Bukittinggi, Birthday, and Two more Volcanoes Sumatra

nformation for climbing Gunung Marapi is scant. However we do know that a road leads from town to its base. Directing our minivan driver up a promising side road, we park, satisfied the desired approach road is at-hand. A motorcyclist stops, and he is willing to accept cash for guiding us the next day. This is not too credible as he is middle-aged and overweight. Nonetheless a deal is struck, and we'll meet 5 a.m. tomorrow for the effort - on my 47th birthday.
Sumatran ornamental roof

Our hotel room is centrally located, so afternoon errands are easily realized - the umpteenth visit to an ATM machine, and, using a horse-drawn rickshaw, visiting a tourist agency to alter existing airline reservations.

In planning the trip we were unaware that Kuala Lumpur has two airports. Hence the inbound flight from Padang on Sumatra is followed by Malaysian Customs, a taxi ride to the international airport, and then our homebound flight to Taiwan. For Bob and I the scheduled arrival time from Padang and departure time to Taipei differ by 3 hours 40 minutes - which is OK normally - but not when two airports are involved. As Robert's outbound flight is twelve hours later he is unconcerned.
toucan - Bukittinggi

Thus Bob and I shorten Sumatra by one day to avoid the very real threat of missing our international flight home. A tourist agency one block from our hotel, Robert and I purchase tickets to move forward the Air Asia flight. This does mean one day less to climb an "optional" ultra prominence summit; and yet Bob and I agree that the risk of missing our expensive flight home (while paying for new tickets) overrides that consideration.

Bob's cold is now considerably worse, and, even had he wanted to climb Marapi would have been advised not to. He stays as Robert and I arise early for climbing Gunung Marapi.
pointed roof style of Sumatra

Just after 5 a.m. the motorcyclist appears, and, taking us singly, drives the approach road to a wooden shack where, suddenly, a man appears - the real hiking guide, and "looking" like one as young and quite slender. Still, he smokes.

After paying the cylist we start off, initially on a dirt road by headlamp. The guide leads a very fast pace, and I complain that, as I am carrying 15+ pounds of daypack, it is simply unreasonable for us to keep apace when he carries literally nothing. He slows down to a rate I can maintain for several hours.
Gunung Singgalang from G. Marapi

We gain elevation quite rapidly, and I calculate, based on GPS-derived altitudes, that we ascend at some 2,000 feet per hour. Given the heat and dampness I am surprised at this figure - one that I deem quite admirable under the best of conditions.

We break out of the forest perhaps 1,300 feet below the quoted summit elevation, and commence a series of switchbacks up a rocky path through terrain of obvious volcanic origin. The grade suddenly lessens, and we spot our goal as a sharp peak perhaps 20 minutes away with minimal additional gain. Now the path is over brown earth and is devoid of vegetation - we have entered that moon-like landscape typical of volcanic summit areas the world-over.
Graffiti etched into moss,
Gunung Marapi

As we ascend the final 100 feet I am concerned that, to our left, north of us, the tree canopy seems at least as high. A GPS reading confirms my fear - we are still 300 feet below the published summit elevation. We are at a subpeak, conveniently located for excellent views, yet not the true highest point on this massif.

In-between is a no-man's land of deep, sulfurous craters followed by thick jungle that, ultimately, would render impossible any attempt at reaching the true highpoint. I am very upset, and vent my frustration on the guide using Indonesian to explain myself.
true summit
Marapi's true summit lies in jungle
beyond cratered, volcanic terrain.

"Ini puncak" ("THIS is the summit"), the guide insists. I vehemently disagree, pointing to the higher ground one mile distant. He sits down for the views and a smoke.

Robert and I decide we should make some effort at reaching the highpoint, although it seems unlikely we'll succeed. We agree on a general route and proceed across the barren surface, negotiating the often sandy footing while peering into an impressive, 200 foot deep crater stained yellow/green with toxic, sulfurous vapors.
Students stop to chat
high on Gunung Marapi.

On reaching the brush we slow to a snail's pace. The going is ridiculously slow, arduous, and, were we to maintain this rate would not return for several hours. Not exactly how I want to spend my birthday, and guaranteed to run out of water, we call it quits and return.

Shortly after leaving the dread brush we find the guide has come after us, and I bet he is glad we decided to turn around! As a threesome we traverse the awesome moonscape and take a lunch break just under the faux summit in time to greet three or four Indonesian students enroute to the subpeak.
Bukittinggi's zoo

My hope of an ultra prominence summit as "birthday present" is dashed. That does not, however, diminish my enthusiasm for a good amount of ice cream later this afternoon. And so, after returning to the hotel room I locate a substantial food market and enjoy on-the-spot a liter of neapolitan ice cream. Seated at the storefront, I explain to passers-by that it's my 47th birthday - as if that's an adequate excuse for my unusual behavior.

Bob enjoys the day at the local zoo and other venues.
money to burn
Adam burns 1,000 Rupiah notes.

We both have been craving, of all things, hati ayam ("chicken liver"), having found it on numerous dinner menus and yet invariably out-of-stock upon inquiring. The restaurant manager from last night has promised us a "special dinner" featuring chicken liver - and we eagerly sit down to see what's actually served.

The chef has completely destroyed the liver - it is breaded and fried to the point of extreme dryness. I can barely taste liver, hiding under a "mile" of dough. For my sake liver should be slightly squishy inside, cooked rare, the texture contrasting well with a crisy, fried exterior - and served with both ketchup and onion. Nothing approaching this ideal is at-hand. However the rest of our meal is acceptable, and includes some rendition of spaghetti as well as beverages (I get a chocolate shake).
log xing
guide atop log crossing,
Gunung Singgalang

We are set to leave Indonesia, and with that I am keen on using as much currency as possible since it is valueless in the states. Thus Bob photographs as I burn three 1,000 Rupiah notes in an ash tray - the proverbial "money to burn".

In the morning Bob and I arise to make a 4 a.m. taxi bound for Padang's airport. Robert also wakens early, having made arrangements with the same guide for climbing Gunung Singgalang - Marapi's sister summit located on the opposite side of Bukittinggi.

I understand that Robert topped-out in cloud and so is unable to absolutely claim he made the summit. However he feels somewhat certain.

Our morning flight goes right over Gunung Marapi - and I easily identify the tourist subpeak and the hiking route we took in attempting to reach the true summit. My thoughts are of Robert on Singgalang - and of returning to a place, Kuala Lumpur, where the burden of malaria has long since been eradicated.

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