65. Gloom in Broome

April 29th, 2011

(Written: 5th April 2011)

Ever since arriving in Australia I'd been dreading backpacking hostels as unlike other parts of the world, and from my experience of being here before, they are usually full of kids usually having conversations I just get uncomfortable with.   It's not that I can't hold conversation, it's just that I could not be bothered acting up to the pubescent male bravado of "who I'm going to shag tonight."  Australia seems to attract the world’s shagpackers.  I'd been lucky in avoiding this in Darwin, although there was one British guy who had broken his hand as a result of a failed "shagpacking" event.  His drunken advances with a female were rejected, he took objection to this and tried to karate chop a wooden bathroom shelf.  He did quite a good job in breaking the shelf in half but sadly he also broke his hand.

But there were more of them here at the Last Resort hostel.   As I tried to sleep after my long 35 hour journey, outside there was a massive argument between a Canadian and an Australian. Basically, the Canadian had tried to hit on the girl the Aussie liked.  All I could hear as I nodded off was "get off him, he's not worth it."  Great, after 35 hours I'd ended up in a Sheffield council estate.

Broome

I had to spend 4 nights in Broome, not because I wanted to but because the public bus south only runs 3 times a week and this is the only way out of this place without hiring a car.  Broome is an amazingly small little town with quite a bizarre history.  Although it was one of the first cable towns in Australia, a town where an underwater communications cable ran to Java and then on to British colonies before reaching half way around the world to the UK, the early population was in the main not British but a been a mix of Chinese and Japanese.

Broome

The former came here for trade and the latter for the massively lucrative pearl trade which continues here today.  Because of this history, the old town centre which is made up of ramshackle corrugated iron buildings is still called china town although apart from a couple of street names and the odd Chinese restaurant there are very few Chinese today.  Similarly there are very few Japanese here but this may not be surprising as this was one of the cities in northern Australia along with Darwin that got bombed by the Japanese during the Second World War.  Although relatively speaking in terms of WW2, only a few hundred people (200-300) died in Broome with a similar number in Darwin, it’s still amazing how little of this is known back in the UK and more surprisingly here.

Broome

Although it's a town where most people in Australia seem to want to live, it can be a little bit dull with the only nightlife being at the "world’s oldest operating picture gardens" Sun Pictures.  This is very expensive to visit but is quite fun to watch a film while outside in the warm air, sat in a 1950's deck chair eating an ice-cream.  But that's as exciting as this place gets.

Broome

Other famed sites here include Cable Beach, said to be Australia's best. It is pretty, but best?  It's just a bit of sand with attached water!  I was more impressed at Gantheaume Point where when the tide goes out a prehistoric seabed can be seen.  Not only this, after about two hours of searching and waiting for the tide to go out I managed to find something I've never seen before, well not in situ anyway.

Broome

Millions of years ago this place, rather than the arid desert it is now, on the edge of the aptly named Great Sandy Desert, was a tropical region with all of the wildlife that this attracts.  Here Dinosaurs would have come to feed and wallow but something amazing happened.  Not too long after the last group of dinosaurs left the sandy ground dried up and hardened in the heat of the sun.  The land rose as centuries of debris and other soft rocks formed on top before the continents drifted again while tides rose.

Broome

By an amazing bit of luck, the coincidence of these animals leaving muddy/sandy footprints and the erosion of the rock by the sea at this moment in time, at low tide you can see the footprints of the animals which once lived here.  I was truly mesmerised by this, being a bit of a scientific geek, as I've never seen anything like this in situ before.  Yes I've seem casts and plenty of dinosaur skeletons and fossils but these are just ghosts of the past, you see them at their death.  These prints are their living shadows, moments in time stretch across the rocks in front of you as can trace the footsteps as the dinosaurs walked.

Broome Broome

You can walk, standing in the footprints of giants, which gives you an idea of the size of these creatures.  Some had three pronged claws and other with massive 1.5 meter pads.  I could have stopped here looking all day but sadly it was getting dark and the tide was turning.  Not only in terms of the sea, but the Cyclone I had escaped from in Darwin was heading this way fast.  At the moment I seem to have my own little black cloud....

Broome

49. Daylight Robbery

February 26th, 2011

Penang is a really nice island off the North West Malaysian coast. I think it was one of the first British settlements in this part if the world and was founded to compete with both the Dutch and Portuguese Empires. Its capital, Georgetown, is a mini Singapore which in turn is a mini Hong Kong but unlike those two places rampant development has not happened here although more and more tower-blocks are appearing along the coast. But the best thing is, the old China Town centre is now Unesco protected so hopefully it will remain as it is now. On the minibus to Penang a middle aged American lady got talking to me. She was from Texas, extremely right wing, anti immigration and bizarrely at the same time the child of Mexican immigrants!

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

While talking about work I mentioned the UK National Health Service which resulted in a tirade of insults from her about how bad the UK health service was. I asked whether she had been to the UK or ever had any direct knowledge of the British NHS. Nope, she responded but I read about it in the newspapers and heard about how bad it was during the (American) elections. Mmmm, that was when Obama held up the UK NHS as a good example of free health care for all but the Republicans lied about it to get votes and to ensure a free system of health for the poor was not introduced in America. God she was irritating, she was pro-life but supported the death penalty, thought global warming was a conspiracy, believed Obama was the worst thing to happen to America, and more amazing than anything else told me that she was aware that in the UK we had adopted Islamic Sharia law into UK law and she believed that it was a step too far. This latter "fact" she said she had again heard during the election campaign which highlighted for me that she was very much on the right side of wing and the wrong side of mental. Just to see how mental and right wing she was I thought I would poke a little fun at the perpetual demigod of the right wing America, Ronald Regan. Well, with the way she reacted it was clear that my life was in danger so I was happy to run off and find my guesthouse.

Penang has a massive hill in the centre unimaginatively called Penang Hill. I'd been looking forward to going up it since 2001 when I was turned away as they had a ladies school only day when I arrived but I couldn't believe it, it was now closed for repair. But luckily Penang has a beautiful coastline and tropical forests so I was able to go for a couple of jungle treks although afterwards I looked like I'd been drenched in a shower thanks to the humidity and having to run away from a snake that wouldn't do anything but follow me. But it was nice and always amusing to see the locals swimming in the sea fully clothed with headscarves on thanks to local religious beliefs.

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia 

The population of Penang is predominantly Chinese and many came to trade and work as the British Port developed. While in a local restaurant one of the local Chinese guys came over for a chat. As usual when you mention you are British, the history of Empire soon popped up with the bizarre comment, "I don’t have a problem with the British Empire and what you British did, but why did you have to bring the Indians with you." Wow.... De-ja-vous from Thailand, before walking away from this conversation he went on to add that the Indians on the island "cause most of the crime with drug dealing and stealing." Mmmm, I walked away but not before he added that the Malay were also idle as they want to pray 5 times a day and not work...... Mmmmm, so this guy was Chinese in Malaysia and was complaining about the immigrant Indian and Malaysians and all said with no irony..... Then again people here are not known for their tollerance, particularly religious, hence the Barbie Dolls hanging from the trees outside the main Mosque. Don't quite know what I'm mean't to read into that!

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia 

One thing that did stick in my head from my last time here was a police station in the old about to be demolished shopping centre (which I remember being new!). In the window of the police station were many truly horrific pictures of road accidents and their bloody aftermath. It was truly horrific but crowds gathered all around to see the images. As shocking as they were I did fear that seeing these people would become hardened to the images and they would become nothing more than a freak show, even back then some people laughed at the images. To my surprise the images were still there but now there were no crowds of onlookers, people walked past without even a first glance never mind a second. Had people become hardened to images of people torn apart in the moment of death? For intrigue only I've added links to some images below as I don't want them pasted to the blog where they could be easily found on a google search. If you do click, please be aware that they are graphic.

Image1

Image2

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur my guesthouse was on the edge of Little China and the edge of the Little India areas of the centre. Thanks to the British, Peninsular Malaysia is politically and economically pulled three ways, between the Malay, Chinese and Indian and the societies don't mix that well. All pretty much converse in their own language meaning that English is still linga franka for the country. Walking around taking pictures of this partitioned city I made a fundamental mistake, I had my big SLR camera dangling from my wrist, suddenly I felt a tug on my arm and quickly turned to see a guy on a moped on the pavement next to me holding onto my camera trying to pull it off my wrist. I easily held on to the camera as instinctively my hand clenched tighter but I found this really annoying. Not so much the act, but the fact that I'd let my guard down something you can really do when backpacking alone, I should not have been dangling the camera as it’s a bit like fishing for thieves. But that said, maybe my guard was not really down as I had the neck-strap wrapped and crossed around my wrist in such a way that pulling the camera would only have resulted in the strap becoming tighter around my arm. Even though, there will be no more dangling. But those who live by the sword die by the sword and what did I have in my hand..... A camera..... So I quickly zoomed in and took a picture of the pair (he had an accomplice) as they rushed away on their mopeds, printed a picture and gave it to the local police station. Granted nothing will probably happen, particularly as the number plate was a little out of focus, but it made me feel better. Oh, right on cue, the guy on the moped was Indian. I couldn't believe it, were the rather un-PC guys in Thailand and Penang right...... Let's hope not.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 

On the night of Chinese New Year I headed to Melaka square thinking that there might be a celebration for the significant Chinese population in this country. There was nothing and even china town was pretty subdued. There was just one temple outside which a crowd had gathered. Hundreds had come here to make offerings to the gods and then give alms on the way out. Interestingly although hose offering alms were Chinese, the people lined up outside to take the money were all Indian! So weird. What was more weird, one of the guys who had crutches and hobbled about, when he rounded the corner he walked off normally counting his money. But such was the greed for cash of these guys they would fight each other to get the money, even assaulting those trying to give it, so much so that there was a need for security guards in the temple to keep these guys in line.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

50. Blog temporarily unavailable (Blocked Blog)

February 27th, 2011
50.  Blog temporarily unavailable  (Blocked Blog)

UPDATE!

Due to a cyber attack originating in China or Vietnam my blog was infected with malware.  This destroyed the blog.

Please visit:

"www.dazman.info/blog.html" (now fixed, use links above and on right)

for a simlpfied version of the blog while I find time to re-build this site.

Cheers

----------------------

Previous note

----------------------

Microsoft have blocked my webite and blog for some reason.

There will be no blog for the foreseeable future.

 

For those following, sorry.

 

Update:

The original blog site was deliberately targeted by someone (evidence from my service provider suggests the source was either in China or Vietnam). Some blog text was deleted and Malware was embedded into the site which could trace those accessing the site (although only IP addresses). Luckily my service provider blocked access and deleted the Malware before anyone could be affected. The site is now clean and all user access barred so it cannot happen again.

51. The Road to Singapore

March 15th, 2011

I was glad to be leaving Kuala Lumpur as I didn't find it particularly safe as I was now paranoid about petty crime. As I was leaving I had one final encounter with an Indian guy who tried to extract money from me for kicking his bus! I'd bought a bus ticket to Malacca but when I tried to get on the bus there was a guy sat in my seat. He wouldn't move and the driver just said I had to get off as it was full, as I did this the guy sitting handed the driver some money. I couldn't believe it, I was really annoyed and as I went to get my bag off the bus I angrily kicked my bag which was in the compartment below. I explained to the guy that I had kicked my bag and made it very clear what I wanted to do to him if he didn’t give me my money back. He quickly acknowledged that it had all been his mistake and that I hadn't kicked the bus and handed me my money for the trip.

Malacca

Arriving in Malacca couldn't have been more different. This place is like a mini Penang, being predominantly Chinese again, and one of the first places the British settled. Although having said that, the Portuguese were here first and then the Dutch, the latter being the period from which most of the architecture comes from. It has always been a nice touristy place more so now with the Chinese New Year celebrations but it has really cleaned itself up. The river now had boat trips up it and walkways down the sides. I was extremely lucky and found a room in a guesthouse overlooking the river. Everything was fully booked but thanks to a late cancellation I had a lovely room and a lovely view.

Malacca

Malacca was a nice bit of calm after Kuala Lumpur. After enjoying practically every minute of the trip from the UK to Laos, since entering Thailand I've hated every minute of it with passport problems, things stolen, broken teeth, attempted thefts, corrupt bus drivers and as I found out today another block to my plan to get to Australia. East Timor no longer allows tourists to enter overland without obtaining a visa in advance. May sound ok, just get a visa, but it turns out that although they have the rule, the only Embassy I can get to for a visa is in Jakarta but that is currently closed thanks to the political situation. But not to worry, the East Timor website says that I can still obtain a visa by flying into Dili! So not helpful at all then.

Malacca

Celebrations for Chinese New Year were still going strong in Malacca. Businesses all over town were still inviting Lions (two guys dressed as lions just to clarify!) in to dance with the accompanying firecrackers and drumming to bless the property with good luck. Has to be seen.

 (The image below requires Flash to be installed)

But biting the bullet as I've been deliberately slow on this part of the journey as I try to sort out my not too insignificant obstacles, I got the bus to Johor Bahru and then crossed over into Singapore. ....

52. There's Good News and Bad News.... Oh actually maybe that's just Bad....

March 20th, 2011

(Written: 19/02/11)

Crossing over the border from Malaysia into Singapore evoked similar memories to those I had when I went from China to Hong Kong.  "Same, same but different" is the expression they use in his part of the world.  Malaysia is a very modern country and when you're there you do think that it's pretty nice but crossing into Singapore makes you realise that Malaysia has a long way to go before it becomes like Singapore which is partly the reason why the union with Malaysia in the 1960's was all too brief.

I found a hostel quite some way from the centre just north of Little India. I wanted to relax, avoid the tourist hoards and avoid stinky backpackers who hang around the more exciting and pleasant area or China Town.  Actually the words China Town is a complete misnomer here as 75 to 80% of the population of Singapore is Chinese.  Can you have a China Town in a Chinese town?

Singapore

But my delusions of peace were quickly destroyed on my second night there when I met Joseph, an obese Danish guy with a really bad skin condition and a clear allergy to soap, both washing himself and his clothes.  When he spoke he was very slow and sounded like Peter Lorre of the old 1960's horror movies.  With this in mind, this is what he said, "What does a girl say after she has multiple orgasms.......  Thank you Joseph!"  I've altered names to protect the innocent but wow....  That joke actually made me feel dirty!  Then a "successful" Indian businessman moved into the dorm because obviously if you are a success the thing you really like to do is stop in dorm rooms with the great unwashed.....  But to give him his dues, he was clearly trained in the art of bullshit to the highest degree so he probably was a businessman!

He went on about the difficulties of doing business on the peninsular particularly in Malaysia where they were "raciest against the Indians and just think that we are thieves."  Boy did I have news for him. I light-heartedly mentioned my attempted robbery by an Indian in KL and got the classic response, "Oh, that's not stealing, I mean real stealing, the bike stealing trick is normal."  Yep, this guy was definitely from India and that was most definitely Indian logic, explaining the unexplainable and excusing the inexcusable.  Sadly, as the conversation went on he also went on to talk about "Empire" and made a comment I've heard all too often before about me treating Indians like slaves.  At that point I decided to give the guy a wide berth as like the guy in Agra this guy has a chip on his shoulder from somewhere and you can't argue with idiots without yourself sounding like an idiot.

Singapore

The reason I'd come to Singapore was to get my computer fixed. So imagine my dismay when Toshiba told me that they did not stock this type of replacement keyboard in Asia and one would have to be ordered from the UK.  Great, that international warranty was worth it then!  Actually, the way she broke it to me was, "I have good and bad news with the keyboard, we do have one in stock."  Cool I thought, "however, the model of keyboard in Asia is slightly bigger than the one sold in the UK so it won't fit."  How the hell is that both good news and bad news.  I said to her "Well that’s just bad news then isn't it!"  Coming here was now just a waste of another half a page in my passport, but it's Singapore, it's nice, I might as well make the most of it while I wait for the East Timor government to get back to me about my plead for help.

Singapore

The days flew by quite quickly as I visited the usual war cemetery, (H. H. Jarvis Age 36, died on the day the British surrendered) and just wandered around the city visiting a couple of museums on the way.  This included the "Battle box" which is the underground bunker where British forces made the decision to surrender to the Japanese during the WWII.  Plastered about the place were books written by one of the Japanese commanders with the title "Malayia, Japans greatest victory, Britain's greatest defeat."  I read a little as it made for some quite interesting reading.  Basically the book quite accurately states that the Japanese force was significantly smaller than the British/allied forces and continues to talk about the strength of the Japanese.  However it completely neglects the facts that the allied forces had no tanks, heavy arms and only a handful of planes which were of a design useless for combat.  There were a lot of soldiers but very little to fight with.  All the military power was being used to defend Britain against Germany at that time.  But I suppose it's a bit like the British saying that beating the Zulu at Roukes drift was a victory against all odds.  Yes the British were amazingly outnumbered by Zulus but as Blackadder said in Blackadder goes forth, the world was a much easier place when all the enemy had was pointy fruit....

Singapore

I also noticed that the victorious book completely neglected to mention the 200 plus doctors, nurses and patients slaughtered at the Alexander hospital en-route to the "victory", the massacre of tens of thousands of Chinese Singaporeans during the occupation and the rape of thousands of Chinese women.  And that's before you even think about any military crimes against PoWs.  If that's Japans greatest victory, well, they can be proud of it if they wish.

Singapore

Mmmmmm, think I have a chip on my shoulder about this, maybe it’s just my Burma connection coming out.  I have to admit that I lost it with some Malay visitors to the Sentosa fort museum which had a video presentation covering the PoWs.  At one point there were images of allied soldiers in nothing more than loin cloths being led away, being forced to kneel down and then beheaded.  The film understandably stopped before the sword met the neck but the Malay were in hysterics, did they not know this was real?  And even if they didn't why laugh anyway?  Like those images back at the police station in Penang Malaysia were these images so common now that they see them and cheer.  But I gave them no benefit of the doubt and showed my irritation.  I probably shouldn’t have but.....

But fort Sentosa is definitely worth a visit particularly if you look at the information regarding the Japanese occupation.  I always knew about Indian resistance to the British in India during the Second World War with many fighting alongside the Japanese but I didn't know it happened here also.  In fact it looks like it was organised and led from here.  The Indians in Singapore were well looked after in an effort to get them on board although if you look at some of the pictures in the press the day after surrender, I don't think it took much coercing. "Singh, get your flags here."  Always a business opportunity I guess.

Singapore

But as many of the Indian Singaporeans aided the Japanese in their murderous rampage against the Chinese Singaporeans it helps explain why there is still a clear wedge between both communities both here and in Malaysia.  And to blame.  The British again........  Bloomin Empire....

Singapore

For the last couple of days in Singapore I moved to China Town and although the hostel was a lot more cramped being here was a lot better.  It was lively, near all the main sites and more importantly near the street food stalls....  And the backpackers smelt no worse than Joseph.  There was also a comedy sign in the toilet of the restaurant below; well it would be comedy if it were not true.  It stated, "Failing to flush the toilet will result in a $500 fine".  Obviously must be a massive problem here but it's just one of many fines you can get in this country.  A "fine" country as many have said.

Singapore

Although I hadn't got my decision to enter East Timor yet I decided to bite the bullet and go to Indonesia but before I went I thought I'd get my future year read by a Chinese fortune teller.  It’s quite traditional to get this done at Chinese New Year.  Don't tell me if I'm wrong but I was under the impression that these guys really just give good news else you just won't pay and come again next year.  But not here, it was unbelievable.  It basically said that "You are likely to be the victim of many lawsuits this year and there is nothing you can do to prevent them.  You probably found that last year was a bad one for you and you are hopeful that this one will be a lot better..... unfortunately your hopes will be dashed."  What the hell!  Jokingly I said to her that I could tell the future too adding that "I could see that next year I would not be coming here again!"

Singapore

Walking out of the fortune tellers an infant stopped in his toddle and looked at me with a stunned expression, pointed and said "Jesus".  Wasn't quite sure if he was using that as an expression of horror or more biblically.  I edged my bets turned to the mother who looked embarrassed and said, "bless you my children" and walked off to buy a ferry ticket to Indonesia......

(The image below requires Flash to be installed) Singapore River

 

 

.

53. So How Do You Get More Pages In A Passport?

March 24th, 2011

(Written: 21/02/11)

My first taste of Indonesia was the small island of Pula Batam barely 20 miles off the coast of Singapore.  Due to its location it attracts the seedier side of Singapore and loads of people come over here for cheap sex and bad beer, although I may have got that the wrong way round.  I got the first boat in the morning from Singapore in the hope that it would arrive before the last boat set off to the larger island of Sumatra in Indonesia.  We actually arrived after the other boats should have left at 07:30 and I'd given up all hope as my passport was really scrutinised on the way in.

Now that I've left Indonesia I can say how I gave myself more pages in my passport when it was otherwise full.  The way I made more pages was to peal out previous visas which did not have an ink stamp on the same page.  Sounds simple but I had hoped to do this with the evil Kazakhstan visas but being evil Kazakhstan when I tried to remove them they must have had a chemical inside the sticker which bleached the page behind.  The customs official would clearly see the page had been tampered with.  As Indonesia refuse Israelis and question those who have visited it could be a serious problem if they think I've removed something like that.  However, I managed to get one of my Chinese visas off which although you can see some marking from the sticker, it's faint enough for me to explain that "it got wet".  In fact I deliberately soaked the passport just in case.  This eventually worked although there was some close scrutiny and I got through the border but it had all taken too long and it had now gone 8am.

Bukittinggi

Outside the international ferry port a scruffy man came rushing up to me asking where I wanted to go I explained that I wanted to go to Pekanbaru but the ferry had gone.  I didn't quite understand what he was saying but I thought he'd said that there was still a boat going to Sumatra.  This is where being ripped off can work to your advantage and I'd always advise any backpacker to do the same.  Basically I figured his help was going to cost me but without it I might be stuck on this "good beer" island for one day more than I'd like and it wasn't the "good beer" concerning me.  He ran to the boat, held it up, got me a boat ticket, got me through the port control and onto a boat in less than 5 mins.  Yep he short changed me on the ticket to the sum of $1.50 but I gave him a $3.00 tip anyway (which is a lot here although he demanded $10 and didn't get!) as without him I'd would not be on the fast boat to Dumas.  So I was ripped off but I had used him as much as he had used me.

Bukittinggi

Now I just needed to find out where the hell Dumas was.  Mmmmm, it was a 5 hour bus journey from where I'd hoped to be as I want to get to Jakarta quickly.  But after 7 hours on a boat and a quick look at the hole that is called Dumas I decided to find an overnight bus straight out of there.  Being my first experience of an Indonesian bus I didn't know what to expect, however, the last time I'd seen one like this was in Kenya.  Somehow they always seem to make the outside look shiny and new but the inside looks like there's been a massive bar fight.  The bus was not air-con as it turns out that those only operate on the major routes which this wasn't.  But the windows opened, the seat fully reclined so what could possibly go wrong.  Mmmmm, I could smell cigarette smoke, I don't usually get travel sick but if I do there is one thing guaranteed to do it and that's smoking on busses.  Here practically every-other person was smoking, there are no rules on busses it appears.  In fact I'm yet to meet an guy in Indonesia who doesn't smoke anywhere and all the time.  And then there's the music.  The Indonesian pop music.  It's hard to explain what this sounds like without using the word mental but imagine your favourite pop song with a constant trance/techno um-pa-pa beat played at the loudest possible volume.  It physically hurt my ears to the point I has disco ears.  That's when your ears just ring and buzz after a night out.  But I think this music is strangely addictive as now I quite like it....  Although preferred at a much lower volume.

Bukittinggi

The journey was long and winding over the mountain range that runs the length of Sumatra and by luck rather than judgement, (as they didn't tell me that I had to change busses I just followed a guy who got on the bus at the same place I did) I arrived in the weird sounding place called Bukittinggi.  It is a bit of a landmark place for me as it's my first destination south of the equator.  But this place has taken me completely by surprise.  Everyone is so friendly, it's not at all what I expected.  Yes the island is very Islamic particularly in Ache but not in the way the media would let us believe.  On my first day here loads of school girls in extremely conservative almost burka dress would come up to me and interview me for their English assignments.  Others would just want their pictures taken with me.  They would even shake hands, something Muslim women in such dress in the Middle East would never do with men and they would definitely not approach random men for conversation.  Some of the girls would even call me handsome and that I looked like a film-star, complete rubbish of course and purely based on the fact that I was white like a movie stars but still very good for the old ego!  I was starting to like Indonesia but not just for this, it's almost like a little India.  It's so nice to be somewhere different after Thailand and Malaysia.  It's also nice to visit a country I haven't been to before.  This is the first time since leaving Tibet last October.

Bukittinggi

Bukittinggi itself is a pretty little town surrounded by some really nice scenery including the obligatory volcanoes but because of cheap flights most backpackers bypass this old backpackers town.  I practically had the whole place to myself which did have the downside of everyone in town wanting to say hello to me, within 2 hours people I hadn't even met yet would come up to me and they already knew my name!  Avoiding the attention and the comments that I was a "giant" I happened upon the Japanese caves.  During the Japanese occupation of the island the Japanese used locals to build an extensive network of underground tunnels to hide and protect a complete army.  The extent of the cave system is colossal going for what seems like 1km in each direction.  Not surprisingly this place although fun to explore, is a monument to all those who died building it and the locals refuse to visit as it holds bad spirits.  They died building what is a complete folly as Bukittinggi is miles away from anywhere military strategic.

Bukittinggi

But after just one night to recover from the overnight bus journey I had another one of 33 hours to get to Jakarta.  It's not actually that far, but like the last journey the main highway down the whole length of the country is just a single lane and it follows the route of a winding medieval road system.  As such I'd paid for an air-con bus so only smoking is a sealed section at the back was allowed, but the night driver looked about 12 and being the rainy season there is a clockwork downpour between 11pm and 3am and the roads were extremely bendy.....  What could possibly go wrong?

Bukittinggi