|Our Really Big Adventure|
| We were packed tightly
into the bus as we reached the lip of the volcanic crater. Before us lay
Lake Maninjau, slate blue and like a jewel set in the centre of a huge cavity
in the mountain. The wall of the crater fell steeply away and although the
lake looked close we had more than 700 vertical meters to descend. Alarmed
at our proposed route my knuckles whitened as our bus lurched forward, old
brakes screeching in their daily resistance to gravity. Hairpin bend after
hairpin bend, 44 in all, broke what otherwise would have been freefall.
The monkeys by the side of the road looked on inquisitively, as if wondering
why this large noisy animal, infested with humans, never took a more direct
route to the watering hole below.
Despite the hair-raising entrance, Lake Maninjau is a place to relax, away from the hassles of everyday travel. Days are bright and sunny and evenings cool with little to distract you from the important task of doing nothing. In the morning the still water so perfectly reflects the sky and surrounding crater that it is easy to think the lake is naught but a mirror and not a terrifying 400 meters deep. However, at night the lake lapped gently at our veranda, leaving us to imagine, as we drifted off to sleep, the lake monster that surely lived deep underneath.
Looking at the two dimensional surface I found it difficult to comprehend such depth, so deep that even with scuba gear I would only be able to descend a tenth of it. The lake, 60 kilometres in circumference, is just small enough to be encompassed by the imagination but too large to reconcile with the phenomenal violence of the eruption that created the crater.
Nowhere, it seems, has escaped the information revolution and despite the peaceful surroundings we werent surprised by the signs for Internet cafés. Though we were surprised by the trek across fields and rice paddies necessary to get to one. We plodded over potato furrows and avoided the chickens protecting the Internet café only to find that the normal data trickle, which we have become used to in Indonesia, had slowed to that of a sink dripping, providing little more than irritation. We left to return another day only to break a computer by pushing it beyond its feeble limitations. Frustrated by our attempts we decided to abandon our pedestrian stroll down the information super highway in favour of cycling the road that circled the lake.
Cycling around the lake would be an idyllic way to spend a day, if it wasnt for the atrocious state of the road. Everything started off fine, with only the occasional speeding bus and childrens gleeful greetings disturbing our solitude as we easily made our way past paddy fields and fish cages half sunk into the stillness of the lake. After about 20 kilometres the tarmac disappeared and the road became a disaster. At some stage in the distant past it had evidently been paved, but floods and neglect had stripped the surface leaving only a rough trail of rubble, largely consisting of stones the size of a heavyweight boxers clenched fist.
Our previous easy glide that had allowed to us to soak in the beauty of the landscape now became a desperate death grip as we struggled to keep our handlebars straight. Sweat from the heat of the day now doubled with concentration and frustration, as yet another rock we had failed to navigate around stopped our progress dead. After two and a half hours it didnt look as though we had gone that far. A four hour round trip seemed hopelessly optimistic, we would be lucky to make it in 6 and we doubted if our good humour would last.
We were glad to stop and talk to three French cyclists, coming in the other direction. Apparently the gentle curve of the lake had deceived us; we were more than two-thirds our way around the circuit with the luxury of tarmac only 20 minutes away. We noted gleefully that the French were having as hard a time as we were. Our fatigue was replaced with new enthusiasm only to be replaced by fatigue again and we struggled the last 15 kilometres back to the village. Even back on the tarmac road we still laboured, only able to think of long cold sugary drinks.
Tired, hungry and streaked with dirt we fell into a local Padang restaurant, where the elderly proprietor mothered us. One Sprite followed another as she dished out our lunch from the dozen pre-prepared dishes that were stacked in a small pyramid. We gobbled up rice soaked in a fiery curry, along with fried chicken. In typical Padang style there was also a rough dark green spinach, a mix of tiny baby fish, each the size of a cent coin, and a couple of other tasty dishes that we could not or, for the sake of peaceful digestion, would not identify.
We had only planned to stay one day in Lake Maninjau but its relaxed atmosphere was infectious and we stayed another, sacrificing potential rock climbing in Padang city. A day later we arrived in Padang and checked into the most unloved room we have ever had the misfortune to stay in. Staring at the peeling paint and mildewed carpet we yearned for our clean white room with the painted shutters flung open and the sound of water lapping, even if a lake monster lurked beneath.