The ‚Puke Express‘ to Padang
In 1979 we hopped on a short flight from Penang to Medan and travelled all the way overland from there to Padang. After a one night stop at Berastagi we arrived at Lake Toba, where we slept in one of the most dilapidated guest houses of my entire travel career: the Edison Lodge in Tomok! Most probably named after the single light bulb that hung from the ceiling of our room. It wasn’t even worth the 25 cents we paid. They didn’t have a bathroom and we had to have our morning wash in the cold lake. Quite refreshing!
Our next stop was Bukittinggi, the most beautiful city in Indonesia and the cleanest one, too. Maybe, because in the Minangkabau society the women are in charge. Just kidding … I remember the colourful market that stretched over several hills and the beautiful traditional houses that resembled ships. Unfortunately our visit coincided with the Muslim month of Ramadan and so all restaurants were closed during the daytime. So we sneaked through the backdoor of a Chinese restaurant named ‘Mona Lisa’ and had a soto ayam there under utmost secrecy. A short side trip took us to Lake Manindjau – to get there we had to survive 44 hairpin bends.
Which made us feel a little dizzy. A harbinger of things to come.
After a few days we left for Padang by local night bus. In consideration of our problems on the way to Manindjau my friend Uwe and I had booked window seats in wise foresight. And skipped dinner, too. Not so our fellow passengers who in true Muslim fashion had gorged themselves to the upper edge of their lower lip after sunset. Or – more precisely – when one couldn’t distinguish a white thread from a black one anymore. Our old banger had hardly left the bus stand when the first passengers started getting glazed eyes and asking for “Pelastik!!!” (barf bags). After a short while the air was filled with the all-pervasive stench of puke and the blaring Indonesian pop music was accompanied by retching noises. Thank god for the window seat! The trip took about four hours if I remember correctly and while we rode over a pot-holed road through the balmy tropical night our fellow passengers handed us well-filled plastic bags to be thrown out of the window with a smile. What a relief when we finally arrived in Padang, home of nasi padang, my favourite in Indonesia.