, and the cabins we found slept were typical. Everything was made of wood, the mosquito net was hanging nicely around the bed frame, and even the blankets had that pleasant old smell (which I agree might be a bad one sometimes, but in that case was perfectly blended with the rest of the decor to create a beautiful harmony). The people in the hotel were lovely, as much on the staff side as on the guests’. It seems that this part of Indonesia is somewhat equivalent to Iran regarding its travelers, in the sense that the lack of information and lack of transportation / accessibility highly filters the number of people to only keep the most interesting and enjoyable bunch. This is how I met Marcus and Steve, 2 lovely people from Australia, as well as new friends from Mexico or Germany who enjoyed listening to my project. I decided to stay 2 nights there to enjoy the place, and do a well-deserved laundry. I took the bike the next day to the top of a mountain overlooking the lake. A family owned a small cafe, where the view was simply amazing. I went back down, and met up with Mélusine for a meal in the evening. We spent a pleasant evening, and decided to take the 10 am ferry the next day.
View from the cafe
Once there, a man held out his hand to me. “Do you remember me?”, he asked. Of course ! The friendly man from the customs I had talked to two days before! He had spent the weekend here with his family and was heading back. We boarded. The crossing went smoothly, and we spent about 80% of the time posing for photos with locals. Foreign travelers on motorcycles are very rare in this part of the world. It is hard to imagine the probability of encountering another person on the road, especially French. Mélusine and I planned on following each other for about 40 kilometers before going different ways. We decided to take the opportunity to make videos for each other from our bikes to get views and angles that we normally cannot get while riding alone. We got to the intersection where our paths would split, but I became immediately aware that something was missing. My GPS tracker! I realized that it had fallen from its cover somewhere on the road. Very frustrated and annoyed, I quickly took out my phone and tried to access my website to see the position. About 5 kms from here. Phew! I prayed for it to still be somewhere on the road and not in the hands of someone who picked it up and turned it off. What followed was one of the most intense treasure hunts of my life : my GPS in one hand and my phone in the other, trying to compare the signal from the website and report it to my GPS while driving (do not ask me how I managed to drive with both hands busy, it is a mystery that remains unsolved). The signal was getting closer, and I decided to stop for the 10th time on the side of the road. I could not understand… It was supposed to be right here! I scanned the whole area with difficulty and finally saw a bit of orange box protruding from the side of the road. I had found my tracker! The marks on it makes me think that it has probably been hit by a car and thrown over to the side of the road. I rode back to where Mélusine was waiting for me, and proudly held up my missing tracker. What a relief ! We wished each other good luck, and exchanged contacts. I was really pleased to have been able to meet her.
Somewhere on the road
I continued my journey alone towards my destination for the evening : Padang Sidempuan. The road was difficult and I reached my destination exhausted after 213 km of holes, rain, and chickens to avoid. My rear brake even decided to completely stop working for a good hour, then decided that its strike was over. This happened a few times that day. I imagine that even brakes need a break (haha) from time to time. I wish I could say the same. The hotel was not great, but the bike was safe and I had something that resembled a bed for the night.
Heavy traffic around Pandang Sidempuan
The next day I decided to start at 7 am to allow me enough time to cover the distance of the day. The road condition was improving, and the sun was even out that day. I enjoyed pretty views and reached my destination early, at around 2 pm. The hotel I chose this time was much more comfortable and enjoyable than the day before, and I happily settled down.
The city of Bukittinggi is known for its huge clock, a rare Dutch heritage (for those who did not know, Indonesia was a Dutch colony until they fought for their independence in 1945. You’re welcome). There it was, standing proudly in the middle of the city and trying to reach for the sky.
Heritage from the Dutch, Bukittinggi
Beside it, two young Indonesians asked me if they could take pictures with me. They were around 20 and could speak English very well. They offered me to join them to climb some 300 steps to the top of a hill and enjoy the view. I balked at the idea of climbing 300 steps after a 7-hour drive, but still agreed. It was a chance for me to meet young locals. We spent a good part of the afternoon together climbing up the hill and visiting the tunnels dug to protect people against Japanese bombs during the 2nd World War.
My two young friends
A beautiful afternoon and a good night’s sleep in a comfortable room, for a change. Furthermore, with a GPS tracker in my pocket.