29th November – 2nd December, 2014
During my time in Bukittinggi I kept hearing of a place called Harau Valley: it was an area only briefly mentioned in my copy of the Lonely Planet, but everyone I met who had been there said that it was a must-see.
I had just finished doing a motorcycle tour around Bukittinggi, so I decided it was time to move on. My new friend, Dominique, was also interested in seeing this Harau Valley place everyone kept talking about, so we started packing our bags. Just as I was beginning to wonder how we were going to get there, I overheard a group of young Europeans who were staying in the same guest house as us talking about making a daytrip to the very same place. We ended up hitching a ride with them.
The driver we hired out for the day took us to coffee plantation along the way. It was blatantly a commission stop but we didn’t mind; it was quite interesting to see the coffee making process, and they also had a fairly pleasant seating area with a mountain view.
They kept bringing free samples of all kinds of things to our table: coffee, coffee-leaf tea, mulberry tea, cinnamon tea, yam crisps, biscuits made from dahlia flowers, and the list goes on. As a marketing tactic it definitely worked, because their products were genuinely quite good and many of us ended up leaving with slightly lighter wallets.
After another stop along the way, where we ate lunch at a padang restaurant, we eventually found ourselves driving into a dramatic landscape of forested cliffs rising out from the rice fields. We had reached Harau Valley.
Staring out of the windows, as we passed through the series of canyons, was more than enough to make the journey there worth it. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, our driver took us to a series of waterfalls and viewpoints.
Later that afternoon Dominique and I were dropped off at Abdi Homestay, where we were greeted warmly. Ikbal – the owner – gave us a wonderful cottage with two floors, and, his brother in law – Ewal – spoke great English, and told us much about the area. Throughout our stay we were treated like family and Ikbal’s wife rustled up a great spread of food every dinnertime.
The setting was perfect: the cottages all had balconies pointing in the direction of the valley, and there was a waterfall cascading down the cliff behind us which you could always hear in the background.
On my first morning there I stepped outside and there was a Malaysian family eating breakfast at the table. The matriarch hailed for me to come and sit with them and, in a very motherly fashion, forced successive rounds of noodles and curried samosas upon me whilst asking me my life story. Within minutes she was making suggestive hints about how her single daughter just happened to be around my age, which made everyone laugh and said daughter blush. They were a very nice family, but it was partly a relief when they set off for their day of sightseeing.
I had plans of my own: Ewal was taking Dominique and myself on a five hour trek up to the top of one of the mountains.
After a short walk through the village, we reached the start of the trail. It was a steep climb, but the views from up there were well worth the effort.
We then walked through the terrain of jungle along the ridge. Ewal was a great guide and made the experience fun for us, telling us about the creatures we spotted, showing us the insides of carnivorous pitcher plants which were in the process digesting bees, and he even made Dominique a nice little hat out of ferns.
The final panoramic view at the other side of the mountain was spectacular, and a great way to finish off the day.
Dominique left the next morning, but I decided to spend another day in Harau Valley to relax and enjoy the view from my balcony as I caught up with some writing and blogging.
I reluctantly forced myself to leave the following morning, for there was much more of Sumatra to explore. Ikbal gave me a lift back to Bukittinggi on the back of his ojek, dropping me off at my old haunt: Hello Guest House, where Ling, ever the kindhearted person that she is, organised a bus ticket to my next destination – Lake Toba – and let me use her wifi and shower, even though I wasn’t staying there anymore, and refused to take any commission.
Hello Guest House and Abdi Homestay are two places that I would thoroughly recommend to anyone travelling through the area.
For more photos from Harau Valley, click here.